Garcilaso de la Vega (1539–1616) was a mestizo writer who left Peru for Spain as a young man and, after a long life, wrote a sympathetic history of the Inka. In his words, his history was meant "to pay the debt that I owed my country and to my maternal ancestors." Garcilaso's mother was the granddaughter of Tupac Inka Yupanqui, and first cousin to Atahualpa, who ruled Cuzco at the time of the Spanish conquest. His father was first a conquistador, and later became a high–ranking official in the Viceroyal government. As a child, Garcilaso received the education that an elite Spanish boy living in Cuzco would have, as well as learning, first hand, about Peru's Inca past in the household of his mother. His work, Commentarios reales de los Incas, was published in 1609, and in it he enshrines his boyhood memories. Because so few accounts of the Inkas were published before the 19th century, Garcilaso's memories became canonical history.
This excerpt describes the sophisticated sumptuary laws of the Inka empire, which were used to distinguish both among the Inka of different ranks and social classes and among the different non–Inka ethnic groups that peopled the Inka empire. Garcilaso's account attributes them to Manco Capac, who, as Garcilaso tells it, founded the Inka empire sometime in the 11th century, and established its basic laws. While the codes were certainly in place by the early sixteenth century, whether they were 500 years old, and whether a historical figure named Manco Capac ever existed to promulgate them, is far from certain today. But Garcilaso's aim was to emphasize the long–standing rational order of this empire, produced by a stable ruling dynasty and marked by visual codes of dress and ornament. He thus shaped a history that stood in contradistinction to other accounts circulating in Europe that emphasized the barbaric nature of pre–Hispanic empires like the Inka. See an image of Inka rulers in the Vistas Gallery.