The Rise and Fall of the Inca Empire

By | August 23, 2019

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Ruins of Inca city on Machu Picchu. | Location: Urubamba Province, Peru. Source: (Photo by Jacques Haillot/Sygma via Getty Images)

The Inca Empire was the largest empire in the western hemisphere before the arrival of Europeans in 1492. It was also short-lived, with its height being from 1438 to 1532. However, in that time span, it made a lasting impression upon the people of the Americas.

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An imagined 18th century portrait of Manco Cápac. Source: (

The term Inca comes from the family name of the ruling class of the Cuzco region of Peru. The term Sapa Inca was applied to the ruler or emperor. The Inca as people referred to themselves as Tawantinsuyu.

The first Incan ruler was Manco Cápac, who reportedly brought his people to the site of present-day Cuzco (or Cusco) in the 1100s. They formed a city-state called the Kingdom of Cuzco that was influenced no doubt by preceding Andean civilizations. In the 1300s, a policy of expansion begun under the ruler Mayta Cápac. Gradually they absorbed and conquered other peoples with the greatest expansion occurring under the eighth emperor, Viracocha Inca. By the 1520s, the Incan Empire had a population somewhere between nine to sixteen million people and controlled a third of South America. It is notable that the Incan ruling class, only comprised a very small fraction of this total.