Garcilaso de la Vega (chronicler)

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For the 16th-century poet, see Garcilaso de la Vega (poet).
"The Inca" redirects here. For the South American empire, see Inca Empire. For other uses, see Inca (disambiguation).
Garcilaso de la Vega
Inca Garcilaso de la Vega.png
Garcilaso de la Vega
Born 12 April 1539
Cusco, New Castile (current Peru)
Died 23 April 1616(1616-04-23) (aged 77)
Córdoba, Spain
Nationality Spanish Peruvian
Occupation Writer, historian
Parents Sebastián Garcilaso de la Vega (father)
Isabel Chimpu Ocllo (mother)

Garcilaso de la Vega (12 April 1539 – 23 April 1616), born Gómez Suárez de Figueroa and known as El Inca or Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, was a chronicler and writer from the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru.[1] The son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca noblewoman, he is recognized primarily for his contributions to Inca history, culture, and society. His work was influential, well-received, and particularly notable for being the first literature by an author born in the Americas to enter the western canon.


The coat of arms of Garcilaso de la Vega.

Early life[edit]

Garcilaso de la Vega was born of Spanish aristocratic and royal Inca roots in Cusco, Peru.[2] Garcilaso was the illegitimate son of Spanish captain and conquistador Sebastián Garcilaso de la Vega y Vargas (d. 1559).[2] Garcilaso's mother, Inca princess Palla Chimpu Ocllo, baptized as Isabel Suárez Chimpu Ocllo, was descended from Inca nobility, a daughter of Túpac Huallpa and a granddaughter (not a niece) of the powerful Inca Tupac Yupanqui.[2] Garcilaso lived with his mother the first ten years of his life and learned to speak both Quechua and Spanish.[3] Garcilaso received an inheritance of 4,000 in currency when his father died and in 1560 decided to travel to Spain.[3]

After his father abandoned his mother for a younger Spanish woman, his mother was married again to Juan de Pedroche and had two daughters, Ana Ruíz, who was married to her cousin Martín de Bustinza, and Luisa de Herrera, married to Pedro Márquez de Galeoto (the parents of Alonso Márquez de Figueroa).[citation needed] A native Quechua speaker born in Cuzco, Garcilaso wrote accounts of Inca life, history, and the conquest by the Spanish. His writings were published as the Comentarios Reales de los Incas (translated into English in 1961 as The Incas).

Travel to Spain[edit]

Garcilaso arrived in Spain in 1561 and traveled to Montilla where he met his father's brother, Alonso de Vargas, who became Garcilaso's protector.[3] Garcilaso soon traveled to Madrid to seek recognition for the rights of his father.[3]

Garcilaso was educated in Spain after his father's death in 1560.

He remained in Spain and did not return to his native country (now Peru) because of the danger his royal Inca lineage presented in uncertain times. It is recorded that he died in Córdoba, Spain on 23 April 1616, but the date could also be the 22 or the 21, given the inaccuracy of the existing documents.

Military service[edit]

He entered Spanish military service in 1570 and fought in the Alpujarra mountains against the Moors after the Morisco Revolt. He received the rank of captain for his services to the crown.

Personal life[edit]

He lived in the town of Montilla until 1591, when he moved to Córdoba until his death. Apparently, he had a first son in 1570, who might have died at a very young age. He then had a second son, Diego de Vargas, in 1590, who helped him copy the Royal Commentaries and survived him until at least 1651. The mothers of both children were two of Garcilaso's servants.

Date of death[edit]

23 April 1616, the supposed death date of Garcilaso, is also the same day that Miguel de Cervantes, Spain's greatest writer and the author of Don Quixote, passed away. It is also the recorded date of the death of William Shakespeare, although Shakespeare actually died on 3 May of that year, before the calendar was amended.


He received a first-rate, but informal European education in Spain after he relocated there at age 21. His works have enormous literary value, and are not mere historical chronicles. His maternal family were the ruling Inca, and as such, he portrays the Inca as benevolent rulers who governed a country where everybody was well-fed and happy. Nonetheless, he received first-hand accounts of daily Inca life from his maternal relatives, much of which he conveyed in his writings, and he gives accurate information about the system of tribute and labor enforced by the Incas. His depiction of Incan religion and gradual expansion is nurtured by his Christianized view of the indigenous past[citation needed]; no mention is made of human sacrifices in Inca times. Whether this was a deliberate attempt to portray his Inca ancestors in a good light, or mere ignorance given that he lived most of his life in Spain, is not known.

Comentarios Reales de los Incas[edit]

It was in Spain that Garcilaso wrote his famous Comentarios Reales de los Incas, published in Lisbon in 1609, and based on stories he had been told by his Inca relatives when he was a child in Cusco. The Comentarios contained two parts: the first about Inca life, and the second about the Spanish conquest of Peru, published in 1617. Many years later (1780), when the uprising against colonial oppression led by Tupac Amaru II gained traction, a royal edict by Charles III of Spain banned the Comentarios from being published or distributed in Lima due to its "dangerous" content. The book was not printed again in the Americas until 1918, but copies continued to be circulated.[4]

Historia de la Florida[edit]

Even before the Comentarios Reales, Garcilaso had also written his popular La Florida del Inca, an account of Hernando de Soto's expedition and journey of Florida. The work was published in Lisbon in 1605. It contains the chronicles of de Sotos's expedition according to information Garcilaso gathered during various years, and defends the legitimacy of imposing the Spanish sovereignty in conquered territories and submit them to Christian jurisdiction. He also defends the dignity, courage and rationality of the Native Americans.

Historians have identified problems with using La Florida as an historical account. Milanich and Hudson warn against relying on Garcilaso, noting serious problems with the sequence and location of towns and events in his narrative, and add, "some historians regard Garcilaso's La Florida to be more a work of literature than a work of history."[5] Lankford characterizes Garcilaso's La Florida as a collection of "legend narratives", derived from a much-retold oral tradition of the survivors of the expedition.[6]


Cusco's main stadium, Estadio Garcilaso de la Vega, was named after him in 1950.

Further reading[edit]

  • Garcilaso de la Vega, The Florida of the Inca, trans. John and Jeannette Varner. 1951. ISBN 978-0-292-72434-1
  • Garcilaso de la Vega, Royal Commentaries of the Incas, trans. Harold V. Livermore. 1965. ISBN 978-0-292-77038-6
  • Schreffler, Michael J. and Jessica Welton. “Garcilaso de la Vega and the ‘New Peruvian Man’: José Sabogal’s frescoes at the Hotel Cuzco.” Art History 33, (January/February 2010): 124-149.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "A los indios, mestizos y criollos de los reinos y provincias del grande y riquíssimo imperio del Perú, el Inca Garcilasso de la Vega, su hermano, compatriota y paisano, salud y felicidad." Prólogo a la Historia General del Perú
  2. ^ a b c Libros Peruanos. "Inca Garcilaso de la Vega."
  3. ^ a b c d Cervantes Virtual. "Inca Garcilaso de la Vega" by José Carlos Rovira and Remedios Mataix.
  4. ^ Video Inca Garcilaso y Tupac Amaru
  5. ^ Milanich, Jerald T.; Hudson, Charles (1993). Hernando de Soto and the Indians of Florida. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida. p. 6. ISBN 0-8130-1170-1. 
  6. ^ Lankford, George E. (1993). "Legends of the Adelantado". In Young, Gloria A; Michael P. Hoffman. The Expedition of Hernando de Soto West of the Mississippi 1541–1543. Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press. p. 175. ISBN 1-55728-580-2. Retrieved 16 November 2013. 

External links[edit]