Inca Empire

Realm of the Four Parts

Tawantinsuyu  (Quechua)
The Inca Empire at its greatest extent ca. 1525
The Inca Empire at its greatest extent ca. 1525
Official languagesQuechua
Common languagesAymara, Puquina, Jaqi family, Muchik and scores of smaller languages.
Inca religion
GovernmentDivine, absolute monarchy
Sapa Inca 
• 1438–1471
• 1471–1493
Túpac Inca Yupanqui
• 1493–1527
Huayna Capac
• 1527–1532
• 1532–1533
Historical eraPre-Columbian era
• Pachacuti created the Tawantinsuyu
• Civil war between Huáscar and Atahualpa
• End of the last Inca resistance
1527[1][2]2,000,000 km2 (770,000 sq mi)
• 1527
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Kingdom of Cusco
Governorate of New Castile
Governorate of New Toledo
Neo-Inca State

The Inca Empire (Quechua: Tawantinsuyu, lit. "The Four Regions"[4]), also known as the Incan Empire and the Inka Empire, was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America.[5] Its political and administrative structure is considered by most scholars to have been the most developed in the Americas before Columbus' arrival.[6] The administrative, political and military center of the empire was located in the city of Cusco. The Inca civilization arose from the Peruvian highlands sometime in the early 13th century. Its last stronghold was conquered by the Spanish in 1572.

From 1438 to 1533, the Incas incorporated a large portion of western South America, centered on the Andean Mountains, using conquest and peaceful assimilation, among other methods. At its largest, the empire joined Peru, southwest Ecuador, western and south central Bolivia, northwest Argentina, a large portion of what is today Chile, and a small part of southwest Colombia into a state comparable to the historical empires of Eurasia. Its official language was Quechua.[7] Many local forms of worship persisted in the empire, most of them concerning local sacred Huacas, but the Inca leadership encouraged the sun worship of Inti – their sun god – and imposed its sovereignty above other cults such as that of Pachamama.[8] The Incas considered their king, the Sapa Inca, to be the "son of the sun."[9]

The Inca Empire was unique in that it lacked many features associated with civilization in the Old World. In the words of one scholar,[10]

The Incas lacked the use of wheeled vehicles. They lacked animals to ride and draft animals that could pull wagons and plows... [They] lacked the knowledge of iron and steel... Above all, they lacked a system of writing... Despite these supposed handicaps, the Incas were still able to construct one of the greatest imperial states in human history.

— Gordon McEwan, The Incas: New Perspectives

Notable features of the Inca Empire include its monumental architecture, especially stonework, extensive road network reaching all corners of the empire, finely-woven textiles, use of knotted strings (quipu) for record keeping and communication, agricultural innovations in a difficult environment, and the organization and management fostered or imposed on its people and their labor.

The Incan economy has been described in contradictory ways by scholars:[11]

... feudal, slave, socialist (here one may choose between socialist paradise or socialist tyranny)

— Darrell E. La Lone, The Inca as a Nonmarket Economy: Supply on Command versus Supply and Demand

The Inca empire functioned largely without money and without markets. Instead, exchange of goods and services was based on reciprocity between individuals and among individuals, groups, and Inca rulers. "Taxes" consisted of a labour obligation of a person to the Empire. The Inca rulers (who theoretically owned all the means of production) reciprocated by granting access to land and goods and providing food and drink in celebratory feasts for their subjects.[12]


The Inca referred to their empire as Tawantinsuyu,[4] "the four suyu". In Quechua, tawa is four and -ntin is a suffix naming a group, so that a tawantin is a quartet, a group of four things taken together, in this case representing the four suyu ("regions" or "provinces") whose corners met at the capital. The four suyu were: Chinchaysuyu (north), Antisuyu (east; the Amazon jungle), Qullasuyu (south) and Kuntisuyu (west). The name Tawantinsuyu was, therefore, a descriptive term indicating a union of provinces. The Spanish transliterated the name as Tahuatinsuyo or Tahuatinsuyu.

The term Inka means "ruler" or "lord" in Quechua and was used to refer to the ruling class or the ruling family.[13] The Incas were a very small percentage of the total population of the empire, probably numbering only 15,000 to 40,000, but ruling a population of around 10 million people.[14] The Spanish adopted the term (transliterated as Inca in Spanish) as an ethnic term referring to all subjects of the empire rather than simply the ruling class. As such, the name Imperio inca ("Inca Empire") referred to the nation that they encountered and subsequently conquered.