By P. Deligiannis
Α bloody conflict between warriors of the pre-Columbian Andean area, in a painting by the Belgian artist Jean Torton. The uniformity of clothing is conventional and did not actually exist, at least before the Inca empire. The other items of clothing and weaponry are generally valid. Note the mace with the copper star head, probably the most popular weapon at the time of the Incas (copyright: Jean Torton).
An Introduction to the Ηistory of the HERE.
The lack of arable land and the aggression of the neighboring tribes forced the founder of the dynasty of the Incas, Manco Capac, to lead the Inca tribe (a tribe of the Quechua group) from their home village Paqari Τampu, in search of a new homeland. Eventually the Incas invaded the fertile valley of Cuzco, where they attacked the inhabitants of the village and expelled them. From Cuzco, the Incas began to raid neighboring tribes and villages, making ultimately several of them their tributary subjects. Thus it was created the first kingdom of the Incas. The successors of Manco, Sinchi Roca and Lloque Yupanqui, are listed by the Incan tradition as peaceful rulers who did not add new conquests in the kingdom. However new conditions that emerged, led to its expansion. According to a theory, these conditions were associated with climate change in the central Andes during the 14th century, that brought about a slight decrease in rainfall in the region. The fertility of the valley of Cuzco is largely dependent on rainfall, so it is estimated that there was a significant decline in agricultural production, with some areas possibly deserted. The Incas had to deal with the crisis by annexing more arable land or water resources for irrigation. This situation led the new Inca ruler Mayta Capac – a tall and aggressive youth as he is described by the tradition – in new campaigns. At the beginning of his reign, the Incas began using water resources belonging to the territory of a neighboring tribe. The opponent warriors defended their lands against the Incas, leading to the start of a war. Mayta Capac’s warriors were the final winners. They killed many of their enemies, looted their homes, annexed a part of their territory and forced the survivors to pay tax.
Capac Yupanqui, Mayta’s successor, managed to annex territories outside the valley of Cuzco, a decisive point in the course of the Incan conquests. His successor, Inca Roca, subdued some tribes in the southeast of Cuzco and was engaged in war with the powerful tribe Ayarmaka (the Ayarmaka kingdom controlled the south valley of Cuzco). The cause of the conflict was the fact that the ruler of a neighboring tribe, the Huayllaka, had promised to give Mikay, a woman of his people (possibly his daughter), as a wife to the ruler of the Ayarmaka. Nevertheless he broke his promise and gave her as a wife to Inca Roca, apparently because he felt that he would have greater political gains. The Inca ruler had a son from Mikay, named Yahuar Huacac. The Ayarmaka ruler attacked the Huayllaka to punish them, and managed to defeat them. In order to avoid the worst, the Huayllaka promised to surrender the eight-year old Yahuar Huacac to the Ayarmaka ruler, as a compensation for the cheating he suffered. So they kidnapped the child from the Incas and delivered it to the Ayarmaka. It seems that the Ayarmaka were particularly powerful, because Inca Roca managed to get back his son after many years. Later it is stated that Yahuar Huacac’s royal wife (the Incas practiced polygamy) and queen mother of his official successor, was an Ayarmakan woman. That reference suggests that a peace treaty of the Incas and the Ayarmakas was reached by the release of the Inca prince, which was sealed with a dynastic marriage.
A rare composite weapon of the Incas. It is a copper six-pointed star mace head with an embedded axe.
Yahuar Huacac succeeded his father. Although he wasn’t a military leader because of his health problems, he extended significantly his kingdom by sending his brothers and generals, Vikaquirao and Apo Mayta, against the tribes who lived in the south and east of Cuzco. The two generals subjugated several of them. But the sudden murder of Yahuar Huacac’s official successor led to a major political crisis, culminating in the murder of Yahuar Huacac himself. Eventually, the Inca elders elected as new ruler another prince, Viracocha Inca (probably in the early 15th century).
Viracocha introduced the organization of the conquered territories. The new territories were far enough from Cuzco and very extended. Thus the effective control of the subjugated peoples was now difficult enough. Until the reign of Yahuar Huacac, the Incas did not place guards in the tributary areas, collecting only tribute. Viracocha decided to place Inca occupation troops in these areas and organized them as military districts. Viracocha Inca “inherited” from his father the valuable military prowess of his uncles and generals, Vikaquirao and Apo Mayta. The two experienced generals developed a strategy of territorial envelopment of powerful enemies, which evolved to the basic strategic doctrine of the Inca campaigns. It was a strategy often used by expansionist peoples of pre-Columbian America (e.g. the Aztecs used it against the Zapotecs and the Tlaxcalans). According to this doctrine, the invader sought to encircle the enemy country by conquering the surrounding lands.
The Ayarmaka, old enemies of the Incas, were the first ‘victim’ of Viracocha’s expansionist policy. Vikaquirao and Apo Mayta subdued initially the upper Urubamba river valley, in the rear of the Ayarmaka kingdom. This conquest was very important, because the upper Urubamba valley was the main pathway that connected the valley of Cuzco to the basin of Lake Titicaca in the south. The Incas used the upper Urubamba valley as a base from where their Southern Army invaded the Ayarmaka territory from the south, while another Inca army (the Northern Army) challenged them from the north, rushing from Cuzco. The still powerful Ayarmaka found themselves between two fronts, and eventually were defeated having many casualties, and were subjugated to the Incas.
The presence of the Incas in the upper Urubamba valley brought them into contact with two tribes of the Aymara group, the Kolla and the Lupaka, who were at war with each other. The two peoples were living in the northern part of the Titicaca basin, with the Lupaka living rather south of the Kolla. This geographical situation was favorable for the Incan strategy of territorial envelopment against the Kolla. This situation led Viracocha to the decision of joining the Lupaka against the Kolla. The strategic plan of the Incas involved the defeat and subjection of the Kolla with the help of the Lupaka, and then the subjection of the Lupaka themselves. However, the Kolla perceived the plan of the Incas and attacked first. Before the formidable Inca invaded their country, they attacked the Lupaka but they were defeated. The Incas took part in the celebrations of the Lupaka victory but their strategic plan had been overthrown. Moreover, soon they faced the relentless threat of the Chanca tribe.
The Chancas were a powerful people, who until then they had approximately the same course of conquests as the Incas. They came from the Huancavelika region, west of Cuzco, from where they dashed first against the West Quechua tribes (close relatives of the Incas), finally subduing them. The territory of the West Quechua interweaved between the kingdoms of the Incas and the Chanca, being effectively a buffer state for the Incas. After the loss of West Quechua independence, the Incas became vulnerable. The Chanca invaders marched to the Inca country, which was invaded for the first time after many decades, causing political instability in Cuzco. The Inca army was defeated in its first clash with the invaders and Viracocha’s position began to falter. Vikaquirao, Apo Mayta and their troops had become a “Praetorian guard” of the Inca kingdom. The two old generals had supported Viracocha decisively in order to seize the throne, but now they were openly oppugning him. The king had chosen as his successor, his son Inca Hurcon but the two warlords supported another son of his, the prince Kusi Inca Yupanqui. The king and Inca Hurcon faint-hearted as the dreaded Chanca were approaching Cuzco and left the capital, finding refuge to the east, in a fort near Kalka. On the contrary, Kusi Inca with his two generals and his noble supporters remained in the capital to fight the enemy and ordered the subject tribes to send troops. Under his command, the Incas defeated the Chanca before they enter the royal city, in a decisive battle. When the troops of their subjects joined them, the Incas went on the offensive and defeated the invaders, killing many of them. Viracocha’s faction had not taken part in the defense, remaining in Kalka. Kusi tried to converse with his father, but he was adamant. Eventually he ignored him and he was proclaimed king (‘emperor’ according to the Roman term) in Cuzco by his supporters. In this way the Inca kingdom was split into two states: the state of Cuzco under Kusi Yupanqui’s rule, and the state of Kalka under Viracocha. The brave Kusi took the dynastic name ” Pachacuti ” (or ‘Pachacutek’), thus acquiring the name Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui.
Golden chest armour of an Inca general.
The new emperor was in a very difficult place because his state was threatened by a twin-front attack from two sides: by the Inca faction of Kalka to its east and by the Chanca to its west, who had not yet been expelled from the country. However, Pachacuti Yupanqui’s place against his father was constantly improving. Because of Pachacuti’s brave resistance to the invaders, many of Viracocha’s supporters abandoned him and sided with Pachacuti. He also managed to halt the Chanca advance after two overwhelming victories scored against the attackers: the first in front of Cuzco and the second to the west of the city. Gradually he reversed the situation, expelled the Chanca and he also drove them off a great part of the West Quechua territory. Pachacuti’s Incas finally chased out the invaders from the larger part of that state.
The Quechua allied themselves with the Incas of Cuzco, a situation that forced the exhausted Chanca to come to terms with Pachacuti Yupanqui. Under the peace treaty that they concluded, both parties agreed not to attack each other and to turn their efforts in conquering other kingdoms. Pachacuti could now move undistracted from the west, against Kalka, using the Inca strategy of territorial envelopment. His army marched to the east, bypassing Kalka, and conquered territories in its rear, on the edge of the rainforest (modern Peruvian Amazonia). Almost simultaneously Viracocha died and Inca Hurcon was proclaimed emperor at Kalka. But very soon he was attacked from two sides by Pachacuti’s army, from the east (Cuzco) and from the west (Amazonia), and during a skirmish he was killed. With his death, the Incas of Kalka declared their allegiance to Pachacuti Yupanqui and so the unity of the kingdom was restored. Having secured his eastern borders, the emperor put to action a strategic plan against the Chanca. The Incas crossed the land of their Quechua allies and annexed the areas of Vilkas and Soras in the southwest of the Chanca kingdom. Thus the Chancas came under the strategic territorial envelopment of the Incas.
A typical copper six-pointed star mace head. Despite the peaceful image of life in the pre-Columbian Andes, warfare in the region was extremely cruel.
Around the middle of the decade 1440-1450, the Inca emperor sent his brother, general Kapac Yupanqui, with a large army against the tribes of the southern Peruvian coast. This was the first time that the Inca people, eminently mountaineers, approached the Pacific coast. The expedition aimed mainly in the investigation of the power of the local kingdoms, because the Inca invaders did not conquer any coastal lands. During Kapac Yupanqui’s return march to the capital, he brutally violated the peace treaty with the Chanca, apparently following Pachacuti’s secret instructions: he invaded the Chanca territory and plundered several of its settlements. The Chanca did not react immediately to the challenge. Acting wisely, they managed to put the land of the Incas under their territorial envelopment, conquering the kingdom of the aforementioned Kolla, in the northern basin of lake Titicaca. The conquering maneuver of the Chanca disaffected very much the Incas, who lost control of the crossing to the geo-strategically important Titicaca basin. However, Pachacuti also didn’t react to the challenge because the Chanca remained a very strong opponent. In order not to worsen over the spirits, the two nations agreed to campaign together in the areas north of the Vilkas country, to the north of their territories.
The skilful general Kapac Yupanqui took command of the Incan army in this expedition. The emperor pointed to his brother the deceitfulness of the Chanca and ordered him not to march north of the site of Yanamayo. During the military operations, the Chanca troops fought bravely and had more successes than their Incas allies, overshadowing them. This development of the operations was made known to Pachacuti, who was worried that the Chanca would brazen by the military insufficiency of the Incas, and would attacked them. So he sent messengers to Kapac Yupanqui with the secret order to kill the Chanca commanders. But the order was made known to them, who managed to escape the slaughter by moving their army away from their Inca “allies”. The Chanca marched to the northeast and took refuge into the rainforest. Kapac Yupanqui began pursuing them, bypassing the site Yanamayo which his brother had set as the limit of his march. Eventually he found that it was too risky to battle the skilful Chanca warriors in the dangerous environment of the tropical jungle. However, pursuing a military success (probably in order to dispel the bad impression of the military insufficiency of his army during the recent operations) he decided not to return at once to Cuzco. He turned to the northwest, towards the rich city and kingdom of Cajamarca which he subjugated and plundered. After leaving a garrison in the city, he took the road back to the Inca capital. With the conquest of Cajamarca, the Inca kingdom exceeded the area of 100,000 sq. km.
(1) De Cieza de Leon, Pedro: THE INCAS, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1959.
(2) Encyclopaedia Britannica: Incas
(3) Metraux Alfred: THE HISTORY OF THE INCAS, Pantheon Books, New York, 1969.
(4) Davies N.: THE ANCIENT KINGDOMS OF PERU, Penguin Books, London 1999.