Primary Source

Juan de Betanzos, Narrative of the Incas


This extract comes from Juan de Betanzos’ Narrative of the Incas, which was written in the sixteenth century but not published until 1880. Betanzos (1510-1576) was among the early conquistadors, and served as a military leader and official. He married Cuxirimay Ocllo, the chief wife of King Atahualpa, the last Inca Emperor. He based his account on her recollections and those of other Inca soldiers and officials. Here he describes the ways in which when a ruler died, his corpse was preserved as a mummy in elaborate clothing and housed in a sacred and magnificent chamber. His royal descendants as a group managed his lands and sources of income for him and used the revenues to care for his mummy, maintain his cult, and support themselves. The costs of maintaining the cult of the dead ruler were high, and the next ruler had to find new sources of income through higher taxes or imperial expansion, as the second part of the source points out.

This source is a part of the Long Teaching Module: Inca Society teaching module.


Pachacuti Inca [the ruler of the Inca, who died in 1471] was buried by putting his body in the earth in a large new clay urn, with him very well dressed. Pachacuti Inca [had] ordered that a golden image made to resemble him be placed on top of his tomb. And it was to be worshiped in place of him by the people who went there. .. [He had] ordered those of his own lineage to bring this statue out for the feasts that were held in Cuzco. When they brought it out like this, they sang about the things that the Inca did in his life, both in the wars and in his city. Thus they served and revered him, changing its garments as he used to do, and serving it as he was served when he was alive….

Word should be sent to all the land, and from all the provinces and towns they should bring again all that was necessary for the service of the new lord [that is, the successor to Pachcuti Inca], including gold, silver, livestock, clothing, and the rest of the things needed to replenish all the storehouses that, because of his death, had been emptied for the sacrifices and things he ordered to be done.


Narrative of the Incas by Juan de Betanzos, trans. and ed. Roland Hamilton and Dana Buchanan from the Palma de Mallorca manuscript (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996), p. 138.

How to Cite This Source

"Juan de Betanzos, Narrative of the Incas," in World History Commons, [accessed December 8, 2023]