Inca army

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The Inca army was a multi-ethnic army[1] charged with defending the sovereignty of the Inca Empire.[2]


As the Inca Empire grew, an army created by a loose confederation of peasant warriors was replaced by one of professional officers. These officers were chosen during the Warachikuy festival, during which candidates had to undergo various tests of physical skill: such as racing, marksmanship, simulated combat and battle drill. There was even a competition to see if they could stay awake for a long period, with it being reported that some officers could remain awake for a whole week.[3]

Inca battalions contained permanent staff (generals and officers) and non-permanent personnel composed of drafted hatun runas (common men), who would be serving their military mit'a public service, comparable to mandatory military service or the draft. Once the mit'a was fulfilled, each hatun runa would return to their respective ayllu (community).

Each battalion was made up of a single ethnic group, the whole group being directed by a kuraka (warlord) of the same ethnicity. In the event that a kuraka fell in battle, a replacement was appointed from within the same ethnic group. In order to prevent rebellions and to promote successful performance in battle, two battalions were formed per ethnic group, each one under the command of a general (and both under the command of the kuraka). Promotion was given to the general who gave the greatest display of bravery on the battlefield, which led to competition between the two battalions.[4] This concept of "duality" is widespread in the Andean world and represents the two Inca dynasties: Hanan and Hurin.[5]

From the time of the rule of Emperor Tupac Yupanqui, a specialized elite group of soldiers was appointed for the safekeeping of the Sapa Inca ("the one and only Inca") during parades, travel or campaigns.[6] These bodyguards originated primarily in Cusco, though soldiers from other ethnicities were also accepted in their ranks. This imperial guard, consisting entirely of men belonging to the nobility, reached a size of 10,000 warriors.

All members of the Inca Army were between 25 and 50 years old.[7] All of the empire's citizens had to perform either military or community service. One in every 50 men over 25-years-old (the legal age of responsibility in the Inca Empire) would be chosen for military service. For noblemen, this was an honour and a duty, for common men, it was a means of social promotion. In accordance with the duality concept, one of every 50 young women was selected to serve in the Temple of the Virgins of the Sun.

Commoners were considered to have fulfilled their military service obligations after six or seven years. The professional officers, however, were permanent soldiers, paid by the state. This military caste enjoyed several privileges, with the state paying for their food, clothing and housing costs, as well as supplying gifts such as coca, jewellery, and wives.

Runas (common men) from the coastal region —in contrast to men from the highlands— were not compelled to serve in the army. This is probably explained by their poor adaptation to the harsh climate conditions of the highlands, where most wars took place.[8]

Army units would march in the company of a large number of women, mostly relatives of the soldiers. Women would take care of cooking and repair the soldiers' clothes and, after battles, would attend the wounded and help bury the dead. Inca armies would not fight at night for religious reasons. A group of priests would also be attached to the army units, in order to pray, make sacrifices, and try to weaken the opposing force by casting spells before and during battle. Weapons and other equipment were transported by llamas.

In the early stages of the Incan Empire, the army was mainly formed of ethnic Inca troops. Later on, however, only the officers and imperial guards were Incas (the Incas were 40,000[9] to 100,000[10] strong, and they ruled an empire of 10 to 15 million[11]). The squads were organized according to the ethnicity of the soldiers (auca runas). The soldiers were armed and dressed according to their tribe with animal skins, fabric shields, feathers, jewels or body paints.

Once a battle was over, enemy leaders would only be executed if they refused to accept the sovereignty of the Incas. The majority of conquered nations were absorbed into the Empire. Conquered nations were forced to adopt Quechua as their main language, worship Inca gods and adopt Inca social customs. Inca government officials would perform a careful study of the conquered zone to ensure the achievement of these objectives.[12]


Before battle, the Inca army would usually parade in order to arouse awe in the opposing army. The soldiers would march with their banners and the commander would be carried in his litter carrying the symbol of his command. Should the opposing force still be willing to fight, the general in command (or the Inca himself) would review the troops while musical instruments were played. After this, the commanding officer would rally the troops for the attack. The Sapa Inca himself would rally the troops in larger campaigns; for smaller rebellions, barbarian invasions, or small campaigns, a general or a prince would be sent as his representative.

The Inca army's military effectiveness was based on two main elements: logistics and discipline. In order to facilitate the movement of their armies, the Inca built a vast road system. Staging areas were set along the roads so the troops and animals could rest and weapons could be obtained. Discipline was very rigid. Soldiers were not allowed to leave the battalion, even during the course of a march.[13] Troops would maintain silence, only breaking it just before battle by yelling and singing in order to intimidate the opposing force.

Army squads were organized in a series of lines. The front lines were initially occupied by slingshot bearers and archers, who would go to the rearguard of the formation after the initial barrages. The lines behind them were occupied by storm-troopers with clubs and axes, these were followed by short-spear bearers, and closing the formation were long-spear bearers (up to 6 meters long).[14]

During a battle on the open ground, the Inca army would usually be divided into three groups. The main group would launch a frontal attack against the opposing force, while the other two would flank the enemy and circle around behind them to attack from the rear.[15] Before the hand-to-hand combat would start, the Inca army would use ranged weapons (slingshots, arrows and short spears) in order to break the enemy's lines. The army would also feign a retreat and then when the enemy attacked the Incas would counter-attack using a pincer movement.[16]

Most opponents of the Inca in the region were poorly organized and after breaking formation would perform mass frontal charges. The Inca army, by contrast, was so well disciplined that it very rarely broke formation and was able to effectively repel ambushes in the jungle, desert, mountain and swamp terrains.

In the event that the opposing force would take refuge in a fortress, mountain, or city, the Inca forces would cut communication and supply lines in order to isolate the enemy and prevent retreat or requests for reinforcements. If negotiations failed, the Inca forces would attempt to storm the fortress and/or starve the opposing force.

Occupied cities and their inhabitants were usually well treated if they surrendered without resistance. If, however, the enemy did resist then they could suffer a number of punishments depending on the degree of resistance offered. If a city or tribe surrendered and then rebelled, the Inca could even authorize the complete annihilation of the city or ethnic group (as was the case with the Pastos and the Punaeños).

If retreat was necessary, the Inca army would usually march along roads in a disciplined manner, following the quickest route available. The army would only rest in fortresses with the objective of re-arming should a counterattack be made. Garrisons would be left in the fortresses that controlled the roads in order to delay a possible advance by the enemy.

The main advantage of the Inca Army over its enemies was its numeric superiority. While typical adversaries were warriors from a single tribe (or at most, an alliance of several tribes), the imperial troops were formed of men from all over the empire. Thanks to the large size of the empire, an army of hundreds of thousands of warriors could be mobilized. This wide variety of men would prove both an advantage (numerical superiority and specialized soldiers for different terrain) and a disadvantage (lack of cohesion between army battalions). Both Inca oral histories and Spanish written accounts estimate that the Incas could field armies of 100,000 at a time.[17]

The Incas usually sent scouts to watch their enemies; they would also send groups of nobles to negotiate peace treaties. On a number of occasions, the servants that these emissaries took were spies who tried to bribe enemy officers so that they would betray their kings by retreating during a crucial moment in a battle.

There was a reward system in place for distinguished services. Soldiers displaying bravery beyond expectations were rewarded with medals, metal weapons, or other objects and uniforms.

The Incas also built forts (pucará) where they stored arms, food and reserve soldiers. These fortresses also controlled the main communication routes and were constructed in easily defended locations such as in mountains and on the tops of hills or at the side of a river or road.


The Inca army was divided in the following manner:[18][19][20]

Inca rank Current equivalent Number of soldiers
under their command
Awqaq Runa (Aucac Runa) Soldier 0
Pukara Kamayuq (Púcara Camayuk) Castillian 0
Runancha Guide 0
Qipa Kamayuq (Quipa Camayuk) Trumpeter
(wooden trumpet)
Ch'uru Kamayuq (Choru Camayuk) Trumpeter
(conch shell)
Wankar Kamayuq (Huancar Camayuk) Drummer 0
Unancha Yanaq (Unanchayanac) Subaltern 5
Chunka Kamayuq (Chunga Kamayuk) Sub-lieutenant 10
Pichqa Chunka Kamayuq (Piccka Chunka Kamayuk) Lieutenant 50
Pachak Kamayuq (Pachac Kamayuk) Centurion 100
Waranqa Kamayuq (Guaranga Kamayuk) Battalion Leader 1,000
Kamayuk Officer
Apu Rantin (Apu Randin) Captain Lieutenant
Hatun Apu Rantin (Hatun Apu Randin) Lieutenant Commander
Apu Captain
Hatun Apu Brigadier General 4,000–5,000
Apuskin Rantin (Apusquin Rantin) Major General 10,000
Apuskispay (Apusquispay) Army General The whole field army

The largest units in the Inca army were composed of 10,000 men, under the command of a Major General or Apusquin Rantin. This was generally a nobleman from Cuzco who would have been a veteran of several campaigns. The head of the field army was the Apusquispay, he would have been a noble chosen by the Inca and he would have shown himself to have been in good physical and mental condition at the Huarachico trials. In order to give orders, the generals used conche blowers, trumpeters or drummers to communicate with their lieutenants.


Inca soldiers carried several types of simple weapons, according to the ethnic group to which they belonged. For example, Chanca soldiers preferred the use of clubs or macanas, while Antisuyu (Jungle highlands) troops more often leaned towards the use of bow and arrow.

An Incan standard military tunic made of black and white checks and a red triangle below the neck.


  • Shields (Quechua: Hualcana): Used by higher-ranking soldiers, built from wood covered in leather. Could be round, square or rectangular.
  • Helmets (Quechua: Uma chucu): Mostly wooden, some were reinforced with copper. Copper helmets were used by generals and high-ranking officers, wooden helmets could be used by regulars if they found them comfortable.
  • Armour: Used by officers and noblemen. Would consist of thickly quilted and padded cotton tunics, with wooden plates to protect the back.


Star-headed mace.
  • Estólica – A small, flexible spear thrower to launch projectiles (similar to the Aztec atlatl); it was mostly employed by the jungle troops.
  • Slings (Quechua: huaraca) – These were created from a regular-sized cord in which a projectile was placed (in this case, rounded stones). The projectile would be thrown with a circular movement of the huaraca.
  • Bolas or ayllos – Two or three stones tied to the ends of a length of rope, designed to be swung around the head and then thrown at enemies (also used in hunting).
  • Spears (Quechua: Suchuc Chiqui) – favored by Cuzco troops. All generals used them as symbols of power.
  • Macana (Quechua: chaska chiqui, star-headed spear)- The most common weapons in the Inca arsenal. A wooden shaft with a heavy object at the top. Normally these heavy objects would have been star-shaped to maximize chances of breaking bones. Some had the head made out of stone or obsidian.[21]
  • Bow and Arrow – Used mostly by jungle troops (Antisuyo region).
  • Clubs (Quechua: chambi) – Wooden, sometimes with spikes. Mostly used by southern nations.
  • Axes (Quechua: cuncha chucuna, neck-breaker) – Could be made of stone or copper.
Pachacútec using a sling or Huaraca.
Manco Inca using Spanish weapons.

After the arrival of the Spanish, the Inca adopted European military technology such as horses and swords. It is known that Manco Inca Yupanqui led an Inca cavalry unit against Spanish occupation forces.[22]

Forms of conquest[edit]

There were two main methods used to conquer new territory[citation needed]:

Peaceful conquest[edit]

Peaceful conquest was possible when a curaca agreed to recognize the Sapa Inca as his emperor in return for a number of benefits. These benefits could include gifts, investment in public works, recognition at their investiture, interchange of women to establish family ties, etc. Whether submission was due to fear of the Inca army or genuine friendship, the curaca became a beneficiary of the offered gifts, but he also became subject to Inca demands: his lands had to be handed over to the state, he had to supply labour and soldiers, etc. It was a conquest through reciprocity.[citation needed]

Violent conquest[edit]

Violent conquest would occur if a tribe was unwilling to accept the Sapa Inca as their emperor. This generally resulted in a bloody war. The conquered tribe would be subject to reprisals according to the length of the war. The defeated leader would be executed and, depending on the degree of their rebellion, the subjects would either be moved to a distant place or, in extreme cases, totally annihilated as a punishment to avoid future uprisings.[citation needed]


Local phase (13th century–1438)[edit]

Expansion of the Inca Empire.

This phase lasted from the beginning of the Inca period until the end of the rule of Pachacuti (or Pachacútec). During this phase, the army was relatively small and weak. The only battles it fought were for reasons of defence or survival. On occasions, the rulers also led the army into battle.[23] There were frequent battles during this period against small tribes such as the Alcahuasis or the Canas. The Aymara or the powerful Chancas were greater threats and the Inca army had to confront them on a number of occasions.[24]

Imperial phase (1438–1532)[edit]

During the Spanish conquest there were many guerrillas who continued fighting after the death of Atahualpa.

This period started with the defeat of the Chancas, with Pachacuti at the head of the Inca army. From this time on the Inca army would be a multiethnic army and it would be more sophisticated and numerous.

The conquered ethnic groups rapidly became a part of the Inca nation and contributed men to its armies. During this period the majority of the wars involved the conquest of new territories and it was at this time that the army was at its most powerful.[25]

Invasion (1532–1572)[edit]

During this period the majority of the army was decimated by illness,[26] rebellions, and Spanish attacks. Initially, the Inca soldiers feared the horses and firearms of the Spanish, with this intimidation reducing their fighting efficiency. Soon, however, the soldiers forgot their fears and some Inca battalions even fought with swords and Spanish weapons and as cavalry units.[22] was something to see them bravely ride out with Spanish swords, shields and helmets and every Indian armed in this way charged on horseback...the Inca (Manco Inca) appeared on horseback among his people with his lance in his hand...

— crónicas de Antonio de Herrera. Historia general de los hechos de los castellanos en las Islas y Tierra Firme del mar Océano. Madrid (1601–1615).

For the largest battles, the Inca army was commanded by Quizquiz[27] and Manco Inca Yupanqui, who was commander during the battle of Sacsayhuamán.[26]

At the end of this period, the Inca army lost battles not just to the Spanish but also to subject tribes that took advantage of the arrival of the Spanish.[28]

Notable Generals in the Inca army[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Waldemar Espinoza, Los Incas, page 361. The Inca army would have been composed of men from Cuzco and Quito as well as coastal and forest dwellers etc.
  2. ^ Waldemar Espinoza, Los Incas, page 377. The Inca armies were received in Cuzco's Plaza de Armas.
  3. ^ Victor Angles Vargas, Historia del Cusco incaico, page 265.
  4. ^ Waldemar Espinoza, Los Incas, page 361.
  5. ^ María Rostworowski, Historia del Tawantinsuyu page 145.
  6. ^ Waldemar Espinoza, Los Incas, page 361. A written source dating from 1582 states that Tupac Yupanqui had a bodyguard of professional soldiers.
  7. ^ "Discovery Channel-Incas" Revised 3 January 2008.
  8. ^ "Peruchay: Servicio militar obligatorio en el ejercito Inca" (in Spanish). Retrieved 3 February 2011.
  9. ^ INCA PACHACUTEC – Cap1 (Dinastias)
  10. ^ Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui
  11. ^ Noble David Cook. 1981. Demographic collapse, Indian Peru, 1520–1620. New York: Cambridge University Press
  12. ^ Joaquin Pibernat; Juan Martin Hilbert; Cristobal Cebral; Kevin Richards. "los incas -" (in Spanish). Retrieved 3 February 2011.
  13. ^ Tu discovery. Política inca
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 27 July 2011. Retrieved 9 December 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. ^ INCA PACHACUTEC – Cap4 (Dinastias)
  16. ^ Táctica y logística incas Archived 13 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ D;Altroy, Terence N. (2002). The Incas. Blackwell Publishing. p. 216. ISBN 0-631-17677-2.
  18. ^ auka wasi. "Resultados de la Búsqueda de imágenes de Google de rumimaki" (in Spanish). Retrieved 9 December 2010.
  19. ^ "Resultados de la Búsqueda de imágenes de Google de Inca Warriors" (in Spanish). Retrieved 9 December 2010.
  20. ^ Historia del Ejército Ecuatoriano. Pág.14 Archived 30 March 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ Soldiers Indians and Silver: The Northward Advance of New Spain, 1550–1600, page 49
  22. ^ a b "Rebelión de Manco Inca" Archived 15 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine Revised 3 January 2008.
  23. ^ Waldemar Espinoza, Los Incas, page 51. As occurred with Sinchi Roca or even Pachacútec himself.
  24. ^ Waldemar Espinoza, Los Incas, page 68. During this period the Aymara were the main threat to the Incas. However, the Chancas were a more important threat during the period of Viracocha and Pachacútec.
  25. ^ Waldemar Espinoza, Los Incas, page 102. It was during this period that the number of soldiers in the Inca army reached 200,000 .
  26. ^ a b "La Conquista del Perú" Archived 14 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine Revised 3 January 2008.
  27. ^ Julio R. Villanueva Sotomayor, El Perú en los tiempos modernos, page 51. Quisquis was in command for many battles against the Spanish, he was finally assassinated by his own troops.
  28. ^ Julio R. Villanueva Sotomayor, El Perú en los tiempos modernos, page 65. The Spanish armies always received a great deal of support from the indigenous tribes.