Francisco Pizarro (1476–1541) Button for link to Chinese version of this page

Born into a poor family, Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro was born in Trujillo, Spain in 1476. As a boy, he had heard tales of the New World, stories of wealthy empires, gold, silver, and exotic lands. These stories enticed Spanish royalty and explorers to take the opportunity presented to explore the Americas.

In 1513, Pizarro signed on to be a part of the expedition led by Vasco Núñez de Balboa, a governor of a Spanish town in Panama. He formed his exploration crew in search of the “great water” that lay beyond the mountains of the new land. Together, they discovered the Pacific Ocean, but Balboa got the credit of being the first European explorer to find it.

In 1532, Pizarro and his brother with around 180 Spanish soldiers received the orders from Charles V to conquer the southern American territory. The military force arrived in the Inca Empire and captured the ruler of the Inca, Atahualpa. They conquered the land that is now known as Peru, and founded the new capital city of Lima.

Pizarro is a fairly controversial figure in history. He was sometimes used as an example of bravery and piety, and his success in defeating the Inca Empire with a force of fewer than 200 soldiers certainly stands as one of the most remarkable military adventures in history. However, among the conquered South Americans, and more frequently in the views of historians and textbook writers in the 20th century, Pizarro’s name and career came to be associated with brutality, dishonesty, disloyalty, and extreme cruelty. It is also important to remember that the Inca Empire was not entirely conquered by Pizarro: it lingered on for decades, and memories of the resistance were significant in the Tupac Amaru Rebellion of 1780-83. Also, during the years just before Pizarro’s conquest, the Incans were greatly weakened by epidemics of diseases brought to South America by Europeans and a major civil war within the Incan Empire.

The accounts of the conquest of Peru include the work of Miguel Astete and Francisco de Jerez, who served as Pizarro’s secretary, and published Verdadera relación de la conquista del Perú y provincia del Cuzco llamada la Nueva Castilla published in Seville in 1533. An 1872 English translation of the account by Francisco de Jerez (or Xeres) is available online. Spanish historical accounts in the years shortly following the conquest portrayed the Incas as being just as ruthless and bloodthirsty as Pizarro, but writers who were hostile to Pizarro or the Spanish Empire emphasized the duplicity and murderous nature of Pizarro and his associates. There is also an account from an Incan point-of-view, written by Diego de Castro Titu Cusi Yupanqui (born just before the conquest and died in 1571).

After the conquest of the Incas, the Spanish began to fight amongst themselves. Francisco Pizarro had some people executed (including his former friend, Don Diego de Almagro), and then in 1541 Almagro’s son came to a party and murdered Pizarro.

Good sources on Pizarro include:


 
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