Rebellion of Tupac Amaru II Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Motivated by a long tradition of economic and social oppression at the hands of the Spanish, Tupac Amaru II led the last great indigenous uprising in Peru before independence from Spain in 1821.

Summary of Event

The most serious challenge to Spanish rule in colonial Latin America during the eighteenth century drew its strength not from the European Enlightenment, but from a resurgence of Inca resistance in Peru from the 1740’s to the early 1780’s. This flare-up had its roots in the forty-year indigenous struggle against the conquistadores of the sixteenth century in the Andes. While the Aztecs of Mexico quickly crumbled before Hernán Cortés and his men in the early sixteenth century, the Inca of Peru held out much longer, as the Spanish turned on their leader, Francisco Pizarro, and then on each other. Exploiting these divisions, Manco Inca Yupanqui, Yupanqui (Inca emperor) the emperor after the duped Atahualpa, Atahualpa initially tried to retake his capital of Cuzco, but he was forced to retreat to a smaller area of indigenous control around Vilcabamba. He was brutally murdered there in 1544, but his two successors kept up the fight until 1572. In that year, the Spanish viceroy, Francisco de Toledo, Toledo, Francisco de captured Tupac Amaru II’s great-grandfather, Tupac Amaru, who was the last indigenous sapa Inca (emperor), and publicly executed him in 1572 after a humiliating trial. More than two hundred years later, the leader of the Andean fight for dignity, if not for outright independence, was José Gabriel Condorcanqui, who would fight under the name Tupac Amaru II (“royal or resplendent serpent”). [kw]Rebellion of Tupac Amaru II (1780-1781) [kw]Amaru II, Rebellion of Tupac (1780-1781) [kw]Tupac Amaru II, Rebellion of (1780-1781) Indigenous revolts;Peru Incas Colonization;Spanish of Latin America Peruvian independence Spanish-American Indian relations[Spanish American Indian relations] [g]Peru;1780-1781: Rebellion of Tupac Amaru II[2400] [g]Bolivia;1780-1781: Rebellion of Tupac Amaru II[2400] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1780-1781: Rebellion of Tupac Amaru II[2400] [c]Government and politics;1780-1781: Rebellion of Tupac Amaru II[2400] [c]Social issues and reform;1780-1781: Rebellion of Tupac Amaru II[2400] [c]Colonization;1780-1781: Rebellion of Tupac Amaru II[2400] [c]Economics;1780-1781: Rebellion of Tupac Amaru II[2400] Tupac Amaru II Toledo, Francisco de Tupac Katari Arriaga, Antonio de

The viceroyalty of Peru under Toledo began to use Inca institutions against the Incas and for the profit of the Spanish crown and the Creole Creoles (colonial-born Spanish) elite. The mita, Mita (labor system) the rotational labor system designed for local sustenance before conquest, became forced labor for the dreaded silver mines of Potosí as well for the mining of mercury at Huancavelica that made the processing of silver possible. This now-mandatory draft Drafts;of laborers[laborers] and the accompanying resettlement or reduction of many South American Indian villages to a few Spanish towns disrupted traditional extended families, or ayllus, and severely strained the ability of those left in the villages to fend for themselves. Recurrent epidemics of plague and smallpox until the 1720’s led to further agricultural labor shortage, while Inca men and their families were diverted to servicing the colonial economy and society. These abuses of the mita and forced migrations would only deepen in the eighteenth century, especially as the Andean populations would finally rebound in number and, thus, in confidence.

While the persistence and acceleration of the mita was the most significant factor perpetuating Andean revolts from the 1740’s through 1780, other exploitative arrangements fed Inca resentment leading to violence. The repartos system Repartos system was particularly galling, forcing the Inca to trade with the Spanish for artificially high-priced Spanish goods that they neither wanted nor needed. Also, Inca producers of coca, ponchos, and blankets had to sell their wares at far below market prices. Local Spanish bureaucrats, particularly corregidores and alcades mayors, regulated and enforced this coercive monopoly, profiting from its exploitation. Accordingly, the officials personally became the targets of Andean rebels seeking to get rid of greedy parasites.

The Bourbon reforms, intended to bring rational efficiency and mercy to the notoriously arbitrary and cruel colonial bureaucracy, only made the situation for Andean peoples worse. As more bureaucrats and experts were hired to professionalize the government, taxes, particularly the sales tax, or alcabala, went up. For the first time ever, in the 1770’s, the Inca became subject to the alcabala on basic products such as dried meat and coca that they had made for themselves. Tax collection became more efficient and regular, and the repartos became official imperial policy in Peru rather than an ad hoc policy affecting the indigenous only.

Cultural and ethnic divisions also magnified and complicated Andean resistance. The Catholic Church’s orthodoxies about monogamy and premarital sex clashed with more flexible and permissive practices among the Inca. However, petty disputes between priests and bureaucrats over land and perquisites could lead to some priests siding with the indigenous against the state. Furthermore, a growing casta Casta (mixed-race population) (mixed-race) population faced discrimination from whites and suspicion from the indigenous. In addition to his claims about being the legitimate biological heir to the last sapa Inca, Tupac Amaru was a mestizo Mestizos who was proud of being a mestizo. He even had friends and sympathizers among the Creoles and Catholic priests, who resented the new intrusions and higher taxes imposed by Madrid. In contrast, some Andean rebels wanted a separatist utopia without any European, African, and mixed-race peoples, whom they viewed as surrogates for the Spanish. On top of that, preconquest tensions and hatred between Andean peoples remained, allowing the Crown to divide and conquer as always.

In 1780, ancient and new enmities among the oppressed were pushed to the side, as a number of revolts against Spanish rule broke out in different parts of the viceroyalty. Most of these rebels, however, took the standard premodern stance of fighting on behalf of and in the name of their distant king, Charles III of Spain, and against his evil counselors on the ground in Peru, who were exposed as the real traitors because of their venality. Tupac Amaru, in particular, portrayed himself as a Christian crusader upholding the faith against hypocrites and usurpers. He also saw himself as a divine Inca emperor and observed Andean religious customs. Like most naturales (indigenous), Naturales (indigenous Peruvians) Tupac Amaru saw no problem in combining Catholic and polytheistic beliefs. He wrapped himself in various clothes of legitimacy, appealing to a wide coalition of the disaffected.

Tupac Amaru’s revolt centered in the Quechuan-speaking, southern areas around the old imperial capital of Cuzco; in upper Peru, Tomas Katari and Tupac Katari led the Aymara-speaking areas to fight. They differed in the inclusive nature of Tupac Amaru’s broad coalition versus the exclusive and separatist message of the northern groups. Yet neither group hesitated to take out centuries of frustration against officials or royalists. A particularly egregious corregidor, Antonio de Arriaga, Arriaga, Antonio de was executed in November of 1780 under Tupac Amaru’s orders, and 22,000 pesos of tribute were seized to underwrite the insurgency in the south. Posing as the true representative in Peru of both God and Charles III, the Inca pretender claimed that the Bourbons themselves had sanctioned both the execution of Arriaga and the redistribution of tribute as necessary and appropriate. Invoking Andean traditions about humiliating the immoral in the afterlife at the same time, rebel armies refused to bury royalists murdered or killed in action because those Inca or Spanish loyal to the Crown were deemed criminals. Various outliers within Tupac Amaru’s coalition went further in their vengeance, ritually mutilating the corpses of enemies by drinking their blood and extracting their hearts.

The Spanish did not hold back either. Both the northern and southern uprisings were put down relatively quickly and brutally. In Upper Peru, the Katari brothers were hunted down and executed. As for Tupac Amaru, his whereabouts were relayed to Spanish authorities by a loyalist indigenous wife whose family had been killed by the rebels. On May 18, 1781, Tupac Amaru, his wife, his oldest son, his uncle, his brother-in-law, and high-ranking comrades were executed. His family members had their tongues cut out before they were hanged, and Tupac Amaru had his tongue cut out before he was drawn and quartered and beheaded. The leader’s nine-year-old son, Fernando, was spared, but he was forced to watch the killing and dismemberment of the bodies of his family. Their body parts were strewn about the viceroyalty as an example for any future rebels. Tupac Amaru’s group continued to fight under his cousin Diego Cristobal, but they soon accepted the viceroyalty’s offer of pardon by early 1782. The Spanish authorities remained wary of the sapa Inca’s remaining family members, so in 1783 they rounded up Diego and his mother and killed them. Then, they forced nearly ninety members of Tupac Amaru’s family to go to Lima in chains; many of them were then deported to Spain, only to be lost in a shipwreck along the way.


The revolts culminating with Tupac Amaru II’s death were especially gory. More than eighty thousand people died on both sides (far more, for example, than the number of Americans killed in the American Revolution). Even though the uprisings were futile failures from a military perspective, they did lead to some overdue reforms. Colonial officials quickly agreed to at least two of Tupac Amaru’s demands: the end of the repartos and the creation of an audiencia (high court) of Cuzco that would hear Andean complaints in a more timely manner.

Yet, in the interim, the rebellions stalled any momentum toward independence in Peru. The rebellion led by Tupac Amaru ironically persuaded most of the Creole elite there to remain loyal to the Spanish crown. The overt hints of a race war in which the Spanish could have been annihilated, magnified by the successful slave uprising on French Saint Domingue in the 1790’s, particularly haunted Creoles in Peru, which became a bastion of loyalism during the drives for independence during the 1810’s and 1820’s. Those Creoles insisted on the hated Potosí mita until the bitter end, keeping the most hated patterns of subordination and dependency going long after Tupac Amaru II’s death.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Burkholder, Mark, and Lyman L. Johnson. Colonial Latin America. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. This textbook is the most detailed and the best synthesis of the history of colonial Latin America in the eighteenth century. Provides comparative context with other colonies in relation to the viceroyalty of Peru.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cahill, David Patrick. From Rebellion to Independence in the Andes: Soundings from Southern Peru, 1750-1830. Amsterdam: Aksant, 2002. This work studies the social context of subversive political activity from the period preceding the rebellion of Tupac Amaru to the independence of Peru.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Campbell, Leon G. The Military and Society in Colonial Peru, 1750-1810. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1978. This work details the military campaigns and counterinsurgency tactics used by the Spanish crown.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fisher, Lillian Estelle. The Last Inca Revolt, 1780-1783. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1966. A classic account of the circumstances of the insurrection of Tupac Amaru.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hemming, John. The Conquest of the Incas. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970. This work provides the best chronological account of the forty-year struggle of the Incas against the Spanish in the sixteenth century, a struggle that inspired Tupac Amaru more than two centuries later.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Robins, Nicholas A. Genocide and Millennialism in Upper Peru: The Great Rebellion of 1780-1782. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2002. Analyzes Tupac Amaru’s insurrection within the context of Peruvian and Bolivian indigenous millennial movements, evaluating policies for eliminating enemies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stavig, Ward. The World of Tupac Amaru: Conflict, Community, and Identity in Colonial Peru. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999. This work brings alive the lives of ordinary Andean peoples and their mestizo and Creole counterparts.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tandeter, Enrique. Coercion and Market: Silver Mining in Colonial Potosi, 1692-1826. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1993. This work exposes the exploitative Potosí mita and its economic and social effects.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thomson, Sinclair. We Alone Will Rule: Native Andean Politics in the Age of Insurgency. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002. Traces the history of Aymara and Quechuan politics, government, and warfare during the eighteenth century and the insurrection of Tupac Amaru within that context.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Valcárcel, Carlos Daniel. La rebelión de Túpac Amaru. Lima, Peru: Comisión Nacional del Sesquicentenario de la Independencia del Perú, 1972. A four-volume collection of original documents that examine the events before, during, and after Tupac Amaru’s rebellion.

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Categories: History