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Ancient Imperial Frontiers and the Inka

This book explains how the Inka empire exercised control over vast expanses of land and people in the southeastern frontier, a territory located over 1,000 km away from the capital city of Cuzco. This frontier region was the setting for the fascinating encounter between the Inka, the largest empire in the pre-Columbian world, and the fierce Guarani tribes from the tropical montana and beyond (Figure 1.1). This singular encounter also occasioned radical shifts in the political economy of many indigenous frontier populations. Despite this situation, these native groups were successful in accommodating their own interests to the new social order. Based on extensive field research, this book explores these changes. This work also provides a unique opportunity to explore the Inka strategies used to exercise control over these contested spaces and the ways in which state institutions were adapted to emerging needs.

As it is with the Inka, ancient empires constitute one of the most multifaceted political organizations that differed in magnitude, scale, and diversity from other formations, such as states. The Inka maintained hierarchical government organizations both in the core and the provinces, and were highly resource extractive. Backed up by standing armies, ancient empires also developed effective transportation and recording systems, and a lingua franca to ease communication and administration (Alcock 1989; Alcock et al. 2001; Doyle 1986; Parker 2002, 2003; Woolf1992). Often, ancient empires were outward-looking polities that reached subcontinental scales, thriving on the diversity of their constituents. As a result, they encompassed a variety of ecologies and peoples with different cultural traditions and degrees of complexity. Such a situation made them champions in the international arena, and, as a result, their frontiers channeled the flow of resources through different means. Like Cuzco, empires had

Guarani-Chiriguanos in Tarija, Bolivia. Photo taken by Doroteo Giannec- chini in 1882, Franciscan Archive in Tarija

Figure 1.1. Guarani-Chiriguanos in Tarija, Bolivia. Photo taken by Doroteo Giannec- chini in 1882, Franciscan Archive in Tarija.

cosmopolitan capitals and developed broad civilization projects that provided everyone with a sense of cultural cohesion (Barfield 2001; Parker 2002; Schreiber 2001). To contextualize my research on the Southeastern Inka frontier, this chapter examines the importance of ancient frontiers in the study of preindustrial empires, including a discussion of the conceptual framework that guided this study.

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