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The Southeastern Inka Frontier in a Comparative Overview

A comparison of the Southeastern Inka frontier with other parts of the empire sheds light on the larger organizational structure of the Inka borderlands. It also helps to elucidate their similarities and differences as a response to local, environmental, and political conditions, and the role of native populations. This is a difficult task considering the length of the Inka imperial frontiers and the varying levels of existing research in those areas. Three regions were selected as the baseline for future comparative work: the northern frontier (today’s Ecuador), the southeastern border (today’s Argentina), and the southernmost frontier segment (today’s Chile).

The Inka Frontier in Northern Ecuador

One of the frontier segments with tight defensive perimeters is the Northern Inka frontier in what is today Ecuador. Altogether, at least forty defensive installations are reported in this region, constituting one of the most formidable defensive frontier barriers in the empire (Figure 8.2). This situation was partly due to the constant revolts of the Pais Caran- qui, a strong military coalition of local Caranqui and Cayambe chiefdoms formed to expel the Inka (Bray 1991, 1992, 2003; Plaza Schuller 1976, 1977; Salomon 1980, 1986a, 1986b) (Figure 8.2). As a result, the rulers Tupac Inka Yupanqui and his son Huayna Capac ordered the construction of Quito and the provincial center of Tomebamba, known to be one of the “seven Cuzcos.” Several tightened defensive barricades protected Quito, including an inner ring of fortifications to the east, an outer armed cordon to the southeast that reached Chillos and Sincholagua, and the Pam- bamarca complex to the northeast with a string of fourteen installations (Bray 1991, 1992; Oberem 1969, 1986; Plaza Schuller 1976, 1977; Salomon 1986a). As a strategic node of exchange, Quito facilitated the access of valuable resources through a guild of specialized mindalae traders, who acquired emeralds and pink thorny oysters from the coast, silver from the highlands, and coca and gold from the Amazon (Espinoza Soriano 1987; Salomon 1986a).

These fortifications varied in style and architecture—perhaps as the result of different construction episodes, regional variations, or the use of different pools of laborers (Bray 2003; Plaza Schuller 1976, 1977). Some included small walled hills or moated platforms that often lacked sizable residential areas, storage qolqas, or public architecture. This indicates that they were used on a temporary basis. Considering the use of local Caranqui and Cochasqui pottery, they most likely were manned by native allies. The strongholds of Quitoloma and Rumicucho stand out in view of their size and multifunctionality. They also had more traditional forms of Inka architecture, along with the use of bola weapons, status goods, and specialized textile production (Oberem 1969, 1986). In light of the reduction

Defensive system in Northern Inka frontier in today’s Ecuador

Figure 8.2. Defensive system in Northern Inka frontier in today’s Ecuador. The map also shows the distribution of the distinct ethnic groups in the region. Map based on Athens 1992; Bray 2003; Landazuri 1995; Plaza Schuller 1976; Salomon 1986.

of imported Panzaleo pottery or nonlocal obsidian nodules, it is likely that the Inka control affected the extent and intensity of the regional frontier trading routes (Bray 1991, 1992, 2003; Ogburn et al. 2009).

The construction of such tight strings of fortifications in the northern borders responded to three imperial goals. The first purpose was to establish strategic defensive installations to control the rebellious Caranqui and Cayambe. The second was to protect the weakest flanks of Quito and the region within, considering its importance as a major exchange node (Hyslop 1990; Plaza Schuller 1976; Salomon 1986a:148). The third goal was to establish surveillance outposts to monitor the traffic of goods moving across the frontier (Salomon 1986a). Altogether, this suggests broader changes in the exchange networks considering the increased protection of Quito and the progressive decrease of imported goods across the imperial border.

In comparison, the defensive system on the Southeastern Inka frontier in the Khosko Toro region took the form of a porous front with fewer installations, although strategically placed in important nodes and weak flanks in an extremely rugged topography. Spatially, these facilities were spread out every 17 to 32 km (Table 6.3), whereas the northern strongholds of Pambamarca were tightly distributed every kilometer (Plaza Schuller 1976, 1977). Taking into consideration that the Khosko Toro region was lightly inhabited, this difference may reflect a local imperial adaptation. Perhaps it was more advantageous and economically less expensive for the Inka to settle strongholds at strategic points, rather than building a long defensive perimeter in a territory that was scarcely populated by semimobile tribal organizations. In contrast, in Pambamarca, Ecuador, the region was densely inhabited by rebellious chiefdoms organized into a strong coalition against the empire. As part of a broader defensive system connected by roads, chasqui messengers, and tampus, Cuzcotuyo may have relied on the rapid mobilization of troops from distinct locations.

To the west of Cuzcotuyo was Oroncota, a small provincial center of fine elaboration that did not generate significant changes in the indigenous settlement trends. In Ecuador, within the frontier line was Quito, and farther south in Canari territory was the main center of Tomebamba as one of the seven Cuzcos (Coben 2006; Idrovo 2000). Unlike Oroncota, Tomebamba was large and promoted significant population resettlement and socioeconomic shifts, including intensive farming, specialized craft production, and a prestige-goods economy based on Inka goods (Idrovo

2000). Despite these differences, in neither case did the frontier installations became huge fortresses holding substantial standing armies. Instead, most were small and lightly manned, but ready for use in times of intensified conflict (Almeida 1984, 1999; Hyslop 1990; Idrovo Uriguen 1992; Plaza Schuller 1976, 1977; Salomon 1986a).

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