Biography of Túpac Amaru

Tupac Amaru
Brandtol/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Túpac Amaru was the last of the royal family of the Inca Empire to ever actually rule his people. After the Spanish invasion of the Andes, many of his family members were killed, including his uncles Atahualpa and Huáscar, both of whom were kings of separate parts of a divided Empire when the Spanish arrived. By 1570 only a small, remote outpost remained of Inca rule, in the Peruvian jungles of Vilcabamba. Túpac Amaru presided over a brief rebellion against the Spanish, which was crushed in 1571-1572. Túpac Amaru was executed, and with him died any realistic hope of a return to Inca rule in the Andes.


When the Spanish arrived in the Andes in the early 1530s, they found the wealthy Inca Empire in turmoil. Feuding brothers Atahualpa and Huáscar ruled over two halves of the mighty Empire. Huáscar was killed by Atahuallpa’s agents and Atahualpa himself was captured and executed by the Spanish, effectively ending the time of the Inca. A brother of Atahualpa and Huáscar, Manco Inca Yupanqui, managed to escape with some loyal followers and establish himself head of a small kingdom, first at Ollantaytambo and later in Vilcabamba.

Intrigue in Vilcabamba

Manco Inca Yupanqui was assassinated by Spanish deserters in 1544. His five-year-old son, Sayri Tupac, took over and ruled his small kingdom with the help of regents. The Spanish sent ambassadors, and relations between the Spanish in Cusco and the Inca at Vilcabamba warmed. In 1560, Sayri Tupac was eventually persuaded to come to Cusco, renounce his throne and accept baptism. In exchange, he was given vast lands and a profitable marriage. He died suddenly in 1561, and his half-brother Titu Cusi Yupanqui became leader in Vilcabamba.

Titu Cusi Yupanqui

Titu Cusi was more cautious than his half-brother had been. He fortified Vilcabamba and refused to come to Cusco for any reason, although he did allow ambassadors to stay. In 1568, however, he finally relented, accepting baptism and, in theory, turning over his kingdom to the Spanish, although he consistently delayed any visit to Cusco. Spanish Viceroy Francisco de Toledo repeatedly attempted to buy Titu Cusi off with presents such as fine cloth and wine. In 1571, Titu Cusi became ill. Most of the Spanish diplomats were not in Vilcabamba at the time, leaving only Friar Diego Ortiz and a translator, Pedro Pando.

Túpac Amaru Ascends to the Throne

The Inca lords in Vilcabamba asked Friar Ortiz to ask his God to save Titu Cusi. When Titu Cusi died, they held the friar accountable and killed him by tying a rope through his lower jaw and dragging him through town. Pedro Pando was also killed. Next in line was Túpac Amaru, Titu Cusi’s brother, who had been living in semi-seclusion in a temple. About the time Túpac Amaru was made leader, a Spanish diplomat returning to Vilcabamba from Cusco was killed. Although it is unlikely that Túpac Amaru had anything to do with it, he was blamed and the Spanish prepared for war

Tupac Declares War on the Spanish Invaders

Túpac Amaru had only been in charge for a few weeks when the Spanish arrived, led by 23-year-old Martín García Oñez de Loyola, a promising officer of noble blood who would later become Governor of Chile. After a couple of skirmishes, the Spanish managed to capture Túpac Amaru and his top generals. They relocated all of the men and women who had been living in Vilcabamba and brought Túpac Amaru and the generals back to Cusco. Dates of birth for Túpac Amaru are vague, but he was approximately in his late twenties. They were all sentenced to die for insurrection: the generals by hanging and Túpac Amaru by beheading.

Death of Tupac Amaru

The generals were thrown in prison and tortured, and Túpac Amaru was sequestered and given intense religious training for several days. He eventually converted and accepted baptism. Some of the generals had been tortured so badly that they died before making it to the gallows: their bodies were hung anyway. Túpac Amaru was led through the city escorted by 400 Cañari warriors, traditional bitter enemies of the Inca. Several important priests, including influential Bishop Agustín de la Coruña, pleaded for his life, but Viceroy Francisco de Toledo ordered the sentence be carried out.

After Death

The heads of Túpac Amaru and his generals were put on pikes and left at the scaffold there they had been killed. Before long, the locals, many of whom still considered the Inca ruling family to be divine, started worshiping the head of Túpac Amaru, leaving offerings and small sacrifices. When notified of this, Viceroy Toledo ordered the head be buried with the rest of the body. With the death of Túpac Amaru and the destruction of the last Inca kingdom in Vilcabamba, Spanish domination of the region was complete.

Analysis and Legacy

Túpac Amaru never really had a chance. He became leader at a time when events had already conspired against him. The deaths of the Spanish priest, interpreter, and ambassador were not of his doing, as they took place before he was made leader of Vilcabamba. As a result of these tragedies, he was forced to fight a war he may or may not have wanted. In addition, Viceroy Toledo had already decided to stamp out the last Inca holdout at Vilcabamba. The legality of the conquest of the Inca was being seriously questioned by reformers (primarily in the religious orders) in Spain and in the New World, and Toledo knew that without a ruling family to which the Empire could be returned, questioning the legality of the conquest was moot. Although Viceroy Toledo was reprimanded by the crown for the execution, in fact, he did the King a favor by removing the last legitimate legal threat to Spanish rule in the Andes.

Today Túpac Amaru stands as a symbol for the indigenous people of Peru of the horrors of the conquest and Spanish colonial rule. He is considered the first indigenous leader to seriously rebel, in an organized way, against the Spanish. As such, he has become the inspiration for many guerrilla groups over the centuries. In 1780, his great grandson José Gabriel Condorcanqui adopted the name Túpac Amaru and launched a short-lived but serious rebellion against the Spanish in Peru. The Peruvian communist rebel group Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru (“Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement”) took their name from him, as did the Uruguayan Marxist rebel group the Tupamaros.

Tupac Amaru Shakur (1971-1996) was an American rapper and dancer who had several big hits in the 1990s; he is named after Túpac Amaru II.


Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, History of the Incas.Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1999. (written in Peru in 1572)

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Minster, Christopher. "Biography of Túpac Amaru." ThoughtCo, Jun. 13, 2018, Minster, Christopher. (2018, June 13). Biography of Túpac Amaru. Retrieved from Minster, Christopher. "Biography of Túpac Amaru." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 17, 2018).