For the past 400 years, the two-volume history of the Incas written by Garcilaso de la Vega has been the most influential account of the people who commanded the world's greatest empire in the early 1500s. A number of Spaniards—scribes, administrators, priests, and conquistadors—also documented Incan history in the decades after conquest, but de la Vega was the first Andean mestizo to chronicle the history of his own indigenous ancestors.
Using accounts from Peruvians, including his own friends and relatives, de la Vega presented the Incas as a noble people with a rich cultural heritage who were devastated by the Spanish victory and its aftermath. He offered a subtle but important critique of Spanish colonialism and the abuses against native Andeans it had unleashed. Yet he was also a fervent Catholic who had served in the Spanish army and viewed the Spaniards as brave warriors and pious Christians. His dual heritage made him uniquely qualified to tell both sides of the story.
Born Gómez Suárez de Figueroa in Cusco, Peru, Garcilaso de la Vega was the son of a prominent Spanish captain and a member of the Incan royal family. He grew up exposed to the traditions of both cultures and learned both languages, Quechua and Spanish, before studying Latin. Although he had assumed his father's name, he would later call himself "El Inca," in honor of his noble indigenous heritage.
At age 21, with a 4,000 pesos inheritance from his father, de la Vega crossed the Atlantic and contacted his father's relatives in southern Spain. They gave him a cool reception. He spent a number of years protesting for the rights of his father and petitioning for royal patronage in Madrid and served briefly in the Spanish army, fighting against the Muslims.
Later, when financial and political difficulties kept him from returning to the New World, he focused his energies on writing, eventually publishing several important historical chronicles. He translated Leon Hebreo's philosophical look at love, Dialoghi d'amore, into Spanish and wrote The Florida of the Inca (1605), an epic account of Hernando de Soto's expedition to what is now the southeastern United States. But El Inca is most remembered for his history of the Incas, The Royal Commentaries of the Inca, published in 1609, and General History of Peru, published posthumously in 1617.
The greatest of the Inca, Pachacutec, increased his empire until it was from the Andes to the sea. He founded many towns in those lands and he devoted himself to the enactment of new laws for the common good. But soon after the foreigners first arrived, the Incas realized that these Spanish Christians abominated them all as works of the devil and that, therefore, the Spanish did not trouble to ask them for clear information about themselves and their history, but rather simply dismissed them as diabolical. And so the Incas ceased telling them the true account of their history. - Garcilaso de la Vega
His works chronicle the origins and rise of the Incan empire (volume 1) and the Spanish conquest of Peru and its aftermath (volume 2). Although his upbringing gave him insight into both cultures, he believed that Spain's undervaluing of Incan culture and the failure of the Spanish to learn Quechua was disastrous. He unsuccessfully argued for a colonial regime led by men who understood both Spanish and Incan traditions and languages and which harmoniously reconciled both worlds.