the sustainability of Incan shared inheritance

I was really surprised to learn about the Incan tradition of split inheritance. Not only did the deceased king continue living among the Incans (being included in ceremonies, for example), he also continued to collect tributes and taxes. The new ruler doesn’t has no claim to anything the old king collected or anything he will collect in the future. This seems really problematic, perhaps absurdly so. It is not really my goal to criticize Incan culture and political structure; I just really do not understand how it would have at all been sustainable for a long period of time.

If the king’s successor was usually his son, as Professor Watrall mentioned, would his son truly not have any part in his estate. Would the king live a life entirely separately from his family so they would not share in his wealth? It couldn’t have been the case that the father shared things with the son because then there would be no need for new taxes and the emphasis on expansion.

Because the king retained his wealth after death, the new king brought only what he already had (which I think is ambiguous considering the above paragraph). This meant there was a need to generate new revenues. His options, as we learned in class, were limited. One, he could raise mit’a. This is problematic because it’s not a simply tax, it is a labor tax. There is a finite amount of labor available to a ruler. One cannot make people work for more hours than there are in the day. The second option then became expanding the regime in order to have more people from which to collect mit’a from. Again, one cannot conquer lands that do not exist. A ruler will eventually run out of options for expansion. This does beg the question as to whether the Incan political order was engineered to require expansion or whether expansion became necessary to uphold order. It is sort of a teleological argument.

Professor Watrall said that the Spanish were the primary cause of collapse for the Incas. It seems, based on their model that the Incan empire would have not lasted for long even if the Spanish never brought their diseases or “conquered” them. All complex states are unsustainable, but the Incan empire seems especially fragile. Before they could ever run out of resources (what is a very common internal problem for societies), the Incas had to rely on sheer population growth just to maintain political order. Does it not also become a problem when several kings are dead? Is only the most recently deceased the one who remains in society and collects mit’a. Does the position lose any power with the death of subsequent rulers?

Do you think the Incan model could have been sustainable?

2 thoughts on “the sustainability of Incan shared inheritance

  1. Elaina Wilson

    This is a really interesting point of discussion. I didn’t even think of these potential problems until you pointed them out here. So I did a little research and this is what I was able to find:

    Split inheritance really is a split between a ruler’s title and political power and his material possessions. And both these parts do in fact go to somebody. The political power and titles of the ruler went to his chosen successor (normally one of his elder sons but not always). The possessions and land, though symbolically still belonging to the dead ruler, remained in the hands of his male descendants, the panaqa, or other heirs. They became like stewards or caretakers of the dead ruler’s things and would use them to support the cult of the dead Inca’s mummy for eternity.

    This satisfied other potential heirs materially and encouraged the new leader to gain more territory and wealth instead of sitting on the lorals of his predecessor. Each new Inca needed to secure possessions to ensure that his own cult and place for eternity. Since the Incas believed in ancestor worship, they also believed that the land of the person who had passed on still belonged to them, even though it was in the care of his descendants. This system of inheritance was the monopolizing of land by the dead. This created an imbalance between resources and the population since the products of the land would still belong to the dead. The panaqa benifited from this inheritance, since they were able to live at the expense of the land, and so they usually didn’t feel like they had to do as much themselves.

  2. Alison Alessi

    I think most cultures have a system somewhat similar to this. For example, when we were learning about the Giza plateau, we learned that it was one giant necropolis. Basically, the ancient Egyptians held property after life as well. I think the only difference is that money from the state went into upkeep and worship of the old ruler instead of the ruler having a personal fund but I could be wrong on that. Whatever the case, money would have been needed to maintain the necropolis and to continue worship. To get money, Egypt would have to be prosperous. They conquered new lands for this purpose as well. Most states expand to conquer new lands for monetary purposes. For example, the ancient Greeks went to war for personal gain. Each soldier had the possibility of getting rich by looting. Achilles seemed to only fight at Troy for personal gain, even going so far as refusing to fight when he thought that the loot was unfairly distributed. I just think the Incas had a more systematic way of doing what most states do anyway. They expand for monetary purposes. Some of this money then goes to religious purposes. In some cultures, the kings were related to Gods (the first great Inca was said to be the son of the sun god.) I think grave goods are more impractical than split inheritance. Those valuables get locked in a tomb never to be used again. At least when there is split inheritance, the money theoretically goes back into the community because someone has to maintain the mummy and his tomb and they were probably paid to do it. It’s kind of like forcing the heir to put that money back into the community instead of hoarding it.

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