The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

Rethinking the Inca Empire: The Concept of Empire and the Receipt Process of Imperial Image

Joint Research Coordinator SEKI Yuji

Reserch Theme List


The objectives of this research are to reexamine the polity known as Incan which appeared in the Andes region of South America and lasted from the fifteenth century until the middle of the sixteenth century, in terms of concept of empire and actual practice. The conquering Spanish saw the Incan regime as an empire, and historical research of recent years has shown that behind that judgment was the image of the Roman Empire. Since this European historical view thereafter provided the overall framework for interpretation of the Incan and pre-Incan civilizations, we will attempt to go back and disentangle archaeological, historical and ethnographic data from the concept of empire. At that stage, while comparing this data with the theories of empire that have developed in different places throughout the world in recent years, we will consider exactly what Incan society consisted of.
The last few years have witnessed extreme fluctuations in the fortunes of theories of imperialism as viewed from the perspectives of the expansion of U.S. political, economic and military strategies and globalization. As part of this trend considerable attention has also come to be paid to comparative imperialism theory, charting the rise and fall of empires, within history and archaeology. Such research has placed less emphasis on defining empire than on adopting a comparative perspective and pointing to the importance of researching the particulars of the historical development of complex societies known as empires. For the Andes region, the focus of this research, the work of disentangling these specific examples from the concept of empire has not progressed beyond a certain part of historical research. In that sense, in research on empire the significance of the Andes case is considerable. However, we can declare that even more so is the need to incorporate themes that have been treated in the individual fields of history or archaeology into the scope of contemporary anthropology through a broad yet academic research stance to new approaches for researching empire and the Andes region.

Research Results

An extremely difficult task is to understand the view of empire in Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. From the standpoint of the history of research on the Roman Empire, while on the one hand there was more emphasis on the republican system than imperial rule, the image of empire was strongly emphasized within the reconquista movement in the Iberian Peninsula. Also clear is that subsequent political and cultural leaders of the Holy Roman Empire, who formed the political nexus of that regime, were frequently mentioned. These conditions in Europe gave birth to the cronista (chroniclers) and interchanges among these cronista and their use of chronicles in turn gave birth to more chroniclers in a complex process, with the focus of their investigations being on representative individuals.
Alternatively, while utilizing historical documents a cross-sectional work with enormous impact was J.V. Murra’s theory of vertical control. Our research committee made clear that today’s theories on the Inca, in their economic aspects, have not been able to free themselves from the spell of the theory of vertical control. This model with its emphasis on economics or models that interpret the Incan Empire with slanting to an ideological perspective make it difficult to come to grips with the Incan power structure. We confirmed the critical need for a more comprehensive approach.
In addition, from the standpoints of history and aesthetic history, we need to investigate how during the colonial period the image of indigenous Incan society was received, interpreted and actually appropriated. Concerning the process of image creation, we also looked at contemporary society. We found that in recent years the image of the Incas has been positive among the indigenous people, the Cholos, who have streamed into the cities. We confirmed that the politics of promoting indigenismo (protecting the Indios: Latin American Movement) has become linked with the nationalism seen throughout Latin America.