Inca Garcilaso de la Vega

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Inca Garcilaso de la Vega
Born12 April 1539
Died23 April 1616(1616-04-23) (aged 77)
Occupation(s)Writer, historian
Parent(s)Sebastián Garcilaso de la Vega (father)
Isabel Chimpu Ocllo (mother)
Writing career
LanguageEarly Modern Spanish
Notable worksComentarios Reales de los Incas

La Florida del Inca

The General History of Peru

Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (12 April 1539 – 23 April 1616), born Gómez Suárez de Figueroa and known as El Inca, was a chronicler and writer born in the Viceroyalty of Peru.[1] Sailing to Spain at 21, he was educated informally there, where he lived and worked the rest of his life. The natural son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca noblewoman born in the early years of the conquest, he is known primarily for his chronicles of Inca history, culture, and society. His work was widely read in Europe, influential and well received.[2] It was the first literature by an author born in the Americas to enter the western canon.[3]

After his father's death in 1559, Vega moved to Spain in 1561, seeking official acknowledgement as his father's son. His paternal uncle became a protector, and he lived in Spain for the rest of his life, where he wrote his histories of the Inca culture and Spanish conquest, as well as an account of De Soto's expedition in Florida.

Early life[edit]

Statue of Garcilaso in Villa Borghese gardens, Rome

Born Gómez Suárez de Figueroa in Cuzco, Peru, in 1539, he was the natural son of a Spanish conqueror and encomendero and a royal Inca mother.[4] He was born during the early years of the Spanish conquest. His father was Spanish captain and conquistador Sebastián Garcilaso de la Vega y Vargas (d. 1559).[4] His mother was an elite Inca woman, Palla Chimpu Ocllo, who was baptized after the fall of Cuzco as Isabel Suárez Chimpu Ocllo. She was descended from Inca nobility, a daughter of Túpac Huallpa and a granddaughter (not a niece) of the powerful Inca Tupac Yupanqui.[4] Because his parents were not married in the Catholic Church, he was considered illegitimate and the boy was given only his mother's surname. Under the Spanish system of caste that developed, he would have been classified as a mestizo (for his mixed parents).

Coat of arms of Garcilaso illustrated in a 1609 document

When Gómez was young, his father abandoned his mother and married a much younger Spanish noblewoman, doña Luisa Martel, who was only four years older than Gómez.[5] As such, Gómez lived with his mother, her husband Juan de Pedroche, her Inca family and her two daughters, De la Vega's half-sisters Ana Ruíz, who went on to marry Martín de Bustinza, and Luisa de Herrera, who married Pedro Márquez de Galeoto (one of their children was Alonso Márquez de Figueroa)[citation needed]. His first language was Quechua, but he also learned Spanish from early boyhood.[6] He lived with his mother's family for the first ten years of his life before his father took the boy into his household and gave him an education. Garcilaso received an inheritance when his father died in 1559. The next year, at the age of 21, he left Peru for Spain.[6]

Travel to Spain[edit]

Suárez de Figueroa reached Spain in 1561 while there was still fighting in his native country under the conquest. He may have studied Latin in Seville under the tutelage of Pedro Sánchez de Herrera.[5] The Spanish did not achieve their final victory until 1572. He traveled to Montilla, where he met his father's brother, Alonso de Vargas, who acted as the young man's protector and helped him make his way.[6] The younger man soon traveled to Madrid to seek official acknowledgement as his father's son from the Crown, and he was allowed to take the name of Garcilaso de la Vega.[6] Also referred to as "El Inca" or "Inca Garcilaso de la Vega", he received an informal education in Spain. Together with his uncle's support, gaining his father's name helped him integrate into Spanish society.

Later life[edit]

He remained in Spain and did not return to Peru. As warfare continued in the conquest, he was at political and even physical risk there because of his royal Inca lineage. It is recorded that he died in Córdoba on 23 April 1616, but it could have been up to two days earlier because of the inaccuracy of the existing documents.

House of Garcilaso in Montilla, during his time in Spain

Personal life[edit]

He had at least two sons, born of relationships with different servants. One son was recorded as being born in 1570; he might have died at a very young age. With another servant, Garcilaso had a second son, Diego de Vargas, born in 1590, who helped his father copy the Royal Commentaries and survived him until at least 1651.

It is possible that his eldest son was the 'Admiral' Lope de Vega, who commanded a ship in the fleet of Álvaro de Mendaña, on his 1595 expedition to the Solomon Islands. Lope de Vega was lost at sea when his ship parted from Mendaña's fleet in a fog.[7]

Military service[edit]

De la Vega entered Spanish military service in 1570 and fought in the Alpujarras against the Moors after the Morisco Revolt. He received the rank of captain for his services to the Crown.


Title page of La Florida del Ynca (1605)
Title page of Comentarios Reales de los Incas (1609)

He received a first-rate but informal European education in Spain after he moved there at age 21. His works are considered to have great literary value and are not simple historical chronicles. He wrote from an important perspective, as his maternal family were the ruling Inca. He portrays the Inca as benevolent rulers who governed a country where everybody was well-fed and happy before the Spanish came. Having learned first-hand about daily Inca life from his maternal relatives, he was able to convey that in his writings. As an adult, he also gained the perspective to describe accurately the political system of tribute and labor enforced by the Incas from the subsidiary tribes in their empire.

Baptized and reared as Roman Catholic, he portrayed Incan religion and the expansion of its empire from a viewpoint influenced by his upbringing.[citation needed] He did not acknowledge or discuss the human sacrifices that are now known to have been part of Inca practice. It is unknown whether that was an effort to portray his Inca ancestors in a more positive light to a Spanish audience or his ignorance of the practice having lived most of his life in Spain.

Historia de la Florida[edit]

De la Vega's first work was La Florida del Inca, an account of Hernando de Soto's expedition and journey in Florida. The work was published in Lisbon in 1605 and became popular. It describes the expedition according to its own records and information Garcilaso gathered during the years. He defended the legitimacy of imposing the Spanish sovereignty in conquered territories and submitting them to Catholic jurisdiction. At the same time, he expresses and defends the dignity, the courage, and the rationality of the Native Americans. It was translated and published in English in 1951.

Historians have identified problems with using La Florida as an historical account. Jerald T. Milanich and Charles M. Hudson warn against relying on Garcilaso, noting serious problems with the sequence of events and location of towns in his narrative. They say that "some historians regard Garcilaso's La Florida to be more a work of literature than a work of history."[8] 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.[9]

Comentarios Reales de los Incas[edit]

While in Spain, Garcilaso wrote his best-known work, Comentarios Reales de los Incas, published in Lisbon in 1609. It was based mostly on stories and oral histories told him by his Inca relatives when he was a child in Cusco, but also on the remnants of the history by Blas Valera which was mostly destroyed in the sacking of Cadiz in 1596. The Comentarios have two sections and volumes. The first was primarily about Inca life. The second, about the conquest of Peru, was published in 1617. It was first published in English in London in 1685, translated by Sir Paul Rycaut and titled The Royal Commentaries of Peru.[10] More than a century and a half after its initial publication, in the 1780s, as the uprising against colonial oppression led by Tupac Amaru II was gaining momentum, Charles III of Spain banned the Comentarios from being published in the Quechua language in Lima or distributed there on account of its "dangerous" content.

The book was not printed again in the Americas until 1918, but copies continued to be circulated secretly.[11] It was translated and printed in English in 1961 in the United States as The Incas, and in another edition in 1965 as Royal Commentaries of the Incas. (See below)


Further reading[edit]

Primary sources[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 El Inca, Royal Commentaries of the Incas and General History of Peru , trans. Harold V. Livermore. 1965. ISBN 978-0-292-77038-6

Secondary sources[edit]

  • Brading, D.A. "Inca Humanist" in The First America: The Spanish Monarchy, Creole Patriots, and the Liberal State. New York: Cambridge University Press 1991, pp. 255–71.
  • Schreffler, Michael J. and Jessica Welton. "Garcilaso de la Vega and the 'New Peruvian Man': José Sabogal's frescoes at the Hotel Cusco," 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." (To the Indians, Mestizos and Creoles of the kingdoms and provinces of the large and riquíssimo empire of Peru, the Inca Garcilasso de la Vega, their brother, compatriot and fellow countryman, wishes health and happiness.) Prólogo a la Historia General del Perú
  2. ^ John Hemming: “The conquest of the Incas.” Macmillan, 1993, ISBN 0-333-10683-0: “He told many delightful stories about his childhood in Cuzco. But as a historian Garcilaso has forfeited my confidence: he meanders, forgets, romanticises or blatantly distorts too often to remain authorative.”
  3. ^ Noble David Cook, "Garcilaso de la Vega, el Inca" in Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, vol. 3, pp.32-33. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1996.
  4. ^ a b c Libros Peruanos. "Inca Garcilaso de la Vega."
  5. ^ a b Durand, José (2001). "Garcilaso Inca de la Vega - Biography. Selections from the Library of José Durand". University of Notre Dame Rare Books and Special Collections. Archived from the original on 31 January 2023. Retrieved 29 June 2023.
  6. ^ a b c d "Inca Garcilaso de la Vega" by José Carlos Rovira and Remedios Mataix., Cervantes Virtual website
  7. ^ This claim was inferred by Australian historian Lawrence Hargrave in a paper to the Royal Society of NSW in 1909.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Lankford, George E. (1993). "Legends of the Adelantado". In Young, Gloria A; Michael P. Hoffman (eds.). 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.
  10. ^ Rycaut, Paul (1685). The Royal Commentaries of Peru. Miles Flesher/Christopher Wilkinson.
  11. ^ Video Inca Garcilaso y Tupac Amaru Archived 27 December 2011 at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]