The Sapa Inca (from Quechua Sapa Inka "the only Inca") was the monarch of the Inca Empire (Tawantinsuyu), as well as ruler of the earlier Kingdom of Cusco and the later Neo-Inca State. While the origins of the position are mythical and originate from the legendary foundation of the city of Cusco, it seems to have come into being historically around 1100 CE. Although the Inca believed the Sapa to be the son of Inti (the Inca Sun god) and often referred to him as Intip Churin or ‘Son of the Sun,’ the position eventually became hereditary, with son succeeding father.[1][2][3] The principal wife of the Inca was known as the Coya or Qoya.[3] The Sapa Inca was at the top of the social hierarchy, and played a dominant role in the political and spiritual realm.[3]

Statue of the Sapa Inca Pachacuti wearing the Mascapaicha (imperial crown), in the main square of Aguas Calientes, Peru

There were two known dynasties, led by the Hurin and Hanan moieties respectively.[4] The latter was in power at the time of Spanish conquest. The last effective Sapa Inca of Inca Empire was Atahualpa, who was executed by Francisco Pizarro and his conquistadors in 1533, but several successors later claimed the title.[5]

Other terms for Sapa Inca, also spelled Sapan Inca, include Apu ("divinity"), Inka Qhapaq ("mighty Inca"), or simply Sapa ("the only one").

Choosing the IncaEdit

Chronicles identify the Inca as the highest ruler equivalent to European kings of the Middle Ages. However, the original access to that position was not linked to the inheritance of the eldest son, as is for a monarchy, but to the perceived selection of the gods by means of rigorous challenges, to which the physical and moral aptitudes of the pretender were tested.[2] These trials were accompanied by a complex spiritual ritual through which the Sun god, Inti nominated the one who should assume the Inca position.[2] Eventually, with the passage of time, Incas named their favorite son as co-governor with the intention of securing his succession,[6] for example, Huiracocha Inca associated Inca Urco to the throne.[7] The Coya, or Sapa Inca's primary wife, had significant influence upon making this decision of which son is apt to succeed his father.[3][8]

Tokapu or symbolic motif thought by Victoria de La Jara to represent the meaning of Sapa Inca (first row, first from the left).


The Sapa Inca was the absolute ruler of the empire and accumulated in his power the political, social, military, and economic direction of the State.[9][3] He ordered and directed the construction of great engineering works, such as Sacsayhuaman, a fortress that took 50 years to complete;[10] or the urban plan of the cities.[11] However, among their most notable works was the network of roads that crossed the entire empire and allowed a rapid journey for the administrators, messengers and armies[12] provided with hanging bridges and tambos.[13] They made sure to always be supplied and well cared for,[14] as is reflected in the construction of storehouses scattered throughout the empire and vast food and resource redistribution systems.[3][8] The commander and chief of the standing army founded military colonies to expand the culture and control, while simultaneously ensuring the preservation of that network.[15][3]

At the religious level, they were symbolic of the sun and promoted the worship of Inti, regarded as their father,[16] and organized the calendar.[17] At the political level, they sent inspectors to oversee the loyalty and efficiency of civil servants and collect tribute from the subjugated peoples.[18] The emperors promoted a unified and decentralized government in which Cuzco acted as the articulating axis of the different regions or Suyu.[19] They appointed highly trusted governors.[20] At the economic level, they decided how much each province should pay according to its resources.[21] They knew how to win over the curacas to ensure control of the communities. These were the intermediaries through whom they collected taxes.[22][8]

Traditionally, every time an emperor died or resigned, his successor was disinherited from his father inheritance and formed his own lineage royal clan or Panaka, his father's lands, houses and servants were passed to his other children remaining on the previous Panaka. The new Sapa Inca had to obtain land and spoils to bequeath to his own descendants.[23] Each time they subdued a people, they demanded that the defeated leader surrender part of their land to continue in command, and whose people pay tribute in the form of labor (mita) taxes.[24][8]

The Sapa Inca also played a major role in the caring of the poor and hungry, hence his other title Huaccha Khoyaq or ‘Lover and Benefactor of the Poor’.[3] The Sapa was responsible for organizing food redistribution in times of environmental disaster, allocated work via state-sponsored projects, and most notably promoted major state-sponsored religious feasts[3] that followed each successful harvest season.[8]

Distinction symbolsEdit

The Inca was divinized, both in his actions and his emblems. In public he carried the topayauri (scepter), ushno (golden throne), suntur páucar (feathered pike) and the mascaipacha (royal insignia) commonly carried in a llauto (headband), otherwise the mascapaicha could also be carried on an amachana chuku (military helmet).[9] In religious ceremonies he was accompanied by the sacred white flame, the napa, and covered with a red blanket and adorned with gold earrings.[25] With textiles representing a form of status and wealth, it has been speculated that the Sapa Inca never wore the same clothes twice.[8] The community even revered the Sapa after his death, mummifying him and frequently visiting his tomb to "consult" him on pressing affairs.[3]

Pre-Conquest Sapa IncasEdit

First dynastyEdit

Little is known of the rulers of the first dynasty of Sapa Incas. Evidently, they were affiliated with the Hurin moiety and their rule did not extend beyond the Kingdom of Cusco. Their origins are tied to the mythical establishment of Cusco and are shrouded in the later foundation myth. The dynasty was supposedly founded by Manco Cápac, considered the son of the Sun god Inti.[26]

Title Sapa Inca Picture Birth Queen Death
Inca of Cusco Manco Cápac
(Manqu Qhapaq)
c. 1200–1230
  Considered the son of
the sun god Inti
Mama Uqllu c. 1230
Sinchi Roca
(Sinchi Ruq'a)
c. 1230–1260
  Son of Manco Cápac Mama Qura c. 1260
Lloque Yupanqui
(Lluq'i Yupanki)
c. 1260–1290
  Son of Sinchi Roca Mama Qawa c. 1290
Mayta Cápac
(Mayta Qhapaq)
c. 1290–1320
  Son of Lloque Yupanqui Mama Takukaray c. 1320
Cápac Yupanqui
(Qhapaq Yupanki)
c. 1320–1350
  Son of Mayta Cápac Mama Chimpu Qurihillpay c. 1350

As a rough guide to the later reputation of the early Sapa Incas, in later years capac meant warlord and sinchi meant leader.

Second dynastyEdit

The second dynasty was affiliated with the Hanan moiety and was founded under Inca Roca, the son of the last Hurin Sapa Inca, Cápac Yupanqui. After Cápac Yupanqui's death, another of his sons, Inca Roca's half-brother Quispe Yupanqui, was intended to succeed him. However, the Hanan revolted and installed Inca Roca instead.[2]

Title Sapa Inca Picture Birth Queen Death
Inca of Cusco Inca Roca
(Inka Ruq'a)
c. 1350–1380
  Son of Cápac Yupanqui Mama Mikay c. 1380
Yáhuar Huácac
(Yawar Waqaq)
c. 1380–1410
  Son of Inca Roca Mama Chikya c. 1410
(Wiraqucha Inka)
c. 1410–1438
  Son of Yáhuar Huácac Mama Runtu Quya 1438
  Son of Viracocha Mama Anawarkhi 1471
Túpac Inca Yupanqui
(Tupaq Yupanki)
  Son of Pachacuti Mama Uqllu iskay ñiqin 1493
Huayna Capac
(Wayna Qhapaq)
  Son of Túpac Inca Yupanqui Kusi Rimay
Arawa Uqllu
  Son of Huayna Capac Chukuy Waypa 1533
Killed by Atahualpa's agents.
  Son of Huayna Capac Quya Asarpay (sp?) 26 July 1533
Killed by the Spaniards

Ninan Cuyochi, who was Inca for only a few days in 1527, is sometimes left off the list of Sapa Incas because news of his death from smallpox arrived in Cusco very shortly after he was declared Sapa Inca. He had witnessed the death of his father Huayna Cápac. The death of Ninan, the presumed heir, led to the Inca Civil War between Huáscar and Atahualpa, a weakness that the Spanish exploited when they conquered the Inca Empire.[8]

Post-Conquest Sapa IncasEdit

Title Sapa Inca Picture Birth Death Notes
Inca of Incas Túpac Huallpa
  Son of Huayna Capac 1533 Installed by Francisco Pizarro.
Manco Inca Yupanqui
  Son of Huayna Capac 1544 Installed by Francisco Pizarro. Led a revolt against the Spaniards in 1536; after his defeat, established the Neo-Inca State in Vilcabamba.
Paullu Inca
  Son of Huayna Capac 1549 Installed by the Spaniards after Manco Inca rebelled; ruled in Cuzco.
Inca of Vilcabamba Sayri Túpac
  Son of Manco Inca Yupanqui 1560 Ruled in Vilcabamba.
Titu Cusi
  Son of Manco Inca Yupanqui 1571 Ruled in Vilcabamba.
Túpac Amaru
  Son of Manco Inca Yupanqui 24 September 1572
Killed by the Spaniards
Ruled in Vilcabamba. The last Sapa Inca.

This last Sapa Inca must not be confused with Túpac Amaru II, who was leader of an 18th-century Peruvian uprising.

Family treeEdit

First Dynasty
 Manco Cápac
1st Sapa Inca
of Cusco
(c. 1200–1230)
Mama Uqllu
 Sinchi Roca
2nd Sapa Inca
of Cusco
(c. 1230–1260)
Mama Qura
 Lloque Yupanqui
3rd Sapa Inca
of Cusco
(c. 1260–1290)
Mama Qawa
 Mayta Cápac
4thSapa Inca
of Cusco
(c. 1290–1320)
Mama Takukaray
Cunti Mayta
high priest
 Cápac Yupanqui
5th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
(c. 1320–1350)
Mama Chimpu QurihillpayCusi Chimbo
Quispe Yupanqui
heir apparent to 1350
 Inca Roca
6th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
(c. 1350 – c. 1380)
younger son of Cápac Yupanqui
chosen Sapa Inca when the Hanan moiety rebelled against the Hurin moiety
Mama Mikay
Second Dynasty
Apu Mayta
a nephew & great warrior
 Yáhuar Huácac
7th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
(c. 1380 – c. 1410)
Mama ChikyaInca PaucarHuaman Taysi IncaVicaquirau Inca
a great warrior
8th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
(c. 1410–1438)
Mama RuntucayaCcuri-chulpa
Inca Rocca
heir apparent
Tupac Yupanqui Cusi Inca Yupanqui
9th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
1st Emperor of Inca Empire
Mama AnahuarquiCcapac YupanquiInca UrcoInca Socso
Tupac Ayar MancoApu Paucar Tupac Inca Yupanqui
10th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
2nd Emperor of Inca Empire
(c. 1441 – c. 1493)
Mama Ocllo
Queen Kusi Rimay Titu Cusi Hualpa
Huayna Capac
11th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
3rd Emperor of Inca Empire
(c.1468–1524, probably of smallpox)
Rahua OclloAuqui Tupac Inca
d. 1524 w/his brother and nephew, prob. of smallpox
90 illegitimate sons and daughters, incl. Ccapac Huari, who tried to succeed his father
Ninan Cuyochi
Crown Prince
d. w/his father and uncle, probably of smallpox
 Thupaq Kusi Wallpa

12th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
4th Emperor of Inca Empire
Chuqui Huipa Atahualpa
13th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
5th Emperor of Inca Empire
(c. 1502 – 26 July 1533)
Coya Asarpay
(died 1533)
  Thupaq Wallpa
14th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
6th Emperor of Inca Empire
(installed by Pizarro 1533)
  Manco Inca Yupanqui
15th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
7th Emperor of Inca Empire
1st Ruler of Neo-Inca State
(1533 – revolted 1536 – 1544)
  Paullu Inca
16th Sapa Inca
of Cusco
8th Emperor of Inca Empire
(installed by Pizarro 1536–1549)
Atoc, Konono, Wanka Auqui, Kizu Yupanqui, Tito Atauchi, Waman Wallpa, Kusi Wallpa, Tilka Yupanqu, & +
  Sayri Túpac
17th Sapa Inca
2nd Ruler of Neo-Inca State
(c. 1535–1561)
  Titu Cusi]]
18th Sapa Inca
2nd Ruler of Neo-Inca State
  Túpac Amaru
19th & last Sapa Inca
3rd Ruler of Neo-Inca State
(1545 – 24 September 1572)
descendants, incl son Carlos Inca, his son Melchor Carlos Inca, and his son Juan Melchor Carlos Inca

  1. ^ Wilfred Byford-Jones, Four Faces of Peru, Roy Publishers, 1967, p. 17; p. 50.
  2. ^ a b c d Guaman Poma, Felipe (1615). First New Chronical and Good Government. Lima Peru.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Inca Government". World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2019-05-01.
  4. ^ Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa; Gabriel de Oviedo (1907). History of the Incas. Hakluyt Society. p. 72.
  5. ^ Cova, Antonio de la. "The Incas". Retrieved 2017-07-26.
  6. ^ Rostworowski, 1999: 53
  7. ^ Rostworowski, 2001: 124
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Henderson, Peter (2013). The Course of Andean History. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
  9. ^ a b Molestina, 1994: 26
  10. ^ Temoche, 2010: 227
  11. ^ Temoche, 2010: 31, 154, 225
  12. ^ Temoche, 2010: 159
  13. ^ Temoche, 2010: 53, 111, 144
  14. ^ Temoche, 2010: 145
  15. ^ Temoche, 2010: 71
  16. ^ Temoche, 2010: 181
  17. ^ Temoche, 2010: 179
  18. ^ Temoche, 2010: 144-145
  19. ^ Temoche, 2010: 157
  20. ^ Temoche, 2010: 144
  21. ^ Temoche, 2010: 143
  22. ^ Temoche, 2010: 116
  23. ^ Bravo, 1985: 95; Temoche, 2010: 130
  24. ^ Temoche Esquivel, Juan Francisco. Avaliação da influência do choque térmico na aderência dos revestimentos de argamassa (Thesis). Universidade de Sao Paulo Sistema Integrado de Bibliotecas - SIBiUSP. doi:10.11606/t.3.2009.tde-03092009-162624.
  25. ^ Martinengui, 1980: 37
  26. ^ "Who Was The Sapa Inca?". Ancient Pages. 2016-01-27. Retrieved 2017-07-26.

See alsoEdit