Then Again




Pedro de Cieza de Leon




Pedro de Cieza de Leon (1520-1554) arrived in South America from Spain in 1535. While a conquistador who fought many battles, he nevertheless took a great interest in the cultures of the Americas. Of particular importance is his account of the Inca Empire. Since we have not yet been able to decipher Inca writing, Cieza's account, based as it is on first-hand accounts from the native people themselves, is one of our most important sources. 

It should be well understood that great prudence was needed to enable these kings to govern such large provinces, extending over so vast a region, parts of it rugged and covered with forests, parts mountainous, with snowy peaks and ridges, parts consisting of deserts of sand, dry and without trees or water. These regions were inhabited by many different nations, with varying languages, laws, and religions, and the kings had to maintain tranquility and rule so that all should live in peace and in friendship towards their lord. Although the city of Cuzco was the head of the empire, as we have remarked in many places, yet at certain points, as we shall also explain, the king stationed his delegates and governors, who were the most learned, the ablest, and the bravest men that could be found, and none was so youthful that he was not already in the last third part of his age. As they were faithful and none betrayed their trusts, and as they had the mitimaes [1] on their side, none of the natives, though they might be more powerful, attempted to rise in rebellion; or if such a thing ever did take place, the town where the revolt broke out was punished, and the ringleaders were sent prisoners to Cuzco.

. . .

. . . All men so feared the king that they did not dare to speak evil even of his shadow. And this was not all. If any of the king's captains or servants went forth to visit a distant part of the empire on some business, the people came out on the road with presents to receive them, not daring, even if one came alone, to omit to comply with all his commands.

So great was the veneration that the people felt for their princes, throughout this vast region, that every district was as well regulated and governed as if the lord was actually present to chastise those who acted contrary to his rules. This fear arose from the known valor of the lords and their strict justice. It was felt to be certain that those who did evil would receive punishment without fail, and that neither prayers nor bribes would avert it. At the same time, the Incas always did good to those who were under their sway, and would not allow them to be ill-treated, nor that too much tribute should be exacted from them. Many who dwelt in a sterile country where they and their ancestors had lived with difficulty, found that through the orders of the Inca their lands were made fertile and abundant, the things being supplied which before were wanting. In other districts, where there was scarcity of clothing, owing to the people having no flocks, orders were given that cloth should be abundantly provided. In short, it will be understood that as these lords knew how to enforce service and the payment of tribute, so they provided for the maintenance of the people, and took care that they should want for nothing. Through these good works, and because the lord always gave women and rich gifts to his principal vassals, he gained so much on their affections that he was most fondly loved.

One of the things which I admired most, in contemplating and noting down the affairs of this kingdom, was to think how and in what manner they can have made such grand and admirable roads as we now see, and what a number of men would suffice for their construction, and with what tools and instruments they can have leveled the mountains and broken through the rocks to make them so broad and good as they are. For it seems to me that if the Emperor should desire to give orders for another royal road to be made, like that which goes from Quito to Cuzco, or the other from Cuzco to go to Chile, with all his power I believe that he could not get it done; nor could any force of men achieve such results unless there was also the perfect order by means of which the commands of the Incas were carried into execution. For if the road to be made was fifty leagues long, or one hundred or two hundred, and though the ground was of the most rugged character, it would be done with diligent care. But their roads were much longer, some of them extending for over one thousand one hundred leagues along such dizzy and frightful abysses that, looking down, the sight failed one. In some places, to secure the regular width, it was necessary to hew a path out of the living rock; all which was done with fire and their picks. In other places the ascents were so steep and high that steps had to be cut from below to enable the ascent to be made, with wider spaces at intervals for resting-places. In other parts there were great heaps of snow, which were more to be feared, and not at one spot only, but often recurring. Where these snows obstructed the way, and where there were forests of trees and loose clods of earth, the road was leveled and paved with stones when necessary.

[1] "Mitimaes" were those who had been resettled from one area of the empire to another. The practice appears to have been developed so that rivalry between the newly resettled and the established people would make rebellion difficult. It also appears to have led to the formation of a national culture by breaking down regional differences.

From: Pedro Cieza de Leon, The Second Part of the Chronicle of Peru, Clements R Markham, trans. and ed. (London; The Hakluyt Society, 1883) pp. 36-38 and 42. Reprinted in Dennis Sherman, et al., World Civilizations: Sources, Images and Interpretations, Vol. I, (New York; McGraw-Hill, 1994) pp. 266-267.

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