The Inca Empire, originally referred to as Tahuantinsuyo in the ancient Quechua language, was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. Considering the power they had centuries ago and the living legacy left behind, it’s worth taking a closer look at the Inca leaders who directed this great society.
Dating back to the 12th century, the Inca Empire made many advances in architecture, astronomy, agriculture and more. Fourteen Incas had ruled by the time the empire was destroyed by Spanish conquerors in the mid 16th century.
The first Inca ruler, Manco Cápac was responsible for constructing the first temple of worship to the Sun god, Inti.
Meaning “magnificent warrior” in Quechua, Sinchi Roca was the first Inca ruler to wear adornments, such as the Mascaipacha (the imperial crown).
Though he was in power for 28 years, this Inca had to defend the domain of the Sacred Valley of Cusco on numerous occasions, thus was unable to expand Inca territory.
With a strong military, the fourth Inca expanded the empire’s territory into the highlands, including what was once the citadel of Tiahuanaco (in what is today Bolivia).
The last ruler of the Hurin Cuzco dynasty, Cápac Yupanqui was the fifth Inca and the first to conquer land outside of Cusco.
Marking a new dynasty, Hanan Cuzco, Inca Roca included political power into the role of the Inca (the Hurin was military focused). Great architectural advances, such as water channels, were made during his reign.
The seventh emperor, Yahuar Huaca was able to extend the empire to Arequipa.
Alongside his sons, the eighth Inca was challenged by the Chanca— historic rivals of the Incas and descendents of the Wari culture from Abancay and Ayacucho. His youngest son, Pachacutec, would follow in his steps.
Credited for the greatest expansion of the Inca Empire, Pachacutec also divided and organized the empire into four regions (suyos). Construction of Machu Picchu began during the ninth Inca’s reign.
During Amaru Inca Yupanqui’s short lived power, the Empire experienced a food crisis until his brother, Túpac Inca Yupanqui, took over.
With a name meaning “resplendent and memorable king” In Quechua, this Inca expanded the empire to the Maule River in Chile.
The Inca Empire reached its peak expansion with the “young powerful” ruler: to Colombia up north, Chile in the south and to Argentina in the east.
The penultimate ruler of the Hanan Cusco dynasty, Huascar was the son of Huayna Capac. He eventually lost the throne to his brother, Atahualpa, in a gruesome civil war.
Meaning “happy winner” in Quechua, Atahualpa’s short reign was the last of the Hanan Cusco dynasty and the end of the Inca Empire. He fell for a fateful trick by Spanish explorer Francisco Pizzaro, marking the beginning of European colonization.
Without concrete records from that era, it is difficult to specify details of how the Inca Empire began. What is evident is that, after settling in Cusco, the Incas expanded throughout Andean territory and were able to achieve a complex organization and administration.
One of the most unique characteristics was the way in which an effectively organized religious, economic and social system was developed and maintained. One must not forget the contribution of famous chroniclers of the time such as Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. Thought to be the earliest known mestizo person in the Americas, the chronicler collected myths and legends that spoke about the origin of the Inca empire.
Legends like that of Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo try to explain the beginnings of this magnificent civilization. As the story goes, Manco Cápac was sent to Earth by his father, Inti, the Sun God. In reality, Manco Cápac was the first Inca. He established important laws and marked the importance of worshipping Inti, the Sun God.
The ninth ruler, Inca Pachacútec is often considered to have had the greatest success as an emperor. Historical data shows the Empire expanded immensely under his rule and was organized like never before. Chronicles tell that he was respected by his people for his bravery and intelligence.
As the Empire was founded in Cusco, it only makes sense that it became the political and religious center of the Inca civilization. After defeating the Chancas, the military expansion of the Incas grew, achieving the largest territorial extension in all of pre-Hispanic America.
Having achieved the greatest expansion of the empire by dominating territory that ran from Ecuador to Chile, Pachacutec was succeeded by his son Tupac Inca Yupanqui. Like his father, Tupac Inca Yupanqui led the Inca army and continued the expansion with success. The peak of the Inca Empire expansion claimed land well beyond Peru: to Bolivia, part of Ecuador and Chile, and eventually Colombia and Argentina.
It is with these exceptional leaders (and quite a few years) that the Inca Empire was able to dominate large extensions of land to give life to one of the most amazing pre-Columbian civilizations.
The Empire reached its peak extension with Huayna Cápac, who proved himself to be a great conqueror like his father and grandfather. Perhaps overconfident, the Inca traveled away from the Empire only to return to the arrival of the Spanish and, subsequently, a new health hazard. Huayna Capac would die from one of the infectious diseases (likely smallpox or measles).
Following the death of their father, Atahualpa and Huáscar began a civil war that would significantly weaken the Empire.
Though considered to be bolder and smarter than Huáscar, Atahualpa did not have the people’s trust. Likewise, Huáscar was thought of as a traitor and coward; neither seemed to have the traits necessary to sustain the empire.
Strength and social cohesion made the Empire weak, as did the abandonment of the norms and traditions responsible for the greatness of the Inca culture. Thus, the end of the Inca Empire was not only the defeat by the Spanish in 1532 when Spain took control of Cusco, but much earlier when the moral rigor of the ancestors was lost.
Now that you are acquainted with the 14 Incas of Tahuantinsuyo, you can explore a fascinating destination like Cusco with a deeper connection. Make your reservation on our train services to discover the wonderful Inca citadel and its magnificent history.
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