The Inca people lived in the Andes mountains of Peru. Between the 12th century and 1532, they conquered an empire that was only 200 miles (320 km) wide, but that stretched for 2,240 miles (3,600 km), from Colombia to Chile.
Craftsmen had privileged status in Inca society. Metalworkers from various parts of the empire made masks of shining gold. It was greed for such gold and treasure that lured Spanish invaders to Peru in 1532.
The Incas formed a ruling elite. They were a small highland tribe who came to govern 12 million people, speakers of 20 different languages. Conquered chiefs were allowed to keep some local power, provided they adopted the Inca way of life.
Nobles who were loyal to the emperor were made governors, generals, or priests. They wore golden earplugs as a badge of rank. Most citizens were poor farmers, but they also had to serve the state as soldiers, builders, or laborers.
The Inca emperor claimed descent from Inti, the Sun god, and the empress from Mamakilya, the Moon goddess. Other gods and goddesses represented the sea, thunder, and the goodness of the Earth. The Incas also revered the holy places used by earlier Andean peoples.