If you’re trying to learn as much as you can about ancient civilizations, there are plenty of avenues to help you paint a bigger picture. For example, when it comes to the ancient Egyptians, learning about their pantheon of gods and goddesses is usually a good way of peeking into their culture. For the ancient Greeks, their gods and goddesses are a part of pop culture, but what about their achievements and inventions? The more you dive into the various aspects of ancient civilizations, the easier it becomes to immerse yourself in an era.
That said, what about the Inca Empire? It was at one point the largest empire in the world, yet it doesn’t get the same amount of fame and popularity as other civilizations. When looking into some of the lesser known civilizations, it’s a good idea to study about their most famous leaders. That way, you learn more about their culture and how they lived. The Inca leaders represent their culture as a whole, making it a good starting point for history buffs.
While we’re not going to go with any particular order when talking about Inca leaders (for the most part), we’re at least going to start with the very first ruler. He was considered to be the very first organizer of the Incas, as well as the first governor — which might sound a little odd for those who don’t know much about the Incas, as being a governor is a more modern term.
The thing about the Incas is they were quite ahead of their time, especially in matters of ruling. They didn’t necessarily rule with an iron fist, but they did their best to ensure that everyone had a place. Manco Capac, in particular, was known for developing the first laws of the Incas, and he established some of the more severe punishments. Nevertheless, he set the example for the rest of Inca culture.
While Manco Capac was famous for establishing the first government of the Incas, Pachacutec was famous for reinforcing the Inca Empire, and is often considered to be the greatest ruler of the Incas. His name translates to he who shakes the Earth, and that wasn’t too far off from his accomplishments. He earned the throne through strategic alliances and military victories, and he did well to cement his position with the construction of massive projects.
Machu Picchu, one of the most iconic locations of the Incas and considered the lost city (even if it’s kind of a misnomer), was the result of Pachacutec’s reign. Overall, one of the most famous Inca leaders who undoubtedly earned his place as the greatest leader of the Inca civilization.
We go from the very first Inca leader, to the greatest Inca leader, and now to the very last of the Inca kings. Anyone who’s read up on the histories of the Inca will know that the civilization eventually collapsed while fighting the Spanish conquistadors. It was an unlikely fall, as the Spanish didn’t have the numbers necessary to fight against the natives. Instead, they were able to use guile and cunning to divide and conquer the Incas.
Atahualpa was the very last of the rulers, who fought the Spanish tooth and nail for the sake of his people. He was to pay for his ransom with a large fortune of gold and silver, but it never came. Atahualpa was eventually executed by the Spanish, ending the reign of the Incas and toppling their empire.
Before the Spanish invasion, the Incas had to deal with numerous rebellions. Despite the attempt of the Incas to develop a proper government with no money, it still had its fair share of issues. Huayna Capac was a ruler famous for his brutal crackdown on the rebels across the empire. He was known to be aggressive, preferring to nip the problem at the bud and dealing with the rebels as harshly as possible.
According to some historians, Huayna Capac was already aware that the Spanish were in Inca territory based on reports from his men. It’s unsure what he thought about the presence of the Spanish, but little did he know how much of an impact it would have concerning the downfall of the Incas.
Tupac Inca Yupanqui
It seems somewhat strange to think that the Inca leaders had such a military mindset when you consider their achievements and accomplishments. Without any money, they were able to gain control over the people and provide everyone with what they needed to survive in exchange for work. Tupac Inca Yupanqui was known as the protege of Pachacutec, though he did not become ruler directly after the greatest leader of the Incas.
Instead, Amaru Inca Yupanqui was chosen as leader, though he was eventually seen as inept. He was a peaceful ruler, and Pachacutec thought he was too soft to rule. As such, Tupac Inca Yupanqui became the ruler of the Incas. He was known as the Inca explorer due to his tendency to travel to all corners of the Inca lands.
Manco Inca II
While the great Inca empire fell at the hands of the Spaniards, it was not the end of their story. After all, the Spanish still needed to keep everything stable — which wasn’t easy considering the size of Inca lands. The Spanish finally decided to rule from the shadows, and so they gave Manco Inca II the right to rule the lands. While Manco Inca would comply with the Spaniards, he changed his tune when he saw just how poorly the Incas were treated by the Spaniards.
Eventually, Manco Inca fled to the jungles of Cusco and established a new reign in an attempt to rebel against the Spaniards. His plan was to fight them tooth and nail, much like the other rulers before him. He managed to stay as the ruler of the rebels until he was eventually poisoned by the Spaniards.
Of the rebel leaders that fought against the Spaniards, Tupac Amaru would be the last. He was forced to fight battle after bloody battle against the Spaniards, who saw him as the symbol of the rebellion and so chased him down. He was forced to flee their base of operations, before he and his wife were eventually captured by the Spaniards.
Unfortunately, much like the other rebel leaders, he was executed by the Spanish. With his execution came the true end of the Inca fight against the Spaniards, and the last breath of Inca rule. While his fight might have been short, he was still famous for fighting as hard as he possibly could against the Spanish.
Moving back to the rule of the earlier Incas, we have Lloque Yupanqui, who had a relatively long reign as far as Inca rulers went. Lloque Yupanqui’s governorship lasted from 1197 – 1246. Compared to many of the other rulers, he was also considered to be one of the more peaceful kings of the Inca dynasty. That said, there are some minor conquests attributed to Lloque Yupanqui, as well as the quelling of some rebellions.
For a civilization that worked hard to maintain peace, it’s hard to believe that so many kings had more of a military mindset than anything else. That said, Lloque Yupanqui was a ruler who was known to govern with balance. He might not have as many achievements as the most famous Inca leaders, but the fact that he kept his position for so long is not something to be taken lightly.
Mayta Capac was the leader who came directly after Lloque Yupanqui, though he was not quite as lucky when it came to the overall state of his rule. He was tasked with defending the Inca territories in Cusco, which he was able to accomplish thanks to quick thinking and his skill in battle.
Despite having to deal with the Alcahuisa ethnic group, Mayta Capac was able to prove his worth in battle, and established himself as a strong ruler. In many ways, Mayta Capac would set the example for more military-minded Inca rulers, including Pachacutec.
Last in this list is Huascar, an Inca ruler who was known for his paranoia. At this point, many of the Inca rulers had risen to the position by usurping the previous ruler, and Huascar was determined not to let such a thing happen. He was so tight-fisted regarding his rule that he had many of his brothers put to death to avoid potentially being usurped. Such an act would prove to be his undoing.
To put things into perspective, Atahualca was Huascar’s brother. When you consider how the latter treated his brothers, it was no wonder that Huascar was taken half-naked in front of his brother, sentenced to death for his crimes against his kin.