Ancient Incas Facts for Kids

A civilization begins

The Inca civilization began around 1400 CE. They became powerful and conquered other peoples from Columbia to Argentina. 

It was the largest pre-Columbian civilization in the Americas. It had a population of between 6 million and 14 million people.

They are remembered for their contributions to culture, religion, and architecture. The Inca built roads in the region that people still use today.

Social organization

In Inca times, there was a big government. They also used their huge army to conquer new people.

In the Inca culture, there is a family unit that includes uncles and other relatives. You should treat your neighbors like they were your family members. This is very different from the traditional Western society where the nuclear family is usually all you have.

The government took taxes from people in the form of labor or crops. And they stored lots of food for when there were famines or bad weather. 

The Inca people, who lived in the region, had three golden rules: 

  • Do not steal. 
  • Do not lie. 
  • Do not be lazy. 

This is still observed in the region today.

Inca politics

The Sapa Inca wore a new outfit every day, and after he used an article of clothing, it was burned.

In the Inca Empire, Cuzco was their capital. It was the navel of the world. 

More than 40,000 people were living there, and 10 million people were in the rest of the empire. Many people spoke different languages, so they had a government that managed it all with many local administrators.

The Sapa Inca was the absolute ruler whose word was law. He controlled many things, including politics, society, and the empire’s food stores. 

He also commanded the army. He was a god, so he lived a life of great opulence. One example is that he drank from gold and silver cups, wore silver shoes, and lived in a palace furnished with fine textiles. 

After his death, he even helped make decisions for the state because they mummified their rulers and later ‘consulted’ them for their opinion on state affairs.

War and armies

In the Incan military, soldiers were grouped in 10s. A soldier was commanded by a military officer called a chunka kamayuq

Ten people made a group, and 100 people made up a squad. Then 1,000 people made up a troop. An army of 10,000 men was under the command of the Sapa Inca (the leader).

Incan religion

The Incas believed that the supernatural powers governed everyday events. They did this to help them with farming. By making offerings, they could influence these things and not be helpless if their crops failed or the weather got bad.

The Incas also believed in the sun god Inti and the Incan emperor. It is understood that they believed in reincarnation as well.

Pachamama

In ancient times, there was a belief that Pachamama, or Mother Earth, should be offered drinks first when you are drinking something.

Pachacamac

Pachacamac was the god who made humans and oversaw agriculture. When he was pleased with people they had good harvests. But when he was angry, he could cause earthquakes. 

Humans had to keep him happy by offering him food and sacrifices, which sometimes included human sacrifice.

Capacocha, the ritual sacrifice

The Incas had a ritual for worshipping mountains as gods. They also had elaborate burial ceremonies. 

Human sacrifices were often made to gods after portentous events like earthquakes or droughts. The sacrificed children were thought of as deities. It was an honor to be sacrificed because you and your family then became descendants of the Sun god.

Quipus

The Incas had no way to write. They kept records with a system called quipu

A quipu was an ancient accounting tool. It is an Inca way to keep track of money. The word comes from the Quechua language and it means knot.

Quipus were used for thousands of years until the Spanish colonization in 1532 when they destroyed them. 

Quipus were made out of cotton or wool and usually with alpaca hair. To read a quipu correctly you need to know:

  • the colors on the cords
  • how they are connected
  • where they are placed
  • how many spaces there are between them

Only then you can understand what a quipu means!

Incan food

Agriculture was a community practice where people worked together. Men would hoe, and women would break up clods and sow seeds. Children were in charge of taking care of the family’s herd of llamas and alpacas.

Incan food is based on maize, beans, mashwa, tomatoes, cashews, squash, and quinoa. 

Women prepare the food in the Inca culture. They would eat dinner together, thank their gods, and socialize with people.

The Inca are thought to be the first to have grown potatoes. Potatoes were a huge part of the Incan diet. They could store them by drying or freeze-drying them.

Incan fashion

Inca weavers were the best in the Americas. The most skilled Inca weavers could do up to 120 wefts per centimeter. This is why people gave them the most precious gifts- textiles. 

When Spanish people came to Peru, they were welcomed with textiles instead of metal goods because of this skill.

The main colors in Inca textiles were black, white, green, yellow, orange, purple, and red. Blue was not used as much as these colors. 

These colors came from natural dyes that were extracted from plants, minerals, and insects. Hundreds of additional color shades were made by mixing the base palette of pigments. 

Many textiles were made from alpaca and vicuna wool and cotton. They could also be made from things like bat hair or hummingbird down. 

The Inca people wore gold and silver plugs in their ears. The Sapa Inca wore really big and heavy plugs that stretched his ears out, so the Spanish nicknamed them orejones, which means “big ears.”

El Camino Inca

The Incas never invented the wheel, but they built roads. There are thousands of paths in the Andes Mountains that are paved. We estimate that there were 18,000 miles of roads for them to use across their civilization! 

The Inca Empire was really big. They had roads that went all the way from Chile to Columbia. That means the Inca Empire was larger than the Roman Empire!

The most famous road is the one to Machu Picchu, which is also called the Inca Trail or Camino Inca in Spanish. 

Its highest point is the Dead Woman Pass stands more than 13,800 feet above sea level. It has views of mountains and valleys that will take your breath away. 

There are also still paths from the Inca empire that stretch across southern Columbia to northern Chile.

Chasquis

The Incas had an excellent kind of postal system. They used people who ran up and down steep mountain paths to deliver messages. The ones they used were called chasquis. And they could go across rope bridges too, which are not so far apart. 

These messengers would live in pairs with one person asleep and the other on alert for important messages that needed to be delivered quickly.

Rope bridges

The Incan people had rope bridges that they built across canyons and gorges along the Inca Trail. They were made with ichu grass, and villagers would often repair them. One of these still standing bridges is the keshwa chaca, near Huinchiri, Peru.

Machu Picchu

This is the most famous Incan city today, from which only remains are left. Incan architecture is earthquake-proof. That is why we can still enjoy the city of Machu Picchu.

The name means “old hill.” And it’s thought to have been part of Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui’s large estate. 

The site might have always been a place for worship, but maybe it was also a fortress installation. Freshwater ran in stone channels. Natural springs fed them from the mountains. 

Later the site was abandoned after the fall of the Inca Empire.

The Incas never finished building Machu Picchu. In the 1400s, they began to build it on top of a mountain. But then, Europeans (Spanish) came and killed all the people who were Incas. They also brought lots of diseases, which ended the Incan civilization. 

What is Quechua?

The name “Quechua” is used for both the language and an ethnic group of people in Peru (8 million), Ecuador (nearly 2 million), and Bolivia (about 1 million).

The Quechua people still speak their language, as the Incas did. They call it Runa Simi, or the language of the people. 

Some Quechua words we use in English today are:

  • llama
  • condor
  • quinoa
  • puma

The fall of the Incan empire

The Inca king Huayna Cápac died from one of these diseases, as many other people did too. Then a civil war started. That gave the Spaniards and their leader, Francisco Pizarro, an easy victory over the Incan empire. 

Pizarro made the king of the Incas his prisoner. The king offered him wealth and riches but Pizarro killed him by strangulation. This marked the end of 300 years of Inca civilization.

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