Evidence of settlement in Peru dates
back thousands of years but, except for some scattered
ruins, little is known of these early peoples. In about
1250 BC groups such as the Chavín, Chimú, Nazca, and
Tiahuanaco migrated into the region from the north. The
Chimú built the city of Chan Chan about AD 1000, ruins
of which remain today.
The Inca, sometimes called peoples of the sun, were
originally a warlike tribe living in a semiarid region
of the southern sierra. From 1100 to 1300 the Inca moved
north into the fertile Cusco Valley. From there they
overran the neighboring lands. By 1500 the Inca Empire
stretched from the Pacific Ocean east to the sources of
the Paraguay and Amazon rivers and from the region of
modern Quito in Ecuador south to the Maule River in
Chile. This vast empire was a theocracy, organized along
socialistic lines and ruled by an Inca, or emperor, who
was worshiped as a divinity. Because the Inca realm
contained extensive deposits of gold and silver, it
became in the early 16th century a target of Spanish
imperial ambitions in the Americas.
In November 1995 anthropologists announced the discovery
of the 500-year-old remains of two Inca women and one
Inca man frozen in the snow on a mountain peak in Peru.
Scientists concluded that the trio were part of a human
sacrifice ritual on Ampato, a sacred peak in the Andes
mountain range. Artifacts from the find unveiled new
information about the Inca and indicated the use of
poles and tents rather than traditional stone structures.
The arrangement of doll-size statuettes dressed in
feathers and fine woolens provided clues about Inca
religious and sacrificial practices.
In 1532 the Spanish soldier and adventurer Francisco
Pizarro landed in Peru with a force of about 180 men.
Conditions were favorable to conquest, for the empire
was debilitated by a just-concluded civil war between
the heirs to the Inca throne, Atahualpa and Huascar,
each of whom was seeking to control the empire. This
internal dissension, plus the terror inspired by Spanish
guns and horses—unknown to the indigenous peoples until
then—made it relatively easy for only a handful of
Spaniards to conquer this vast empire.
The Spaniards met Atahualpa, the victor in the civil war,
and his army at a prearranged conference at Cajamarca in
1532. When Atahualpa arrived, the Spaniards ambushed and
seized him, and killed thousands of his followers.
Although Atahualpa paid the most fabulous ransom known
to history—a room full of gold and another full of
silver—for his freedom, the Spaniards murdered him in
The Spanish destroyed many of the irrigation projects
and the north-south roads that had knit the empire
together, speeding the disintegration of the empire. By
November 1533 Cuzco had fallen with little resistance.
In addition, the indigenous population declined rapidly
as a result of new diseases brought by the Spaniards,
diseases to which the Inca had no immunity. Members of
the Inca dynasty took refuge in the mountains and were
able to resist the Spaniards for about four decades.
However, by 1572 the Spaniards had executed the last
Inca ruler, Tupac Amaru, along with his advisers and his
In 1535 Pizarro founded on the banks of the Rímac River
the Peruvian capital city of Ciudad de los Reyes (Spanish
for "City of the Kings"; present-day Lima). Subsequently,
disputes over jurisdictional powers broke out among the
Spanish conquerors, or conquistadors, and in 1541 a
member of one of the conflicting Spanish factions
assassinated Pizarro in Lima.
The Inca civilization had unified what are now Peru,
Ecuador, and Bolívia and created an integrated society.
The Spanish, whose main aims were plunder and the
conversion of native tribes to Christianity, stopped the
development of the indigenous civilization. The
Spaniards treated the Inca ruthlessly, using their labor
to produce the minerals needed in Spain. The result was
the creation of a psychic chasm between the Inca and the
Europeanized population, a chasm that has endured for
more than 400 years.
The Spanish introduced a system of land tenure
consisting of European landlords and indigenous workers.
This system succeeded in solidly establishing a
privileged and wealthy-landed aristocracy early in the
colonial period. Little was done to educate the masses
of peoples. As a result, colonial Peru was a divided
society, consisting of a small class that owned the land
and controlled education, political, military, and
religious power, and of a large, mostly indigenous class
(about 90 percent of the total population) that remained
landless, illiterate, and exploited.
In 1542 a Spanish imperial council promulgated statutes
called New Laws for the Indies, which were designed to
put a stop to cruelties inflicted on the Native
Americans. In the same year Spain created the
Viceroyalty of Peru, which comprised all Spanish South
America and Panama, except what is now Venezuela.
The first Spanish viceroy arrived in Peru in 1544 and
attempted to enforce the New Laws, but the
conquistadores rebelled and, in 1546, killed the viceroy.
Although the Spanish government crushed the rebellion in
1548, the New Laws were never put into effect.
In 1569 the Spanish colonial administrator Francisco de
Toledo arrived in Peru. During the ensuing 14 years he
established a highly effective, although harshly
repressive, system of government. Toledo’s method of
administration consisted of a government of Spanish
officials ruling through lower-level officials made up
of Native Americans who dealt directly with the
indigenous population. This system lasted for almost 200
Revolts for Independence In 1780 a force of 60,000
Native Americans revolted against Spanish rule under the
leadership of Peruvian patriot José Gabriel
Condorcanqui, who adopted the name of an ancestor, the
Inca Túpac Amaru. Although initially successful, the
uprising was crushed in 1781. The Spanish tortured and
executed Condorcanqui and thousands of his fellow
revolutionaries. The Spanish suppressed another revolt
Subsequently, however, opposition to imperial rule grew
throughout Spanish South America. The opposition was led
largely by Creoles, people of Spanish descent born in
South America. Creoles grew to resent the fact that the
Spanish government awarded all important government
positions in the colonies to Spaniards born in Spain,
who were called peninsulares.
Freedom from Spanish rule, however, was imported to Peru
by outsiders. In September 1820 the Argentine soldier
and patriot José de San Martín, who had defeated the
Spanish forces in Chile, landed an invasion army at the
seaport of Pisco, Peru. On July 12, 1821, San Martín’s
forces entered Lima, which had been abandoned by Spanish
troops. Peruvian independence was proclaimed formally on
July 28, 1821. The struggle against the Spanish was
continued later by the Venezuelan revolutionary hero
Simón Bolívar, who entered Peru with his armies in 1822.
In 1824, in the battles of Junín on August 6, and of
Ayacucho on December 9, Bolívar’s forces routed the
Spanish. See Ayacucho, Battle of; Junín, Battle of; See
Latin American Independence.
Succession of Rulers Independence brought few
institutional changes to Peru aside from the transfer of
power. Whereas before independence peninsulares held the
important government posts, after independence Creoles
monopolized power. The economic and social life of the
country continued as before, with two groups–Europeans
and indigenous people–living side by side but strongly
divided. In 1822 leaders of the colony’s independence
movement created a centralized government consisting of
a president and a single-chambered legislature. However,
Spain's refusal to allow Peruvian-born citizens a voice
in the colonial administration had done little to
prepare Peru for democracy.
The years following independence were extremely chaotic.
Bolívar left Peru in 1826, and a series of military
commanders who had served under him ruled over the
nation. Andrés Santa Cruz served until 1827, when he was
replaced by José de La Mar, who was in turn supplanted
by Agustín Gamarra in 1829. Gamarra ruled until 1833. In
the meantime Santa Cruz had become president of Bolivia,
and in 1836 he invaded Peru, establishing a
confederation of the two countries that lasted three
years. After that, Gamarra took power again.
The country, however, enjoyed no peace until 1845, when
Ramón Castilla, seized the presidency. Fortunately, he
proved to be an able ruler, who during his two terms in
office (1845 to 1851 and 1855 to 1862) initiated many
important reforms, including the abolition of slavery,
the construction of railroads and telegraph facilities,
and the adoption in 1860 of a liberal constitution.
Castilla also began exploitation of the country’s rich
guano and nitrate deposits, which were highly valued as
an ingredient in fertilizer. In 1864 these deposits
involved Peru in a war with Spain, which had seized the
guano-rich Chincha Islands. Ecuador, Bolivia, and Chile
aided Peru, defeating the Spanish forces in 1866. The
resulting treaty of 1879 constituted the first formal
Spanish recognition of Peruvian sovereignty.
In 1873 Peru signed a secret defensive alliance with
Bolivia, the purpose of which was to defend Bolivia's
nitrate interests against Chile. When a quarrel arose
between Chile and Bolivia over the Atacama nitrate
fields along the disputed border of the two nations,
Peru was drawn into the War of the Pacific, fighting
against Chile on the side of its ally, Bolivia.
Chile defeated its opponents, occupied Lima, and, under
the Treaty of Ancón (1884), was awarded Peru's nitrate
province of Tarapacá. Chile also occupied the provinces
of Tacna and Arica. A plebiscite was supposed to decide
ten years later which country would get these provinces,
but the dispute did not end until 1929, with Chile
keeping Arica and Peru regaining Tacna.