« ZurückWeiter »
CONQUEST OF PERU.
VIEW OF THE CIVILIZATION OF THE INCAS.
PHYSICAL ASPECT OF THE COUNTRY.-SOURCES OF PERU
VIAN CIVILIZATION.- EMPIRE OF THE INCAS. - ROYAL FAMILY. NOBILITY.
Of the numerous nations which occupied the great American continent at the time of its discovery by the Europeans, the two most advanced in power and refinement were undoubtedly those of Mexico and Peru. But, though resembling one another in extent of civilization, they differed widely as to the nature of it; and the philosophical student of his species may feel a natural curiosity to trace the different steps by which these two nations strove to emerge from the state of barbarism and place themselves on a higher point in the scale of humanity. In a former work I have endeavored to exhibit the institutions and character of the ancient Mexicans, and the story of their conquest by the Spaniards. The present will be devoted to the
Peruvians; and if their history shall be found to present less strange anomalies and striking contrasts than that of the Aztecs, it may interest us quite as much by the pleasing picture it offers of a well-regulated government and sober habits of industry under the patriarchal sway of the Incas.
The empire of Peru, at the period of the Spanish invasion, stretched along the Pacific from about the second degree north to the thirty-seventh degree of south latitude; a line, also, which describes the western boundaries of the modern republics of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Chili. Its breadth cannot so easily be determined ; for, though bounded everywhere by the great ocean on the west, towards the east it spread out, in many parts, considerably beyond the mountains, to the confines of barbarous states, whose exact position is undetermined, or whose names are effaced from the map of history. It is certain, however, that its breadth was altogether disproportioned to its length.'
The topographical aspect of the country is very remarkable. A strip of land, rarely exceeding twenty leagues in width, runs along the coast, and is hemmed in through its whole extent by a colossal range of mountains, which, advancing from the Straits of Magel
* Sarmiento, Relacion, MS., cap. 65.*_Cieza de Leon, Cronica del Peru (Anvers, 1554), cap. 41.-Garcilasso de la Vega, Commentarios Reales (Lisboa, 1609), Parte 1, lib. I, cap. 8.—According to the last authority, the empire, in its greatest breadth, did not exceed one hundred and twenty leagues. But Garcilasso's geography will not bear criticism,
[In regard to the real authorship of the work erroneously attributed by Prescott to Juan de Sarmiento, see infra, p. 178, note.-ED.)
lan, reaches its highest elevation-indeed, the highest on the American continent-about the seventeenth degree south, and, after crossing the line, gradually subsides into hills of inconsiderable magnitude, as it enters the Isthmus of Panamá. This is the famous Cordillera of the Andes, or “copper mountains," ; as termed by the natives, though they might with more reason have been called “mountains of gold.” Arranged sometimes in a single line, though more frequently in two or three lines running parallel or obliquely to each other, they seem to the voyager on the ocean but one continuous chain; while the huge volcanoes, which to the inhabitants of the table-land look like solitary and independent masses, appear to him only like so many peaks of the same vast and magnificent range. So immense is the scale on which Nature works in these regions that it is only when viewed from a great distance that the spectator can in any degree comprehend the relation of the several
2 According to Malte-Brun, it is under the equator that we meet with the loftiest summits of this chain. (Universal Geography, Eng. trans., book 86.) But more recent measurements have shown this to be between fifteen and seventeen degrees south, where the Nevado de Sorata rises to the enormous height of 25,250 feet, and the Illimani to 24,300.*
3 At least, the word anta, which has been thought to furnish the etymology of Andes, in the Peruvian tongue, signified " copper." Garcilasso, Com. Real., Parte 1, lib. 5. cap. 14.
* [It is now known that the Andes nowhere attain the elevations here mentioned, and the height of Sorata and Illimani, as stated by the latest authorities, is 21,286 and 21,149 feet respectively.--Ed.]
† [But this etymology has not been generally accepted, and it is in fact highly improbable. The real derivation, as Humboldt remarks, is “ lost in the obscurity of the past.”—ED.]
parts to the stupendous whole. Few of the works of Nature, indeed, are calculated to produce impressions of higher sublimity than the aspect of this coast, as it is gradually unfolded to the eye of the mariner sailing on the distant waters of the Pacific; where mountain is seen to rise above mountain, and Chimborazo, with its glorious canopy of snow, glittering far above the clouds, crowns the whole* as with a celestial diadem.“
The face of the country would appear to be peculiarly unfavorable to the purposes both of agriculture and of internal communication. The sandy strip along the coast, where rain rarely falls, is fed only by a few scanty streams, that furnish a remarkable contrast to the vast volumes of water which roll down the eastern sides of the Cordilleras into the Atlantic. The precipitous steeps of the sierra, with its splintered sides of porphyry and granite, and its higher regions wrapped in snows that never melt under the fierce sun of the equator, unless it be from the desolating action of its own volcanic fires, might seem equally unpropitious to the labors of the husbandman. And all communication between the parts of the long-extended territory
4 Humboldt, Vues des Cordillères et Monumens des Peuples indigènes de l'Amérique (Paris, 1810), p. 106.-Malte-Brun, book 88. -The few brief sketches which M. de Humboldt has given of the scenery of the Cordilleras, showing the hand of a great painter, as well as of a philosopher, make us regret the more that he has not given the results of his observations in this interesting region as minutely as he has done in respect to Mexico.
* (Chimborazo (21,420 feet), formerly supposed to be the highest peak of the Andes, is surpassed by several summits in Peru, and by Aconcagua, in Chili (23,200, or, according to Captains Fitzroy and Reechey, 23,910 feet), the highest elevation in South America.—ED.]
might be thought to be precluded by the savage character of the region, broken up by precipices, furious torrents, and impassable quebradas,—those hideous rents in the mountain-chain, whose depths the eye of the terrified traveller, as he winds along his aërial pathway, vainly endeavors to fathom.5 Yet the industry, we might almost say the genius, of the Indian was sufficient to overcome all these impediments of Nature.
By a judicious system of canals and subterraneous aqueducts, the waste places on the coast were refreshed by copious streams, that clothed them in fertility and beauty. Terraces were raised upon the steep sides of the Cordillera; and, as the different elevations had the effect of difference of latitude, they exhibited in regular gradation every variety of vegetable form, from the stimulated growth of the tropics to the temperate products of a northern clime; while flocks of llamas--the Peruvian sheep-wandered with their shepherds over the broad, snow-covered wastes on the crests of the sierra, which rose beyond the limits of cultivation. An industrious population settled along the lofty regions of the plateaus, and towns and hamlets, clustering amidst orchards and wide-spreading gardens, seemed suspended in the air far above the ordinary elevation of the clouds. Intercourse was maintained between
5". These crevices are so deep," says M. de Humboldt, with his usual vivacity of illustration, " that if Vesuvius or the Puy de Dôme were seated in the bottom of them, they would not rise above the level of the ridges of the neighboring sierra.” Vues des Cordillères, p. 9.
6 The plains of Quito are at the height of between nine and ten thousand feet above the sea. (See Condamine, Journal d'un Voyage à l'Équateur (Paris, 1751), p. 48.) Other valleys or plateaus in this vast group of mountains reach a still higher elevation.