The Four-Piece Empire (in Quechua Tawantinsuyu), better known as the Inca Empire, originated from the small mountainous Kingdom of Cusco. From the city of the same name, it will expand and create the largest pre-Columbian state in both Americas. The Incas used the knowledge, technology and skills of many cultures and civilisations that existed before them. In that sense, their culture was not overly original. What the Incas proved to be exceptional in are the policies of integration, assimilation and ideological indoctrination. These skills helped them within a century to create a state that stretched along the Andes and which, at its peak, had over 10 million inhabitants.


Voluntary Integration



The Four-Piece Empire
Inca Empire – Four Provinces and Capital City of Cusco; Author: Aleksandar Obradović


Unlike most great empires, the Incas especially insisted on the voluntary integration of the surrounding peoples. They also had special techniques for that. First, they would send spies and scouts to the target country who would assess the wealth and power of that people and ruler. After that, a delegation of the Inca emperor would arrive with gifts. They would offer the respective ruler to join Tawantinsuyu. In return, he would retain his position and privileges. The offer was always such as to overshadow and to say “obey the Inca ruler and you will be rich”. If the ruler refused this offer, war would ensue. In case of defeat, he would lose not only his position, but also his head. In the end, all the Inca neighbours were integrated into the empire, in one way or another.


Whether by war or by good will, all the newly annexed areas and peoples were subject to assimilation. First, the ruler of the newly annexed area, his successors and the higher nobility would go to Cusco, to the centre of the world – at least the Andean. There, within the institution that educated the Inca nobility, they would learn about the culture, history, beliefs and customs of the Children of the Sun, as the Incas were called. After this kind of cultural and ideological transformation, they would return to their countries and rule there in the name of the Inca emperor. Above them would be a regional lord, also from the Inca tribe, who would oversee an entire region (suyu).


Inclusive Religion


Pachacuti worshiping the Inti
Pachacuti worshiping the Inti inside the Coricancha; representation of Martín de Murúa


The process of integration is always two-way and the Incas knew it well. They accepted the deities of the newly annexed peoples and included them in their pantheon, which eventually became a Pan-Andean pantheon. In return, they asked the conquered peoples to accept their sun god – Inti – as their supreme god. In this way, they included a large number of diverse peoples in their spiritual universe and in their ideological matrix and order. Special forms of confirming the dominance of the Incas were the celebrations of great holidays that were performed throughout the Empire and which glorified the Inca emperor. That is why keeping the calendar was one of the most important tasks of the ideologue of the Empire – the high Inca clergy in Cusco. This calendar did not deal with the daily calculation of time (such as determining the day of the week), but was completely focused on economic activities and on determining the date of the most important holidays of the Inca ideology.


But despite all these measures, the Incas were still very few in number. According to some estimates, the ratio of Inca to the rest of the population was 1 to 100[1]. Although they had powerful and elaborate integration techniques, their Empire was expanding too fast. Over the course of a century, they expanded their rule over almost the entire Andean mountain range. In such a short time, integrations cannot be fully rooted and evoke the desired loyalty. When they could no longer root for loyalty, the Incas resorted to a policy of “uprooting” the population.


Mitma – Displacement Policy


Andean People
Andean People; Author: PeruForLess.com


Mitma was the practice of planned, politically motivated population displacement within Tawantinsuyu. The word itself means “scattered, distributed”, and is derived from the Quechua word mitmat, which means “newcomer, outsider”. The verb mitmay, which means “to colonise, settle, increase in number”, is also close to them. With this policy, the Incas rewarded groups and peoples loyal to them. They moved them to the newly annexed areas and gave them land, cattle and houses. There, they would continue to reproduce the Inca way of life and their worldviews, and to be an example to the surrounding, still non-integrated, peoples. Likewise, rebel groups and peoples would be displaced and relocated to more loyal environments, and in this way they would be pacified. Local nobility was displaced within the mitma system, too. They were rewarded with that, because they would get higher positions in the bureaucracy of the Inca Empire. According to some estimates, the Incas relocated from ¼ to even ⅓ the total population of the Empire in this way! [2] The census was used to record the population, as well as to prevent the return of displaced persons to their ancestral homeland. Although they did not have a script, the Incas kept accurate records of the population with multicoloured knots called quipu.


The Inca Empire devised a complex and sophisticated system of policies by which they tried to solve their handicap – their small number in a fast-growing Empire. Their power came from a realistic assessment of themselves – they are a small but ambitious nation. From such a position, it is not surprising that their first strategy was to include voluntarily the surrounding peoples in their federation. As physical occupation of the territories is only half the job, they realised the importance of a sense of acceptance among new citizens. Inclusion in their religious and worldview system is a very wise decision, but also a slow one. It takes centuries for its results. In the end, the Incas had another effective solution – relocation to the unknown. The population that finds itself uprooted from its homeland is much more inclined to obey. Also, that population is dependent on the state, which strengthens loyalty even more.


The Spaniards defeated the Inca state when it was at the peak of its power. Among the reasons for its fall are the numerous peoples who joined the Spaniards in the fight against the previous Inca lords. As effective as the Inca methods were, they needed more time, but they did not have it. However, their legacy is still alive. The ethnic mix and diversity of the Andean region is still a visible consequence of the mitma practice. Also, Quechua is one of the most populous indigenous languages in America, and today about 10 million people throughout South America and the world speak it.


All copyrights are reserved. It is allowed to publish the article with citing the name of the author and the source.



D’Altroy, Terence N. 2003. The Incas. Oxford: Malden, Mass.: Blackwell.


[1] (D’Altroy 2003, p. 231)

[2] (D’Altroy 2003, p. 248)