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How did the Inca Empire function without money?

How did the Inca Empire function without money?

How did the Inca Empire function without money?

Books we are referencing here are 1491: The Americas Before Columbus by Charles C Mann, and The Last Days of the Incas by Kim MacQuarrie. The latter goes into more detail of how the Inca Empire functioned as it operates as a chronicle of the Spanish Conquest of what would later be known as Peru by Francisco Pizarro. In essence, the Inca Empire didn’t have a large amount of free, internal trade as we would understand it in European cultures.

In the Inca society, all lands belonged to the Inca and were used with his permission. The structure was fairly typical of feudalism, with a strongly defined hierarchy from the Inca down through increasingly regional Chiefs, to the populace. The Inca tithe system operated purely on labour. A typical household would have a quota of three months per year in labour for the state. This was considered to be service directly to the Inca, and is also where tribute comes from.

This work might have been to fabricate Vicunya garments for the Inca, it may have been for building roads or bridges, serving in the military, or making weapons. The tribute would be distributed to local warehouses, where it would then be distributed to where it needed to be. It might be that llama wool was woven into nets in one area, to be eventually moved across to a coastal city for use in fishing. The fabricator typically wouldn’t leave their home further than the local warehouse to deposit these goods. (Unless they were called to serve somewhere specifically, like a construction project or military campaign.)

This system was incredibly efficient. Numerous Conquistador accounts note warehouses piled high with goods, as the Empire tended to overproduce materials under this system. It also gave incredible resilience to food supplies, allowing a 2000 mile long empire of ten million people to operate for 90 years apparently without a single major famine.

Communication was also quite sophisticated. Runners called Chaski would operate in relay. Apparently this allowed a message from Cajamarca to reach Cusco, a distance of 1100 miles over mountainous terrain, in only five days. Atahualpa was able to operate his empire in captivity entirely through these runners, organising literal tonnes of gold and silver to be delivered across to Cajamarca within the span of months. It was also difficult to intercept the messages, as there was no writing. One would have to capture the Chaski himself and get the message from them. Serving as a Chaski was also a labour tithe option.

This also means, however, that the message dies with the Chaski. The Spanish used this to terrifying effect as their horses could cover ground far faster, and thus Chaski struggled to get the message out about the initial invasion. The fact that the Inca was the nexus of all these communications was also a key weak point. The capture of Atahualpa at Cajamarca by Pizarro completely stalled the empire until he was able to negotiate resuming his duties, in exchange for gathering gold and silver for the Conquistadors.

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