Analysis of the Conditions that Influenced State Formation of Incas in a Book How the Incas Built Their Heartland

Published: 2021-07-05 20:40:05
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In his book How the Incas Built their Heartland: State Formation and the Innovation of Imperial Strategies in the Sacred Valley, Peru, R. Alan Covey identifies how specific conditions in the Cusco region provided the optimal condition for successful territorial expansion. Covey identifies many explanations for this, this prėcis will focus on three. That longer-term state formation afforded the Incas the time to develop and implement strategies for governing, that a new state religion and ideology of ‘divine right’ to conquer emboldened Inca elite to extend their military reach, and that the immediate economic benefits of new land, resources, and people to work legitimized the ideal of an even further-reaching imperial expansion.Incas have historically been understood by scholars to have moved from small cultural group to massive empire in less than 100 years (1438 to 1533), due to Emperor Pachacutic’s conquests.
However, Covey makes the argument that a shift of “interpretive focus from singular events and the deeds of heroes and kings to the long-term development of social, economic, military, and ideological power”, is what is needed to fully understand the breadth of Incan imperial successes. So, while there are many factors in-process, the common factor of successful expansion lies in the long-term formation of an administrative capital, what Covey refers to as “core region or heartland” which for the Incas, was the Cusco basin. Cusco grew immensely after CE 1000; with such rapid population gain, the need for new strategies to allocate and obtain resources, fund projects, and to maintain authority was apparent. A major strategy that the Inca used to consolidate neighbouring villages included marriage alliances. Inca elite intermarried with neighbouring groups and created “kin ties”, which “as the state formed, Inca rulers began to take multiple secondary wives, increasing the number of neighboring groups obliged to serve the Cusco elite in fulfillment of kinship obligations.” As the Inca state grew over several generations, more land, resources, and people to work were needed to support the burgeoning state. And, as Covey explains, by “AD 1400, the Inca’s had been expanding their territory throughout the Cusco region for as much as two hundred years, a period in which they developed strategies for incorporating and governing new populations.” So, the long-term evolution of a state, including the developement of a ‘heartland’, in combination with growing their population and reach through marriage alliances allowed for the Inca to gradually and successfully implement governing strategies.
There were of course, instances where neighbouring communities with differing cultures were not receptive to diplomatic strategies of marriage alliance or gift-giving. Covey explains however, that while marriages between Inca and other groups helped to extend the Inca’s reach and reduce violence between said groups, they failed to “produce a peaceful transition to direct Inca rule at the local level.” In these instances, the fourth Emperor Maya Capac changed strategy and “[o]ccasional raiding gave way to military conquest, which ultimately led to a shift from hegemony to territorial administration.” He then “began to consolidate Inca political control over the Cusco Basin, converting neighboring groups to subordinates and in some cases confiscating the lands and resources of these groups.”
In his book, Covey makes the argument that this reconfiguration was brought on in part by a change in ideology. He writes that “[a]s a state sun cult developed in Cusco, Inca rulers emphasized their peerless status, using it as a pretext for conquest.” The development of a state religion formed the basis of a new elite in the hierarchy including religious, administrative, and military positions. Covey explains that with this new status, “emerging Inca elite created new means for communicating [their] status, which involved ensuring access to and control over wealth objects…including cloth, feathers, precious metals, and coca leaf.” In order to procure such items, the Incas needed more territory and then, people to extract these resources.
So, ideological changes, a new state religion and the belief in a ‘divine right’ to conquer and rule created a new class of elites and a stronger military capable of longer campaigns to procure new lands and resources. Political competition and conflict between groups often led to smaller villages migrating and resettling in the Cusco basin to seek refuge. Alternately they were attracted by the “hundreds of hectares of newly constructed agricultural terraces, fed by irrigation canals”. Regardless, this surge in population would have presented the Inca rulers with the challenge of resource allocation and feeding a new urbanized population. A tactic that was employed to assert control over non-threatening groups, allies, and new citizens was the employment of ‘labour tribute’.
Labour tribute or ‘mit’a’, is considered “[a] ‘turn’ as in a system of rotational corvée”, a form of taxation. Which Covey explains would have involved “massive investments in state infrastructure-not only for the terraces and canals for growing maize but also for storage structures, a road system…and administrative buildings for governing the local population.” The developement of this infrastructure would have provided the land, resources and storage to deal with the “agricultural surplus capable of feeding tens of thousands.” Covey makes the argument that because of this, local leaders of neighbouring villages would have been presented with many benefits and would have been less resistant to mounting Inca control. The Inca elite and their newly formed estate system (priests, nobility, dignitaries etc) also found the need to build infrastructure including forts, religious sites and temples, palaces and royal estates. Covey makes the argument that this construction contributed to “Inca rulers develop[ing] a ceremonial life that legitimated the Inca conquest of neighbouring groups” allowing for complete control over economic production.

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