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Pedro de Cieza de León, Crónicas


This is an extract from the chronicles of Pedro de Cieza de León (1520–1554), a Spanish soldier and writer who compiled a history of Peru during his seventeen years there. It describes the taxes and labor obligations the Incas imposed on the people they conquered, including payments of grain, cloth, weapons, coca, and animals, along with labor in mines and fields. This source is a part of the Long Teaching Module: Inca Society teaching module.


As in the previous chapter I described the way in which the Incas carried out their conquests, in this it would be well to tell how the different nations were taxed, and how the returns of this taxation were handled in Cuzco. For as is well known to all, not a single village of the highlands or the plains failed to pay the tribute levied on it by those who were in charge of these matters. There were even provinces where, when the natives alleged that they were unable to pay their tribute, the Inca ordered that each inhabitant should be obliged to turn in every four months a large quill full of live lice, which was the Inca’s way of teaching and accustoming them to pay tribute. We know that for a time they paid their tax in lice until, after they had been given flocks and had raised them, and made clothing, they were able to pay tribute henceforth. On these visits of the envoys of the Incas to the provinces, as soon as they arrived they could tell from the quipus the number of people, men and women, old folks and children, and gold or silver miners, and they ordered that so many thousand Indians be put to work in the mines, to dig the amount of those metals that had been set to be turned over to the inspectors assigned for that purpose. And as during the time the Indians appointed to work the mines were doing this they could not cultivate their fields, the Incas ordered those from other provinces to come and plant the crops at the proper season in lieu of tribute, so that they [the fields] would not lie fallow. If the province was a large one, it furnished Indians both to mine the metals and to sow and work the land. If one of the Indians working in the mines got sick, he was allowed to return home at once, and another came to take his place; but none was assigned to the mines unless he was married so that his wives could look after his food and drink, and, aside from this, it was seen to it that they were supplied with food in abundance. With this way of doing things, none of them considered it hard work even if they spent their whole life in the mines, and none of them died from overwork. Besides, they were permitted to stop work several days in the month for their feasts and recreation; and the same Indians were not continuously in the mines, but every so often they were sent away and others came in their place. So well had the Incas organized this that the amount of gold and silver mined throughout the kingdom was so great that there must have been years when they took out over fifty thousand arrobas of silver, and over fifteen thousand of gold, and all this metal was for their use. These metals were brought to the capital of each province, and the same system of mining and delivering them prevailed throughout the kingdom. If in certain regions there were no metals to be mined, so that all should contribute their share, they set tribute of small things, and of women and children who left their villages without any sorrow, for if a man had only one son or daughter, they did not take the child, but if he had three or four, they took one in payment of his service. Other regions paid as many thousand loads of corn as there were houses in it, which was done at every harvest, and was credited to the province. In other areas they similarly supplied as many loads of chuño as the others of corn, and others quinoa, and others tubers. Some places gave as many blankets as there were married Indians in it, and others as many shirts as there were people. Others were obliged to supply so many thousand loads of lances, and others, slings and ayllos [bolas] and the other arms they use. Certain provinces were ordered to contribute so many thousand Indians to go to Cuzco to work on the public buildings of the city and those of the Incas, supplying them with the necessary food. Others contributed cables to haul stones; others, coca. In this way all the provinces and regions of Peru, from the smallest to the most important, paid tribute to the Incas, and all this was accomplished in such orderly fashion that neither did the natives fail to pay what they owed and were assessed, nor did those who collected these tributes venture to take one grain of corn in excess. And all the food and articles necessary for making war which were contributed were expended on the soldiers or the regular garrisons that were established in different parts of the kingdom for its defense. When there was no war, most of this was eaten and consumed by the poor, for when the Incas were in Cuzco they had their hatun-conas, which is the name for a bondsman, and in such number that they sufficed to work their lands and care for their houses and sow the necessary food supplies, aside from that which was always brought for their table from the different regions, many lambs and fowls and fish, and corn, coca, tubers, and all the fruits they raise. And there was such order in these tributes which the natives paid and the Incas were so powerful that they never had a war break out again. To know how and in what way the tributes were paid and the other taxes collected, each huata, which is the word for year, they sent out certain Orejones as supervisory magistrates, for they had no authority beyond visiting the provinces and notifying the inhabitants that if any of them had a complaint, he should state it, so that the one who had done him a wrong could be punished. And when the complaints were heard, if there were any, or it was learned that somewhere a debt was pending, they returned to Cuzco, from which another set out with authority to punish the culprits. In addition to this, there was another important provision, which was that from time to time the headmen of the provinces appeared on the day appointed for each nation to speak to bring to the knowledge of the Inca the state of the province and the shortage or abundance that existed in it, and whether the tribute was too large or too small, and whether they could pay it or not. After which they were sent away satisfied, for the Inca rulers were certain they were not lying but telling the truth. For if there was any attempt at deceit, stern punishment followed and the tribute was increased. Of the women given by the provinces, some of them were brought to Cuzco to become the possession of the Lord-Incas, and some of them were sent to the temple of the sun.


Pedro de Ciez de León, The Incas, trans. Harriet de Onis (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1959), pp. 161, 163–165.

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"Pedro de Cieza de León, Crónicas," in World History Commons, [accessed December 10, 2023]