Belalcázar, Sebastián de (1490–1551)

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Belalcázar, Sebastián de (1490–1551)

Sebastián de Belalcázar (also Benalcázar: b. 1490?; d. 30 April 1551), Spanish conquistador. Born probably as Sebastián Moyano, like many illiterate and humble folk, Belalcázar changed his name to that of his home town: Belalcázar, province of Córdoba. His later fame and success demonstrated the possibilities for social mobility in the New World. Belalcázar came to Santo Domingo in 1507, joined Vasco Núñez de Balboa in Darién in 1513, received an encomienda in Panama in 1519, and became first alcalde of León, Nicaragua, in 1523. Participating as captain in the capture of the Inca Emperor Atahualpa at Cajamarca, Peru, in 1532, he received 2.25 of the 217 shares of the booty amassed from Atahualpa's treasure and became rich.

Investing in new expeditions and freeing himself from the authority of Francisco Pizarro, Belalcázar moved north and conquered southern Colombia. He helped found the cities of Quito in 1534, Guayaquil in 1535, and Cali and Popayán in 1536. In 1538 he pushed even farther north toward the gold and dense population of the Chibcha (Muisca) Indians, but Gonzalo Jiménez De Quesada and Nicolás Féderman and their expeditions from Santa Marta and Coro, respectively, had already arrived. They each claimed the Chibcha territory but agreed in 1539 to journey to Spain together to resolve the dispute there.

Although unsuccessful in his Chibcha claim, Belalcázar received many honors in Spain. He was made governor of Popayán for life, had his three mestizo children legitimized, and married his son to a Spanish noblewoman. Back in Cali in 1542, he found himself reluctantly drawn into the Peruvian civil wars; he survived even when on the losing side, as in Viceroy Blasco Núñez Vela's defeat at Iñaquito in 1546. While others lost their heads, as Núñez Vela did, or were shunted aside, as Jiménez and Féderman were, Belalcázar successfully defended his governorship in southern Colombia against all comers from 1536 until his 1550 residencia (impeachment) and death sentence. That sentence, based on his 1546 execution of Jorge Robledo for encroaching on the Popayán territory, was being carried by Belalcázar to Spain for appeal when he died in Cartagena.

See alsoConquistadores .


A comprehensive biography is Diego Garcés Giraldo, Sebastián de Belalcázar: Fundador de ciudades, 1490–1551 (1986). An older and never finished work detailing Belalcázar's day-by-day activities is Jacinto Jijón y Caamaño, Sebastián de Belalcázar, 3 vols. (1936–1949). For documents on Belalcázar, see Jorge A. Garcés G., ed., Colección de documentos ineditos relativos al adelantado capitán don Sebastián de Belalcázar, 1535–1565 (1936). In English a succinct account can be found in James Marvin Lockhart, The Men of Cajamarca (1972), pp. 122-129. A lively read is John Hemming, The Search for El Dorado (1978).

Additional Bibliography

Avellaneda Navas, José Ignacio. La expedición de Sebastián de Belalcázar al Mar del Norte y su llegada al Neuvo Reino de Granada. Santa Fé de Bogotá, D.C.: Banco de la Republica, 1992.

                                Maurice P. Brungardt

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Belalcázar, Sebastián de (1490–1551)

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