More than 500 years ago, the empire of the Inca was the biggest nation in the world. Consisting of over 10 million subjects and stretching 2,500 miles along the Andes mountains, this great kingdom was one of extreme wealth and incredible innovation, even by today's standards. The facts regarding its extreme success make its demise that much more noteworthy. Several factors contributed to the fall of the Inca empire, including physical conquest, decimation by disease and foreign jealousy of its impressive resources.
The Inca Empire
You must have an appreciation for the grandeur of the Inca empire before you can understand how it was dismantled. At one point in time, this empire included more than 100 nations, a universal language, a road system of over 14,000 miles and a complex religion. Rulers also had gold and silver in great supply, and often were buried with their amassed wealth. Subjects worked to build canals, temples, roads and fortresses in exchange for food and clothing. But this ancient infrastructure was far from primitive. Many of the structures built during the time period were so precise that they amaze modern-day architects and engineers.
Until encountering the Spanish conquistadores, the Inca empire had never faced a serious external threat. After having planned and prepared a journey of great conquest, Francisco Pizarro sailed to Peru and entered the Inca town of Cajamarca in 1532. Pizarro invited Atahuallpa, the Inca emperor, to a celebration in his honor. The unsuspecting emperor was quickly taken hostage, ransomed for 24 tons of gold and silver, then soon executed by Pizarro. The next year, Pizarro conquered the Inca capital of Cuzco with little resistance. The victory marked the beginning of Spanish rule over the empire, which would ultimately lead to the unraveling of the Inca empire.
While Pizarro certainly used physical force to conquer the Inca, much of their undoing was related to disease. The Europeans brought with them illnesses that had never existed in the Inca cultures. Smallpox was able to spread unchecked through Panama and then throughout the entire kingdom, simply because the native peoples did not have the immune system to combat such sickness. In the end, such diseases reduced the Inca by nearly two-thirds.
Unfortunately, only a small legacy was left after the Inca encountered both foreign dominance and disease. Pizarro accumulated a great amount of Inca gold, and more Spaniards came close behind to assist in the centralization of the empire under their own rule. As the religion, language and ways of the Spaniards quickly took root, little evidence survived of the Incan culture. Fortunately, settlements such as Machu Picchu serve as a testimony to the advanced ways and achievements of the Inca.
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