The Inca Empire expanded and flourished throughout the fifteenth century and continued to do so until Francisco Pizarro’s third expedition to Peru in 1532. The expansion of the Inca Empire is truly fascinating due to the incredible rate of which they incorporated other ethnic groups. Expansion began under Pachacuti in 1438 and continued to develop under every subsequent ruler. However, what were the motives for such extensive expansion? And how did the Incas make this possible?

The first of the two major motivations the Inca had for such rapid expansion was the system of reciprocity inherent throughout the Andes, which ordered the society in the absence of money. Under this system it was vital for the Inca to demonstrate generosity to other ethnic leaders to maintain their relationship. This required large amounts of luxury goods, as well as foods and supplies, unobtainable to the local leaders which could be acquired in other regions of the Andes. This resulted in a vicious cycle of a constant need to obtain luxury products from new regions through establishing new relationships.

The second motivation for rapid Inca expansion was the militarised nature of their society. Men of the Inca needed to prove themselves in combat, initially necessitating constant warfare. Due to the growing influence of the Inca through expansion, the motivation of acquisition soon shifted to pacification. This is particularly true of the peripheries of the empire, as there was no system of reciprocity.

Both of these motivations were made possible by the impressive public works schemes the Inca undertook. The extensive road network throughout the Andes, estimated between 30,000 and 50,000 kilometres, enabled armies to travel through the challenging terrain. Along this network, forts and storehouses maintained the armies and provided spaces to store the booty they had amassed. Much of the Inca’s success can be explained through these logistics and strategies, as they gave the Inca superiority over any surrounding ethnic groups.

Despite the strength and complex organisation of the Inca state, inherent weaknesses also existed. Lack of cultural unification among the Inca and the ethnic groups in their empire meant no collective identity was created. The Inca used religion to unify the empire, however this had little time to develop and successfully consolidate the ethnic groups. Furthermore, the outbreak of the civil war in 1527 between Huascar and Atahualpa weakened central authority, allowing the Spanish to impose their perceived authority.

From 1532, the Spanish were able to infiltrate and supposedly liberate the ethnic groups the Inca had conquered. The weaknesses of the Inca Empire coupled with the strength and timing of the Spanish expedition meant this vast empire had little chance of survival.