How were the Inca able to control an empire that stretched from (what is now) Colombia to southern Chile?
Inca imperial expansion and administration functioned along a number of interrelated avenues. While military expansion through wars of conquest played an important role in extending the empire’s territorial range, the incorporation of subject peoples into administration, including collection of tribute, was essential. Communication and physical infrastructure also went hand in hand, as a network of messengers and couriers moved information along an extensive highway system. The internal structure of the imperial family also played important roles, but it ultimately contributed to the empire’s disintegration on the eve of the Spanish invasion. The religious system, including the deification of the monarchs, was both the underlying principle of and was thoroughly incorporated into administrative methods.
A militaristic mindset was incorporated into Inca boys through the childrearing process. Military service was not only required but highly respected. The idea that the emperor had a divine mandate to expand the territory and to convert the newly conquered peoples into the state religion was also crucial. The emperor and empress, who were ideally full siblings, embodied the sun, the principal deity, and the moon. The central government also moved around people form one part of the empire to another.
The use of colonists (mitmaqkuna), many of whom had military roles, effectively divided the loyalties of people in the farthest corners of the empire. The local nobles retained considerable power and played instrumental roles in collecting the tribute owed to the empire. In addition, the daughters of the conquered elites were married to Inca-lineage princes, and their territories were incorporated into the imperial lands. Other noble children were taken to Cusco, the capital, to live at court, effectively serving as hostages to prevent uprisings.
Communication and transportation were tightly linked. Over thousands of miles of carefully maintained roadway, llama caravans routinely moved goods. At periodic intervals, shrines and storage houses were established and maintained so that ritual obligations were regularly completed. Along with the movement of goods went the movement of information. Chasquis, or runners, physically moved information along the highways. The necessary information was encoded on knot-records, or quipus.
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