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The Sapa Inca ("The Only Inca"), also known as Apu ("Divinity") or simply Sapa ("The Only One") was the ruler of the Kingdom of Cusco and later, the emperor of the Inca Empire (Quechua: Inka Qhapaq). The origins of the position are mythical and tied to the legendary foundation of the city of Cuscomarker, but historically it seems to have come into being around 1200. The position was hereditary, with son succeeding father. There were two known dynasties, led by the Hanan and Hurin moieties respectively. The latter was in power at the time of Spanish contact. The last official Sapa Inca was Atahualpa, who was executed by the Spanish in 1533, though several of successors later claimed the title.

Sapa Incas

First dynasty

Little is known of the rulers of the first dynasty of Sapa Incas. Evidently, they were affiliated with the Hurin moiety and their rule did not extend beyond the Kingdom of Cusco. Their origins are tied to the mythical establishment of Cuscomarker and are shrouded in later foundation myth. The dynasty was supposedly founded by Manco Cápac, considered the son of the sun god; the succeeding rulers were, in order, Sinchi Roca, Lloque Yupanqui, Mayta Capac, and Cápac Yupanqui. As a rough guide to the later reputation of the early Sapa Incas, in later years capac meant warlord and sinchi meant leader. The beginning of the dynasty is generally taken as about 1200.

Second dynasty

The second dynasty was affiliated with the Hanan moiety and was founded under Inca Roca, the son of the last Hurin Sapa Inca, Cápac Yupanqui. After Cápac Yupanqui's death, another of his sons, Inca Roca's half-brother Quispe Yupanqui, was intended to succeed him. However, the Hanan revolted and installed Inca Roca instead. Inca Roca's successors in the Kingdom of Cusco were, in order, Yahuar Huacac, Viracocha, and Pachacuti. Pachacuti (1438–1471) was the first to extend his rule over the Tawantinsuyu, marking the transition to the Inca Empire. He was followed by Túpac Inca Yupanqui (1471–1493), Huayna Capac (1493–1527), Ninan Cuyochi (?–1527), Huáscar (1527–1532), and, finally, Atahualpa (1532–1533).

Pachacuti reorganized the empire into four suyus (provinces), each governed by an Apo with several layers of administration below him. He also adopted the Chimú custom of split inheritance. Under this system one potential heir would receive the political inheritance while property and water rights would be split between the other potential heirs. This sated the other potential heirs materially and encouraged the new Inca to conquer new territory to acquire property.

Ninan Cuyochi, who was Inca for only a few days, is sometimes left off the list of Sapa Incas because news of his death from smallpox arrived in Cuzco shortly after he was declared Sapa Inca. He had been with Huayna Cápac when he died of smallpox. The death of Ninan, the presumed heir, led to a war of succession between Huascar and Atahualpa, a weakness that the Spanish exploited when they conquered the Incas.

Incas of Vilcabamba

After the conquest, there were several more Sapa Incas before the Inca leadership system dissolved completely. They were Túpac Huallpa (1533), Manco Inca Yupanqui (1533–1545), Sayri Túpac (1545–1560), Titu Cusi (1560–1571), and, finally, Túpac Amaru. This last Sapa Inca must not be confused with Túpac Amaru II, leader of an eighteenth-century Peruvian uprising.

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