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Although Peru is well known as the land of the Incas, its rich ancient history pre-dates the Inca Empire by thousands of years. The earliest evidence of indigenous societies goes back to the eighth millennium BC. There are indications that organized village life was present as long ago as 2500 BC.
By 1200 BC, several groups had begun moving from the north into what is now Peru. These included the Chavín, Chimú, Sechìn, Nazca, and Tiahuanaco. The ruins of the Chimú city of Chanchan, built around 1000, still exist today. Another legacy of these early peoples is the striking religious iconography of the Chavín, who had great influence in the coastal area.
The Inca Empire had a surprisingly brief reign at the end of this long pre-colonial history. In less than a century, the Incas expanded their domain from the river valley around Cuzco to the whole region from northern Argentina to southern Colombia, including much of present-day Peru and Ecuador. They built their entire empire between 1400 and 1532, when the Spanish conquistadors arrived.
By the time Francisco Pizarro landed with his band of Spanish conquistadors, the Inca Empire had been weakened by a dispute over succession to the throne. Pizarro used deception to assassinate the Inca ruler Atahualpa, and the conquistadors sacked the city of Cuzco, taking control. Francisco Pizarro established a new capital city at Ciudad de los Reyes, now Lima, in 1535.
For 200 years, Spanish officials ruled Peru using native intermediaries to deal with the indigenous population. In 1780, some 60,000 native people rose up in revolt against Spanish rule, led by a Peruvian patriot with the Inca name of Tupac Amaru. This revolt and another in 1814 were ultimately stopped by the Spanish.
Peru finally broke free from Spain in the 1820s as wars of independence swept across South America. Jose de San Martin of Argentina and Simon Bolivar of Venezuela played key roles in driving the Spanish military out of Peru, which declared independence in 1821. A series of Bolivar’s lieutenants known as the “marshals of Ayacucho” governed Peru in the following decades. One of these, Ramon Castilla, presided over the adoption of a liberal constitution in 1860.
Since then, Peru’s history has been a dramatic alternation between democratic and dictatorial governments, each of which has faced pressing social and economic issues. Opposition to dictatorship has played a prominent role in Peruvian politics since the 1920s, when Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre founded the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA).
Peruvian democratic reformers have long advocated guaranteed civil liberties and improved living conditions for the nation’s Native Americans. There have also been radical and violent opposition movements, including the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), whose leaders were captured in 1992. Peru’s last five heads of state have been democratically elected presidents: Fernando Belaúnde Terry in 1980, Alan García Pérez (an APRA candidate) in 1985, Alberto Fujimori in 1990, Alejandro Toledo in 2001, and Alan García Pérez once again in 2006.