The Incas, a race of South American Indians, are believed to have started their rise to power in Peru about five hundred years before the arrival of the Spanish conquerors in the 16th century. Thy are said to have climbed into the Andes mountains from the Eastern forests calling themselves "children of the sun".
According to their favorite legend, Manco Capac, the founder of the race, came out of Lake Titicaca in Peru with his sister who was also his wife. The sun god was said to have given him a staff and told him to build a city at a spot where it sank into the ground - in other words, where the ground was fertile. This city was given the name Cuzco, meaning navel, because the Incas regarded it as the center of the earth.
It was not long before the Incas began to conquer or absorb the neighboring tribes. By 1460 their empire extended from the Amazon forests to the Pacific Ocean, from the borders of what is now Ecuador, deep into Chile. This 2,000-mile territory was governed by a mild form of despotism. The term Inca properly applied only to the upper caste of the nobility and those of royal blood.
Property was held in common, money was not used and the products of labour were divided in three equal portions among the church, the governing classes and the people. Inca skills included spinning of woolen clothes, mining, engineering with tin and copper tools, the fashioning of gold and silver ornaments, irrigation and the use of fertilizers. They used a system of writing by means of knots tied in lengths of string.
The doom of this thriving and industrious civilization was sealed when the Spanish adventurer Francisco Pizarro sailed from the Isthmus of Panama with fewer than 200 men in 1531 to conquer and loot the country. Pizarro seized the Inca ruler Atahualpa and had him put to death after accepting a vast gold and silver ransom for his life. With their leader executed and their chiefs slain, the people were forced into submission. Slaughter, plunder and oppression followed. But today the remains of massive stone temples and palaces survive as reminders of the high state of Inca culture. Some masks and other ornaments survived.