he 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 cultures. 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 "empire," 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.
Each of these tribes was ruled independently by a council of elders; the tribe as a whole gave its allegiance to the ruler, or "Inca." The "Inca" was divine; he was the descendant of the sun-god.
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 "boss." The social unit, then, was primarily based on cooperation and communality. This guaranteed that there would always be enough...