Born in Trujillo, Spain, the product of an illegitimate liaison between Captain Gonzalo Pizarro and Francesca Gonzales, a peasant girl, there was nothing to indicate that great things could be expected from Francisco Pizarro. In fact, the first years of his life seemed to have been spent tending the pigs at the home of his grandparents. However, if his father had given him anything, it was apparently his love for adventure and the soldier's life. His appetite for both was whetted first at home, where he participated in conflicts between prominent landed families for control of the Spanish countryside, and later in Italy, where he soldiered under the command of Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba (1453–1515).
In 1502, at age twenty-seven, Pizarro left Europe, bound for Hispaniola, known today as Haiti and the Dominican Republic, to assist the governor in running the new colonies created by the discoveries of Christopher Columbus (1451–1506). But he soon tired of the daily grind of the administrator's world in favor of the adventurer's life, and in 1510 joined Alonso de Ojeda's (ca. 1468–1515) expedition to Colombia. Three years later he accompanied Vasco Núñez de Balboa (1475–1519) as Balboa laid claim to the Pacific Ocean. That expedition won Pizarro the post of mayor of Panama from 1519 until 1523. But his ambition remained unsatisfied, and in 1523 Pizarro began the work that would help bring him fame, fortune, and would eventually claim his life.
It started with a partnership, formed with a fellow soldier, Diego de Almagro (ca. 1474–1538), and a priest, Hernando de Luque (d. 1532). Between 1523 and 1528 they conducted two expeditions along the Colombian coast. The journeys were both difficult and dangerous, and on the second trip Pizarro and most of his crew were forced to stop and rest, while a smaller team led by Bartolomé Ruiz (d. 1534) continued on, passing the equator. It was there that Ruiz intercepted a trading craft headed north from what its known today as Peru, loaded with fabrics and precious metals. Ruiz returned to Pizarro's camp, reported the news, and then led the entire expedition southward, stopping while Diego del Almagro returned to Panama for more men and supplies.
Almagro's reception by Spanish authorities in Panama proved to be a hostile one. The new governor, afraid of sacrificing more men and money, refused Pizarro's request, and ordered Almagro to tell Pizarro and his men to come home. Not interested in abandoning the expedition in light of the treasures already found, and convinced there were more to be had, Pizarro went to Spain in 1528 to plead his case directly to King Charles I (1500–1558). By 1530, he had won not only royal approval, but also the rank of governor and captaingeneral with control of territory stretching more that 960 kilometers (about 600 miles) south of Panama to be called New Castile. He was also given enough money to outfit three ships and provision 180 men.
In January 1530, Pizarro left Spain with everything he needed to conquer Peru. In April of that year, he and his two partners, de Almagro and Hernando de Luque, made contact with Atahualpa (ca. 1502–1533), emperor of the Incas, the dominant indigenous force in Peru. Atahualpa was engaged in a civil war to maintain control of the Inca empire. A meeting was arranged in November in the town of Cajamarca. Pizarro's objective was to have Atahualpa embrace Christianity and the rule of King Charles. Atahualpa arrived in Cajamarca with an escort of several thousand soldiers, and after listening to Pizarro's representatives, rejected both demands. The meeting then turned into an ambush, as Pizarro's men opened fire with muskets, crossbows, and cannons. Most of Atahualpa's men were killed. Atahualpa himself was captured by the Spanish and held until 1533, when Pizarro had him executed. Upon hearing news of Atahualpa's death, most armed resistance to Spain collapsed, and Pizarro occupied Cuzco, the Inca capital without incident in November 1533.
Pizarro sought to take control of highland Peru by distributing encomiendas among his trusted followers, while also using puppet Inca kings enthroned in Cuzco. But his ascendancy was marked by deep and growing conflict. Manco Inca (d. 1545) rejected his role as a puppet king in 1535 and led a great rebellion against the Spaniards before retreating to the countryside. After surviving the Inca rebellion, the Spaniards fought among themselves in recurrent civil wars, driven by a fight for the spoils of conquest and the rivalries of the Pizarro and Almagro factions.
The last eight years of Francisco Pizarro's life were spent in Lima, the new capital of Peru, where he consolidated Spain's control over the country, making sure he and his family members reaped the benefits of their efforts. This was a unique combination of a new business enterprise coupled with traditional colonial administration. But the distribution of the spoils apparently did not extend far enough beyond Pizarro's family to satisfy his original partners, Diego de Almagro and Hernando de Luque. In fact, Almagro went so far as to occupy Cuzco in a bid for power. He was persuaded to leave the city and head south to Chile, which King Charles had awarded him. But the riches of Chile were nothing in comparison to Peru's, and Almagro returned to fight for his share, only to be captured and executed by Pizarro's forces. King Charles made Pizarro a marquis, but his triumph did not last long. Almagro's supporters, including his son, plotted revenge, and on June 26, 1541, they attacked Pizarro's stronghold in Lima. Pizarro died in the attack.
Syme, Ronald. Francisco Pizarro: Finder of Peru. New York: Morrow, 1963.
Varón Gabai, Rafael. Francisco Pizarro and His Brothers: The Illusion of Power in Sixteenth-Century Peru. Translated by Javier Flores Espinoza. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.
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."
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.
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. □
Spanish Soldier and Explorer
Francisco Pizarro was a Spanish soldier and explorer who conquered the Incan empire and founded the city of Lima, Peru, in 1535. He was also a member of Balboa's expedition that discovered the Pacific Ocean in 1513. Like many of the Spanish conquistadors, Pizarro led a dangerous life dedicated primarily to the accumulation of wealth through the conquering of new lands and people.
Pizarro was born in Trujillo, Spain, around 1470. He was the illegitimate son of Gonzalo Pizarro, who was a captain of infantry. Pizarro was not interested in education while growing up and did not learn to read or write. He was, however, intrigued by adventure. This was especially true of the stories he heard regarding the exploits of his countrymen in America. Determined to live that style of life, he traveled to Hispanola (presently Haiti and the Dominican Republic) in 1502. Bored by colonial life, Pizarro joined an expedition to Columbia with Alonso de Ojeda (1465?-1515) in 1509. He began to develop a reputation as a man who could be trusted in difficult situations; therefore, he was made a captain on the expedition led by Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa (1475-1519) that was credited with the European discovery of the Pacific Ocean in 1513. Pizarro later served from 1519-1523 as the mayor of Panama, where he accumulated a small fortune. However, it was not until he was almost 50 years old that the events that he is most famous for took place.
In 1523 Pizarro embarked on an expedition to the west coast of South America in partnership with a soldier, Diego de Almagro (1475?-1538), and a priest, Hernando de Luque. Travel and conditions were extremely difficult, and many men perished in the harsh conditions. Almagro was sent back to Panama to obtain reinforcements, but the new governor of Panama ordered the expedition to be halted. Legend has it that at hearing this, Pizarro drew a line in the sand with his sword and invited anyone who was interested in wealth and glory to step over to his side. The men who crossed the line and continued the exploration were known as the "famous thirteen." They continued on to present-day Peru, obtaining firsthand accounts of the Inca Empire. Pizarro traveled back to Spain to gain permission from the emperor Charles V to continue his exploits.
The king agreed with Pizarro and placed him in charge of New Castle, a province 600 miles (966 km) south of Panama. While all of the "famous thirteen" were granted significant privileges in the new land, both Almagro and Luque were given positions subordinate to Pizarro. Pizarro and his four brothers eventually arrived in Peru with a relatively small contingent of men compared to the 30,000 men in the Incan army. Pizarro set up a meeting with the leader of the Incas, Atahuallpa. He asked the Incan leader to submit to Christianity and to Spain, but the king refused. Pizarro immediately ordered an attack, seizing Atahuallpa and demoralizing the Incan army. Atahuallpa was held for ransom, while great rooms were filled by the Incas with gold and silver. Atahuallpa, however, was never released; he was put to death in 1533 on charges of plotting against the Spanish government. With their leader dead, the Incas offered little resistance while Pizarro took over the entire empire.
Pizarro now had the difficult task of defending his hold on the Incan empire. Almagro had grown jealous of Pizarro and his power from the king of Spain. Almagro demanded an equal share of the spoils of the expedition, so an agreement was established that gave him a large portion of Chile. After finding that country poverty stricken, Almagro returned to Peru, where he was captured and executed by Pizarro's brother, Hernando (1475?-1578). Almagro's allies were rounded up and sent to Lima so they could be watched. They realized they were in immediate danger and attacked the Pizarro palace on June 26, 1541. Francisco Pizarro is said to have fought gallantly, but was killed in a sword fight at the hands of Almagro's allies.
JAMES J. HOFFMANN
Pizarro, Francisco (1476–1541)
Pizarro, Francisco (1476–1541)
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