How did the Incan road systems affect the culture and economy of the Incas? (PHOTO CREDIT: james heilman)


In Colegio Menor, a bilingual school located in Quito Ecuador, 10th grade students conducted a research on February 2017 for both North American Literature and Ecuadorian and American Studies, regarding how the extensive Incan road network affected culture and economy. Throughout the school year, Ecuadorian heritage had been studied in class as well as on site in Peru. To compile the necessary information, we visited Cusco, in Peru during an academic field trip and later returned to Quito to conclude the research. In Cusco, photographic evidence on Incan roads along with first hand recounts from certified guides was collected combined with the use of scholarly databases and online resources was organized, analyzed, and synthesized. Ultimately, through the data collected, a clear link was established between Incan culture and their roads in addition to their significance in the unification and rise of the Incan empire. Nonetheless, the economy proved to be unrelated to Incan roads; however, through further research, trade was evidently connected to the development of Incan roads and spread of wealth across the empire. The research concluded that Incan roads were paramount to the ultimate development and success of the Empire as they had severe impacts on both culture and economy in the form of trade.

The Sacred Valley of Machu Picchu in Peru (Photo Credit : Pedro Szekely)
Research Question: How did the Inca road systems affect the culture and economy of the Incas?

Our question cannot be answered in a quick search or one sentence response since it involves road systems, culture, and economics. These variables are connected because culture can be affected by the road systems through the spread of language and religion throughout an Empire. In economic terms, roads allow for trade to flourish and can ultimately enable the economy to grow richer through the spread of goods and precious material. Analyzing both culture and economy will lead to a rich analysis on how the impact of Incan roads proved to be of paramount importance to the development and growth of the Empire. This allows for further investigations on how roads, impacting both culture and economy, represented one of the most significant aspects of Incan society, contributing to it being one of the greatest South American empires.

Incan Road System in Huayna Picchu Trail (Photo Credit: Emilia Alvarez)
Hypothesis: Road systems influenced Incan culture by enabling religious homogeneity and influenced the economy by increasing the amount of currency, as money, through roads, was spread across the Empire.

Our hypothesis directly and fully answers our research question regarding what is revealed about the impact of Inca roads, as it mentions how culture was affected through religion, along with economics in terms of currency. Additionally, our hypothesis can be confirmed or rejected since by hypothesizing that Inca roads affected Incan culture through uniting conquered territories religiously, we allow for a meaningful and organized analysis of whether roads spread religion. Secondly, by predicting that Inca roads affected the economy in terms of currency, a second opportunity to confirm or reject the hypothesis is created through analyzing whether money was spread throughout Incan roads, ultimately improving the economy.

"Inca Bridge" entering Machu Picchu (Photo Credit : Martin St-Amant)
Research Methods: By accessing reliable online sources via EBSCOHOST and Google Scholar, as well as observing primary sources during the trip, we compiled and analyzed the evidence necessary to obtain meaningful insight about the impact of Incan roads.

We investigated Incan culture, economics, and roads by searching for relevant information through EBSCOHOST and Google Scholar. This information was deemed reliable because each website and scholarly article has a renowned author and verifiably true statements supported by evidence. The information found within online articles and academic journals proved to be relevant to Inca economy and culture helping us answer our research question by providing facts about how Incan road systems impacted the spread of Incan cultural characteristics, including religion. Additionally, our sources provided insight into how trade was made possible by roads, demonstrating the impact of road systems on the Incan economy.

During the trip, guides and natives of the area served as a primary source and allowed us to compile information on the cultural and economic influence of Incan roads. Each group member assessed the credibility of the information collected by fact checking with previous sources found through Google Scholar and cross referencing within our research groups. Lastly, the data collected on cultural and economic influence allowed us to analyze whether the Incan economy was based on currency in addition to how culture, through religion, allowed for the unity of the Empire and conquered lands.

Peruvian Woman Travelling Across Incan Roads near Sacsayhuaman (Photo Credit: Francisca Cevallos)
Conclusions: Incan roads did not impact the Empire’s economy in terms of currency; however, Incan roads did affect the homogeneity of religion within the Incan Empire.

We must reject our hypothesis as our evidence does not indicate that Incan roads impacted the Empire’s economy in terms of the amount of currency in the Empire, as money was non-existent in Incan society, and therefore was not impacted by Incan roads. Nevertheless, we can provide substantial descriptions on the economic impact of roads in terms of trade. Furthermore, while we fail to justify the previous claim of our hypothesis, we can confirm that Inca roads did have an effect on one aspect of the Empire’s culture: religion. Road systems enabled the consolidation of the Empire’s belief systems. Despite the rejection of our hypothesis, this research provides insight into how Incan roads affected the Incan economy through trade and promoted homogeneity of religion within the Empire.

Incan roads did not increase the Inca Empire’s economy in terms of amount of currency; however, they did affect the economy in the form of trade. The Inca economy did not use currency for exchange; instead using a moneyless economy based on trade and collective labor (“Economy of the Inca Empire”, n.d.). Consequently, the possibility of Incan roads increasing the amount of currency within the Empire is non-existent as there was no money to begin with. Rather than using currency, the Incas survived by trading food, raw materials, and luxuries across varying regions; in fact, they adopted a form of bartering, along roads, to contribute to the flourishing Inca economy (Inca Government and Economy, 2005). Essentially, the Inca people had no need for currency, as bartering ensured that every citizen’s needs were met without the use of money. Roads played a major role in allowing these exchanges to occur, thus providing a meaningful contribution to the Incan economy. Ultimately, although Inca roads did not unite the Empire through a common currency, they did promote trade which was an essential element of the Incan economy.

Woman Walking Along Incan Road in Chinchero, Peru (Photo Credit : Manuela Moreno)

The Incan road system affected Incan culture by promoting the spread of one religion across the Empire. The Incan road system gave more flexibility and opportunities for the Incas to expand through military conquest, allowing them to move armies across territories and maintain order (Cartwright, 2014). Controlling the large amount of land proved to be challenging for the Empire and, thus, the Incas had to find a way to unite the various conquered cultures. Subsequently, by travelling across their royal roadways, the Incas imposed their religion on the conquered tribes and ultimately consolidated power across their territory (Inca Government and Economy, 2005). Using roads, the Incas could spread their culture in the form of religion and ultimately formed a united Empire.

Inca Trail in Mountains Leading into Machu Picchu (Photo Credit : Franziska Hempel)

In the end, roads reveal much about the Incan culture and economy while also proving how without roads, Incan society would have disintegrated. Without roads, the Incas would not have united their Empire through religion, or had arguably the greatest pre-Colombian economy, as trade would have been hindered. In fact, a lack of roads would not have allowed the Incas to connect over 40,000 km of territory from Chile to Colombia (Cartwright, 2014). Ultimately, roads in Incan society, besides serving their basic functions, proved to be the building blocks of the greatest Empire in South America.

Incan Roadwork Entering Machu Picchu Seen from Huayna Picchu (Photo Credit : Håkan Svensson)
Works Cited

Alvarez, E. (2017). Road Systems in Huayna Picchu [Cell Phone Photograph]. Self-published.

Cartwright, M. (2014). Inca Civilization. Retrieved from

Cevallos, F. (2017). Peruvian Woman in Sacsayhuaman [Online Photograph]. Self Published.

Economy of the Inca Empire. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Fiori, C. (2014). Modern Lessons from the Ancient Inca Road. Science Teacher, Vol.81. 21-22. Retrieved from

Corey. (2009). Inca Bridge [Online Photograph]. Retrieved March 28, 2017 from,_Machu_Picchu_2.jpg

Hempel, F. (n.d). Inca Trail [Online Photograph]. Retrieved March 28, 2017 from

Inca Government and Economy. (2005). In S. G. Benson, S. Hermsen, & D. J. Baker (Eds.), Early Civilizations in the Americas Reference Library (Vol. 1, pp. 179-198). Detroit: UXL. Retrieved from

Moreno, M. (2017). Woman in Chinchero [Online Photograph]. Self Published

St-Amant, M. (2009). Inca Bridge [Online Photograph]. Retrieved March 27, 2017 from

Svensson, H. (2005). Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu [Online Photograph]. Retrieved March 27, 2017 from

Szekely, P. (2007). The Sacred Valley [Online Photograph]. Retrieved March 27, 2017 from

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.