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Chronicles of the Incas

By martinii1114 Oct 15, 2014 1853 Words
The Spanish conquistadors made contact with the Inca Empire in 1526, at the

northwestern Inca stronghold of Tumbes. The Spanish, in search of wealth and fame, were

attracted to the awesome riches and supreme power of the Incas. Throughout the next few years,

a violent and bloody effort to seize power over the Inca people ensued. The prolonged effort of

conquest brought many soldiers and missionaries to the South America region. One of the

soldiers who made the long journey was a young man named Pedro de Cieza de Leon. He

described his experience in a series of writing that he named Chronicles of the Incas. In the

Chronicles of the Incas, Cieza de Leon explains some of the techniques Incas rulers used to keep

peace among their conquered people, a type of bureaucratic system that represented all of the

Inca provinces, how the Incas unified their empire through law, and how they used their surplus

of supplies and food as a safety measure for future crisis.
The Inca Empire was located on the western coast of South America and stretched the

vast length of present-day Ecuador until to southern most tip of present day Chile. The entire

empire stretched more than two thousand miles and had over twelve million inhabitants1. They

had a strong, organized, and unified central government that helped make the duties of the

government efficient and effective. Communication throughout the Inca Empire was made

possible due to an advance road system that consisted of two main roads with many subsequent

branches that extended the entire length of the civilization. The twenty five thousand miles of

roads connected the dense urban cities central cities, the agricultural areas, and the conquered

villages2. To feed the millions of their inhabitants, the Incas farmed staple crops such as quinoa,

potatoes, and maize. They adapted to their mountainous and hilly terrain by creating a farming

technique called terrace farming, which no longer limited farming to flat and open spaces. Despite the incredible power of the Inca civilization, their empire met its death at the hands of a

Spanish conquistador named Francisco Pizarro.
In the early sixteenth century, Hernan Cortez, who had many aspirations in his conquest

of the Aztecs, inspired Francisco Pizarro to strive for the same glory of fame, power, and

wealth3. He eventually convinced the Spanish government to fund his voyage to South America

where he planned on achieving his glory by seizing every ounce of gold, silver, and all valuable

treasures the Incas had in their possession. By the year 1532, Francisco Pizarro had arrived with

his conquering forces and began his attack. Once the rulers of the Inca Empire were removed

from power, the Spanish then proceeded to colonize their newly conquered land4. As word

spread throughout Spain of the achievements of Pizarro and his fellow conquistadors, many

hopefuls were eager to make the long voyage across the Atlantic and aspire to their own wealth.
One of the hopefuls was a young soldier named Pedro de Cieza de Leon. Cieza de Leon

enlisted in the Spanish army and made the voyage all alone at the age of thirteen. Once he

arrived in South America, he participated in many military expeditions that had the goal of

establishing Spanish rule and tradition in the new world. While on these military expeditions,

Cieza de Leon acquired great amounts of information about the Inca Empire, which he then

recorded in several writings and documentations. He eventually returned to Spain about two

decades later in the year 1550, when he began to publish his writings on the Incas. One of Cieza

de Leon’s most important and famous publications was a document titled Chronicles of the

Incas.
In this excerpt of the Chronicles of the Incas, Cieza de Leon describes the causes for his

admiration of the Incan government. His intended audience would have been the educated class

of Spanish citizens and presumably anyone else who held educated status in Western Europe. At

the beginning of the excerpt, Cieza de Leon is describing the different tactics that were utilized

by the Inca as to keep the peace in their newly conquered territories. He begins by detailing that

people were often relocated from one territory of the vast empire to another quite frequently.

Most notably, thousands of people were sent to newly acquired lands that were similar to which

they came from5. Perhaps, Cieza de Leon saw this forced shuffling of people as a way to help

assimilate and normalize the foreigners into their new civilization. Though the conquered people

might have held the exact opposite opinion. They might have viewed this as a cruel display of

power by the Inca government. Was there a centralized law code that was forced on them, or

were they able to keep most of their traditional laws? Were the conquered people of the same

status as their new Incan inhabitants? Cieza de Leon seems to have disregarded the effects this

population change had on the daily lives of the natives. The conquered people were now

bombarded with the Inca language and various traditions that probably rivaled their own. Did

the Inca people take their new environment into consideration? Modest and quiet villages might

have become overcrowded and unsanitary cites overnight. Cieza de Leon only discusses the

Incan vantage point and ignores all others.
As the excerpt continues, Cieza de Leon depicts the Inca system of representation of its people. He describes this process as being organized and equal because representatives from

every province knew exactly when and where to meet. During these meetings, all the

representatives brought tributes in the form of gold and silver, and offered them to the temples of

the sun as well as to various mints. These tributes were then carefully recorded and accounted

for by the Inca government6. This was seemingly a form of taxation that helped keep the center

of wealth in the capital. Cieza de Leon does not discuss who was eligible to become a

representative for their province. Were the natives eligible, or were the positions held

exclusively by the natural born Inca citizens. How were these representatives chosen? He does

not explain whether the people of the province had any say in choosing their representative or if

he was merely appointed by the wealthy and powerful. Did the representatives have everyone’s

best wishes in mind? The representatives of each province could have only taken the issues and

needs of the wealthy and elite to the capital. Extreme bias and misrepresentation was possible,

leaving the well being of the lower class with little to no consideration. No indication is given as

to who funded the customary tributes to the capital. Even though the complete details about the

representative system were not given, Cieza de Leon respected the basic premise of

representation of all people. The mention of this in his document might have been a criticism of

his home country Spain by enlightening them of the advanced thinking of such a “primitive”

civilization.
The excerpt of the Chronicles of the Incas ends with two contrasting points. The first

point being the harsh and strict system of punishment for wrongdoers. Cieza de Leon briefly

explains that thieves and violent criminals were put to death by beheading or some other painful

and mutilating death. He further explains that the punishment for thieves was not exclusive to

those who were convicted. But that their entire families gained a tarnished reputation and

shame7. The tone through out the entire document has been one of esteem and approval toward

the Inca People and their empire. Perhaps Cieza de Leon thought it important to remind his

readers the difference between the civilized people of Spain and the savages of the new world.

He wanted to credit the Inca for their accomplishments in maintaining a stable society, but did

not want to elevate them to a class similar of the Spanish. Even though the Inca were an

intelligent and sophisticated people, western Europeans did not see them as equals.
The second point at the end of the excerpt was a description of how the Inca stored their

surplus of supplies for a time of need. Cieza explains that all extra supplies were stored at

various locations around the empire. In a time of war, the traveling Inca armies did not rely on

the surrounding inhabitants for food, but would take what they needed from the nearest storing

center. He explains that the storage centers were also useful in a drought filled year. Everyone

took only what they needed and repaid it as soon as they could. Supplies were also given to the

poor and the crippled8. While Cieza de Leon did not want to elevate the Inca to equals of the

Spanish, he still wanted to highlight their intelligence. He did not want the people of Spain to

see the Incas as heathens that not capable of forward thinking. Cieza de Leon wanted emphasize

the sophistication of the Inca society.
I have learned that historical documents can be biased and one sided. The first half of the

excerpt discussed the relation policy the Inca government had with their conquered peoples as to

keep the peace between them. Cieza de Leon describes the entire process as being well-planned

and thoughtful in execution. The entire approach is illustrated to be fair and honest. I believe he

did not want to discuss the perspective of the conquered natives because he wanted to focus on

the positive aspects. I have also come to the conclusion that South America had become a second

home for Cieza de Leon. After spending decades alongside the Inca, he learned to appreciate

their society. Writing this document was his way of thanking the Incas for providing him a

firsthand look at the new world and its civilizations.
I think this document is believable because Cieza de Leon wanted to spread knowledge of

Inca accomplishments across Spain. After spending decades in South America and nearing the

end of his life, I do not think he had much motive to lie about what he had witnessed. But rather

use this document as a sort of Autobiography. When the Chronicles of the Incas was written, it

provided a first hand account of a civilization half way across the world. The information

detailed by Cieza de Leon is priceless because it gives us the ability to experience a society that

existed almost five hundred years ago. I believe this document symbolizes one of the first

stepping-stones to a unified globe.
History can never be considered to be a concrete subject with definite answers. But

should rather be considered to be a malleable substance that is shaped by countless vantage

points, opinions and beliefs. The Chronicles of the Incas offers us the vantage point, opinions,

and beliefs of Pedro de Cieza de Leon. Even though his words cannot be taken as fact, they have

without a doubt, helped shape our present. Just as all of history will continue to shape our future.

The Incas of Yesterday

By
Daniel Martinez

Second Writing Assignment
History 110A
MWF 8am
Dr. William A. Myers

Cite This Document

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