In Inca eyes the known world was their empire, and expansion therefore limitless. They divided their territories into four basic regions, or suyos , each radiating from the central plaza in Cusco: Chincha Suyo (northwest), Anit Suyo (northeast), Cunti Suyo (southwest) and Colla Suyo (southeast). Each suyo naturally had its own particular problems and characteristics but all were approached in the same way – initially being demoralized or forced into submission by the Inca army, later absorbed as allies for further conquests. In this way the Incas never seemed to overextend their lines to the fighting front.

The most impressive feature of an Inca army must in fact have been its sheer numbers – a relatively minor force would have included five thousand men. Their armour usually consisted of quilted cotton shirts and a small shield painted with designs or decorated with magnificent plumes. The common warriors – using slingshots, spears, axes and maces – were often supported by archers drafted from the “savages” living in the eastern forests. When the Spanish arrived on horseback the Incas were quick to invent new weapons: large two-handed hardwood swords and bolas (wooden balls connected by a string), good for tangling up the horses’ legs. The only prisoners of war traditionally taken by a conquering Inca army were chieftains, who lived comfortably in Cusco as hostages against the good behaviour of their respective tribes. Along with the chiefs, the most important portable idols and huacas of conquered peoples were held in Cusco as sacred hostages. Often the children of the ruling chieftains were also taken to Cusco to be indoctrinated in Inca ways.

This pragmatic approach toward their subjects is exemplified again in the Inca policy of forced resettlement . Whole villages were sometimes sent into entirely new regions, ostensibly to increase the crop yield of plants like coca or corn and to vary their diet by importing manioc and chillis – though it was often criminals and rebellious citizens who ended up in the hottest, most humid regions. Large groups of people might also be sent from relatively suspect tribes into areas where mostly loyal subjects lived, or into the newly colonized outer fringes of the empire; many trustworthy subjects were also moved into zones where restlessness might have been expected. It seems likely that the whole colonization project was as much a political manoeuvre as a device to diversify the Inca economic or dietary base. As new regions came under imperial influence, the threat from rebellious elements was minimized by their geographical dispersion.

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