Not many people today know a lot about the Incas, which is unfortunate. They had one of the most incredible ancient societies in human history. Their kingdom was based in the city of Cusco, which is now in modern day Peru. While the Inca society started quite small, they managed to amass an empire that spanned about 2,500 miles in less than one hundred years. This feat was all the more considerable because they didn’t have the type of thriving trade economy that many ancient societies relied on. Instead, they were a much more socialist society, where money didn’t exist and the government made sure everyone had what they needed.
10. The Ancient Inca’s Bodies Evolved To Adapt To Extremely High Altitude
The Ancient Incas had a thriving empire that expanded throughout the Andes and surroundings areas. Some scientists wondered how people like the Incas and other mountain dwellers were able to not only survive, but thrive in climates at high altitudes. By studying people who live in the area and their genetic makeup, which gives us an understanding of their Inca ancestors, scientists were able to determine that the Incas evolved to where they were not as bothered by the lower oxygen climate.
Human beings are great adapters, and recent genetic advances have indeed proven that those whose ancestors grew up high in the mountains are simply better at handling it than the rest of us. This is why in a different part of the world, native Sherpa guides who help people climb Everest rarely, if ever, need any oxygen at places where most travelers would die or pass out without it. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to help fend off the Spanish invaders, who came to conquer and loot all the wealth of the Inca people.
9. They Built Earthquake-Resistant Buildings, Some Of Which Still Mostly Stand Today
There are still quite a few old ruins, some largely intact, from the days of the Incas. These ruins reside in what is now modern day Peru, an area that is still known for a lot of seismic activity. While today a lot of houses in the region are built quite cheaply and cannot take earthquakes particularly well, the Inca Empire had a really good idea of how to build to resist the damage of earthquakes, and they took the time and expense to earthquake-proof a lot of their buildings.
They had a lot of interesting geometric features that they had carefully figured out helped the structure stay stable during extreme and sometimes prolonged shaking, but their most marvelous feat was the way they designed their buildings blocks to fit almost perfectly together, while still having enough room to jostle around in an earthquake and not actually break. In fact, the fits were so perfect that the pieces would not only not break, but basically settle right back into the proper position when the earthquake was over. Many expensive buildings in earthquake prone areas today are still not this protected from earthquakes.
8. The Incas Performed Human Sacrifices On Both Adults And Children
The Incas were one of many, many ancient civilizations who practiced human sacrifice, and like many they also sometimes sacrificed children to their gods. Now, while Inti the sun god was the main focal point of their religion, the Incas had many gods and happily assimilated many more over the years. In order to appease these gods and ensure good harvests or other such things, sometimes sacrifices needed to be made. Scientists discovered the remains of some Inca child sacrifices, including the mummy of a girl who had been sacrificed — the mummy was incredibly well preserved for being so many hundreds of years old (you guessed it — that’s her, pictured above).
Scientists who studied the mummy found some very interesting things. The mummy had mostly not had coca leaves in her diet before the last year of her life, but as far as their studies could tell, in her last year her coca consumption went way up and her lifestyle changed greatly. In her very last week, she consumed a great deal of alcohol. This gives us a picture of how the process works. Children, as we know from some historical records, were often chosen way in advance for child sacrifices and were treated very well and showered with luxuries for a year. The girl now had access for her last year to a lot of food and drugs she didn’t have before, but she also consumed them in a way that showed extreme levels of stress, because she knew she was fated to die.
7. The Emperor’s New Groove Is A Disney Depiction Of The Ancient Incas
Many people have seen the Disney animated film The Emperor’s New Groove. For those who need their memories refreshed, it is about a selfish Inca Emperor named Kuzco who acts incredibly arrogant, pampered and demanding — he even plans to wipe out an entire village to build a theme park. He ends up turning into a llama because of evil magic from his adviser, and learns a lot of lessons as he pals up with a peasant named Pacha. Some have wondered if The Emperor’s New Groove is a good depiction of Inca life, and surprisingly, according to those who study Incan history and have compared the two, it was refreshingly accurate.
Kuzco is a reference to the modern day city of Cusco, and the way Kuzco himself behaves is stereotypical of the incredible power wielded by the Sapa Inca, which was the Inca version of an emperor but even more important, as he was viewed as a literal god. While Inca royalty were not known for being quite as cruel and callous as Kuzco with their power, they did wield it ultimately. Further, apart from a few cartoon exaggerations, most of the animation is a pretty good depiction of what life in the old Inca Empire would have looked like. The biggest problem is probably Yzma, who likely would not have been such a high-up adviser to the Sapa Inca, because she was a woman.
6. The Incas Were A Powerful Society That Conquered Many Peoples
For those who don’t know much about the Incas, they simply think of them as “something like the Mayans” or just another South American civilization that built a lot of large stone structures. However, the Incas managed to build an empire that spanned 2,500 miles and at its height reached all the way from what is now modern day Ecuador to modern day Chile. Despite not being nearly as bloodthirsty or vicious as the Aztecs, and not being known for the same level of conquering brutality, they managed to amass a well functioning society that was doing quite excellent up until European explorers started arriving on the continent.
One of the most incredible things about this accomplishment was that the Incas had no real form of money. In a way, they were more or less a socialist society, although just like many modern day socialist societies, there still tend to be a few at the top that are extra comfortable. Regardless, in Inca society money wasn’t really a thing. You got what you needed from the government and you worked for the good of all. No one really went hungry, and overall quality of life was excellent, especially for the ancient world.
5. Some Inca Nobles Were Allowed To Have Multiple Wives If They Wished
The Inca society, like many throughout history, was not entirely fair. There were peasants, nobles, and of course the royal family themselves, who provided three very distinct classes of people to the kingdom’s hierarchy. The peasants did most of the grunt work, while the nobles got to take care of most of the more intellectual pursuits — the royal family of course just ruled and enjoyed the finer things in life. However, while nobles were more respected in general, perhaps the place where the law was most obviously different was in terms of marriage.
Peasants had to follow the same marriage rules most of us have to follow today: You could only marry one person. However, if you were a noble, it was an entirely different story. Polygamy was perfectly acceptable, and you could indeed take multiple wives if you so desired. However, despite the fact that this was inherently unfair, there isn’t anything in the historical records that indicate the average peasant was bothered by this. This is probably because peasants didn’t really have money or personal property beyond what was needed, and would not have been able to afford another wife anyway.
4. The Leaders Attempted To Bring Everyone Under Inti, The Sun God
The Inca people had a lot of gods, as we mentioned earlier, and were not shy about grabbing up new ones that sounded good to them. This was a smart strategy that a lot of the bigger empires like the Incas and the ancient Romans employed, because it allowed conquered peoples to feel more like simply submitting without any more fight, instead of fighting to the death over a dispute about a god and faith. However, while you were allowed to keep your gods, you still had to accept that they were lesser to the Inca sun god Inti.
The Sapa Inca, who was supposed to be a god himself, decreed that Inti was the supreme god above all others, and that all had to respect him as the most important deity of all. It is likely that the sacrificial mummy the scientists discovered recently was a sacrifice meant to appease him, and ensure that the weather provided for a proper harvest.
3. Like The Romans, They Were Known For Borrowing From Conquered Peoples
As we mentioned earlier, the Inca were known for borrowing from other cultures, but it wasn’t just when it came to other people’s gods. Like the Romans borrowing all sorts of mathematical and other advances from the Greeks, the Inca believed in doing the same with the people that they conquered, so they were simply not as brutal as a lot of conquerors of old. They made sure to keep their enemies’ infrastructure mostly intact, and learned from the people they defeated.
Perhaps this is why they were able to create such a lasting and peaceful society where people had enough to eat, and felt fine with their place in the universe even though they had no consumer power to go buy goods, and no money or wealth that they were able to save up on their own. The Incas were able to create an almost ideal socialist society that spanned 2,500 hundred miles because they respected the people they took over, and made them part of their great society instead of trying to destroy them and just replace them with more of their own citizens.
2. Your Clothing Was Based On Social Standing, and the Emperor Only Wore Clothes Once
In Ancient Inca society, as we mentioned, everything was basically just supplied by the government and you were given what you needed from storehouses when you needed it. This meant that, unsurprisingly, as close as they could be to an ideal communist society, they also tended to give the nicer, more comfortable fabrics to the richer citizens. If you were a peasant you could be expected to be given the coarsest fabric in the kingdom, while the nobles were given much softer, more comfortable clothes to wear.
However, it was the Sapa Inca himself who truly got the most ridiculous clothing privileges, and it may have been this kind of absurd abuse of power that caused the Disney writers to portray Kuzco, the Sapa Inca, as an incredibly obnoxious, spoiled, and pampered man-child. You see, the Sapa Inca was considered so holy and important that not only did he get to wear crazy feathered headdresses and the finest fabrics available, but he never wore the same clothes twice.
1. Like Many In The Americas, Disease Was The True Cause Of Their Downfall
Unfortunately, like many in the Americas, the ultimate downfall of the Incas turned out to be their susceptibility to European diseases. When European explorers arrived on the shores of the Americas, they brought diseases like smallpox with them — diseases to which the Europeans had already built up resistances. The population of the Incas, like many in the Americas, were absolutely gutted by smallpox and other diseases — the first major outbreak of smallpox took out roughly 50% of their population.
This plays into the misconception that the Spanish, or any European force, would have had a ghost of a chance at walking in and taking over the Inca Empire, or any similar empire, if not for the fact that most of their population had already died. The truth is that the story of European technology being more advanced wasn’t really so. Back then, guns didn’t really give a serious advantage over bows and were sometimes the lesser choice. The reality was that if the Incas had been anywhere near their full strength of numbers, they would have put up one heck of a fight and quite possibly have repelled the Spanish invaders, sending them back home with their tails between their legs.