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The Incan Century

Composed by Sharon Sneddon


The Inca Empire was one of the largest in the word, yet it only lasted about 100 years, from 1438 to 1533 CE.  The actual origins of the Inca go back to 12th century Cuzco. It wasn’t until 1438 that the people of Cuzco, led by Sapa Inca Pachacuti, started their conquest of the Andean regions of South America as well as bordering areas. Pachacuti’s methods of conquering were varied. Pachacuti would initially offer the desired country gifts and reasons why they should allow the take over to be peaceful. When a forced conquer wasn’t necessary, the Inca were able to peacefully assimilate their culture throughout South America. They did so by bringing the ruler’s children to Cuzco to learn about Inca administration and culture. The child would then be returned to rule their native country. After Pachacuti, his son Tupac Inca continued conquering and the empire stretched north into modern day Ecuador and Colombia. Once at the height of its existence around 1493, the empire was the largest nation on earth. It still remains the largest native state ever to have existed in the Western Hemisphere. The empire at one time comprised of ten million subjects. Every single one of these subjects played a part in a sort of feudal system.

The fact that Inca society was strictly organized facilitated the speed at which the empire expanded. Tasks were competed rapidly and efficiently. At the top was the emperor, who was believed to be a direct descendant of the sun god, Inti. Thus, the emperor ruled with divine authority. There was no system of checks and balances when it came to the emperor. Below the emperor was an aristocracy which was comprised of relatives and descendants of the emperor. For administrative purposes the empire was divided into four sections, the four corners of all of these meeting in Cuzco. A relative of the emperor served as governor of each section. Below the governor were around ten district governors who served sections within the larger section, mainly smaller cities containing around 10,000 peasants. Finally at the lowest level of the pyramid, about ten foremen supervised 1000 peasants.

            Among all the arts and skills of the Inca, the most impressive was their skill with engineering. One of their greatest engineering feats was their road system which was used for transport and communication from city to village to village. It covered 14,000 miles and was said to rival the Roman transport and communication system, an impressive thought considering the majority of the Inca Empire was tucked in the Andes Mountains. This posed countless engineering problems. The roads were built through rock, over mountains and along turbulent rivers.  Along the entire length of the roads there were posts, lodgings, storehouses and temples to the sun. The road was very smooth and kept clean from debris and rubbish. The roads were actually created using whatever natural materials were found in surrounding areas. If the trail were to be created on rocky soil, rocks would be cleared out to reveal just the soil as a marker for the path. Often low stone walls would be built on either side of the path. Workers even planted fruit trees and irrigated the soil around them so that travelers would have access to food throughout their journey. Another incredible feat of the Inca engineers is their architecture, which was extremely precise and brilliantly simple. Structures were created out of rock found locally. Stones were cut and fitted together with amazing precision. A stone would be placed over a base stone and then removed. The worker would note in what spots on the base stone had worn or been scraped in any way. The spots were worn down forming a small concave bowl. Thus when the stone was replaced on the rock, it fit perfectly and wouldn’t slide across the base stone.

The Inca flourished briefly, with their vast knowledge of engineering and their organized system of government combined to form an incomparable system of communication and order. Unfortunately, their advances in culture could not defend them against the weapons and diseases of the Spaniards. Although lasting only a century, the empire is still the largest native state ever to have existed in the western hemisphere.



Why the Incas?

            I chose to research the Incas not for my love of their culture, but for my lack of knowledge about them. In fact, I don’t know anything about the Aztecs, Olmec or the Mayans either, but for some reason Incans seemed to sound like the prominent South American culture, like the Romans of Latin America. I also have always wanted to journey to Peru and witness the amazing engineering feat that is Machu Pichu as well as Cuzco, so I figured I should learn a few things about the people that built both cities. Three websites have greatly facilitated my exploration of the Inca culture.





These three websites are very reputable, the second two especially. PBS is a trusted source of information, being that they are in the business of educating the public. Wikipedia the main free online internet encyclopedia that I go to for many of my research paper’s to get a good general understanding of the topic. Although not as strong in validity as the PBS site (because it can be edited by anyone) it is edited and reedited until it is refined to a definition everyone agrees upon. Much of my engineering/architecture info was taken from the PBS and Wikipedia websites, but the Rutahsa site is the most interesting and least valid of all three. It is the most interesting because of the incredible collection of photograph links throughout the essay. But I did cross check most of the information with the other two websites and it matched.


Interesting Facts


■ The Inca had a road system that some say spanned 14,000 miles

■ In its height, the Inca Empire was comprised of 10 million subjects

■ The Incan Empire is the largest native state ever to exist in the Western Hemisphere


            The Incan empire flourished for a century due to their vast knowledge and skill, such as an elaborate roadway system and organized government.


Philosopher Paulo Freire’s A Pedagogy of Oppression criticizes “banking education”, the process by which teachers claim too much authority over students. The teacher feeds or “banks” the information into the student rather than respecting and debating with the student, as an equal. Through the lens of Freire’s philosophies, the Incan Empire was a prime societal example of “banking education”. The great oppressor or “teacher”, the emperor, ruled over everyone and everything. He chose to conquer neighboring countries by borrowing their children and indoctrinating them with Incan philosphies, literally banking education at its ultimate. Everyone holds a ranking in the Incan feudal system and only certain people are chosen to be educated. If they do receive education, it is in a non-democratic setting in which they are told how to do everything in a certain way. According to Freire, the people are oppressed, in this type of society, and they do not think critically nor does the school system attempt to change the consciousness of the people. Since the people will probably not act in a different way, the oppressor or the “system” will still remain.




Project 2A