Francisco Pizarro

Francisco Pizarro

(c. 1470-1541)

Francisco Pizarro was born in Trujillo, Estremadura, Spain. He entered the Spanish army at an early age. Shaped by leaders such as Gonzalo Fernanadez de Cordoba, the Spanish military was the most sophisticated and advanced in Europe.

Pizarro went to Santo Domingo in the Caribbean in 1502 and served on the unsuccessful colonizing adventure of Alonso de Ojeda in 1509. He made the first crossing of Panama with the great explorer Balboa (1513) and settled there.

Hearing of an Indian empire of enormous wealth, he formed a part¬ nership with Diego de Almagro, a soldier, and Hernando de Luque, a priest. Pizarro and Almagro explored along the Pacific coast of present-day Colombia (1524-1525; 1526-1528). On their second voyage, they reached a prosperous Indian town in present-day Ecuador and returned with gold, llamas, and Indians who spoke of the wealth of the Inca Empire.

Pizarro went to Spain in 1528, where the Council of the Indies made him captain-gen¬ eral and governor of any lands he might con¬ quer. The Council provided no funds, howev¬ er, and Almagro resented the lesser titles he received from Spain.

Pizarro returned to Panama, and in January 1531, set out with 180 men, 27 hors¬ es and two small cannons. Traveling both by land and water, he reached the town of San Miguel de Piura, which he used as a base. In September 1532, he entered the Andes with no more than 200 men, a tiny force with which to confront the Incas.

The Inca Empire has just ended a civil war between two brothers: Atahualpa (at-ah- WHLALP-ah) and Huascar. Atahualpa pre¬ vailed, only to learn of a new threat: Pizarro and his band of intrepid followers. Atahualpa allowed the Spaniards to come inland to the town of Cajamarca. There, the Spaniards lured the Inca leader into an ambush.

The 200 Spaniards terrified and defeated several thousand Incas with their swords, guns, hors¬ es and dogs. The Battle of Cajamarca (November 16, 1532) gave Pizarro custody of Atahualpa, and therefore the leadership of the Inca Empire. Although Atahualpa raised an enormous ransom — some records say it was a huge room filled to the ceiling with gold — Pizarro had the Inca leader executed on August 19, 1533.

Pizarro founded Lima as the capital of his new domain. Almagro became his bitter rival. Almagro, after failing to capture Chile, returned to Peru and seized the city of Cuzco. Pizarro’s brother captured and killed Almagro, whose followers were deprived of their land and estates. Bitter over their losses, his followers and friends formed a conspiracy and killed Pizarro at his palace in Lima on June 26, 1541.