Primary Sources

Chronicles of the Incas, 1540

Pedro de Cieza de Léon


In 1535, Spanish conquistador Pedro de Cieza de Léon arrived in South America. Although he was a professional soldier and took part in the Spanish conquest, he developed an interest in the people and cultures of the region. He wrote his impressions and personal experiences in a book which became known as the Chronicles of the Incas. Since the Incas had no written records at the time of the conquest, we depend on conquistador accounts such as Cieza's for insight into the Inca civilization.


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 [given] out, so much so that nobody ventured to commit a felony or theft. …

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 [allies] 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 [regions] 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.