Sapa Inca

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Statue of the Sapa Inca Pachacuti wearing the Mascapaicha (imperial crown), in the main square of Aguas Calientes, Peru

The Sapa Inca (from Quechua Sapa Inka "the only emperor") was the monarch of the Inca Empire (Tawantinsuyu), as well as ruler of the earlier Kingdom of Cusco and the later Neo-Inca State. While the origins of the position are mythical and originate from the legendary foundation of the city of Cusco, it seems to have come into being historically around 1100 CE. Although the Inca believed the Sapa to be the son of Inti (the Inca Sun god) and often referred to him as Intip Churin or ‘Son of the Sun,’ the position eventually became hereditary, with son succeeding father.[1][2][3] The principal wife of the Inca was known as the Coya or Qoya.[3] The Sapa Inca was at the top of the social hierarchy, and played a dominant role in the political and spiritual realm.[3]

There were two known dynasties, led by the Hurin and Hanan moieties respectively.[4] The latter was in power at the time of Spanish conquest. The last effective Sapa Inca of Inca Empire was Atahualpa, who was executed by Francisco Pizarro and his conquistadors in 1533, but several successors later claimed the title.[5]

Other terms for Sapa Inca, also spelled Sapan Inca, include Apu ("divinity"), Inka Qhapaq ("mighty Inca"), or simply Sapa ("the only one").

Choosing the Inca[edit]

Chronicles identify the Inca as the highest ruler equivalent to European kings of the Middle Ages. However, the original access to that position was not linked to the inheritance of the eldest son, as is for a monarchy, but to the perceived selection of the gods by means of rigorous challenges, to which the physical and moral aptitudes of the pretender were tested.[2] These trials were accompanied by a complex spiritual ritual through which the Sun god, Inti nominated the one who should assume the Inca position.[2] Eventually, with the passage of time, Incas named their favorite son as co-governor with the intention of securing his succession,[6] for example, Huiracocha Inca associated Inca Urco to the throne.[7] The Coya, or Sapa Inca's primary wife, had significant influence upon making this decision of which son is apt to succeed his father.[3][8]

Tokapu or symbolic motif thought by Victoria de La Jara to represent the meaning of Sapa Inca (first row, first from the left).


The Sapa Inca was the absolute ruler of the empire and accumulated in his power the political, social, military, and economic direction of the State.[9][3] He ordered and directed the construction of great engineering works, such as Sacsayhuaman, a fortress that took 50 years to complete;[10] or the urban plan of the cities.[11] However, among their most notable works, was the network of roads that crossed the entire empire and allowed a rapid journey for the administrators, messengers, and armies[12] provided with hanging bridges and tambos.[13] They made sure to always be supplied and well cared for,[14] as is reflected in the construction of storehouses scattered throughout the empire and vast food and resource redistribution systems.[3][8] The commander and chief of the standing army founded military colonies to expand the culture and control, while simultaneously ensuring the preservation of that network.[15][3]

At the religious level, they were symbolic of the sun and promoted the worship of Inti, regarded as their father,[16] and organized the calendar.[17] At the political level, they sent inspectors to oversee the loyalty and efficiency of civil servants and collect tribute from the subjugated peoples.[18] The emperors promoted a unified and decentralized government in which Cuzco acted as the articulating axis of the different regions or Suyu.[19] They appointed highly trusted governors.[20] At the economic level, they decided how much each province should pay according to its resources.[21] They knew how to win over the curacas to ensure control of the communities. These were the intermediaries through whom they collected taxes.[22][8]

Traditionally, every time an emperor died or resigned, his successor was disinherited from his father's inheritance and formed his own lineage royal clan or Panaka, his father's lands, houses and servants were passed to his other children remaining on the previous Panaka. The new Sapa Inca had to obtain land and spoils to bequeath to his own descendants.[23] Each time they subdued a people, they demanded that the defeated leader surrender part of their land to continue in command, and whose people pay tribute in the form of labor (mita) taxes.[24][8]

The Sapa Inca also played a major role in caring for the poor and hungry, hence his other title Huaccha Khoyaq or ‘Lover and Benefactor of the Poor’.[3] The Sapa was responsible for organizing food redistribution in times of environmental disaster, allocated work via state-sponsored projects, and most notably promoted major state-sponsored religious feasts[3] that followed each successful harvest season.[8]

Distinction symbols[edit]

The Inca was divinized, both in their actions and their emblems. In public he carried the topayauri (scepter), ushno (golden throne), suntur páucar (feathered pike), and the mascaipacha (royal insignia) commonly carried in a llauto (headband), otherwise, the mascapaicha could also be carried on an amachana chuku (military helmet).[9] In religious ceremonies he was accompanied by the sacred white flame, the napa, covered with a red blanket and adorned with gold earrings.[25] With textiles representing a form of status and wealth, it has been speculated that the Sapa Inca never wore the same clothes twice.[8] The community even revered the Sapa after his death, mummifying him and frequently visiting his tomb to "consult" him on pressing affairs.[3]

Pre-Conquest Sapa Incas[edit]

First dynasty[edit]

Little is known of the rulers of the first dynasty of Sapa Incas. Evidently, they were affiliated with the Hurin moiety and their rule did not extend beyond the Kingdom of Cusco. Their origins are tied to the mythical establishment of Cusco and are shrouded in the later foundation myth. The dynasty was supposedly founded by Manco Cápac, considered the son of the Sun god Inti.[26]

Title Sapa Inca Picture Birth Queen Death
Inca of Cusco Manco Cápac
(Manqu Qhapaq)
c. 1200–1230
Ayarmanco1.JPG Considered the son of
the sun god Inti
Mama Uqllu c. 1230
Sinchi Roca
(Sinchi Ruq'a)
c. 1230–1260
Sinchi-Roca, Inca II.jpeg Son of Manco Cápac Mama Qura c. 1260
Lloque Yupanqui
(Lluq'i Yupanki)
c. 1260–1290
Inca-Lloque-Yupanqui.jpg Son of Sinchi Roca Mama Qawa c. 1290
Mayta Cápac
(Mayta Qhapaq)
c. 1290–1320
Brooklyn Museum - Mayta Capac, Fourth Inca, 1 of 14 Portraits of Inca Kings - overall.jpg Son of Lloque Yupanqui Mama Takukaray c. 1320
Cápac Yupanqui
(Qhapaq Yupanki)
c. 1320–1350
Cápac Yupanqui (cropped).jpg Son of Mayta Cápac Mama Chimpu Qurihillpay c. 1350

As a rough guide to the later reputation of the early Sapa Incas, in later years capac meant warlord and sinchi meant leader.

Second dynasty[edit]

The second dynasty was affiliated with the Hanan moiety and was founded under Inca Roca, the son of the last Hurin Sapa Inca, Cápac Yupanqui. After Cápac Yupanqui's death, another of his sons, Inca Roca's half-brother Quispe Yupanqui, was intended to succeed him. However, the Hanan revolted and installed Inca Roca instead.[2]

Title Sapa Inca Picture Birth Queen Death
Inca of Cusco Inca Roca
(Inka Ruq'a)
c. 1350–1380
Brooklyn Museum - Inca Roca, Sixth Inca, 1 of 14 Portraits of Inca Kings - overall.jpg Son of Cápac Yupanqui Mama Mikay c. 1380
Yáhuar Huácac
(Yawar Waqaq)
c. 1380–1410
Brooklyn Museum - Yahuar Huacac Yupanqui, Seventh Inca, 1 of 14 Portraits of Inca Kings - overall.jpg Son of Inca Roca Mama Chikya c. 1410
(Wiraqucha Inka)
c. 1410–1438
Brooklyn Museum - Viracocha, Eighth Inca, 1 of 14 Portraits of Inca Kings - overall.jpg Son of Yáhuar Huácac Mama Runtu Quya 1438
PachacutecIXinca.jpg Son of Viracocha Mama Anawarkhi 1471
Túpac Inca Yupanqui
(Tupaq Yupanki)
Brooklyn Museum - Tupac Yupanqui, Eleventh Inca, 1 of 14 Portraits of Inca Kings - framed.jpg Son of Pachacuti Mama Uqllu iskay ñiqin 1493
Huayna Capac
(Wayna Qhapaq)
Retrato de Huayna Cápac.jpg Son of Túpac Inca Yupanqui Kusi Rimay
Arawa Uqllu
Waskhar portrait.jpg Son of Huayna Capac Chukuy Waypa 1533
Killed by Atahualpa's agents.
Ataw Wallpa portrait.jpg Son of Huayna Capac Quya Asarpay (sp?) 26 July 1533
Killed by the Spaniards

Ninan Cuyochi, who was Inca for only a few days in 1527, is sometimes left off the list of Sapa Incas because news of his death from smallpox arrived in Cusco very shortly after he was declared Sapa Inca. He had witnessed the death of his father Huayna Cápac. The death of Ninan, the presumed heir, led to the Inca Civil War between Huáscar and Atahualpa, a weakness that the Spanish exploited when they conquered the Inca Empire.[8]

Post-Conquest Sapa Incas[edit]

Title Sapa Inca Picture Birth Death Notes
Inca of Incas Túpac Huallpa
Sin foto.svg Son of Huayna Capac 1533 Installed by Francisco Pizarro.
Manco Inca Yupanqui
POMA0400v.jpg Son of Huayna Capac 1544 Installed by Francisco Pizarro. Led a revolt against the Spaniards in 1536; after his defeat, established the Neo-Inca State in Vilcabamba.
Paullu Inca
Paullu 1838.jpg Son of Huayna Capac 1549 Installed by the Spaniards after Manco Inca rebelled; ruled in Cuzco.
Inca of Vilcabamba Sayri Túpac
Hurtado de Mendoza and Sayri Tupac Inka.jpg Son of Manco Inca Yupanqui 1560 Ruled in Vilcabamba.
Titu Cusi
Titucusiyupanqui.jpg Son of Manco Inca Yupanqui 1571 Ruled in Vilcabamba.
Túpac Amaru
TupacamaruI.JPG Son of Manco Inca Yupanqui 24 September 1572
Killed by the Spaniards
Ruled in Vilcabamba. The last Sapa Inca.

This last Sapa Inca must not be confused with Túpac Amaru II, who was leader of an 18th-century Peruvian uprising.

Family tree[edit]

DYNASTY OF THE Sapa IncaBanner of the Inca Empire.svg
First Dynasty
Mascaipacha of the Inca Empire.svgManco Cápac
1st Sapa Inca
of Cusco
(c. 1200–1230)
Mama Uqllu
Mascaipacha of the Inca Empire.svgSinchi Roca
2nd Sapa Inca
of Cusco
(c. 1230–1260)
Mama Qura
Mascaipacha of the Inca Empire.svgLloque Yupanqui
3rd Sapa Inca
of Cusco
(c. 1260–1290)
Mama Qawa
Mascaipacha of the Inca Empire.svgMayta Cápac
4thSapa Inca
of Cusco
(c. 1290–1320)
Mama Takukaray
Cunti Mayta
high priest
Mascaipacha of the Inca Empire.svgCápac Yupanqui
5th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
(c. 1320–1350)
Mama Chimpu QurihillpayCusi Chimbo
Quispe Yupanqui
heir apparent to 1350
Mascaipacha of the Inca Empire.svgInca Roca
6th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
(c. 1350 – c. 1380)
younger son of Cápac Yupanqui
chosen Sapa Inca when the Hanan moiety rebelled against the Hurin moiety
Mama Mikay
Second Dynasty
Apu Mayta
a nephew & great warrior
Mascaipacha of the Inca Empire.svgYáhuar Huácac
7th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
(c. 1380 – c. 1410)
Mama ChikyaInca PaucarHuaman Taysi IncaVicaquirau Inca
a great warrior
Mascaipacha of the Inca Empire.svgViracocha
8th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
(c. 1410–1438)
Mama RuntucayaCcuri-chulpa
Inca Rocca
heir apparent
Tupac YupanquiMascaipacha of the Inca Empire.svgCusi Inca Yupanqui
9th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
1st Emperor of Inca Empire
Mama AnahuarquiCcapac YupanquiInca UrcoInca Socso
Tupac Ayar MancoApu PaucarMascaipacha of the Inca Empire.svgTupac Inca Yupanqui
10th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
2nd Emperor of Inca Empire
(c. 1441 – c. 1493)
Mama Ocllo
Queen Kusi RimayMascaipacha of the Inca Empire.svgTitu Cusi Hualpa
Huayna Capac
11th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
3rd Emperor of Inca Empire
(c.1468–1524, probably of smallpox)
Rahua OclloAuqui Tupac Inca
d. 1524 w/his brother and nephew, prob. of smallpox
90 illegitimate sons and daughters, incl. Ccapac Huari, who tried to succeed his father
Ninan Cuyochi
Crown Prince
d. w/his father and uncle, probably of smallpox
Mascaipacha of the Inca Empire.svgThupaq Kusi Wallpa

12th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
4th Emperor of Inca Empire
Chuqui HuipaMascaipacha of the Inca Empire.svgAtahualpa
13th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
5th Emperor of Inca Empire
(c. 1502 – 26 July 1533)
Coya Asarpay
(died 1533)
Mascaipacha of the Inca Empire.svg Thupaq Wallpa
14th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
6th Emperor of Inca Empire
(installed by Pizarro 1533)
Mascaipacha of the Inca Empire.svg Manco Inca Yupanqui
15th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
7th Emperor of Inca Empire
1st Ruler of Neo-Inca State
(1533 – revolted 1536 – 1544)
Mascaipacha of the Inca Empire.svg Paullu Inca
16th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
8th Emperor of Inca Empire
(installed by Pizarro 1536–1549)
Atoc, Konono, Wanka Auqui, Kizu Yupanqui, Tito Atauchi, Waman Wallpa, Kusi Wallpa, Tilka Yupanqu, & +
Mascaipacha of the Inca Empire.svg Sayri Túpac
17th Sapa Inca
2nd Ruler of Neo-Inca State
(c. 1535–1561)
Mascaipacha of the Inca Empire.svg Titu Cusi]]
18th Sapa Inca
2nd Ruler of Neo-Inca State
Mascaipacha of the Inca Empire.svg Túpac Amaru
19th & last Sapa Inca
3rd Ruler of Neo-Inca State
(1545 – 24 September 1572)
descendants, incl son Carlos Inca, his son Melchor Carlos Inca, and his son Juan Melchor Carlos Inca

  1. ^ Wilfred Byford-Jones, Four Faces of Peru, Roy Publishers, 1967, p. 17; p. 50.
  2. ^ a b c d Guaman Poma, Felipe (1615). First New Chronical and Good Government. Lima Peru.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Inca Government". World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2019-05-01.
  4. ^ Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa; Gabriel de Oviedo (1907). History of the Incas. Hakluyt Society. p. 72.
  5. ^ Cova, Antonio de la. "The Incas". Retrieved 2017-07-26.
  6. ^ Rostworowski, 1999: 53
  7. ^ Rostworowski, 2001: 124
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Henderson, Peter (2013). The Course of Andean History. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
  9. ^ a b Molestina, 1994: 26
  10. ^ Temoche, 2010: 227
  11. ^ Temoche, 2010: 31, 154, 225
  12. ^ Temoche, 2010: 159
  13. ^ Temoche, 2010: 53, 111, 144
  14. ^ Temoche, 2010: 145
  15. ^ Temoche, 2010: 71
  16. ^ Temoche, 2010: 181
  17. ^ Temoche, 2010: 179
  18. ^ Temoche, 2010: 144-145
  19. ^ Temoche, 2010: 157
  20. ^ Temoche, 2010: 144
  21. ^ Temoche, 2010: 143
  22. ^ Temoche, 2010: 116
  23. ^ Bravo, 1985: 95; Temoche, 2010: 130
  24. ^ Temoche Esquivel, Juan Francisco. Avaliação da influência do choque térmico na aderência dos revestimentos de argamassa (Thesis). Universidade de Sao Paulo Sistema Integrado de Bibliotecas - SIBiUSP. doi:10.11606/t.3.2009.tde-03092009-162624.
  25. ^ Martinengui, 1980: 37
  26. ^ "Who Was The Sapa Inca?". Ancient Pages. 2016-01-27. Retrieved 2017-07-26.

See also[edit]