Inca (Ĭng´kə), pre-Columbian empire, W South America. The name Inca may specifically refer to the emperor, but is generally used to mean the empire or the people.
Extent and Organization of the Empire
Centered at Cuzco, Peru, the empire at the time of the Spanish conquest (1532) dominated the entire Andean area from Quito, Ecuador, S to the Río Maule, Chile, extending some 2, 000 mi (3, 200 km). Although the Inca showed a genius for organization, their conquests were facilitated by the highly developed social systems of some of the kingdoms that they absorbed, such as the Chimu, and the established agrarian communities that covered the area of their conquest. The Inca empire was a closely knit state. At the top was the emperor, an absolute monarch ruling by divine right. Merciless toward its enemies and requiring an obedience close to slavery, the imperial government was responsible for the welfare of its subjects. Everything was owned by the state except houses, movable household goods, and some individually held lands. In addition to cultivating the land, the common people were drafted to work on state projects such as mining, public works, and army service. This obligation was known as mita. From well-stocked storehouses were drawn goods to support priests, government servants, special artisans, the aged and the sick, and widows.
The royal family formed an educated, governing upper nobility, which at the time of the Spanish conquest numbered around 500. To further increase government control over an empire grown unwieldy, all who spoke Quechua became an "Inca class" by privilege and became colonists. Lesser administrative officials, formerly independent rulers, and their descendants were the minor nobility, or curaca class, also supported by the government.