Peru History Before Independence

By | December 21, 2021

Pre-Columbian era

The territory of Peru odierno includes the largest part of the cultural area in which, in the course of almost three millennia, the major civilizations of South America developed, the last of which was the vast Inca Empire faced and defeated by the Spanish conquerors in the 1532-36. Among the most characteristic aspects of the ancient Peruvian civilizations are the great terracing and canalization works for intensive agriculture, the monumental architecture, the very extensive network of roads, the fabrics of extraordinary quality, the refined creations in polychrome ceramic, the art of metals (copper, gold, silver and bronze) and the oracular centers, destination of pilgrimages.

The first traces of human settlement date back to about 15,000 BC, and concern groups of nomadic hunter-gatherers. Starting from 5000 BC the slow process of domestication of plants began which gradually led to the emergence of settled agricultural communities along the coast and in the valleys, while the domestication of the llama and the guinea pig took place in the mountainous area. At the end of the pre-ceramic phase (2000 BC) there were already stable centers in which large mounds and ceremonial complexes were erected (El Praiso, Aspero, La Galgada). Simultaneously with the appearance of ceramics (1800-900 BC) the cultural model that dominated the Peru during the Ancient Horizon (900-200 BC) was affirmed, characterized by irrigation works, important religious complexes and a plastic art, called of Chavín. With the Ancient Intermediate Period (200 BC-500 AD) the appearance of metals, large hydraulic works and the emergence of regional styles are recorded. On the coasts, from N to S, the Moche cultures (to which a rich ceramic production belongs among other things), Lima and Nazca respectively developed. At the same time, the Recuay and Tiwanaku civilizations arose on the southern plateau. In this period the use of bronze appeared and fortified cities arose.

The Middle Horizon (500-900) was the period in which the Huari culture developed in the Ayacucho area, which assumed a strong urban character and began to expand in a coercive form throughout the Andean area. Thus was born and developed the first Andean Empire, which came to control what would later become the initial area of ​​the Inca Empire. In the Recent Intermediate Period (900-1440) the Chimu culture developed. The capital Chanchan it was probably the largest pre-Hispanic city in South America: it included 10 ‘citadels’, each surrounded by high walls decorated externally with bas-reliefs and internally with frescoes. As for the arts, the craftsmanship of metals was particularly valuable, while the very abundant ceramic production no longer reached the top of the mochica one. The Recent Horizon (1440-1532) corresponds to the evolution of the Inca Empire, whose irresistible expansion began from the mountain valley of Cuzco under the reign of Pachacúti and in a few decades first overwhelmed the Colla of the Titicaca basin, then the reign of Chimú and the Cañarí to the North, pushing S to the River Maule, in Chile. For Peru political system, please check

Colonial era

The news of the existence of the Peru, spread to Panama after the expedition of Pascual de Andagoya (1522), prompted F. Pizarro, D. de Almagro and F. de Luque to explore the southern coast of the Pacific (1524). Reaching Tumbes in 1527, Pizarro learned of the civil war that broke out in the Inca Empire after Huáscar, son and successor of Huayna Cápac, was ousted by his half-brother Atahualpa. Back in Spain and authorized by Charles V to conquer the Peru (1529), Pizarro left Panama in 1531 and advanced to Cajamarca where he captured Atahualpa and decimated his army (1532). Killed both Huáscar, supporter of the resistance, and Atahualpa, Pizarro seized Cuzco and imposed Manco Cápac II on the throne ; the latter, at first willing to collaborate, in the face of violence and looting perpetrated by the Spaniards, took advantage of the absence of Pizarro and Almagro to besiege Cuzco (1536-37); forced to retreat to the Sierra, he retained control only over the Vilcabamba region. While the borders of the colony were extended thanks to the expeditions of the lieutenants of Pizarro, conflicts broke out between the conquistadors: dissatisfied with the compensation obtained, Almagro occupied Cuzco (1537), of which he claimed jurisdiction; defeated and killed (1538), he was avenged by his son, Diego el Mozo, who killed Pizarro in 1541.

Wishing to subject the colony to greater control, the Crown established in 1542 the Viceroyalty of the Peruand the Audiencia of Lima. The attempt of the viceroy B. Nuñez Vela to apply the Leyes nuevas, which forbade the hereditary transmission of the encomienda, led to the rebellion of the encomenderos led by G. Pizarro ; he had the viceroy assassinated, but was defeated by the president of the Audiencia, Peru de la Gasca (1548).

The violence that accompanied the conquest and the diseases that arrived from Europe caused the decimation of the population, which fell from 7 to 1.4 million individuals in 1570; this induced the Spaniards to employ black slaves in agricultural areas. The political-administrative organization of the colony was the work of the viceroy F. de Toledo (1565-81); the indigenous chiefs (caciques) were recognized noble rank and privileges and were entrusted with the task of collecting the tribute from the Indians and controlling their work; the figure of the corregidor was introduced who combined the functions of administrator, policeman and judge. After the discovery of silver deposits in Potosí (1545) and of mercury in Huancavelica (1563), the mining sector became predominant in Peru; to secure labor, de Toledo resorted to the mita: one seventh of males between 18 and 50 were forced to work for a year in the mines for a very low wage. Equally harsh were the working conditions in the obrajes, where mainly wool and cotton fabrics were produced; in many cases the Indians had to voluntarily offer themselves to the haciendas and obrajes to meet the debts contracted with the corregidores.

The demographic decline of the Indians continued until the end of the 17th century, while the economic recession was aggravated by the reforms of the Bourbons in the 18th century: the creation of the viceroyalties of Nueva Granada and Río de la Plata took away from Fr. the main outlet and supply markets, as well as the richest mines in the Audiencia de Charcas area. Furthermore, the proclamation of the freedom of trade between the Spanish dominions (1778) put an end to the monopoly of Lima; the development of the plantation economy on the coast and the extension of the haciendas system on the margins of the Sierra increased ethnic and social tensions, which resulted in bloody revolts with black, mulatto and Indios protagonists: in 1730 A. Calatayud attacked Potosí but was defeated and beheaded; the revolt of Oruro (1737-39) failed for the restoration of the Inca Empire and the abolition of the myth ; in 1742 JS Atahualpa occupied the jungle of Tarma and stood up to the viceregal troops until 1761. The most important uprising was led by JG Condorcanqui, who besieged Cuzco at the head of thousands of Indians; the revolt continued until 1782, when the insurgents were driven back from La Paz.


Independence finally came from the outside thanks to J. de San Martín who in 1820 sailed from the Chilean port of Valparaiso at the head of 4500 men. On July 28, 1821, independence was proclaimed in Lima. Having assumed full powers and the title of protector, San Martín abolished the slave trade, the indigenous tax, the myth and any other forced labor performance, and applied very harsh legislation against the Spaniards; disliked by local liberals for his monarchical projects and unable to finally liberate the country from the royalists, San Martín, after meeting S. Bolívar in Guayaquil in July 1822, he left him free and fled the country. Arriving in Lima in 1823 and assuming full powers, Bolívar organized a new army that defeated the Spaniards.

Failed the attempt to create a federation of the Andes, including Peru, Colombia and Bolivia (as the Alto Peru decided to call himself), in 1826 Bolívar returned to Colombia. At the end of the protracted war of liberation, an elite of landowners and high-ranking Creole officials formed the new ruling class, while international trade and entrepreneurial activities became almost the exclusive competence of foreigners. The Indians were excluded from any economic or social progress. Many Sierra Indians left the communities to work as peons in the haciendas or as daily wage earners on the coastal plantations, without however integrating with the rest of the population. The Peru remained at the mercy of caudillos local, unable to permanently impose their authority; General A. Gamarra was the only one, among the eight successive presidents between 1826 and 1836, to complete his mandate. The territorial conflicts with Bolivia, Chile and Colombia immediately formed the background to an already strong political instability in the country, which lasted until a good part of the 20th century, with repeated coups d’état.

Peru political system