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History of the Conquest of Peru

Edited by: Robert Guisepi



View Of The Civilization Of The Incas.

Author:      Prescott, William H.


Part II

     A principal design of the great roads was to serve the purposes of

military communication.  It formed an important item of their military policy,

which is quite as well worth studying as their municipal.


     Notwithstanding the pacific professions of the Incas, and the pacific

tendency, indeed, of their domestic institutions, they were constantly at war.

It was by war that their paltry territory had been gradually enlarged to a

powerful empire.  When this was achieved, the capital, safe in its central

position, was no longer shaken by these military movements, and the country

enjoyed, in a great degree, the blessings of tranquillity and order. But,

however tranquil at heart, there is not a reign upon record in which the

nation was not engaged in war against the barbarous nations on the frontier.

Religion furnished a plausible pretext for incessant aggression, and disguised

the lust of conquest in the Incas, probably, from their own eyes, as well as

from those of their subjects.  Like the followers of Mahomet, bearing the

sword in one hand and the Koran in the other, the Incas of Peru offered no

alternative but the worship of the Sun or war.


     It is true, their fanaticism - or their policy - showed itself in a

milder form than was found in the descendants of the Prophet.  Like the great

luminary which they adored, they operated by gentleness more potent than

violence. ^52 They sought to soften the hearts of the rude tribes around them,

and melt them by acts of condescension and kindness.  Far from provoking

hostilities, they allowed time for the salutary example of their own

institutions to work its effect, trusting that their less civilized neighbours

would submit to their sceptre, from a conviction of the blessings it would

secure to them.  When this course failed, they employed other measures, but

still of a pacific character; and endeavoured by negotiation, by conciliatory

treatment, and by presents to the leading men, to win them over to their

dominion.  In short, they practised all the arts familiar to the most subtle

politician of a civilized land to secure the acquisition of empire.  When all

these expedients failed, they prepared for war.


[Footnote 52: "Mas se hicieron Senores al za." Ondegardo, Rel. Prim.,

principio por mana, que por fuer- Ms.]


     Their levies were drawn from all the different provinces; though from

some, where the character of the people was particularly hardy, more than from

others. ^53 It seems probable that every Peruvian, who had reached a certain

age, might be called to bear arms.  But the rotation of military service, and

the regular drills, which took place twice or thrice in a month, of the

inhabitants of every village, raised the soldiers generally above the rank of

a raw militia.  The Peruvian army, at first inconsiderable, came, with the

increase of population, in the latter days of the empire, to be very large, so

that their monarchs could bring into the field, as contemporaries assure us, a

force amounting to two hundred thousand men.  They showed the same skill and

respect for order in their military organization, as in other things.  The

troops were divided into bodies corresponding with out battalions and

companies, led by officers, that rose, in regular gradation, from the lowest

subaltern to the Inca noble, who was intrusted with the general command. ^54


[Footnote 53: Idem, Rel. Prim., Ms. - Dec. de la Aud. Real., Ms.]


[Footnote 54: Gomara, Cronica, cap. 195 - Conq. i Pob. del Piru, Ms.]


     Their arms consisted of the usual weapons employed by nations, whether

civilized or uncivilized, before the invention of powder, - bows and arrows,

lances, darts, a short kind of sword, a battle-axe or partisan, and slings,

with which they were very expert.  Their spears and arrows were tipped with

copper, or, more commonly, with bone, and the weapons of the Inca lords were

frequently mounted with gold or silver.  Their heads were protected by casques

made either of wood or of the skins of wild animals, and sometimes richly

decorated with metal and with precious stones, surmounted by the brilliant

plumage of the tropical birds.  These, of course, were the ornaments only of

the higher orders.  The great mass of the soldiery were dressed in the

peculiar costume of their provinces, and their heads were wreathed with a sort

of turban or roll of different-colored cloths, that produced a gay and

animating effect.  Their defensive armor consisted of a shield or buckler, and

a close tunic of quilted cotton, in the same manner as with the Mexicans.

Each company had its particular banner, and the imperial standard, high above

all, displayed the glittering device of the rainbow, - the armorial ensign of

the Incas, intimating their claims as children of the skies. ^55


[Footnote 55: Gomara, Cronica, ubi supra. - Sarmiento, Relacion, Ms., cap. 20.

- Velasco, Hist. de Quito, tom. I. pp. 176-179.


     This last writer gives a minute catalogue of the ancient Peruvian arms,

comprehending nearly every thing familiar to the European soldier, except

fire-arms.  - It was judicious in him to omit these.]


     By means of the thorough system of communication established in the

country, a short time sufficed to draw the levies together from the most

distant quarters.  The army was put under the direction of some experienced

chief, of the blood royal, or, more frequently, headed by the Inca in person.

The march was rapidly performed, and with little fatigue to the soldier; for,

all along the great routes, quarters were provided for him, at regular

distances, where he could find ample accommodations.  The country is still

covered with the remains of military works, constructed of porphyry or

granite, which tradition assures us were designed to lodge the Inca and his

army. ^56


[Footnote 56: Zarate, Conq. del Peru, lib. 1, cap. 11. - Sarmiento, Relacion,

Ms., cap. 60.


     Condamine speaks of the great number of these fortified places, scattered

over the country between Quito and Lima, which he saw in his visit to South

America in 1737; some of which he has described with great minuteness.

Memoire sur Quelques Anciens Monumens du Perou, du Tems des Incas, ap.

Histoire de l'Academie Royale des Sciences et de Belles Lettres, (Berlin,

1748,) tom. II. p. 438.]


     At regular intervals, also, magazines were established, filled with

grain, weapons, and the different munitions of war, with which the army was

supplied on its march.  It was the especial care of the government to see that

these magazines, which were furnished from the stores of the Incas, were

always well filled.  When the Spaniards invaded the country, they supported

their own armies for a long time on the provisions found in them. ^57 The

Peruvian soldier was forbidden to commit any trespass on the property of the

inhabitants whose territory lay in the line of march.  Any violation of this

order was punished with death. ^58 The soldier was clothed and fed by the

industry of the people, and the Incas rightly resolved that he should not

repay this by violence.  Far from being a tax on the labors of the husbandman,

or even a burden on his hospitality, the imperial armies traversed the

country, from one extremity to the other, with as little inconvenience to the

inhabitants, as would be created by a procession of peaceful burghers, or a

muster of holiday soldiers for a review.


[Footnote 57: "E ansi cuando," says Ondegardo, speaking from his own personal

knowledge, "el Senor Presidente Gasca passo con la gente de castigo de Gonzalo

Pizarro por el valle de Jauja, estuvo alli siete semanas a lo que me acuerdo,

se hallaron en deposito maiz de cuatro y de tres y de dos anos mas de 15

hanegas junto al camino, e alli comio la gente, y se entendio que si fuera

menester muchas mas no faltaran en el valle en aquellos depositos, conforme a

la orden antigua, porque a mi cargo estubo el repartirlas y hacer la cuenta

para pagarlas." Rel. Seg., Ms.]


[Footnote 58: Pedro Pizarro, Descub.  y Conq., Ms. - Cieza de Leon, Cronica,

cap. 44. - Sarmiento, Relacion, Ms., cap. 14.]


     From the moment war was proclaimed, the Peruvian monarch used all

possible expedition in assembling his forces, that he might anticipate the

movements of his enemies, and prevent a combination with their allies.  It

was, however, from the neglect of such a principle of combination, that the

several nations of the country, who might have prevailed by confederated

strength, fell one after another under the imperial yoke.  Yet, once in the

field, the Inca did not usually show any disposition to push his advantages to

the utmost, and urge his foe to extremity.  In every stage of the war, he was

open to propositions for peace; and although he sought to reduce his enemies

by carrying off their harvests and distressing them by famine, he allowed his

troops to commit no unnecessary outrage on person or property. "We must spare

our enemies," one of the Peruvian princes is quoted as saying, "or it will be

our loss, since they and all that belongs to them must soon be ours." ^59 It

was a wise maxim, and, like most other wise maxims, founded equally on

benevolence and prudence.  The Incas adopted the policy claimed for the Romans

by their countryman, who tells us that they gained more by clemency to the

vanquished than by their victories. ^60


[Footnote 59: "Mandabase que en los mantenimientos y casas de los enemigos se

hiciese poco dano, diciendoles el Senor, presto seran estos nuestros como los

que ya lo son; como esto tenian conocido, procuraban que la guerra fuese la

mas liviana que ser pudiese." Sarmiento, Relacion, Ms., cap. 14.]


[Footnote 60: "Plus pene parcendo victis, quam vincendo imperium auxisse.'

Livy, lib. 30, cap. 42.]


     In the same considerate spirit, they were most careful to provide for the

security and comfort of their own troops; and, when a war was long protracted,

or the climate proved unhealthy, they took care to relieve their men by

frequent reinforcements, allowing the earlier recruits to return to their

homes. ^61 But while thus economical of life, both in their own followers and

in the enemy, they did not shrink from sterner measures when provoked by the

ferocious or obstinate character of the resistance; and the Peruvian annals

contain more than one of those sanguinary pages which cannot be pondered at

the present day without a shudder.  It should be added, that the beneficent

policy, which I have been delineating as characteristic of the Incas, did not

belong to all; and that there was more than one of the royal line who

displayed a full measure of the bold and unscrupulous spirit of the vulgar



[Footnote 61: Garcilasso, Com. Real., Parte 1, lib. 6, cap. 18.]


     The first step of the government, after the reduction of a country, was

to introduce there the worship of the Sun.  Temples were erected, and placed

under the care of a numerous priesthood, who expounded to the conquered people

the mysteries of their new faith, and dazzled them by the display of its rich

and stately ceremonial. ^62 Yet the religion of the conquered was not treated

with dishonor.  The Sun was to be worshipped above all; but the images of

their gods were removed to Cuzco and established in one of the temples, to

hold their rank among the inferior deities of the Peruvian Pantheon.  Here

they remained as hostages, in some sort, for the conquered nation, which would

be the less inclined to forsake its allegiance, when by doing so it must leave

its own gods in the hands of its enemies. ^63


[Footnote 62: Sarmiento, Relacion, Ms., cap. 14.]


[Footnote 63: Acosta, lib. 5, cap. 12. - Garcilasso, Com. Real., Parte 1, lib.

5, cap. 12.]


     The Incas provided for the settlement of their new conquests, by ordering

a census to be taken of the population, and a careful survey to be made of the

country, ascertaining its products, and the character and capacity of its

soil. ^64 A division of the territory was then made on the same principle with

that adopted throughout their own kingdom; and their respective portions were

assigned to the Sun, the sovereign, and the people. The amount of the last was

regulated by the amount of the population, but the share of each individual

was uniformly the same.  It may seem strange, that any people should patiently

have acquiesced in an arrangement which involved such a total surrender of

property.  But it was a conquered nation that did so, held in awe, on the

least suspicion of meditating resistance, by armed garrisons, who were

established at various commanding points throughout the country. ^65 It is

probable, too, that the Incas made no greater changes than was essential to

the new arrangement, and that they assigned estates, as far as possible, to

their former proprietors.  The curacas, in particular, were confirmed in their

ancient authority; or, when it was found expedient to depose the existing

curaca, his rightful heir was allowed to succeed him. ^66 Every respect was

shown to the ancient usages and laws of the land, as far as was compatible

with the fundamental institutions of the Incas.  It must also be remembered,

that the conquered tribes were, many of them, too little advanced in

civilization to possess that attachment to the soil which belongs to a

cultivated nation. ^67 But, to whatever it be referred, it seems probable that

the extraordinary institutions of the Incas were established with little

opposition in the conquered territories. ^68


[Footnote 64: Ibid., Parte 1, lib. 5, cap. 13, 14. - Sarmiento, Relacion, Ms.,

cap. 15.]


[Footnote 65: Sarmiento, Relacion, Ms., cap. 19.]


[Footnote 66: Fernandez, Hist. del Peru, Parte 2, lib. 3, cap. 11.]


[Footnote 67: Sarmiento has given a very full and interesting account of the

singularly humane policy observed by the Incas in their conquests, forming a

striking contrast with the usual course of those scourges of mankind, whom

mankind are wise enough to requite with higher admiration, even, than it

bestows on its benefactors.  As Sarmiento, who was President of the Royal

Council of the Indies, and came into the country soon after the Conquest, is a

high authority, and as his work, lodged in the dark recesses of the Escurial,

is almost unknown, I have transferred the whole chapter to Appendix, No. 3.]


[Footnote 68: According to Velasco, even the powerful state of Quito,

sufficiently advanced in civilization to have the law of property well

recognized by its people, admitted the institutions of the Incas "not only

without repugnance, but with joy." (Hist. de Quito, tom. II. p. 183.) But

Velasco, a modern authority, believed easily, - or reckoned on his readers'

doing so.]


     Yet the Peruvian sovereigns did not trust altogether to this show of

obedience in their new vassals; and, to secure it more effectually, they

adopted some expedients too remarkable to be passed by in silence. -

Immediately after a recent conquest, the curacas and their families were

removed for a time to Cuzco.  Here they learned the language of the capital,

became familiar with the manners and usages of the court, as well as with the

general policy of government, and experienced such marks of favor from the

sovereign as would be most grateful to their feelings, and might attach them

most warmly to his person.  Under the influence of these sentiments, they were

again sent to rule over their vassals, but still leaving their eldest sons in

the capital, to remain there as a guaranty for their own fidelity, as well as

to grace the court of the Inca. ^69


[Footnote 69: Garcilasso, Com. Real., Parte 1, lib. 5, cap. 12; lib. 7, cap.



     Another expedient was of a bolder and more original character.  This was

nothing less than to revolutionize the language of the country.  South

America, like North, was broken up into a great variety of dialects, or rather

languages, having little affinity with one another.  This circumstance

occasioned great embarrassment to the government in the administration of the

different provinces, with whose idioms they were unacquainted.  It was

determined, therefore, to substitute one universal language, the Quichua, -

the language of the court, the capital, and the surrounding country, - the

richest and most comprehensive of the South American dialects.  Teachers were

provided in the towns and villages throughout the land, who were to give

instruction to all, even the humblest classes; and it was intimated at the

same time, that no one should be raised to any office of dignity or profit,

who was unacquainted with this tongue.  The curacas and other chiefs, who

attended at the capital, became familiar with this dialect in their

intercourse with the Court, and, on their return home, set the example of

conversing in it among themselves.  This example was imitated by their

followers, and the Quichua gradually became the language of elegance and

fashion, in the same manner as the Norman French was affected by all those who

aspired to any consideration in England, after the Conquest.  By this means,

while each province retained its peculiar tongue, a beautiful medium of

communication was introduced, which enabled the inhabitants of one part of the

country to hold intercourse with every other, and the Inca and his deputies to

communicate with all.  This was the state of things on the arrival of the

Spaniards.  It must be admitted, that history furnishes few examples of more

absolute authority than such a revolution in the language of an empire, at the

bidding of a master. ^70


[Footnote 70: Ibid., Parte 1, lib. 6, cap. 35; lib. 7, cap. 1, 2. - Ondegardo,

Rel. Seg., Ms. - Sarmiento, Relacion, Ms., cap. 55.


     "Aun la Criatura no hubiese dejado el Pecho de su Madre quando le

comenzasen a mostrar la Lengua que havia de saber; y aunque al principio fue

dificultoso, e muchos se pusieron en no quere deprender mas lenguas de las

suyas propias, los Reyes pudieron tanto que salieron con su intencion y ellos

tubieron por bien de cumplir su mandado y tan de veras se entendio en ello que

en tiempo de pocos anos se savia y usaba una lengua en mas de mil y doscientas

leguas." Ibid., cap. 21.]


     Yet little less remarkable was another device of the Incas for securing

the loyalty of their subjects.  When any portion of the recent conquests

showed a pertinacious spirit of disaffection, it was not uncommon to cause a

part of the population, amounting, it might be, to ten thousand inhabitants or

more, to remove to a distant quarter of the kingdom, occupied by ancient

vassals of undoubted fidelity to the crown.  A like number of these last was

transplanted to the territory left vacant by the emigrants.  By this exchange,

the population was composed of two distinct races, who regarded each other

with an eye of jealousy, that served as an effectual check on any mutinous

proceeding.  In time, the influence of the well-affected prevailed, supported,

as they were, by royal authority, and by the silent working of the national

institutions, to which the strange races became gradually accustomed.  A

spirit of loyalty sprang up by degrees in their bosoms, and, before a

generation had passed away, the different tribes mingled in harmony together

as members of the same community. ^71 Yet the different races continued to be

distinguished by difference of dress; since, by the law of the land, every

citizen was required to wear the costume of his native province. ^72 Neither

could the colonist, who had been thus unceremoniously transplanted, return to

his native district.  For, by another law, it was forbidden to any one to

change his residence without license. ^73 He was settled for life.  The

Peruvian government prescribed to every man his local habitation, his sphere

of action, nay, the very nature and quality of that action.  He ceased to be a

free agent; it might be almost said, that it relieved him of personal



[Footnote 71: Ondegardo, Rel. Prim., Ms. - Fernandez, Hist. del Peru, Parte 2,

lib. 3, cap. 11.]


[Footnote 72: "This regulation," says Father Acosta, "the Incas held to be of

great importance to the order and right government of the realm." lib. 6, cap.



[Footnote 73: Conq. i Pob. del Piru, Ms.]


     In following out this singular arrangement, the Incas showed as much

regard for the comfort and convenience of the colonist as was compatible with

the execution of their design.  They were careful that the mitimaes, as these

emigrants were styled, should be removed to climates most congenial with their

own.  The inhabitants of the cold countries were not transplanted to the warm,

nor the inhabitants of the warm countries to the cold. ^74 Even their habitual

occupations were consulted, and the fisherman was settled in the neighbourhood

of the ocean, or the great lakes; while such lands were assigned to the

husbandman as were best adapted to the culture with which he was most

familiar. ^75 And, as migration by many, perhaps by most, would be regarded as

a calamity, the government was careful to show particular marks of favor to

the mitimaes, and, by various privileges and immunities, to ameliorate their

condition, and thus to reconcile them, if possible, to their lot. ^76


[Footnote 74: "Trasmutaban de las tales Provincias la cantidad de gente de que

de ella parecia convenir que saliese, a los cuales mandaban pasar a poblar

otra tierra del temple y manera de donde salian, si fria fria, si caliente

caliente, en donde les daban tierras, y campos, y casas, tanto, y mas como

dejaron." Sarmiento, Relacion, Ms., cap. 19.]


[Footnote 75: Ondegardo, Rel. Prim., Ms.]


[Footnote 76: The descendants of these mitimaes are still to be found in

Quito, or were so at the close of the last century, according to Velasco,

distinguished by this name from the rest of the population.  Hist. de Quito,

tom.l. p. 175.]


     The Peruvian institutions, though they may have been modified and matured

under successive sovereigns, all bear the stamp of the same original, - were

all cast in the same mould.  The empire, strengthening and enlarging at every

successive epoch of its history, was, in its latter days, but the development,

on a great scale, of what it was in miniature at its commencement, as the

infant germ is said to contain within itself all the ramifications of the

future monarch of the forest.  Each succeeding Inca seemed desirous only to

tread in the path, and carry out the plans, of his predecessor.  Great

enterprises, commenced under one, were continued by another, and completed by

a third.  Thus, while all acted on a regular plan, without any of the

eccentric or retrograde movements which betray the agency of different

individuals, the state seemed to be under the direction of a single hand, and

steadily pursued, as if through one long reign, its great career of

civilization and of conquest.


     The ultimate aim of its institutions was domestic quiet.  But it seemed

as if this were to be obtained only by foreign war.  Tranquillity in the heart

of the monarchy, and war on its borders, was the condition of Peru. By this

war it gave occupation to a part of its people, and, by the reduction and

civilization of its barbarous neighbours, gave security to all.  Every Inca

sovereign, however mild and benevolent in his domestic rule, was a warrior,

and led his armies in person.  Each successive reign extended still wider the

boundaries of the empire.  Year after year saw the victorious monarch return

laden with spoils, and followed by a throng of tributary chieftains to his

capital.  His reception there was a Roman triumph.  The whole of its numerous

population poured out to welcome him, dressed in the gay and picturesque

costumes of the different provinces, with banners waving above their heads,

and strewing branches and flowers along the path of the conqueror.  The Inca,

borne aloft in his golden chair on the shoulders of his nobles, moved in

solemn procession, under the triumphal arches that were thrown across the way,

to the great temple of the Sun.  There, without attendants, - for all but the

monarch were excluded from the hallowed precincts, - the victorious prince,

stripped of his royal insignia, barefooted, and with all humility, approached

the awful shrine, and offered up sacrifice and thanksgiving to the glorious

Deity who presided over the fortunes of the Incas.  This ceremony concluded,

the whole population gave itself up to festivity; music, revelry, and dancing

were heard in every quarter of the capital, and illuminations and bonfires

commemorated the victorious campaign of the Inca, and the accession of a new

territory to his empire. ^77


[Footnote 77: Sarmiento, Relacion, Ms., Parte 1, lib. 3, cap. 11, 17; lib. 6

cap. 55. - Garcilasso, Com. Real., cap. 16.]


     In this celebration we see much of the character of a religious festival.

Indeed, the character of religion was impressed on all the Peruvian wars.  The

life of an Inca was one long crusade against the infidel, to spread wide the

worship of the Sun, to reclaim the benighted nations from their brutish

superstitions, and impart to them the blessings of a well-regulated

government.  This, in the favorite phrase of our day, was the "mission" of the

Inca.  It was also the mission of the Christian conqueror who invaded the

empire of this same Indian potentate.  Which of the two executed his mission

most faithfully, history must decide.


     Yet the Peruvian monarchs did not show a childish impatience in the

acquisition of empire.  They paused after a campaign, and allowed time for the

settlement of one conquest before they undertook another; and, in this

interval, occupied themselves with the quiet administration of their kingdom,

and with the long progresses, which brought them into nearer intercourse with

their people.  During this interval, also, their new vassals had begun to

accommodate themselves to the strange institutions of their masters.  They

learned to appreciate the value of a government which raised them above the

physical evils of a state of barbarism, secured them protection of person, and

a full participation in all the privileges enjoyed by their conquerors; and,

as they became more familiar with the peculiar institutions of the country,

habit, that second nature, attached them the more strongly to these

institutions, from their very peculiarity.  Thus, by degrees, and without

violence, arose the great fabric of the Peruvian empire, composed of numerous

independent and even hostile tribes, yet, under the influence of a common

religion, common language, and common government, knit together as one nation,

animated by a spirit of love for its institutions and devoted loyalty to its

sovereign.  What a contrast to the condition of the Aztec monarchy, on the

neighbouring continent, which, composed of the like heterogeneous materials,

without any internal principle of cohesion, was only held together by the

stern pressure, from without, of physical force! - Why the Peruvian monarchy

should have fared no better than its rival, in its conflict with European

civilization, will appear in the following pages.

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