Spanish Adventurer, Explorer, & Conqueror
Born: c. 1475
Died: June, 26, 1541
The conquest of Peru
by an obscure adventurer is one of the most dramatic episodes in the
history of the New World. Until he was nearly 50 years old,
Francisco Pizarro, serving as a minor Spanish official on the
Isthmus of Panama, had nothing to show for years of toil and peril
but a small holding of land. Little more than a decade later, he had
conquered the fabulously wealthy empire of the Incas and had
bestowed on Spain the richest of its American possessions. He also
founded the city of Lima, now the capital of Peru.
Pizarro was born
a in about 1475 in Trujillo, a small town near Caceres, Spain. The
illegitimate son of a Spanish captain, he spent his childhood with his
grandparents in one of Spain's poorest regions. He apparently never learned
to read or write, but was taught to be a Roman Catholic.
Pizarro traveled to the Caribbean island of Hispaniola in 1502 with
the governor of that Spanish colony. He took part in an expedition
to Colombia in 1510, and three years later, he accompanied Vasco
Nunez de Balboa in a journey that ended in the discovery of the
Pacific Ocean. From 1519 to 1523 he served as mayor of the town of
In 1523, hearing of a vast and wealthy Indian empire to the south,
Pizarro enlisted the help of two friends to form an expedition to
explore and conquer the land. A soldier named Diego de Almagro
provided the equipment, and the vicar of Panama, Hernando de Luque,
furnished the funds.
A first expedition resulted in disaster after two years of suffering
and hardship. When a second expedition in 1526 fared little better,
Pizarro sent Almagro back to Panama for reinforcements. He and part
of the group remained on an island.
Instead of sending help, the governor of Panama sent vessels to
bring back the expedition. Pizarro refused to return. Drawing a line
on the sand, he asked all who wanted a share in his enterprise to
join him. Thirteen men crossed the line. Pizarro's friends persuaded
the governor to send one vessel. Pizarro used it to explore the
coast of Peru. He then sailed to Spain to ask authority to conquer
Peru. This was granted. He left Spain on Jan. 19, 1530, and sailed
from Panama the following year. He had three vessels, which
contained fewer than 200 men and about 40 horses.
Thus, after seven years of hardship and disappointment, the
adventurers started the conquest of Peru. Pizarro spent a year
conquering the coastal settlements. Then he marched inland to the
city of Cajamarca. There he met with emissaries of Atahuallpa, the
Inca emperor. Atahuallpa accepted an invitation to visit the Spanish
commander and arrived attended by crowds of unarmed Incas. Pizarro's
followers were armed and waiting. Atahuallpa was to regret trusting
Pizarro. When he refused to convert to Christianity or to accept the
Spanish king as his sovereign, Pizarro and his men seized the Inca
emperor, and the Spaniards slaughtered 2,000 Indians.
Atahuallpa offered as ransom to fill with gold a room 17 by 22 feet
(5 by 7 meters) to a point as high as a man could reach and to fill
it twice over with silver. Pizarro accepted the ransom. Soon
afterward, however, he had Atahuallpa executed.
Pizarro then marched to Cuzco and set up Manco, Atahuallpa's
brother, as nominal sovereign. In 1535 he founded Ciudad de los
Reyes (City of the Kings), which is now Lima. The city was the seat
of his new government. Manco escaped and headed an unsuccessful
uprising. Two or three years later Pizarro and Almagro quarreled
about the territory each was to govern. This contest soon assumed
the proportions of a civil war. Pizarro's supporters captured and
executed Almagro. The embittered and discontented followers of
Almagro then conspired against Pizarro. They assassinated him in
Lima on June 26, 1541.
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