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 Peruvian Ancient History

(This is taken from John D. Baldwin's Ancient America, originally published in 1871.)

Garcilasso de la Vega

Peruvians, like most other important peoples in all ages, had mythical wonder-stories instead of authentic ancient history to explain the origin of their nation. These were told in traditions and legends preserved and transmitted from generation to generation by the amautas. If they were also recorded in secret books of hieroglyphical writing, such as those found among the Panoes on the Ucayali, which “contained hidden things that no stranger ought to know,” satisfactory evidence of the fact has never been brought to light. In addition to these, they had many historical traditions of much more importance, related in long poems and preserved in the same way; and there were annals and national documents recorded in the quippus.

Some of the Spanish writers on Peru, who described what they saw in the country at the time of the Conquest, discussed its history. If they had used the proper sources of information with a more penetrating and complete investigation, and studied the subject as it might have been studied at that time, their historical sketches would now have great value. The two most important works written at this time, the “Relacion” of Sarmiento and the “Relaciones” of Polo de Ondegardo, were never printed. But none of these writers sought to study Peruvian antiquity beyond the period of the Incas, although some of them (Acosta for instance) inquired sufficiently to see that Manco Capac was a mythical personage prefixed to the dynastic line of the Incas without actually belonging to it. This limited view of the ancient history, which was inconsistent with what could be seen in the antiquities and traditions of the country, was generally accepted, because nothing more could be known in Europe, and its influence was established by the undue importance accorded to the “Commentarios Reales” of Garcilasso de la Vega, published in 1609.


Garcilasso de la Vega, the son of a distinguished Spaniard of the same name, was born at Cuzco in 1540. His mother, named Ńusta, was a niece of the great Inca Huayna Capac, and granddaughter of his no less eminent predecessor, Tupac Yupanqui. The intimate blood relationship which connected him with the Incas naturally drew attention to his work, and, with more haste than reason, was treated as the best possible qualification for writing Peruvian history; therefore his “Commentarios” acquired a very great celebrity, and came to be regarded as the highest authority on all questions relating to Peru previous to the Conquest. The work never deserved this reputation, although it was not without value as an addition to what had been written on the subject by Spaniards. Garcilasso was not well qualified to write a faithful history of Peru either by his knowledge or by the temper of his mind. His aim was to glorify the Incas and their times, and much of his work was in the strain of tales heard in childhood from his mother.

The “Commentarios Reales” were written just as their author’s training had prepared him to write them. He lived in Cuzco without education until he was nearly twenty years old, his intellectual development being confined to the instruction necessary to make him a good Catholic. He then went to Spain and never returned to Peru. The next period of his life was devoted to seeking distinction in the Spanish military service; but political influence was against him, and he could not attain the object of his ambition. He finally retired to Cordova, acquired some literary culture, and resolved to win distinction by writing a history of his native country. His materials for such a history, in addition to what could be learned from the earlier Spanish writers, consisted entirely of what he had learned of his mother and his early Peruvian associates at Cuzco, and of such acquisitions as could be gained by means of correspondence with his acquaintances in Peru, after the purpose to write a history was formed. It can be seen readily that Garcilasso’s history written in this way might have a certain value, while it could not be safely accepted as an authority. The first part of his work was published in 1609, when he was nearly seventy years old.

According to his version of the Peruvian annals, the rule of the Incas began with the mythical Manco Capac, and lasted over five hundred years; and this version, with some variations in estimates of the time, has been repeated ever since. The dynastic line of the Incas thus determined is given in the work of Rivero and Von Tschudi as follows:

1. Manco-Capac, mysterious “son of the sun,” who began to reign in 1021 A.D., and died in 1062, having reigned forty years. 2. Sinchi-Rocca, who reigned thirty years, from 1062 to 1091. 3. Lloque-Yupanqui, reigned thirty-five years, from 1091 to 1126. 4. Mayta-Capac, thirty years, from 1126 to 1156. 5. Capac-Yupanqui, forty-one years, from 1156 to 1197. 6. Inca Rocca, fifty-one years, from 1197 to 1249. 7. Yahuar-Capac, forty years, from 1249 to 1289. 8. Viracocha, fifty-one years, from 1289 to 1340; his son Inca Urco reigned after him eleven days, and was then deposed “as a fool incapable of governing.” 9. Titu-Manco-Capac-Pachacutec, sixty years, from 1340 to 1400, living, says tradition, to be one hundred and three years old. 10. Yupanqui, thirty-nine years, from 1400 to 1439. 11. Tupac-Yupanqui (Garcilasso’s great-grandfather) thirty-six years, from 1439 to 1475. 12. Huayna-Capac, “the most glorious of the Incas,” fifty years, from 1475 to 1525. After his death the empire was divided between his two sons Huascar and Atahuallpa. This caused a civil war, which ended with the death of Huascar in 1532. One year later Atahuallpa was himself destroyed by Cortez.

Manco-Capac, here set down as the first Inca, with a marvelous story of his mysterious origin and his miraculous powers as a civilizer, was undoubtedly borrowed from traditions of the origin of civilization in the more ancient times, which had been used by the Incas in support of their claim to direct descent from the sun. In reality, the first Inca was Rocca, or Sinchi-Rocca, and several of the early Spanish writers were sufficiently well informed to see this. The period of the Incas must have been less than five hundred years if their dynasty consisted of no more than twelve or thirteen sovereigns. In other respects, this table of the sovereigns may be substantially correct, for there is a general agreement in regard to the names and the order of succession, although Montesinos maintains that the fifth Inca on the list was borrowed by Garcilasso from traditions of a much more ancient sovereign who was greatly celebrated in the historical poems, or confounded with him. The period of the Incas was very distinct in Peruvian history, but it is now understood that they represent only the last period in the history of a civilization which began much farther back in the past.








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