Another view of the Incas, from a conquistador. It provides quite a lot of
information about the Incan economy--a redistributive typical of all early civilizations.
It is told for a fact of the rulers of this kingdom that in the days of their rule they
had their representatives in the capitals of all the provinces, for in all these places
there were larger and finer lodgings than in most of the other cities of this great
kingdom, and many storehouses. They served as the head of the provinces or regions, and
from every so many leagues around the tributes were brought to one of these capitals, and
from so many others, to another. This was so well-organized that there was not a village
that did not know where it was to send its tribute. In all these capitals the Incas had
temples of the Sun, mints, and many silversmiths who did nothing but work rich pieces of
gold or fair vessels of silver; large garrisons were stationed there, and a steward who
was in command of them all, to whom an accounting of everything that was brought in was
made, and who, in turn, had to give one of all that was issued. ...The tribute paid by
each of these provinces, whether gold, silver, clothing, arms and all else they gave, was
entered in the accounts of those who kept the quipus and did everything ordered by
the governor in the matter of finding the soldiers or supplying whomever the Inca ordered,
or making delivery to Cuzco; but when they came from the city of Cuzco to go over the
accounts, or they were ordered to go to Cuzco to give an accounting, the accountants
themselves gave it by the quipus, or went to give it where there could be no fraud,
but everything had to come out right. Few years went by in which an accounting was not
At the beginning of the new year the rulers of each village came to Cuzco, bringing
their quipus, which told how many births there had been during the year, and how
many deaths. In this way the Inca and the governors knew which of the Indians were poor,
the women who had been widowed, whether they were able to pay their taxes, and how many
men they could count on in the event of war, and many other things they considered highly
important. The Incas took care to see that justice was meted out, so much so that nobody
ventured to commit a felony or theft. This was to deal with thieves, rapists, or
conspirators against the Inca.
As this kingdom was so vast, in each of the many provinces there were many storehouses
filled with supplies and other needful things; thus, in times of war, wherever the armies
went they drew upon the contents of these storehouses, without ever touching the supplies
of their confederates or laying a finger on what they had in their settlements....Then the
storehouses were filled up once more with the tributes paid the Inca. If there came a lean
year, the storehouses were opened and the provinces were lent what they needed in the way
of supplies; then, in a year of abundance, they paid back all they had received. No one
who was lazy or tried to live by the work of others was tolerated; everyone had to work.
Thus on certain days each lord went to his lands and took the plow in hand and cultivated
the earth, and did other things. Even the Incas themselves did this to set an example. And
under their system there was none such in all the kingdom, for, if he had his health, he
worked and lacked for nothing; and if he was ill, he received what he needed from the
storehouses. And no rich man could deck himself out in more finery than the poor, or wear
different clothing, except the rulers and the headmen, who, to maintain their dignity,
were allowed great freedom and privilege.
From: Pedro Cieza de Léon, The Second Part of the Chronicle of Peru,
Clements R. Markham, trans. & ed., (London: Hakluyt Society, 1883), pp. 36-50, passim.
Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof. Arkenberg
has modernized the text.