Inca gold llama

From their capital, Cuzco, in the central Peruvian Andes, the Inca created a huge empire reaching over 2,400 miles along the length of the Andes. The supreme head of state was the king, considered a living god ruling by divine right and the royal family controlled important areas of government such as the army.

The empire’s economy was based on taxed labour. People contributed part of their labour to the state and the state-controlled religion. People farmed and herded animals, worked in mines and produced specialised goods such as clothing and pottery. The surplus was stored in numerous warehouses (tambos) for use by the army and state labourers.

Inca colonists were settled in newly conquered territories as a way of managing subject peoples and spreading Inca language and customs. Local lords were enlisted into the system of government to maintain order in their provinces, rebellious communities were resettled in the Inca heartland.

Inca engineers and labourers built a network of thousands of miles of roads and bridges to connect the empire. They constructed administrative centres, storehouses and military bases. A system of runners carrying information recorded on knotted strings called quipus also linked the capital to the regions.

The capital of Cuzco was the centre of the Inca world. Radiating from the central plaza the four main Inca roads led to the four corners of the empire. A sacred city of temples, royal palaces and residences for housing carefully-preserved bodies of dead rulers, early histories say the Inca likened Cuzco to the body of a puma (wild mountain cat), a symbol of Inca royalty.

The most sacred building in Cuzco was the Coricancha, a temple devoted to the sun, the main Inca deity. Its stone walls were covered in sheets of gold to reflect the sun’s light.

From this temple a system of  sight-lines (ceques) radiated outwards dividing the surrounding landscape like slices of a pie. Over 300 shrines were situated at sacred places along these lines and there formed part of a sophisticated agricultural calendar.

Image caption: Inca gold llama, Peru, about AD 1500