Pachacuti as builder

Pachacuti (Wikipedia) was the legendary ninth Inca and architect of Incan civilization. Given the magnitude and success of his undertaking, I like to think of him as the originator of many modern management techniques. From this perspective, let’s take a look at his approach, specifically as it involves building.

Building was a theme running throughout Pachacuti’s reign—building symbols and ceremonies, temples and other edifices, and even entire cities.

After his initial victory over the Chancas, Pachacuti needed to set some quick priorities on what to focus on next. He wanted to find something doable and visible. His decision was to concentrate on building a fabulous temple in Cuzco. He named the temple Coricancha, or “Temple of Gold”.

600 years later Coricancha remains a prominent feature of Cuzco. It is a quick walk, just a few hundred yards, from the Plaza de Armas. The temple’s massive walls of stone, towering 20 feet high and joined with the legendary Incan precision, stand silently today just as they did when built and certainly will 600 years in the future, or probably 6,000. The Dominicans built the clumsy Monastery of Santa Domingo around and above the ancient temple. But they were either unwilling, or more likely unable, to destroy it. So modern-day visitors like ourselves can still ponder the essence of Incan civilization in those very temple chambers in which Pachacuti offered prayers and sacrifices to his God. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Why a temple? The decision to make this his first major project reveals the sharp thinking typical of Pachacuti. He could just have easily decided to make it his first priority to tighten up his organization, or expand his empire, or strengthen the economy. But he knew that whatever initiatives he undertook in the future would all require both that he have unquestioned legitimacy and authority, and that the nation have great confidence in itself. That is why he chose to first build a huge temple as a highly visible symbol of his power, his devotion to his God the Sun, and the entire civilization in the region around Cuzco. At the same time the existence of the new temple, with Pachacuti as chief worshipper, bestowed unquestioned legitimacy on him. In essence, he was legitimizing himself, a neat trick.

The temple was a large project for the Incans at the time. But remember that they had available the huge amount of booty they had won during the battles with the Chancas. So in a sense the emple project was a way for Pachacuti to take the ownership of the process of managing the disposition of the fruits of war.

At the same time, though, the temple project was small enough hat it could be completed in just four years. So the temple’s construction would be a quick win. It would establish in everyone’s eyes the ability of Pachacuti to lead. And it would also place beyond doubt the ability of the whole Incan nation to successfully execute such projects.

Finally Pachacuti knew that the temple would be indispensable for the future projects he had in mind. For instance, the presence of the temple lent much of the necessary authority for consolidating the nearby tribes.

Hands-on management at its best

Pachacuti displayed his very hands-on style during the temple construction. He selected the site himself. He personally designed the temple using cords to indicate its dimension. He visited quarries near Cuzco to inspect in person the stones to be used in the construction. During the building, he visited the site to monitor progress. Sometimes he himself would pitch in to help with the actual building work.

The temple that you as a tourist visit today is shorn of all decoration. We are told, though, that when the temple was first built it was adorned with fabulous amounts of gold and silver. We know that Atahualpa specifically mentioned Coricancha’s gold to Pizarro as one way he hoped to make his ransom. The first three Spaniards to see Cuzco reported that “The buildings were sheathed with gold in large plates”. With crowbars, they removed 700 plates each weighing 4 1/2 pounds, worth $15,000,000 at today’s gold prices. Inside, there was a band of gold eight inches wide running around the entire building at roof level. There were uncountable statues and other decorations, including the amazing garden. This garden had tiny corn plans with stems of silver and ears of gold. Of course, during the looting of 1533 all these items were melted down by the Spaniards.

Staffing and funding

As a great manager, Pachacuti knew that his job was not done when the temple was built. He needed to staff and fund the temple as well.

Pachacuti wrote a job description for COO which called for someone older, honest, and trustworthy. He then filled that job. Pachacuti set the initial headcount plan for the temple at 700. He filled 500 positions with young Incan girls. He ordered them to stay permanently inside the temple like cloistered nuns. These girls were called mamacona in Quechua. (Mama means mother.) The other 200 were men called yanacoma (yana meaning “retainer”). They were responsible for generating income for the temple. They did this by farming lands which Pachacuti endowned the temple with.

It turns out that Coricancha was not the first temple built by the Incas. In fact, a temple already existed on the very same site. This temple had been named “Inticancha”, or “Temple of the Sun”. But ancient Incan correspondents report that this previous temple was a crude affair, nothing more, really, than a group of stone huts. In his decision to build a much grander temple on the site of the older one, we can again see Pachcuti’s thinking at work. He simultaneously honored and validated the work of those who had gone before him, while greatly extending and redefining it.

Coricancha was actually much more than just a temple, as Pachacuti also knew when he ordered it built. It also served as a template for the approach to symbol-building in other provinces. Eventually, all major provincial capitals had their own Temples of the Sun serving as a symbol for their region and a focus for their religious energy. As Pachacuti no doubt intended, the Temple of Gold successfully served as a highly visible and distinctive symbol of the reign of the Incas until the tragic fall of their civilization.

Like many great empire builders, Inca Pachacuti continued his building activities through his reign, building massive structures throughout his kingdom. The majestic fortress of Macchu Picchu is believed to have been built during his reign as well. According to some accounts Pachacuti was also responsible for starting the construction of the huge fortress above Cuzco, with its trademark monolithic stones arranged in zig-zag rows, called Sacsahuaman.

This article is part of an upcoming book on Pachacuti’s management style. Interested publishers may contact me at rtm at gol dot com.

One Response to “Pachacuti as builder”

  1. Numenware, a blog about neurotheology » Blog Archive » Numenware turns six months old Says:

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