The Inca, sometimes called peoples of the sun, were originally a warlike
tribe living in a semiarid region of the southern sierra. Advertisement From
1100 to 1300 the Inca moved north into the fertile Cuzco Valley.
From there they overran the neighboring lands. By 1500 the Inca Empire
stretched from the Pacific Ocean east to the sources of the Paraguay and
Amazon rivers and from the region of modern Quito in Ecuador south to the
Maule River in Chile.
This vast empire was a theocracy, organized along socialistic lines and
ruled by an Inca, or emperor, who was worshiped as a divinity. Because the
Inca realm contained extensive deposits of gold and silver, it became in the
early 16th century a target of Spanish imperial ambitions in the Americas.
In November 1995 anthropologists announced the discovery of the 500-
year-old remains of two Inca women and one Inca man frozen in the snow
on a mountain peak in Peru. Scientists concluded that the trio were part of a
human sacrifice ritual on Ampato, a sacred peak in the Andes mountain
Artifacts from the find unveiled new information about the Inca and indicated
the use of poles and tents rather than traditional stone structures. The
arrangement of doll-size statuettes dressed in feathers and fine woolens
provided clues about Inca religious and sacrificial practices.
The Incas were a distinct people with a distinct language living in a
highland center, Cuzco. They were an ancient people, but had been subject
to the regional powers during the entire history of South American urban
They began to expand their influence in the twelfth century and in the early
sixteenth century, they exercised control over more territory than any other
people had done in South American history.
The empire consisted of over one million individuals, spanning a territory
stretching from Ecuador to northern Chile.
Unlike the military empires in Central America, the Incas ruled by proxy.
After conquering a people, they would incorporate local rulers into their
imperial system, generously reward anyone who fought for them, and
treated well all those conquered people who cooperated.
So, in reality, the Inca quot;empire,quot; as the invading Spanish called it, was not
really an empire. It was more of a confederation of tribes with a single
people, the Incas, more or less in control.
Agriculture was tough business in the Andes. The Incas actively set about
carving up mountains into terraced farmlands—so successful were they in
turning steep mountainsides into terraced farms, that in 1500 there was
more land in cultivation in the Andean highlands then there is today.
The Incas cultivated corn and potatoes, and raised llama and alpaca for
food and for labor.
Of all the urbanized people of the Americas, the Incas were the most
The Huari-Tiahuanaco performed amazing feats of fitting gigantic stones
together, and the Nazca designed mind-numbingly huge earth-drawings that
still exist today.
But the Inca built massive forts with stone slabs so perfectly cut that they
didn't require mortar—and they're still standing today in near-perfect
The Incas also had sacred objects and sacred places. For example, there is
the Vilcanota or Wilcamayu (quot;Sacred Riverquot;), which is today most often
called the Urubamba River.
The sacred objects were called quot;huacaquot;. These could be anything, either
elements of nature or human built values. Periodically Incas would perform
worshipping ceremonies, even give offerings to the huacas. For example,
inside houses, the huacas were placed into wall niches and offerings were
periodically given to them. This was believed to contribute to the balance of
nature and society. This way, Incas believed they have an influence on their
happy life or their crop production
. The Incas believed in afterlife, they cared deeply for their dead, which were
embalmed, mummified and placed into tombs. Afterwards, the relatives
would bring food and various objects to the tomb. They believed that the
dead could hear them and they would use the multitude of objects that were
The bodies of the dead were considered huacas.
Rulers who died were treated with more attention than ordinary Incas who
died. They were periodically talked to by priests and other high level Incas.
The priests were believed to be communicating with the dead emperors,
who were in another dimension.
Offerings were brought to the dead ruler's tomb and servants would also
The colour of mourning was black, just like in the case of Christians.
Women would have to cut their hair when someone close died. These
rituals would be kept for a whole year.
Incas would offer sacrifices to the gods, these were mostly animals, but
sometimes humans too.
The Inca were a deeply religious people
2 Inca gods were given the highest importance: Inti and Viracocha.
Viracocha was the supreme god. The word quot;Viracochaquot; means quot;sea foamquot;.
Viracocha revived the World after God Paricia flooded it, because people
were unkind to him. Viracocha crated people out of clay and gave them
languages and songs.
Viracocha created the elements of the sky: Sun, Moon, the stars, also
assigning them places on the sky.
If people didn't venerate him, Viracocha punished them by turning them into
Viracocha and his 2 sons were also believed to have walked on water.
Inti was the Sun God, who was believed to have had descendants on Earth,
this was the royal family. He was often represented on golden discs with a
human face. He is believed to have been the ancestor of the Incas. Inti had
Apu or Apo: mountain god.
Apocatequil: god of lightning.
Coniraya: the Moon god.
Ekkeko: god of personal property, wealth.
Illapa: weather god (rain, storm, lightning, thunder).
Pachacámac: earth god, a creator god, son of Inti.
Pariacaca: god of rain and water.
Punchau: sun god ,warrior.
Tocapo Viracocha: son of Viracocha. Together with his brother, he was
sent by his father to Earth to verify if death.
Zaramama: goddess of grain and corn
The social structure of the Incas was extremely inflexible. At the top was
the Inca who exercised, theoretically, absolute power. Below the Inca was
the royal family which consisted of the Inca's immediate family,
concubines, and all his children. This royal family was a ruling aristocracy.
Each tribe had tribal heads; each clan in each tribe had clan heads. At the
very bottom were the common people who were all grouped in squads of
ten people each with a single quot;boss.quot; The social unit, then, was primarily
based on cooperation and communality.
This guaranteed that there would always be enough for everyone; but the
centralization of authority meant that there was no chance of individual
advancement (which was not valued).
It also meant that the system depended too much on the centralized
authority; once the invading Spanish seized the Inca and the ruling family,
they were able to conquer the Inca territories with lightening speed.
The houses were built to last and to withstand the extreme natural forces of
wind, floods, ice, and drought.
This central nervous system of Inca transport and communication rivaled
that of Rome. A high road crossed the higher regions of the Cordillera from
north to south and another lower north-south road crossed the coastal
plains. Shorter crossroads linked the two main highways together in several
The terrain, according to Ciezo de Leon, an early chronicler of Inca culture,
The road system ran through deep valleys and over mountains, through
piles of snow, quagmires, living rock, along turbulent rivers; in some places
it ran smooth and paved, carefully laid out; in others over sierras, cut
through the rock, with walls skirting the rivers, and steps and rests through
the snow; everywhere it was clean swept and kept free of rubbish, with
lodgings, storehouses, temples to the sun, and posts along the way.
The Incas did not discover the wheel, so all travel was done on foot. To help
travelers on their way, rest houses were built every few kilometers. In these
rest houses, they could spend a night, cook a meal and feed their llamas.
Their bridges were the only way to cross rivers on foot. If only one of their
hundreds of bridges was damaged, a major road could not fully function;
every time one broke, the locals would repair it as quickly as possible.
The Incan language was based on nature.
All of the elements of which they depended, and even some they didn't
were give a divine character.
They believed that all deities were created by an ever-lasting, invisible, and
all-powerful god named Wiraqocha, or Sun god.
The King Incan was seen as Sapan Intiq Churin, or the Only Son of the Sun.
•The geographic extent of the Maya civilization, known as the Maya area,
extended throughout the southern Mexican states of Chiapas, Tabasco, and
the Yucatán Peninsula states of Quintana Roo, Campeche and Yucatán.
• The Maya area also extended throughout the northern Central American
region, including the present-day nations of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and
•As the largest sub-region in Mesoamerica, it encompassed a vast and varied
landscape, from the mountainous regions of the Sierra Madre to the semi-arid
plains of northern Yucatán.
•The Maya area is generally divided into three loosely defined zones: the
southern Maya highlands, the southern Maya lowlands, and the northern Maya
The southern Maya highlands include all of elevated terrain in Guatemala and
the Chiapas highlands. The southern lowlands lie just north of the highlands,
and incorporate the Petén of the Mexican states and northern Guatemala. The
northern lowlands cover the remainder of the Yucatán Peninsula
For reasons that are still debated, the Maya centers of the southern
lowlands went into decline during the 8th and 9th centuries and were
abandoned shortly thereafter.
This decline was coupled with a cessation of monumental inscriptions and
large-scale architectural construction.Although there is no universally
accepted theory to explain this “collapse,” current theories fall into two
categories: non-ecological and ecological.
Non-ecological theories of Maya decline are divided into several
subcategories, such as overpopulation, foreign invasion, peasant revolt, and
the collapse of key trade routes.
Ecological hypotheses include environmental disaster, epidemic disease,
and climate change. There is evidence that the Maya population exceeded
carrying capacity of the environment including exhaustion of agricultural
potential and overhunting of megafauna.
Some scholars have recently theorized that an intense 200 year drought led
to the collapse of Maya civilization.
The drought theory originated from research performed by physical
scientists studying lake beds,ancient pollen, and other data, not from the
A surprising aspect of the great Maya structures is their lack of many
advanced technologies seemingly necessary for such constructions.
Lacking draft animals necessary for wheel-based modes of transportation,
metal tools and even pulleys, Maya architecture required abundant
manpower. Yet, beyond this enormous requirement, the remaining materials
seem to have been readily available.
All stone for Maya structures appears to have been taken from local
quarries. They most often used limestone which remained pliable enough to
be worked with stone tools while being quarried and only hardened once
removed from its bed. In addition to the structural use of limestone, much of
their mortar consisted of crushed, burnt and mixed limestone that mimicked
the properties of cement and was used as widely for stucco finishing as it
was for mortar.
Later improvements in quarrying techniques reduced the necessity for this
limestone-stucco as the stones began to fit quite perfectly, yet it remained a
crucial element in some post and lintel roofs.
In the case of the common Maya houses, wooden poles, adobe and thatch
were the primary materials; however, instances of what appear to be
common houses of limestone have been discovered as well. Also notable
throughout Maya architecture is the corbel arch , whose limitations kept their
structures generally weighty rather than airy.
As unique and spectacular as Greek or Roman architecture, Maya architecture spans
many thousands of years; yet, often the most dramatic and easily recognizable as
Maya are the fantastic stepped pyramids from the Terminal Pre-classic period and
There are also cave sites that are important to the Maya. These cave sites include
Jolja Cave, the cave site at Naj Tunich, the Candelaria Caves, and the Cave of the
Witch. There are also cave-origin myths among the Maya. Some cave sites are still
used by the modern Maya in the Chiapas highlands.
It has been suggested that, in conjunction to the Maya Long Count Calendar, every
fifty-two years, or cycle, temples and pyramids were remodeled and rebuilt. It appears
now that the rebuilding process was often instigated by a new ruler or for political
matters, as opposed to matching the calendar cycle.
However, the process of rebuilding on top of old structures is indeed a common one.
Most notably, the North Acropolis at Tikal seems to be the sum total of 1,500 years of
architectural modifications. In Tikal and Yaxhá, there are the Twin Pyramid
complexes that commemorate the end of a Baktún
Through observation of the numerous consistent elements and stylistic distinctions,
remnants of Maya architecture have become an important key to understanding the
evolution of their ancient civilization.
RITES AND RITUALS
the Maya believed in a cyclical nature of time. The rituals and ceremonies
were very closely associated with celestial cycles which they observed and
inscribed as separate calendars.
The Maya priest had the job of interpreting these cycles and giving a
prophetic outlook on the future or past based on the number relations of all
They also had to determine if the quot;heavensquot; or celestial matters were
appropriate for performing certain religious ceremonies.
The Maya practiced human sacrifice. In some Maya rituals people were
killed by having their arms and legs held while a priest cut the person's
chest open and tore out his heart as an offering.
This is depicted on ancient objects such as pictorial texts, known as
codices. It is believed that children were often offered as sacrificial victims
because they were believed to be pure.
The Maya underworld is reached through caves and ball courts.It was thought to
be dominated by the aged Maya gods of death and putrefaction. The Sun and
Itzamna, both aged gods, dominated the Maya idea of the sky. The night sky
was considered a window showing all supernatural doings.
Good and evil traits are not permanent characteristics of Maya gods, nor is
only quot;goodquot; admirable. What is inappropriate during one season might come to
pass in another since much of the Maya religious tradition is based on cycles
and not permanence.
The life-cycle of maize lies at the heart of Maya belief. This philosophy is
demonstrated on the Maya belief in the Maize God as a central religious figure.
The Maya bodily ideal is also based on the form of the young Maize God, which
is demonstrated in their artwork. The Maize God was also a model of courtly life
for the Classical Maya.
. Among the many types of Maya calendars which were maintained, the most
important included a 260-day cycle, a 365-day cycle which approximated the
solar year, a cycle which recorded lunation periods of the Moon, and a cycle
which tracked the synodic period of Venus.
Philosophically, the Maya believed that knowing the past meant knowing the
cyclical influences that create the present, and by knowing the influences of the
present one can see the cyclical influences of the future.
WRITINGS & SCRIPTS
The Maya writing system was a combination of phonetic symbols and
logograms. It is most often classified as a logographic or a logosyllabic
writing system, in which syllabic signs play a significant role.
It is the only writing system of the Pre-Columbian New World which is
known to completely represent the spoken language of its community.
In total, the script has more than a thousand different glyphs, although
a few are variations of the same sign or meaning, and many appear
only rarely or are confined to particular localities.
At any one time, no more than around 500 glyphs were in use, some
200 of which had a phonetic or syllabic interpretation
Although the archaeological record does not provide examples, Maya
art shows that writing was done with brushes made with animal hair and
Codex-style writing was usually done in black ink with red highlights,
giving rise to the Aztec name for the Maya territory as the quot;land of red
Aztec society was highly structured, based on agriculture, and
guided by a religion that pervaded every aspect of life.
The Aztec worshiped gods that represented natural forces that
were vital to their agricultural economy.
Aztec cities were dominated by giant stone pyramids topped by
temples where human sacrifices were dedicated to the gods.
Aztec art was primarily an expression of religion, and even warfare,
which increased the empire’s wealth and power, served the religious
purpose of providing captives to be sacrificed.
The basic unit of Aztec society was the calpulli, sometimes, at least for
early Aztec history, thought of as a clan, or group of families who
claimed descent from a common ancestor.
Each calpulli regulated its own affairs, electing a council and officers
to keep order, lead in war, dispense justice, and maintain records.
Calpulli ran schools in which boys were taught citizenship, warfare,
history, crafts, and religion.
Each calpulli also had a temple, an armory to hold weapons, and a
storehouse for goods and tribute that were distributed among its
members. Within each calpulli, land was divided among the heads of
families according to their needs. Each family had a right to use the
land but owned only the goods that it produced.
In Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital, calpulli fulfilled the same functions
but gradually took a different form. As the city grew large and
complex, the calpulli were no longer based on family relationships, but
became wards, or political divisions, of the city. Each calpulli still had
its own governing council, school, temple, and land, but its members
were not necessarily related.
In Tenochtitlán and other Aztec city-states, the most capable
leaders of each calpulli together composed a tribal council, which
elected four chief officials.
One of these four officials was selected as the tlatoani (ruler). After
Tenochtitlán became the center of Aztec civilization, its ruler
became the supreme leader of the empire, to whom lesser rulers
This ruler was considered semidivine, a descendant of the Aztec
gods, and served as both military leader and high priest. His title
was huey tlatoani, meaning “great lord” or “great speaker.”
The ruler was supported by a noble class of priests, warriors, and
administrators. Below these nobles were the common people,
including merchants, artisans, soldiers, peasant farmers, and
Aztec merchants formed a hereditary class, called pochteca. They
lived in special quarters in the cities, formed guilds, and had many
RITES AND RITUALS
As an agricultural people, the Aztec depended heavily on the forces of
nature and worshiped them as gods. Most important was their patron
deity, the sun god, Huitzilopochtli, who was also considered to be the
god of war.
Other important gods were Tlaloc (the god of rain) and Quetzalcoatl,
the plumed serpent (the god of wind and learning).
The Aztec believed that the benevolent gods must be kept strong to
prevent the evil gods from destroying the world. For this purpose they
conducted human sacrifices.
Victims of sacrifice were usually prisoners of war, although Aztec
warriors would sometimes volunteer for the more important sacrificial
The god Tlaloc was believed to prefer children as sacrificial victims.
A victim would ascend the steps of the pyramid. At the top, a priest
would stretch the victim across a stone altar and cut out the victim’s
heart. The priest would hold the heart aloft to the god being honored
and then fling it into a sacred fire while it was still beating. Often many
victims were killed at once.
Aztec priests sought to win favor with the gods by fasts and self-inflicted
Some of them ran schools called calmecacs in which they taught
religious rituals to boys studying for the priesthood. One of the most
important functions of the priests was to determine which days would be
lucky for engaging in activities such as war and baptism.
A religious calendar of 260 days provided this information. The dates of
ceremonies to honor the gods were determined by a solar calendar of
Variants of both calendars were developed by earlier Mesoamerican
civilizations such as the Olmec, Maya, and Zapotec. To begin the next
cycle, they would hold the important “new fire ceremony,” in which
priests lit a sacred fire in the chest cavity of a sacrificial victim, and the
people rekindled their hearth fires and began feasting.