Aztecs vs Incas: Difference and Comparison

The Aztecs, flourishing in present-day Mexico, established a militaristic society with a powerful central government and an emphasis on tribute collection. Meanwhile, the Incas, centered in the Andes region, developed an extensive network of roads and a centralized administration, relying on agricultural terracing for sustenance.

Key Takeaways

  1. The Aztecs were in central Mexico, while the Incas were in the Andes Mountains in South America.
  2. The Aztecs had a hierarchical social structure, while the Incas had a more egalitarian one.
  3. The Aztecs practised human sacrifice, while the Incas did not.

Aztecs vs Incas

The Aztecs were a Mesoamerican civilization that thrived in the central region of Mexico from the 14th to the 16th centuries. The Incas were a South American civilization that dominated the Andean region from the 13th to the 16th centuries and was known for their advanced agricultural techniques.

Aztecs vs Incas

The Aztecs forged a three-way coalition with the Texcocans as well as the Cubans in 1428, led by Itzcoatl, to fight the Tepanec, the province’s most formidable rivals for dominance, and take their city of Azcapotzalco.

The Incas constituted little more than a South American culture created by ethnic Quechuas, referred to as Amerindians.

Comparison Table

LocationCentral MexicoAndean highlands of South America
Time Period1300 – 1521 AD1438 – 1532 AD
GovernmentTriple Alliance of city-states ruled by an emperorCentralized empire ruled by a Sapa Inca (emperor)
ExpansionFocused on conquest and tribute from conquered citiesFocused on incorporating new populations into their empire
Social StructureHighly stratified with nobles, warriors, commoners, and slavesSimilar classes with a strong emphasis on family units
ReligionPolytheistic with human sacrificePolytheistic with offerings and some human sacrifice
EconomyBased on agriculture (chinampas), trade, and tributeBased on agriculture (terraced farming), herding, and tribute
ArchitecturePyramids, temples, and palacesStone structures, terraces, and an extensive road network
Writing SystemPictograms and ideogramsQuipu (knot system for record keeping)
DownfallSpanish conquestSpanish conquest and internal civil war

What are Aztecs?

The Aztecs were a Mesoamerican civilization that thrived in the central part of Mexico from the 14th to the 16th centuries. Known for their advanced social, political, and cultural systems, the Aztecs left a lasting impact on the history of the region.

Historical Background

A. Early Origins

The Aztec civilization has its roots in the Mexica people, who migrated to the Valley of Mexico in the 12th century. Over time, they established settlements on the islands of Lake Texcoco, including the capital city, Tenochtitlan.

B. Rise to Power

The Mexica gradually gained dominance in the region through military conquests and alliances with neighboring city-states. This period of expansion laid the foundation for the Aztec Empire.

Social Structure

A. Nobility

The Aztec society was hierarchically structured, with a powerful nobility at the top. The emperor, known as the Huey Tlatoani, held the highest position, surrounded by a noble class that enjoyed privileges and held key administrative roles.

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B. Commoners

Below the nobility were commoners, comprising farmers, artisans, and traders. Despite limited social mobility, commoners played crucial roles in sustaining the empire’s economy.

C. Slavery

Slavery was prevalent in Aztec society, primarily as a result of warfare. Captives were often used for labor, sacrificial rituals, or as a form of tribute.

Religion and Mythology

A. Polytheistic Beliefs

The Aztecs practiced a polytheistic religion, worshiping a pantheon of gods and goddesses. Major deities included Huitzilopochtli, the god of war and the sun, and Tlaloc, the god of rain.

B. Rituals and Sacrifices

Religious ceremonies were a central aspect of Aztec life. Human sacrifices, often performed to appease the gods and ensure agricultural fertility, were a significant component of these rituals.

Economy and Agriculture

A. Chinampas

The Aztecs were innovative in agriculture, utilizing chinampas—artificial islands on Lake Texcoco—for farming. This method allowed them to cultivate crops efficiently, sustaining their large population.

B. Trade

Trade was vital for the Aztec economy. The city of Tenochtitlan served as a major trading hub, connecting various regions and facilitating the exchange of goods.

Decline and Conquest

A. Spanish Arrival

In 1519, the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in the Aztec Empire. Initially welcomed, Cortés eventually turned against the Aztecs, exploiting internal conflicts and forming alliances with rival indigenous groups.

B. Fall of Tenochtitlan

In 1521, after a prolonged siege, Tenochtitlan fell to the Spanish forces. This marked the end of the Aztec Empire and the beginning of Spanish colonization in the region.


What are Incas?

The Incas were a pre-Columbian civilization that flourished in the Andean region of South America from the early 15th century until the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. This advanced civilization is renowned for its remarkable achievements in various fields, including architecture, agriculture, and social organization.

Origin and Expansion


The Incas originated in the highlands of Peru, specifically around the city of Cusco. They were a part of the larger Quechua-speaking ethnic group and gradually expanded their influence over neighboring regions.


Under the leadership of Pachacuti, the ninth Sapa Inca (emperor), the Inca Empire experienced significant expansion during the 15th century. The empire stretched from present-day Ecuador in the north to Chile in the south, covering a vast and diverse geographical landscape.

Social Structure and Governance

Social Structure

The Inca society was highly hierarchical, with a rigid social structure. At the top was the ruler, followed by the nobility, priests, and commoners. The emperor, known as the Sapa Inca, held divine status and was considered the son of the Sun God.


Inca governance was characterized by a centralized authority. The empire was divided into provinces, each governed by a noble appointed by the emperor. The intricate system of governance allowed for effective administration and control over the vast territories.

Agriculture and Economy

Terrace Farming

The Incas were ingenious agriculturalists, employing terrace farming on the steep slopes of the Andes. This method allowed them to cultivate crops like potatoes, maize, and quinoa at different altitudes, contributing to their agricultural success.

Economic System

The Inca economy was primarily based on agriculture, with an emphasis on collective farming. They also engaged in trade, utilizing an extensive road network known as the Qhapaq Ñan to facilitate communication and commerce across the empire.

Architecture and Engineering

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu, an iconic Inca citadel located in the Andes, stands as a testament to their architectural prowess. This complex of stone structures showcases advanced engineering techniques, including precise stone masonry and sophisticated water management systems.

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Road System

The Inca road system, the Qhapaq Ñan, covered over 24,000 miles and connected various parts of the empire. These well-constructed roads facilitated communication, trade, and the movement of armies across the diverse landscapes of the Andes.

Religion and Culture


The Incas practiced a polytheistic religion, with Inti, the Sun God, being the most revered deity. Religious ceremonies and rituals were integral to Inca society, and the emperor played a crucial role in religious affairs.


The Inca civilization lacked a writing system, but they used the quipu, a system of colored strings and knots, for record-keeping and communication. Quipus were essential for administrative purposes, keeping track of resources, and recording historical events.

Decline and Spanish Conquest

Internal Challenges

The Inca Empire faced internal challenges, including succession conflicts and rebellions, weakening its unity and stability.

Spanish Conquest

In 1532, Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro captured the Inca emperor Atahualpa, leading to the downfall of the Inca Empire. The introduction of European diseases further decimated the Inca population, marking the end of this once-mighty civilization.


Cultural Legacy

Despite the fall of the empire, Inca cultural influences persist in the Andean region. Traditional agricultural practices, the Quechua language, and architectural marvels like Machu Picchu continue to define the cultural landscape of Peru and neighboring countries.

Archaeological Importance

The Inca civilization remains a subject of fascination for archaeologists and historians. Ongoing excavations and research contribute to a deeper understanding of their achievements and the complexities of their society.


Main Differences Between Aztecs and Incas

  • Geographical Location:
    • Aztecs: The Aztec civilization originated in Mesoamerica, primarily in the region that is present-day Mexico.
    • Incas: The Inca civilization thrived in the Andean region of South America, encompassing parts of present-day Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Chile.
  • Capital Cities:
    • Aztecs: Their capital city was Tenochtitlan, located on an island in Lake Texcoco.
    • Incas: The capital city was Cusco, situated in the Andes Mountains.
  • Social Structure:
    • Aztecs: The Aztec society was divided into classes, with the emperor at the top, followed by nobles, priests, commoners, and slaves.
    • Incas: The Inca social structure was hierarchical, with the emperor (Sapa Inca) holding the highest authority, followed by the nobility, commoners, and slaves.
  • Economy:
    • Aztecs: Engaged in agriculture, trade, and tribute systems. They cultivated crops on chinampas (artificial islands) and had a market system (Tlatelolco).
    • Incas: Depended heavily on terrace farming in the mountainous terrain, cultivating crops such as potatoes and maize. They also had a centralized economy with state-controlled production and distribution.
  • Religion:
    • Aztecs: Polytheistic religion with a pantheon of gods, including Huitzilopochtli (god of sun and war) and Quetzalcoatl (feathered serpent god).
    • Incas: Worshiped a variety of deities, including Inti (sun god) and Pachamama (earth goddess).
  • Writing System:
    • Aztecs: Used a pictographic writing system known as Nahuatl, often recorded in codices.
    • Incas: Did not have a writing system in the traditional sense. They relied on the Quipu, a system of knotted strings, for record-keeping.
  • Conquests:
    • Aztecs: Expanded their empire through military conquests and alliances.
    • Incas: Built their empire through both military conquests and diplomatic strategies.
  • Downfall:
    • Aztecs: Conquered by the Spanish conquistadors, led by Hernán Cortés, in 1521.
    • Incas: Conquered by the Spanish under Francisco Pizarro in 1533.
  • Architecture:
    • Aztecs: Known for their impressive city planning, pyramids, and temples, including the iconic Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan.
    • Incas: Notable for their advanced stone masonry, with structures like Machu Picchu showcasing their architectural prowess.
Difference Between Aztecs and Incas

Last Updated : 08 March, 2024

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23 thoughts on “Aztecs vs Incas: Difference and Comparison”

  1. The Incas used conquering and peaceful internalization to integrate the region of contemporary Peru followed by a massive component of western South America into their imperial power.

  2. The Incas expanded their communication process by creating a runner system that conveyed dispatches to their capital and other parts of the empire.

  3. The final Sapa Inca of the Inca Empire was caught and executed on the instructions of the conquistador Francisco Pizarro soon after Inca Civil War, which signaled the beginning of Spanish rule.


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