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Empires emerged from ancient civilizations that existed in different eras and under various conditions. Successful territorial expansion of separate tribes led to consolidation of peoples with differing languages, religions, and cultures. Consequently, most empires, being multicultural entities, did not survive internal pressure longer than two centuries. Despite a similar pattern of rise and fall, the empires applied distinctive strategies of expansion, consolidation, and administration. This paper will research the principles of empire building and preservation on the example of two geographically and chronologically remote ancient empires, Indian and Inca.

Markers of an Archaic State as a Precursor of an Empire

According to Flannery, an archaic state has several features that distinguish it from chiefdom. Since states are constituents of empires, their foundations are inherent in the latter as well. The first of these features is rigid social stratification when the population is divided into two basic classes: “the rulers and the ruled” (Flannery, 1995). The transition between the classes is impossible or almost impossible since people who belong to different ones do not mix through intermarriage. Second, existing ideology in the form of religion supports this stratification. Third, states have hierarchy of cities and villages to perform administrative functions (Flannery, 1995).

Finally, empires comprise several diverse states or peoples since they are multinational and multicultural units, which makes consolidation and administration processes particularly challenging.

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In general, the desire of expansion gave birth to the ancient empires in India, China, Mexico, Peru, Mesopotamia, and Ancient Rome. Few of them survived over two centuries. Material remains of imperial periods enable archaeologists to analyze and interpret the geographic, economic, political, ideological, and military dimensions of the imperial entities (Sinopoli, 1994). Although warfare was the most common way of territorial expansion, in each case ancient rulers employed various methods of maintaining their states integral, with a different degree of centralization and autonomy of the comprising units.

The Inca Empire


After 1200 AD, the Inca people of the south Peruvian Andes gained autonomy from other groups and started annexing the neighboring zones. According to the radiocarbon analysis of the artifacts, the imperial expansion started around 1400 (Altroy, 2001). By the arrival of conquistadors in 1532, the Inca empire counted around 12 million people. Spaniards found the thirteenth ruler Atawallpa who had dethroned his brother in a bloody war just before the conquest (D’altroy, 2001).

The founder of the empire was Pachakuti, the ninth ruler, who organized efficient defence of Cuzco from the Chankas and usurped the throne after his father had fled. A talented and charismatic leader, Pachakuti expanded Inca military presence from Peru’s southern highlands to the Titicaca Lake and the central Peruvian coast. Pachakuti’s son Thupa Inca Yupanki took over the army leadership while the emperor engaged in transforming Cuzco into a capital of the empire. Thupa Inca’s troops reached central Ecuador and established the Inca rule over the Peruvian coast. Being already an emperor (1471-1493), he submerged the territory of Bolivia, northwest Argentina, and northern Chile. Further, the Incas suppressed resistance of the local population and had to put down several uprisings (D’altroy, 2001). The next emperor Wayna Qhapaq, having faced new revolts, expanded the empire to the north of Ecuador, and strived to maintain his positions in Bolivia, western Ecuador, and Argentina.

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Politics and Administration

Within a century, the Incas built a huge empire called Tawantinsuyu, which meant “four parts together” (Alltroy, 2001). In general, the Incas applied standardized policy selectively in each individual case. Wayna Qhapaq (1493-1526) worked to develop and improve the administration of this vast territory. Some historians believe that they were about to implement administrative reforms that would provide efficient administration when the conquerors arrived (D’altroy, 2001).

The Inca Empire was a hereditary monarchy with a clear hierarchy. The emperor and his family were at the top of the social pyramid, followed by two classes of aristocratic kin and one class of nobility. The most able son of the ruler inherited the throne. The closest kin of a deceased emperor formed a panaqa that inherited his properties and took care of his worshiping.

As for the administrative division, the Inca Empire consisted of provinces, each of which had 20,000-30,000 households. Cuzco appointed the governors of the provinces. The ethnic Incas occupied the upper layers of the provincial administration, while at the lower level, local lords were in service. The Incas copied the pattern of mutual obligations that had existed between local lords and their peoples. The emperor exchanged gifts with local lords, thus, establishing ritual kinship (D’altroy, 2001).

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The local population was divided into decimal units, which was convenient for account and taxation on the base of census. They claimed some resources in provinces only for their use and made the taxpayers intensify production. Agriculture, pastoral production, and crafts enhanced the economy of the empire. In the provinces, the Incas returned the land from local elites to communities in exchange for rotating corveé; instead, they claimed the best farmlands and craft production centers for the state. For example, remains of a huge farm employing as much as 14,000 workers lay in the Cochabamba Valley. Royal highway system that connected provincial centers and strategic locations was used for both economic and military purposes.


The Inca Empire was consolidated due to its strong army. Military garrisons established order in provinces, protected borders, and prepared for further expansion. Although Incas tried to reinforce their power through religious and ideological means, they had to keep a strong army to cope with resistance.


According to legends, the Inca royal family descended from deified cultural hero Manqo Qhapag who personally forged social order amidst chaos. Since the mummies of Manqo and the first rulers were substituted by statues, it is not clear if they were real or apocryphal figures (D’altroy, 2001). The Incas believed that they had a divine right to rule and civilize the world. They considered Cuzco to be “the navel of the universe” (D’altroy, 2001). The Incas spread worshipping of the sun and the moon as well as their idea of the cosmological order over the conquered provinces. Temples and shrines found throughout the empire provide the material evidence of their beliefs. The emperor was God on Earth and sometimes performed the function of the High Priest of the Sun. Thus, the Incas justified their invasions by a divine mandate.

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With the death of Wayna Qhapaq, the decline of the Inca Empire began. The emperor’s sons Waskhar and Atawallpa started a bloody war for the throne that weakened the empire and made it an easy trophy for Pizarro’s troops in 1532. The conquistadors found support among the tribes and peoples suppressed by the Incas. Eventually, they captured Atawallpa, and Waskhar fled. The attempts to restore the Inca power in Cuzco and Lima in 1536 failed, and that was the end of the Inca Empire.

Archaeological Evidence

Excavations in Cuzco provide little information about the Killke period (1000-1400). However, it is clear from the constructions that the life in the area was peaceful while the sites located 30-50 km away show traces of military conflicts (D’altroy, 2001). The imperial period left temples and shrines, artwork, ritual statues, picture panels, and knipu cords. The royal highway system and installations at some locations connected by it, farms, elite estates, and Cuzco palaces are a rich source of information about the empire.

The Incas have not left chronicles of the state for they had no written language. They preserved oral narratives by passing them from generation to generation with the help of memory knotted colored cords called knipu. They sometimes depicted significant events on marked poles or picture panels, though they did not develop coherent pictographic or hieroglyphic systems. Therefore, the first written epic narrative of the Incas dates back only to 1551 (D’altroy, 2001).

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Vijayanagara Empire in Pre-Colonial India


Pre-colonial Indian Empire with its capital in Vijayanagara stretched for over 360,000 square kilometers and had around 25 million subjects. The territory was characterized by geographical and productive diversity; it encompassed well-watered coastal zone, central dry upland, and forested mountainous area. Excavations on the territory of Vijayanagara show that it occupied an area of 350 square kilometers surrounded by city walls (Morrison & Sinopoli, 1992).


Politics and Administration

Before the 16th century, Vijayanagara rulers provided a significant degree of autonomy to the remote coastal locations. They never controlled the Malabar coast, but the local rulers along the Kanara coast paid tribute to the empire. Eventually, they gained control over the Coromandel coast in the 14th century. Originally, local elites made vital agricultural decisions. Later, Vijayanagara officials took over that function, and temples took charge of the irrigation process (Morrison & Sinopoli, 1992).

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Agricultural production was the source of existence; it also provided goods for trade. Agricultural production and organization differed depending on the peculiarities of geographical zones comprising the empire. In the metropolitan area that occupied drylands of 300,000 square kilometers, around 1,200 small villages provided the livelihood for the capital. Construction of irrigation collectors and canals was vital for securing permanent water supply; thus, these facilities, along with dams and storages, were abundant in the region. Due to dry conditions, only one type of crop was yielded a year, while the frequency and scope of the harvest could be twice higher in more favorable regions. The subjects of the empire had to pay taxes in cash (Morrison & Sinopoli, 1992).

Archaeological evidence suggests integration of communities around water facilities, such as reservoirs or wells. For example, as water ran down the mountains, large reservoirs were made in valleys; from there, water, running through a series of canals and filling smaller reservoirs, irrigated drylands. The state supported major facilities through temple investment, while communities took care of the smaller ones. Trade, textile production, and ironware were other significant sources of the economy. Archaeological findings include extensive weavers’ temples and iron working sites, some of which later converted to shrines (Morrison & Sinopoli, 1992).


The whole empire confessed Hinduism that explained and reinforced the social structure. The entire society was divided into castes that were in charge of specific activities. The stratification was rigid, and promotion was impossible. Temples were ritual centers; in addition, they functioned as cultural and craft nuclei. All society layers supported temples by donating land, cash, agricultural produce, etc. (Morrison & Sinopoli, 1992).

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To summarize, early empires all followed the same pattern of military expansion, regions’ consolidation, and decay. However, the consolidation phase involved different strategies. In the Inca Empire, the basic principle was strong military presence, which was necessary for further expansion, defense, and control over the annexed regions. Inca rulers reinforced their claims through religion and ideology. They established civil administration in the occupied regions from the Inca officials and low-level local elites. Loyalty of the lords of those territories was strengthened through mutual obligations and gifts. Similarly, Vijayanagara relied on religious and economic ties more than on the army. In fact, Vijayanagara rulers did use the army for conquering new territories. In the 16th century India, temples took over many administrative, economic, and social regulatory functions and helped to maintain the imperial power.