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Extract from Garcilaso de la Vega, Royal Commentaries of the Incas and General History of Peru


This is an extract from the chronicles of Garcilaso de la Vega (1539–1616), the son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca noble woman, who grew up in Peru but left there as a young man and spent the rest of his life in Spain. His descriptions of the laws and actions of the Incas are based on oral traditions that he had heard as a child, along with some earlier written chronicles. Here he discusses the tribute required of various peoples whom the Inca conquered, presenting this from the point of view of the Inca elite, which included his mother’s family. This source is a part of the Long Teaching Module: Inca Society teaching module.


Coming to the subject of the tribute levied and collected by the Inca kings of Peru from their vassals, this was so moderate that when one realizes what it consisted of and how much it was, it can truthfully be affirmed that none of the kings of the ancients, nor the great Caesars who were called Augustus and Pius can be compared with the Inca kings in this respect. For properly speaking it seems that they did not receive taxes and tributes from their subjects, but rather that they paid their subjects or merely imposed taxes for their benefit, such was their liberality toward their vassals. Considered in relation to the general circumstances of those times, the daily pay of laborers, and the value of commodities, and the expenses of the Incas, the tribute was so small in quantity that many Indians barely paid the value of four reals of the current time. Although there could not fail to be some inconvenience attached to the payment of the tribute or the service of the king or the curacas [officials with jurisdiction over a certain number of households] it was borne cheerfully and contentedly owing to the smallness of the tribute, the perquisites the Indians received, and the numerous advantages that arose from the performance of the tasks. The rights of the tribute payer and the laws in his favor were inviolably preserved so that neither the judges nor the governors, nor the captain generals, nor the Inca himself could pervert them to the disadvantage of the vassals. They were as follows: the first and most important was that no one who was exempt from tribute could be obliged to pay it at any time or for any reason. All those of royal blood were exempt, as were all captain generals and other captains, even the centurions and their children and grandchildren, and all the curacas and their kinsmen. Royal officials who were commoners and held minor posts were exempted from paying tribute during their term of office, as were soldiers on active service and youths of under twenty-five since they were required to serve their parents until that age. Old men of fifty and upwards were exempt from tribute, and so were all women, whether married or maidens, spinsters or widows. The sick were exempt until they were completely recovered, and all the disabled, such as the blind, lame, limbless, and others who were deprived of the use of their limbs, though the deaf and dumb were allotted tasks for which they did not need to hear or speak. The second law was that all the rest apart from these were obliged to pay tribute unless they were priests or officials in the temples of the Sun or of the chosen virgins. The third law was that no Indian was ever obliged for any reason to pay anything instead of tribute, but only to pay in labor, with his skill or with the time he devoted to the service of the king and the state. To this extent rich and poor were equal, for none paid more or less than others. The word rich was applied to anyone who had children or family to help him in his work and so to finish his share of the tributary labor sooner: anyone who had no children or family, though he might be well off in other respects, was accounted poor. The fourth law was that no one could compel anyone to perform or undertake any craft but his own, unless it was the tilling of the soil or military service, two duties to which all were liable in general. The fifth law was that each should pay his tribute in whatever goods were found in his own province, without being forced to go abroad in search of things that did not occur where he lived: it seemed to the Inca a great injustice to ask his subjects to deliver fruits their own earth did not produce. The sixth law required that each of the craftsmen who worked in the service of the Inca or his chiefs should be supplied with everything necessary for his work: thus the smith was given gold, silver, or copper, the weaver wool or cotton, the painter colors, and all the other requirements of their respective callings. Each craftsman was therefore only obliged to supply his labor and the time needed for the work, which was two months, or at most three. This done, he was not obliged to work any more. However, if there was any work left unfinished, and he wished to go on working of his own free will and see it through, what he did was discounted from the tribute he owed for the following year, and the amount was so recorded by means of their knots and beads. The seventh law required that all craftsmen of whatever occupation should be supplied if they fell ill with all they required for food, clothes, comforts, and medicine, instead of having to pay tribute: if the Indian concerned was working alone, he alone was helped, but if he had brought his wife and children so as to finish the work sooner, they too were fed. In the allocation of such tasks, the question of time was not taken into consideration, but only the completion of the job. Thus if a man could take advantage of the help of his family and friends to complete two months’ work in a week, he was regarded as having fully satisfied his obligation for the year, and no other tribute could be pressed upon him. This alone is sufficient to refute the contention of those who say that formerly tribute was paid by sons, daughters, and mothers, whoever they were. This is false, for although these all worked, it was not because the obligation to pay tribute was imposed upon them, but because they helped their fathers, husbands, or masters: if the man did not wish his dependents to share in his work, but preferred to work alone, his wife and children remained free to busy themselves about the house, and the judges and decurions were unable to bring any compulsion to bear on them, as long as they were not idle. It was for this reason that in the days of the Incas those who had many children and large families were accounted rich: those who had not were often taken ill owing to the length of time they had to devote to their work until their tribute was settled. In order to remedy this there was a law that those who were rich by reason of their families and the rest who had finished their tasks should help them for a day or two. This was agreeable to all the Indians.


Garcilaso de la Vega, Royal Commentaries of the Incas and General History of Peru, trans. Harold V. Livermore, vol. 1 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1966), pp. 272–274.

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"Extract from Garcilaso de la Vega, Royal Commentaries of the Incas and General History of Peru," in World History Commons, [accessed June 23, 2024]