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Hundreds of years ago, a group of people calling themselves the Inca settled the Cuzco Valley high in the Andes Mountains of South America. Where they had come from was a mystery that still remains unsolved. Although their purpose for settling such a rugged and inhospitable landscape was unclear, the end result of their arrival is without doubt. In time, the Inca built an empire that spanned the Pacific coast as far south as Argentina and as far north as Ecuador, some 2000 miles of hills, mountains, valleys, and coastline. In just a short time (roughly 100 years), the Incan Empire dominated South America and is, to this day, considered one of the finest empires the world has ever known. Starting with the ninth ruler, Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, the Inca began their expansion. Pachacuti won his first military campaign against the Chanca people, consolidated control over his cultural base of Cuzco, then turned his army south and conquered the Colla and Lupaca tribes. Though not the first Incan ruler, Pachacuti was by many accounts one of the finest Pre-Columbian persons that ever lived. It was under the rule of Huayna Capac, however, that the Incan Empire reached its greatest height. When his father died in 1483 and he became emperor in his own right, Capac continued the campaigns of the previous emperor, eventually extending the empire's borders into what is modern Colombia. A dedicated ruler, Huayna did much to improve the lives of his people. In addition to building temples and other works, Huayna greatly expanded the road network, along which he built storehouses for food so that aid could be quickly rushed to any who were in danger of starvation.
Like many other groups that preceded the Inca (the Chimu, the Nazca, the Moche), Incan society was heavily dipped in the worship of powerful gods. Their pantheon contained such lofty omnipotents as Viracocha (the god of creation), Inti (the sun and father of the Inca Dynasty), Illapa (god of rain, thunder, and lightning), Pacha Mama (mother of the earth), and Mama Cocha (mother of the lakes). Grand ceremonies were held frequently to honor these gods, for the Inca believed that if one did not give thanks and obedience to the gods, bad things would happen. The world of the Andes Mountains is full of ecological wonders - and ecological disasters such as earthquakes, severe storms, and volcanic activity. The gods held sway with these events and thus the proper respect had to be paid at all times.
The Inca called their empire Tahuantinsuyu (Land of the Four Quarters), which was divided into four provinces. Each province was controlled by a local governor called the apu; below him were the local rulers - the curacas - and even lower still the district headsmen - the camayoc. Through this governmental structure, the Sapa-Inca could rule the empire with impunity. Additional structures were also put in place, such as the Imperial road system, which was built along the steep inclines of mountains, interspersing bridges and stone walkways, stone steps, and flat brick highways. In addition, way-stations known as tambos were constructed at strategic points along the roads, giving travelers and important dignitaries a place to rest and prepare for the next leg of their journey.
The Incan army was also well organized. When called upon to fight, each province would muster squadrons of men armed with maces, bows and arrows, slings, darts, and spears. These fierce Incan warriors, known as the Quechua, conquered much of the Andes and coastal regions of what is now Peru and Ecuador in the period between 1440 and 1530 . During a battle, slingers would let fly a shower of rocks to soften the enemy lines. Then, archers would release their shafts, darts would fly, and then the shock troops would hit, in a torrent of screams and shouts meant to confuse and terrify the wavering opposition. Incan warfare was very successful. But nothing could prepare the empire for what was coming.
After the glorious reign of Huayna Capac, the empire began to erode under a series of internal and external disasters. A bitter civil war between half brothers Huascar and Atahuallpa, the sons of Capac, stretched the empire to the breaking point. Atahuallpa won the war, quickly killed his half-brother, and declared himself king. But, in 1532 AD, Spanish Conquistadors, under the command of Francisco Pizarro, entered the Cajamarca Valley and brutally attacked Atahuallpa and his subjects, killing many and taking the Sapa-Inca hostage. Eventually, Pizarro killed Atahuallpa, pillaged the empire of its riches, and brought an end to the mighty Incan civilization.