The Emperor. As a supposed descendant of the sun, the "Chief Inca" ruled by divine right. He ate from gold and silver dishes and never wore the same clothes twice. When messengers came before him, he remained hidden behind a screen. Like the pharaohs of Egypt, he took his own sister as his queen.
Established custom guaranteed that the emperor behave responsibly. He attended to the needs of his subjects and, to a limited extent, took part in public activities. When it was time for planting, the emperor himself broke the first clod of earth with his golden spade.
Nobles. The noble class came from Cuzco, home of the original Inca tribe. But as the empire grew, there were not enough nobles to fill all the offices. Men of ability, therefore, were chosen to form a second class of nobles. All men who were nobles, whether of the first or second class, wore ear ornaments to set them apart from commoners.
The four nobles who governed the four quarters of the empire served as the emperor's council.
Language. Many different languages were spoken in ancient Peru. The Incas of Cuzco spoke Quechua (KETCH-wah). To unify the empire, they spread the language, and as a result Quechua became, and still is, the most widely spoken Indian language in the Americas.
Way of Life
From these we know that most Incas lived in villages. Even Cuzco, the capital, was not a large city. Workers who supplied its needs lived in small settlements in the surrounding countryside.
Dress. When Inca people got up in the morning, they did not have to get dressed. They slept in their clothes. Women wore long gowns with a sash at the waist. Men wore loincloths and sleeveless shirts that hung almost to the knees. Both sexes wore sandals and long capes.
Food. The first meal of the day was at eight or nine in the morning. Most dishes were soups or stews. Beans, peppers, tomatoes, peanuts, and sweet manioc were used. But the more important foods were maize (corn) and potatoes. So-called Irish and Idaho potatoes actually originated in ancient Peru. Almost the only meat regularly used was guinea pig.
Work. Men, if they were not on military duty, worked in the fields. Women did spinning and weaving and took care of the home. Often, however, wives went to the fields and helped their husbands with the farming. Since there was no regular schooling (except for the children of nobles), most young people learned adult chores by watching their parents.
Some workers tended flocks of llamas. The llama, a relative of the camel, provided coarse wool for spinning and was used as a beast of burden. There were no wheeled vehicles, but a llama could carry 100 pounds (45 kilograms).
Shelter. The average house was a one-room structure of stone or mud brick, roofed with thatch. At night the whole family slept together on the floor. There were no mattresses (not even for the emperor). People doubled a huge blanket and crawled inside.
People everywhere worshiped their ancestors. Each neighborhood kept a mummy, supposedly of the ancestor from whom all the living were descended. Mummies of the emperors were kept in palaces in Cuzco.
Feasts and the Calendar. The Incas developed an accurate calendar by observing the movements of the sun. By observing the moon, they divided the year into twelve months and planned their major religious feasts accordingly.
A feast celebrating the harvest was held in the month corresponding to May. June marked the great feast of the Sun. Rituals of planting were held in August. Sacrifices of guinea pigs and llamas were required on such occasions. Sometimes human beings were sacrificed.
Crafts and Engineering
Textiles. Inca weaving rivaled the best work done in Europe. The finest cloth was a kind of tapestry, finished on both sides, with intricate designs in many colors. This was a woman's craft. Most other works were done by men.
Metalwork. The science of metallurgy was more advanced in Peru than anywhere else in the Americas. Deep ming was practiced, as well as a kind of smelting to remove metal from raw ore. Copper and tin were combined to produce bronze, which made stronger weapons and tools. Metalworkers also knew about casting, soldering, and riveting.
Masonry. Stone walls built by Incas were so perfectly fitted that even today a knife blade cannot be inserted in the joints. Stone buildings in Cuzco rose to heights of two and three stories.
Waterworks. Streams were rechanneled to bring in fresh water and carry off sewage. To irrigate fields in the highlands, hillsides were terraced, like the rice paddies of China.
Roads. Roads connected all towns and villages with Cuzco. In the mountains the roads were built with retaining walls, switchbacks, culverts, and tunnels. Swift streams were crossed by suspension bridges.
Along the roads there were post houses, where runners waited to relay messages. Messengers carrying a quipu or a small package could travel 150 miles (240 kilometers) a day. It is said that in this way the emperor in Cuzco, high in the mountains, received fresh fish from the sea.
Inkarrí. The memory of the Incas remains alive. Modern legends say that an Inca ruler will yet return, bringing a better life for the Quechua. Sometimes this hero is called Amaru (from Tupac Amaru), more often Inkarrí (from Inca and the Spanish word rey, meaning "king").
In the 1960s and 1970s the Peruvian government took steps to improve conditions for the Quechua people and to give the Inca heritage more prominence in national life. Quechua was made an official language of Peru, together with Spanish. The portrait of Tupac Amaru II now appeared on Peruvian paper money. And government officials made speeches to Quechua audiences, proclaiming, nkarrí" s=""Inkarri"-->"Inkarri is here!"
At the same time, schoolchildren in Peru were being taught to recite the names of the Inca emperors the way young people everywhere learn multiplication tables and the alphabet. Some Peruvians can recite all 13 names in a single breath.