Incas vs Aztecs? Who would have won a war?

The Incas and the Aztecs were the two great civilizations of pre-Columbian America. The Incas founded the largest empire in South America. The Aztecs, formed by the Triple Alliance, founded one of the most feared states in Central America. Both were invaded and subdued by the Spanish in the 16th century. Learn more about these cultures, their similarities and differences as well as a possible confrontation. What would have happened?

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The Incas and their army

  • The Inca army was the most powerful in South America in the 15th century.
  • During the Inca era (from 1200 A.D. to 1533 A.D.) there were hundreds of indigenous villages, some peaceful, others fierce warriors who resisted the Incas. However, the excellent organization and discipline of the Inca army managed to annex immense areas of territory, which covered almost two million square kilometers across large regions of the current territories of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina and Chile.
  • To mobilize their army and achieve a better organization of the Tahuantinsuyo empire, the Incas built an extensive network of roads (the qhapac ñan) which covered more than 30 thousand kilometers in the Andes Mountains and the Pacific coast.
  • The governor who planned the construction of these roads and the creation of the Tahuantinsuyo empire was Titu Cusi Yupanqui who managed to defeat the powerful Chanca ethnic group in the 15th century. Thus began a better organization of the Inca army. Titu Cusi was renamed Pachacutec.
  • Since then the Incas became a conquering state that expanded their territories in all directions. This would not have been possible without his powerful and well-organized army. 
Captura de Atahualpa
Capture of Atahualpa

The Aztecs and their army

  • The Aztecs settled in the Valley of Mexico. To form a powerful empire they had to form a confederation of three city-states: Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan. Of all these, Tenochitlan was the most important and the center of power. However, Tlatoani (king of Tenochtitlan) had no power to declare war without the approval of the two sovereigns of the other two remaining cities.
  • The Aztecs did not have an organized army but rather a contingent of ‘warriors’, capable of committing atrocities against their rival. Thus, the people defeated by the Aztecs were victims of human sacrifices and terrible religious rituals. The goal was to soften rivals, demonstrate the superiority of their culture, and comply with the will of their gods.
  • The Aztec army was made up of commoners and nobles. The first made up the ‘calpulli’, who were under the orders of a tiachcahuan. On the other hand, the names had an education prepared to become professional warriors, capable of carrying out the superior orders of the Aztec State, such as the human sacrifices of the defeated peoples.
  • It is believed that the Aztec army was capable of gathering a battalion of two hundred thousand men for a specific military campaign.

Who would have won a hypothetical war?

  • The Aztecs had a population of approximately 7 million people. His army was made up of 200 thousand soldiers on average. His technique of conquest was to intimidate his adversaries by making human sacrifices of the survivors.
  • The Incas had a population of approximately 10 million people. His army was made up of 200 thousand soldiers on average. His technique of conquest was to take advantage of the power of his army to annex new territories by hook or by crook. In any case, the Incas respected aspects of the culture and practices of the defeated ethnic group.
  • Both the Incas and the Aztecs had problems conquering some territories that fiercely resisted their conquest. Both also had enemies who took advantage of the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century to confront and defeat them.
  • Additionally, both the Incas and the Aztecs had basic military technology with weapons made of stone, arrows, wood, and slings. A point in favor of the Incas was the presence of metals in their weapons, however the Aztecs used obsidian, which is a volcanic stone with lower performance on the battlefield.
  • A hypothetical war between the Incas and Aztecs, although possible, would have taken many years because on the path between the two there were hundreds of towns and ethnic groups to conquer. However, in the field of the hypothetical, a confrontation between the two could be even.
  • The Aztecs had the ferocity of their warriors in their favor. However, the Incas had a very well organized and prepared army. A hypothetical war between the two, without a doubt, would have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths on both sides. The winner would be the one who best resists the chaos that all this would involve.
Sacrificio humano azteca
Aztec human sacrifice

The Spanish conquest of the Incas and Aztecs

  • There are common aspects between the conquest of the Incas and the Aztecs by the Spanish crown at the beginning of the 16th century.
  • 1519 is recorded as the year of the conquest of the ancient Valley of Mexico or the Aztec empire (Triple Alliance confederation). Then the ruler Moctezuma was the central figure of the so-called Mexica empire while Hernán Cortez was the one who led the Spanish invasion.
  • On the other hand, 1532 was the year in which the Spanish managed to deliver the most important blow towards the conquest of the Inca empire. That year the death of Emperor Atahualpa took place and the arrival of Europeans to the city of Cusco, capital of Tahuantinsuyo. Francisco Pizarro was the leader of the Spanish in that historical event.
  • The strategies used by the Spanish were similar both in the conquest of the Aztecs and in the case of the Spanish. They pitted Indians against Indians, making alliances with the enemy towns of the Mexica and Incas.
  • It is estimated that during the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, 80 percent of the indigenous population of Mesoamerica died. The main reason was not only the combat of indigenous people against indigenous people but also the epidemics that the Spanish brought from Europe, which were unknown to the organisms of American man.
  • The same thing happened in the case of the conquest of the Inca empire. It is estimated that the clashes between the Incas and the indigenous peoples allied to the Spanish caused the death of 90% of the native population (that is, about 50 million people in less than one hundred years).
  • The Spanish army led by Francisco Pizarro took advantage of the example of the Aztec conquest by Hernán Cortez to organize an immense army of indigenous enemies of the Incas. Although the events were different, in general terms the strategy used by the Spanish was very similar.

More information about the Incas and Aztecs

  • The Aztecs were located in the Valley of Mexico for almost two hundred years from 1325 AD. until the conquest of the Spanish in 1521 AD. The Incas inhabited the Cusco valley for around three hundred years, from 1,200 AD. until 1533 AD (the Spanish conquest).
  • The Aztecs had a monarchical government (not hereditary) where those elected to the throne were part of the nobility. It was also called the government of the Triple Alliance since there were three ethnic groups and main cities that made up the empire: Tetzcoco, Tlacopán and Tenochtitlán. However, the latter was the city that represented the greatest power. The Aztecs covered a total area of ​​304 thousand square kilometers (and 7 million inhabitants).
  • The Incas had a hereditary monarchical government where the great figure was the Sopa Inca, whose son was destined to assume the throne. The city of Cusco was the capital of the vast empire that covered a total area of ​​almost two million square kilometers (approximately 10 million inhabitants).

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