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Aztec, Inca & Maya


The Incas cut terraces into the mountains.The Incas cut terraces into the mountains. About 500 years ago, the Incas ruled an empire in the Andes Mountains of South America. Until the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, it was the greatest empire South America had ever seen. The Incas built a network of roads across their mountain empire. Bridges made out of twisted vines crossed deep ravines. Messengers and troops walked along the roads, but important people were carried in litters by servants. The Incas were great craftspeople. They cut and shaped blocks of stone until they fitted together exactly. Many of their sturdy buildings, walls and roads still stand today.

Circular terraces at MorayCircular terraces at Moray
A Spanish painting of Manco CápacA Spanish painting of Manco Cápac

The rise of the
Inca Empire

The Incas were originally chiefs of a small mountainous area in what is now Peru, South America. By about AD 1200, after they had fought and raided neighbouring enemy villages, the Incas were the most powerful people in the region. They ruled from their capital, Cusco. Many legends tell the story of the first emperor of the Inca, Manco Cápac, but it is possible he was a real person who ruled in around AD 1200. The later Inca emperors claimed they were descended from the Sun and that this gave them the right to rule.

The expansion of the Inca EmpireThe expansion of the Inca EmpireIt was not until 1438 that the Inca rulers began to conquer surrounding territories. Then the ninth Inca emperor, Pachacuti (“Earth Shaker”), refused to retreat from invading rivals. Instead, his armies defeated them and swept across their lands. Pachacuti made all his conquered peoples speak Quechua, the Inca language. Pachacuti’s son, Tupac Inca, who took the title Yupanqui (“Unforgettable”), continued the Inca expansion. He conquered the lands of the powerful Chimu Empire to the north, then surged southwards into what is now Chile and Argentina.

By 1493, the Incas ruled over 10 million subjects in a 4000-kilometre (2500-mile) stretch of the Andes Mountains. But the Incas’ great empire was to be shortlived, because the Spanish conquistadores arrived in 1532.

Inca doctors performed successful skull surgeries. They cut holes after head wounds to stop fluid from building up. Survival rates may have been 80-90% of all cases.

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