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Francisco Pizarro

Francisco Pizarro

The Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro (ca. 1474-1541) was the obscure adventurer and ruffian who discovered and overthrew the Inca empire of Peru. Assassin of the Inca Atahualpa, Pizarro was assassinated in turn by his own countrymen.

Francisco Pizarro was born at Trujillo in Estremadura. The illegitimate son of a poor hidalgo (small landholder of the petty nobility), he never learned to read and may have earned his keep herding his father's swine. This allegation is often cited by Pizarro's detractors in terms of a comparison with Herná Cortés the better-born conqueror of Mexico. But the destruction wreaked by Cortés upon Aztec civilization was no less far-reaching than Pizarro's impact upon the society of Peru.

Pizarro left Spain for the New World in the wake of the early discoveries. He joined Alonso de Ojeda on the latter's disastrous expedition to Colombia and subsequently accompanied Vasco Núñez de Balboa on his march to the South Sea (Pacific Ocean). It was Pizarro who later arrested the condemned Balboa on orders from the great explorer's rival, Pedrarias de á vila. He then settled down as an encomendero (lord of Indian serfs) in Panama.

Yet Pizarro remained a conquistador without a conquest. Emboldened by tales of fabulous kingdoms to the south, he went into partnership with another adventurer, Diego de Almagro, and a priest, Luque. This combination financed and led several voyages of reconnaissance. Pizarro then journeyed to Spain, where the Emperor commissioned him to undertake the southern conquest and to establish a province of New Castile. So empowered, he returned to the New World, accompanied by his half brothers Gonzalo, Hernando, and Juan Pizarro, his cousin Pedro Pizarro, and Martin de Alcántara. At the end of 1530 Pizarro set sail with 180 men for Peru.

Conquest of Peru

Pizarro arrived at a time most favorable for his designs. Atahualpa, brother of the Inca Huáscar, had usurped the throne and moved the seat of government from the traditional Andean stronghold of Cuzco to Cajamarca in the north. It was on the northern coast, at Tumbes, that Pizarro's forces landed; and after consolidating his position, the conqueror marched on the new capital in 1532. Tricked into capture under cover of false negotiations, Atahualpa sought to buy his freedom with his gold. The loot delivered, the monarch was slain. Meanwhile, reinforced by troops under Almagro, the Spanish had captured and sacked Cuzco itself. In 1535 Pizarro founded his own capital of Lima near the coast, thus originating the troublesome later-day distinction between the Indian society of the mountains and the Hispanicized civilization of the seaboard.

The Spanish conquest has shed some of its glamour in the light of modern research. Peruvians under Manco Capac, successor to the deposed Huáscar, held out against the Spanish for 40 years more; Indian revolts recurred for another 200. The question persists: why was this great civilization mortally wounded, if not instantly overthrown, by the Estremaduran adventurer? The immediate answer lies in the outbreak of civil war within the Peruvian ruling class, a division which gave Pizarro his opportunity. Atahualpa's rivals rejoiced in his downfall, just as enemies of the Aztecs had at first welcomed and abetted the invasion of Cortés. Yet the explanation for the Spanish success must be sought deeper in the structure of society, where it can be grasped in the relation between the social divisions within these native American empires and the level of technology.

Like the leaders of the splendid civilizations of the ancient Near East, the priestly and military ruling classes of the Incas and Aztecs employed the surplus appropriated from producers to subsidize irrigation and flood-control projects, to build large cities and road networks, and to underwrite the production of craftsmen-artists. But unlike the agrarian producers of those earlier civilizations, the peasants lacked suitable draft animals, wheeled vehicles, and plows. Under these conditions the productivity of labor was extremely low, and it required a stern labor discipline, upheld by a powerful religiopolitical orthodoxy, to extract a level of surplus product sufficient to the requirements of the ruling classes. Divided among themselves, such rulers were further weakened by the hostility of subject peoples and the passivity of agrarian producers. Faced with a determined neofeudal enemy skilled in the art of conquest from the center outward, they were less able to mobilize resistance, and to sustain it, than the primitive peoples of the north, the far south, and the east. In the final analysis, writes a historian of European expansion, J. H. Parry, these civilizations' "combination of wealth and technical weakness was their undoing."

His Death

Cortés had been able to overcome immediate challenges from Spanish competitors; Pizarro was not so fortunate. Tensions between original invaders and latecomers divided the conquistadors into two parties, respectively led by Pizarro and his sometime associate Almagro. The situation was only briefly eased by an Almagro expedition to Chile. Upon his return he seized Cuzco and confronted the Pizarros in the Las Salinas War. Captured by Hernando Pizarro in 1538, Almagro was executed; but his shade haunted Francisco until his own murder in Lima (June 26, 1541) by members of the defeated faction. Civil war persisted until 1548, when the Spanish government finally asserted its authority over the new colony. Of the band of marauding brothers, only Hernando survived the Pizarro "victory" over the Incan empire.

Further Reading

William H. Prescott, History of the Conquest of Peru (1847; and many subsequent editions), is the classic treatment of Pizarro and his victims. The story was retold in John Hemming's excellent The Conquest of the Incas (1970). John Alden Mason, The Ancient Civilization of Peru (1957; rev. ed. 1964), is a useful introduction to the pre-Columbian societies of the region. John Horace Parry, The Spanish Seaborne Empire (1966), is the best single-volume treatment of its subject. □

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Pizarro, Francisco

Francisco Pizarro (pĬzä´rō, Span. fränthēs´kō pēthär´rō), c.1476–1541, Spanish conquistador, conqueror of Peru. Born in Trujillo, he was an illegitimate son of a Spanish gentleman and as a child was an illiterate swineherd. Pizzaro accompanied Ojeda to Colombia in 1510 and was with Balboa when he discovered the Pacific. Hearing of the fabled wealth of the Incas, he formed (1524) a partnership with Diego de Almagro and Fernando de Luque (a priest who secured funds). The first expedition reached the San Juan River, part of the present boundary between Ecuador and Colombia. On the second (1526–28), Pizarro explored the swampy coast farther south while his pilot, Bartolomé Ruiz, crossed the equator and then returned to bring definite news of the southern realms. In 1528 his partners sent him to Spain to secure aid from Emperor Charles V; he achieved this and gained for himself most of the future profits. Pizarro managed to soothe the disgruntled Almagro. Sailing south, Pizarro landed at Tumbes (1532) and ascended the Andes to Cajamarca, where the Inca, Atahualpa, awaited him. Professing friendship, he enticed Atahualpa into the power of the Spanish, seized him, exacted a stupendous ransom, and then treacherously had him executed. The conquest of Peru was virtually completed by the capture of Cuzco, which was later defended against Inca forces led by Manco Capac. Pizarro set about consolidating his conquest by founding new settlements, notably the present capital of Peru, Lima, and allotting land and Native Americans in encomienda to his followers. An attempt by Pedro de Alvarado to claim Quito was forestalled by Sebastián de Benalcázar and Almagro. Pizarro now made a pact with Almagro, whom he had cheated several times in the division of spoils, granting him the conquest of Chile. When he failed to receive the territory promised him, Almagro attempted to redress the injustice by seizing Cuzco. Pizarro sent his half-brother, Hernando Pizarro, to Cuzco, and Almagro was defeated and put to death. In 1539, Francisco appointed his brother Gonzalo Pizarro governor of Quito. Francisco's greed and ambition, extreme even in a conquistador, had, however, offset his resourcefulness, courage, and cunning. By alienating the Almagro faction he paved the way for conspiracy. A band of assassins surprised him at dinner, and although he fought desperately, he was overpowered and slain. The account by W. H. Prescott, History of the Conquest of Peru (1847), is classic. An early account is Pedro Pizarro, Relation of the Discovery and Conquest of the Kingdoms of Peru (tr. 1921).

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Pizarro, Francisco (1476–1541)

Pizarro, Francisco (14761541)

Spanish conquistador who subdued the Incan Empire of the South American Andes and founded Peru as a colony of Spain. Born in Trujillo, Estremadura, a poverty-stricken region of western Spain, he was the son of a poor farmer. Like many young men with few prospects in the kingdom, he saw the discoveries of Christopher Columbus and those who followed to the New World as an opportunity for riches, glory, and status. In 1510, he joined an expedition to Colombia led by Alonso de Ojeda. In 1513, he accompanied Vasco Nunez de Balboa on his expedition across the Isthmus of Panama, when Balboa became the first European to sight the Pacific Ocean. After arresting Balboa on the orders of Pedrarias de Avila, Pizarro settled in Panama on an estate granted to him.

Convinced that an opportunity for great wealth lay in the undiscovered regions to the south, Pizarro joined with Diego de Almagro and a priest, Fernando de Luque, and set off for the western coasts of South America. The two undertook journeys of exploration in 1524 and 1526. He returned to Spain in 1528 and won the commission of Emperor Charles V to found a new colony in South America. Accompanied by several members of his family, he set out again in 1530 with a force of 180 men, including 4 members of his own family, and landed at Tumbes, on the Pacific coast of South America. Pizarro marched from the coast to the Incan capital of Cajamarca. Weakened by civil war and a struggle between competing factions for the monarchy, the Incans were unable to mount an effective resistance against the invaders. After agreeing to negotiate with the Incan emperor, Atahuallpa, Pizarro took the ruler captive. Atahuallpa bargained for his freedom by promising the Spaniards an entire room full of gold, but on delivery of the ransom, Pizarro had Atahuallpa executed. A Spanish force under Diego Almagro captured the ancient capital of Cuzco, effectively overthrowing the Incan Empire, and in 1535 Pizarro founded the colonial capital of Lima.

Rivalry broke out among the founders of the colony established by Pizarro. Almagro, feeling cheated by the division of spoils ordered by Pizarro, seized Cuzco and war broke out. In 1538, Almagro was captured after losing the Battle of Salinas, and Pizarro ordered his execution. Pizarro's greed and unjust actions alienated many of the colonists, and the followers of Diego Almagro took their vengeance by assassinating Pizarro in 1541.

See Also: Cortes, Hernán; exploration

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Pizarro, Francisco

Pizarro, Francisco (1471–1541) Spanish conquistador of the Inca empire of Peru. He served under Hernán Cortés and led expeditions to South America (1522–28). Having gained royal support, he led 180 men to Peru in 1530. They captured and later murdered the Inca leader Atahualpa, and took Cuzco, the capital (1534). Pizarro acted as governor of the conquered territory, founding Lima in 1535.

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