Apart from natural diversity, Peru also is the cradle of human civilization in the ancient Americas. Its cultures were far more diverse, for example, than the Mesoamerican cultures that spread through present-day Central America and Mexico.
The first Peruvian states were worshipping at stepped adobe platforms on the coast 5,000 years ago, before the Egyptians were building their pyramids at Giza. And as the Roman empire spread across modern-day Europe, Peru’s first empire states were moving like wildfire across the Andes. The Chavín and Tiahuanaco cultures established patterns of religion, commerce, and architecture that remain alive today among Peru’s Quechuan-speaking highlanders.
Western notions of conquest and military-backed empires do not fit easily over Peruvian history. Peru’s three large empires—the Chavín, the Huari, and the Inca—spread across Peru in three stages that historians call “horizons.” Like the Aztec empire in Mesoamerica, these cultures spread more through commerce and cultural exchange than through military force. Even the Inca, who were capable of raising vast armies, preferred to subdue neighbors through gifts and offers of public works projects. The Inca used military force only when peaceful solutions had been exhausted.
Following the European arrival in the New World, Peru’s history follows the same basic stages as other areas of North and South America. There was first a colonial period, which lasted longer and ended later than that of the United States; a war of independence; and then a period of rapid nation building and industrialization in the 19th and 20th centuries.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition