Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Inca Realm of the Four Parts

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Inca Realm of the Four Parts

Article excerpt

In 1492 Tupac Inca Yupanqui (1471-1493), the tenth emperor of the dynasty, had ruled for twenty years the "realm of the four parts", Tahuantinsuyo, which covered almost 900,000 square kilometres.

Strictly speaking the Inca state was not so much an empire as an assemblage of highly diverse regions and peoples, in many cases jealous of their autonomy yet united by strong political and economic links maintained by a state apparatus whose seat was at Cuzco in the south of present-day Peru. Yupanqui had succeeded to the throne on the abdication of his father Pachacutec. He wore the mascapaicha (a scarlet headband which was the insignia of his supreme power) and his authority was virtually absolute.

However, Inca absolutism was more apparent than real. The Inca was at the head of a complex centralized administration. A large corps of officials travelled endlessly through the subject territories, keeping an eye on affairs, carrying out censuses, making sure that work exacted as tribute was carried out, and maintaining social order. All the threads of this vast web led back to the political and symbolic centre of the state at Cuzco, a splendid city with vast squares and imposing buildings, palaces and temples. The dozens of settlements and fortresses scattered through the realm were remarkable for the purity of their architecture and rigorous groundplan and for the quality of their masonry.

However, the power of the Incas was very recent. In less than two centuries it had been imposed on over eight million people. …

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