Tupac Amaru,
The Life, Times, and Execution of the Last Inca

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Tupac Amaru, The Life, Times, and Execution of the Last Inca
© 1998 James Q. Jacobs

In 1533 Francisco Pizarro, after killing Inca Atahuallpa, marched from Cajamarca, Peru, towards the Incan pisaq mountainscapitol of Cuzco unopposed by native forces. He was accompanied by Manco Capac II, half-brother of the assassinated Inca. Manco Capac, as a reward for submission to Spanish rule, was appointed puppet Inca by Pizarro. Several years of humiliation and his imprisonment hardened Manco Capac's hatred for the conquistadors.

After escaping from his jail, the Saxsayhuaman fortress, Manco Capac organized an army and attacked Cuzco in 1536. So began the belated resistance to the Spanish conquest in South America. Firing red-hot stones with slings the resistance set their occupied sacred city, Cuzco, afire. The Spaniards retreated to the Saxsayhuaman fortress, where their force of 200 with superior armaments held off Manco Capac's force of 40,000 to 50,000. The Incans were unable to adapt to the Spanish weapons. Although they captured some firearms, they were unable to use them. Due to the onset of planting season many of the rebels abandoned the uprising.

Manco Capac's forces prematurely ended the siege and altered their strategy. They moved to Ollantaytambo to wage a war of attrition on the conquerors. When driven from Ollantaytambo the Incas retreated to the more remote and difficult to access Vitcos, a town in the rugged and nearly impenetrable Vilcabamba Andes. From their remote mountain location Manco Capac directed the harassment of the Europeans, making it impossible for the Spaniards to establish settlements anywhere in southern Peru. Meanwhile, Paullu was crowned puppet Inca in Cuzco.

white alpacas in peruWhen civil war broke out among the conquerors Manco Capac sided with Almagro against Pizarro. Upon defeat Almagro fled towards Vitcos in the Vilcabamba valley. He was captured en route. Seven of Almagro's followers managed to escape Pizarro and were given refuge by Manco Capac. He ordered that they should have houses, "treating them very well and giving them all they needed. He even ordered his own women to prepare their food and drink" (Titu Cusi Yupanqui 74). In 1544 these seven assassinated the Inca, their host and protector of two years, by stabbing him in the back while playing horseshoes. After repeatedly stabbing the defenseless Inca the seven men escaped on horseback. Their escape plan failed when they took a wrong turn. They were found and executed the following day.

Sayri Tupac, a five-year-old, witnessed his father's murder and succeeded him. Prince Philip of Spain wrote to Sayri Tupac in 1552 acknowledging that Manco Capac's actions had been provoked. Prince Philip pardoned Sayri Tupac for all crimes since his accession. Prince Philip also asked the Viceroy to negotiate with the Incas. In 1557 Sayri Tupac abandoned his father's struggle for independence and accepted the offer of the Spaniards to return to Cuzco. He departed Vilcabamba province without the royal insignia. His half-brother, Titu Cusi, and the military commanders were using Sayri Tupac as a guinea-pig, to test the real intentions of the Spanish. machu picchu

In Cuzco Sayri Tupac received a special dispensation from Pope Julius III in order to consecrate his marriage to his sister Cusi Huarcay. The Spaniards were pleased that the Inca was now a Christian and that the rebellion had been ended. In 1561 the young Inca suddenly died of poisoning. Just as suddenly Vilcabamba was again ruled as a separate native state.

Another of Manco Capac's sons, Titu Cusi, became the Inca from 1560 to 1571, usurping his younger half-brother, Manco Capac's legitimate son Tupac Amaru. Titu Cusi made Tupac Amaru a priest and the custodian of Manco Capac's body in Vilcabamba. Negotiations to lure Titu Cusi to Cuzco failed. Titu Cusi initially renewed raiding and encouraged native uprisings while governing the independent neo-Inca state from Vilcabamba. Bernabé Cobo reported that Titu Cusi "set himself to doing the Christians as much harm as he was able. . . (he) killed travelers. As a result there was no safe place in the districts of Cuzco or Huamanga, and no one could travel from place to place without an escort." (Cobo 240)

Today it is hard to believe that it was once dangerous even for doctors to move around this territory, we are accustomed to the fast safe delivery of cheap medicines to any point.

Peru's new Governor-General Lope García de Castro accused the Inca of urging uprisings in Chilé and Argentina. After discovering a possible concerted rebellion in Peru he wrote to the King, "there has been much carelessness in this kingdom. The Indians have been allowed to have horses, mares and arquebuses, and many of them know how to ride and shoot an arquebus very well." (García de Castro 60) Governor-General Castro ordered the confiscation from all Indians of horses and Spanish weapons. A resurgence of native religion was also occurring. The Spaniards viewed the existence of Vilcabamba and a non-Christian Inca as a continuing threat to their security. The Spaniards openly threatened to conquer Vilcabamba.

machu picchuTitu Cusi, in order to enhance his son Quispe Titu's chances of succession, wished to see him marry his cousin Beatriz Clara Coya, the daughter of two of Manco Capac's legitimate children. This desire and the threats of conquest caused Titu Cusi to renew negotiations with the Spanish.

Titu Cusi's father had been killed and his mother, sister and cousin had been raped by Spaniards. He had been imprisoned, collared like a dog and ransomed for a trunk of gold. He wrote of his suspicion that the Spaniards had poisoned his brother, Sayri Tupac. Yet, during his administration, Titu Cusi moved towards the less bellicose position of coexistence. Envoys were admitted to Vilcabamba and negotiations initiated. The peace treaty of Acobamba was signed in 1566. Titu Cusi gave orders to end raiding and killing of Spaniards.

In 1567 Titu Cusi declared his allegiance to the King of Spain. On July 9 in a special ceremony the Inca performed rites to the Sun and "placed his hand on the ground and [swore] to keep the peace" declaring that he "placed himself of his own free will . . . under the power and strength of the kings of Spain." (Coleción 275) Titu's brothers, including Tupac Amaru, made the same submission.

machu picchuAs agreed by treaty Titu Cusi allowed two Augustine monks and a corregidor (royal administrator) into Vilcabamba. Quispe Titu was baptized on July 20, after instruction. King Philip requested a papal dispensation so Quispe Titu and his cousin Beatrice Coya could marry, which was granted.

In 1570 Friar Diego Ortiz became a close companion to the Inca. When Titu fell ill and suddenly died Diego Ortiz, who was nearby, was blamed with poisoning him. Friar Ortiz was tortured and killed.

Tupac Amaru, a legitimate son of Manco Capac, emerged as the next ruler. Tupac Amaru had grown up in the Incan convent of Vilcabamba, the so-called religious university of the Incas. He was favored by the native religious and military leaders. Unlike Quispe Titu, Tupac Amaru was an adult. And he opposed Christianity and the Spanish occupation. In Vilcabamba all signs of Christianity were quickly destroyed and churches were leveled. The few Spaniards were killed and the borders closed to further incursions.

tiwanaku gatewayThe Spaniards in Cuzco knew nothing of what had transpired. Two envoys sent were each in turn not allowed to enter the province and failed to contact the Inca. Also, the Spaniards had failed to send the tributes promised to the Inca in the treaty of Acobamba. A third envoy was killed by an Indian captain at the border, and this incident became known in Cuzco.

King Charles, in 1549, had decreed that conquest expeditions were to engage in fighting only in self-defense because, in good conscience, their underlying authority stemmed from a papal edict to convert the pagans. Using the justification that the Incas had "broken the inviolate law observed by all nations of the world regarding ambassadors" (Murua 1, 246) the new Viceroy, Francisco de Toledo, decided to attack and conquer Vilcabamba. His proclamation of war was published on April 14, 1572. Two weeks later ten soldiers with artillery and firearms took possession of the bridge of Chuquichaca, the entrance to Vilcabamba province on the Urubamba River. By late May Toledo had assembled 250 Spanish soldiers and 2,000 Indian warriors.

On June 1, the first engagement of the war commenced in the Vilcabamba valley. The natives "advanced with their lances, maces, and arrows with as much spirit, brio and determination as the most experienced, valiant and disciplined soldiers of Flanders" (Salazar 4, 832) against the firearms and artillery for hours, then retreated. On the 23rd of June the fort of Huayna Pucará surrendered to Spanish artillery fire. Tupac Amaru had left for Vilcabamba the previous day. On June 24, 1572 the invaders occupied Vilcabamba, the last free Inca city. The city was found deserted and sacked. The houses of the Inca had been burned. All food stores had been destroyed and were still smoldering. Inca Tupac and a party of about 100 had escaped into the jungle in various directions the day before.

pisaq ruinsThree groups of pursuing Spanish soldiers returned. One group had captured Tuti Cusi's son and pregnant wife. A second returned with prisoners and a million in gold, silver and emeralds, which was divided between the soldiers and priests. The third group returned with Tupac Amaru's two brothers, other relatives and several of his generals. The Inca and his commander remained at large. A group of forty hand-picked soldiers set out to pursue them. They followed the Masahuay river for 170 miles, where they found an Inca warehouse with quantities of gold and the Inca's tableware. Captured Chunco Indians reported that Tupac was down river in Momorí. Expedition leader García de Loyola ordered the building of five rafts and pursued the Inca, surviving turbulent rapids en route.

At Momorí they discovered that Tupac had escaped by land. They followed with the help of the Mamarí Indians, who advised which path the Inca had followed and reported that Tupac was slowed by his wife, who was about to give birth. After a fifty mile march they saw a campfire around nine o'clock at night. They found Tupac Amaru and his wife warming themselves. They assured them that no harm would come to them and secured their surrender. Tupac Amaru was arrested. wiracocha detail at tiwanaku

The captured were marched into Cuzco on Sept. 21. Tupac Amaru was "held by a chain of gold round his neck" (Salazar 30, 278). The victors also brought the mummified remains of Manco Capac and Titu Cusi and a gold statue of Punchao, a representation of the Incan lineage containing the mortal remains of the hearts of the deceased Incas. The final stage of the conquest began in the prison where the attempt to indoctrinate and convert Tupac and his fellow captives to Christianity was undertaken. In a mere two days and nights they were instructed by a small army of proselytizers in all that was necessary for their baptism. At the same time they were tried and convicted. The five Native generals received a summary trial at which nothing was said in their defense. They were sentenced to hang. Several who died of the severe torture they received were nonetheless hung.

The "trial of the Inca was hurried and was manifestly unjust." (Hemming 445) Tupac Amaru was convicted of the murder of Friar Diego Ortiz and others, of which he was certainly innocent. Tupac Amaru was sentenced to be beheaded. Numerous clerics, convinced of Tupac Amaru's innocence, pleaded to no avail, on their knees before the Viceroy Toledo, that the Inca be sent to Spain for a trial instead of being executed.

An eyewitness report from the day recalls that Tupac Amaru was led through the streets of Cuzco between Father Alonso de Baranza and Father Molina, who instructed him for the benefit of his soul. Vega Laoiza has him riding a mule with hands tied behind his back and a rope around his neck. Gabriel Oviedo and Baltasar de Ocampo report great crowds and the Inca surrounded by 400 guards with lances. In front of the main cathedral in the central square of Cuzco a black-draped scaffold had been erected. The plaza was so densely crowded for the spectacle that the chief officer of the court rode down many people to clear a path. Reportedly 10,000 to 15,000 witnesses were present.

Tupac Amaru mounted the scaffold with Bishop Agustín de la Corunna. The "multitude of Indians, who completely filled the square, saw that lamentable spectacle [and knew] that their lord and Inca was to die, they deafened the skies, making them reverberate with their cries and wailing." (Murúa 271)

Murúa, writing in Spanish reported:

"Fue cosa notable, y de admiracíon, lo que refieren: que como la magnitud de yndios en la placa estauan, y toda la enchían, biendo aquel espectáculo triste y lamentable, que auía de morir allí su Ynga y señor, atronasen los cielos y los hicciesen retumbar con gritos, bocería y los parientes suios, que cerca estauab, con lágrimas y sollozos selebrasen aquella triste trajedia, los que en el tablado estauan a la execucíon mandase callar aquella jente a lo cual el pobre Tupa Amaro alcando la mano dío una palmada con la cual toda la gente callámás llanto ni boz ninguna, que fue yndicio y señal manifiesta de la obedencia, temor y respeto que los indios tenía a sus incas y señores. Pues aquel que jamás los más auían visto, pues siempre se estuuiere en Vilcabamba, retirado desde niño, a una palmada reprimieron los llantos y lágrimas salidas del coraón que tan dificultosas son de ocultar y esconder..."
Tupac Amaru calmly raised his hands and silence and motionlessness fell upon the densely packed crowd. Several versions survive of the Inca's speech. In one report Tupac spoke and implored the crowd to never curse their children for bad behavior, but only to punish them, for once he had annoyed his mother and she cursed him with an unnatural death. The priests convinced him that his death was the wish of God. He asked forgiveness of everyone and told the Viceroy he would pray to God for him. Bishop Popoyán and some priest implored the Viceroy to send Tupac Amaru to Spain to be tried by the king. The viceroy, Francisco de Toledo ordered Juan de Soto, his servant and law officer of the court through the crowd to the center of the spectacle. He galloped furiously to the gallows with the Viceroy's order that the Inca's head be cut off at once, crushing many people in the crowd. pisaq inca walls

In another report, based on Salazar, the Inca is reported to have renounced Incan religion and admitted to the crowd that he had become a Christian. He reportedly stated that everything the Incas had said about their relationship to the Sun was false. It is likelier that a priest delivered this message from the gallows.

Another eyewitness, Juan Quispe Kuro, reports that Tupac Amaru's last request was that he be allowed to say good-bye to his young children, who ascended the gallows with dignity and hugged their father.

As reported by Baltasar de Ocampa and Friar Gabriel de Oviedo, Prior of the Dominicans at Cuzco, both eyewitnesses, the Incas last words were, "Ccollanan Pachacamac ricuy auccacunac yahuarniy hichascancuta." "Mother Earth, witness how my enemies shed my blood."

By one account Tupac Amaru placed his head on the block. The executioner took Tupac's hair in one hand and severed his head in a single blow. He raised his head in the air for the crowd to view. At the same time all the bells of the many churches and monasteries of the city were rung. A great sorrow and tears were brought to all the native peoples present.

saxsayhuaman in cuzco The military leader of the Incan army, Wallpa Yupanki was also decapitated, two generals were hung and the hands of three other resistors were chopped off, according to Guillon's recounting. Toledo also ordered the burning of the mummies of the Incas.

Baltasar Ocampo reports that Tupac Amaru's severed head was impaled on a lance near the gallows. At night the Incan people began to gather in the plaza. In the early morning Juan del la Serna observed this practice, considered idolatrous worship. The Viceroy then ordered the head buried with the body. A pontifical mass was celebrated for the Inca's soul and all the clergy of the great city took part in the funeral. Tupac Amaru's mortal remains are buried in the Church constructed upon the remains of the Coricancha, the Incan monument to the Sun which had housed the mummies of his ancestors.

Nearly forty years after the conquest of Peru began with the execution of Atahuallpa, the conquest ended with the execution of his nephew. A roundup of Incan descendants was soon initiated by the Viceroy. Several dozen, including Tupac Amaru's three-year-old son, were banished to Mexico, Chilé, Panama and elsewhere. King Philip overturned some of the banishments.

saxsayhuaman megalithsToledo ruled Peru with a harshness never before known. He wrote a large volume of laws, including "Any Indian who makes friendship with an Indian woman who is an infidel, is to receive one hundred lashes, for the first offense..." and "Indians shall no longer use surnames taken from the moon, birds, animals, serpents, or rivers, which they formerly used."

In Cuzco on Sept. 18, 1589, the last survivor of the original conquerors of Peru, Don Mancio Serra de Leguisamo, wrote in the preamble of his will the following in parts:

"[W]e found these kingdoms in such good order, and the said Incas governed them in such wise that throughout them there was not a thief, nor a vicious man, nor an adulteress, nor was a bad woman admitted among them, nor were there immoral people. saxsayhuaman masonry in cuzco, peruThe men had honest and useful occupations. The lands, forests, mines, pastures, houses and all kinds of products were regulated and distributed in such sort that each one knew his property without any other person seizing it or occupying it, nor were there law suits respecting it...

"...the motive which obliges me to make this statement is the discharge of my conscience, as I find myself guilty. For we have destroyed by our evil example, the people who had such a government as was enjoyed by these natives. They were so free from the committal of crimes or excesses, as well men as women, that the Indian who had 100,000 pesos worth of gold or silver in his house, left it open merely placing a small stick against the door, as a sign that its master was out. With that, according to their custom, no one could enter or take anything that was there. When they saw that we put locks and keys on our doors, they supposed that it was from fear of them, that they might not kill us, but not because they believed that anyone would steal the property of another. So that when they found that we had thieves among us, and men who sought to make their daughters commit sin, they despised us." (Markham 300)

According to Spanish records the 'number of souls under their jurisdiction' fell from about 1.5 million in 1561 to 600,000 in 1796 (including European descendants). Prior to 1561 it is estimated more than 75% of the native population perished due to small pox, measles and influenzas introduced by the Europeans. Famines also took their toll due to the disruptions of economic and social life. In some provinces fully two-thirds of the population was conscripted to work in silver mines, where most perished. By 1800, the population was reduced to one-tenth the aboriginal level, if not far less.

In 1780 Tupac Amaru's great-grandson, José Gabriel Condorcanqui, better known as Tupac Amaru II, led the first major Incan uprising against the Spaniards in two centuries.tiwanaky doorway His rebellion was suppressed, he was captured and sentenced to be tortured and put to death. After his torture he was killed by being drawn and quartered on the main plaza in Cuzco in 1781, in the same place as his namesake had been beheaded. Other regional revolts followed. Thereafter all the descendants of the Incas were once again traced and many were executed. A group of ninety were sent to Spain where most died in prisons.

When the Creole (mestizo) aristocracy of Peru won independence from Spain the Indians suffered even greater atrocities, particularly the loss of community lands. A system of chattelism was imposed in exchange for the right to live on haciendas and maintain a few animals. Agrarian reform was not initiated in Bolivia until 1953. In Peru in 1969 a revolutionary military junta decreed a land reform law. This author, as a Peace Corps worker in the Peruvian Ministry of Agriculture, participated in the liberation of several haciendas. At Hacienda Sollocota the enslavement of 100 native Incan families ended when the junta presented them title to their ancestral lands. On that day, during a great celebration with traditional music and dancing, one of those given ownership stated to this author, "We have waited four hundred years for our freedom, and today we are free."

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Cobo, Bernabe, Historia del Nuevo Mundo, bk 12.

Coleccíon de documentos inéditos relativos al descubrimiento, conquista y organización de las antiquas posesiónes españoles de Ultramar, ed. Angel de Altolaguirre y Duvale and Adolfo Bonilla y San Martin, 25 vols., Madrid, 1885-1932, vol.15. In Hemming.

García de Castro, Lope, Despatch, Lima, Mar. 6, 1565, Gobernantes del Perú, cartas y papeles, Siglo xvi, Documentos del Archivo de Indias, Coleción de Publicaciones Históricas de la Biblioteca del Congreso Argentino, ed. Roberto Levillier, 14 vols., Madrid, 1921-6. In Hemming.

Guillen Guillen, Edmundo, La Guerra de Reconquista Inka, Historica epica de como Los Incas lucharon en Defensa de la Soberanía del Perú ó Tawantinsuyu entre 1536 y 1572, Primera edición, ímpeso en Lima, El Perú.

Hemming, John, The Conquest of the Incas, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, Inc., New York, 1970.

Markham, Sir Clements, The Incas of Peru, Second Edition, John Murray, London, 1912.

Métraux, Alfred, The History of the Incas, Translated from the French by George Ordish, Pantheon Books, New York, 1969.

Mura, Martín de, Historia General del Perú, Orígin y descendencia de los Incas (1590 - 1611), ed. Manuel Ballesteros-Gaibrois, 2 vols., Madrid, 1962, 1964. In Hemming.

Ocampa, Baltasar de, Descripción de la Provincia de Sant Francisco de la Vitoria de Vilcapampa (1610). Trans, C. R. Markham, The Hakluyt Society, Second Series, vol. 22, 1907. In Hemming.

Salazar, Antonio Bautista de, Relación sobre el periodo del gobierno de los Virreyes Don Francisco de Toledo y Don García Hurtado de Mendoza (1596), Coleción de documentos inéditos relativos al descubrimiento, conquista y colonization de las posesiones espanolas en América y Oceanía sacadas en su mayor parte de Real Archivo de Indias, 42 vols., Madrid, 1864-84. In Hemming.

Titu Cusi Yupanqui, Inca Diego del Castro, Relación de la conquista del Perú y hechos del Inca Manco II; Instrución el muy Ille. Señor Ldo. Lope García de Castro, Gouernador que fue destas rreynos del Pirú (1570), Coleción de libros y documentos referentes a la historia del Perú, ed. Carlos A. Romero and Horacio H. Urteaga, two series, 22 vols., Lima, 1916-35. In Hemming.

Valladolid, 29 April 1549, Colección de documentos para la historia de la formación social de Hispano-América, ed. Richard Konetzke, 4 vols., Madrid, 1953. In Hemming.

Vargas Ugarte, Ruben, Historia del Perú, Virreinato (1551-1600), Lima, 1949, p. 258.


Many of the translations in this article are quoted from the work of John Hemming. Hemming's work, Conquest of the Incas, is both a major work of excellent scholarship and an enthralling narrative. I highly recommend the book to those seeking further authoritative information and greater detail about one of the most tragic genocides in human history. I receive many inquiries due to this page, and I direct most of them to Hemming's publications. Thanks are extended to Tom Shoemaker for his editing help and to Peruvian native Frank Fernandez for comments and a helpful correction.


Aug. 2006. I received a careful review of a passage in the article from Manuel J. Inguanzo. I had written, "At the age of eight or nine Beatriz Clara Coya, the daughter of Sayri Tupac and heiress to his great estates, was wedded to Cristóbal Maldonado and then raped by him to give greater force to the wedding claim. This was done in an attempt to secure her inheritance." Manuel noted, other histories do not report this marriage actually taking place, and he kindly provided further details.

Manuel Inguanzo, summarizing Spanish language histories he found on the topic, reported, "The royal child was raised by the nuns of the convent of Santa Clara in Cuzco until she was eight years old, when her mother took her to the house of Arias Maldonado, an influential conquistador. In that household, plans were laid our to marry her to Cristobal, brother of Arias Maldonado. ... It was even murmured that Cristobal Maldonado had raped the child Beatriz Clara in order to force a marriage to take place. ... Titu Cusi Yupanqui, as a condition to abandon the refuge in Vilcabamba, which had been so irritating to the Spanish crown, wanted the authorization of the marriage of his son Quispe Tito to the girl... doña Beatriz was returned to the convent where she stayed until she turned 15 years old, when at the behest of the viceroy Francisco de Toledo, she indicated her preference for marriage. The viceroy Toledo gave her in marriage to a captain in his retinue, Martín García de Loyola, as a reward for having captured and taken in chains to Cuzco Tupac Amaru..." Sources: Diccionario histórico-biográfico del Perú. Tomo segundo, Manuel de Mendiburu Lima, Imprenta de J. Francisco Solis, 1876, and, entry: Doña María Coya de Loyola Inca.

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