Francisco Pizarro


Spanish Conqueror
c. 1475- June 26,1541

Francisco Pizarro Notes

Pizarro was the illegitimate son of a professional Spanish soldier. He joined the military as a teenager and apparently he received no formal education. Most likely he was illiterate. In his late twenties he sailed to Hispaniola in the "New World" as part of Spain's military detachment. He accompanied the expedition led by Vasco de Balboa to Panama that discovered the Pacific Ocean. Between 1524 and 1528 Pizarro sailed along the Pacific coast of South America seeking out a civilization rumored to have much gold and other wealth.

What Pizarro was looking for and what he discovered was the great Incan civilization in what is now known as the country of Peru. At the time of Pizarro's discovery of the Incas, their civilization was estimated to include 12 million people located in Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. The Incan empire itself was undergoing internal strife and change as a series of civil wars began to pull at the civilization's fabric.

After his discovery of the Incas, Pizarro returned to Spain to seek support from emperor Charles V. After securing this support in the form of money, a promotion to the rank of captain general and the promise of governorship of all conquered lands 600 miles south of Panama, Pizarro set sail for Peru in January 1531.

By June 1531, Pizarro had established a command post at Tumbes (San Miguel) with approximately 200 men and 50 or so horses. Primitive firearms known as arquebuses were carried by three soldiers, others carried crossbows. Four of Pizarro's brothers accompanied him on the expedition as did an old comrade Diego de Almagro.

On November 16, 1532 Pizarro captured the Incan emperor Atahualpa by inviting him to talk at Cajamarca. Instead of talking Pizarro seized the emperor and Pizarro's troops, numbering less then 200 men, quickly routed the Incan force which consisted of about 3500 lightly armed guards. Subsequently, Pizarro demanded a $30 million dollar ransom for the emperor which he received. But instead of returning Atahualpa he executed him. By November 1533 Pizarro captured the political seat of the Incan empire when he marched uncontested into the city of Cuzco.

After the Spanish took control of the South American continent by defeating the indigenous people, they began to turn on themselves. Pizarro's once loyal comrade in arms, Diego de Almagro, felt he hadn't received his full share of the plundered riches. He plotted against Pizarro who caught Almagro and had him executed in 1538. On June 26, 1541, soldiers loyal to Almagro seeking revenge and vindication, assassinated Pizarro in his palace in Lima. It was a violent end to a man described as a bold and

unprincipled adventurer who lacked the military and administrative genius of Cortes. (Dupuy & Dupuy, The Encyclopedia of Military History).

Nevertheless, Michael Lanning ranks him number 7 (his fellow conquistador Cortes is 9th) on the all-time military leader list, explaining:

Pizarro conquered the largest amount of territory of any military leader and delivered the most riches to his country with the smallest expenditure of men and resources. (Lanning, The Military 100)

As a result of Pizarro's conquest of South America the continent became and continues to be dominated by Spanish culture and customs.

R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy, The Encyclopedia of Military History. New York: Harper & Row. 1970.

Michael Lee Lanning, The Military 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Military Leaders of All Time. Secaucus, New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group. 1996.


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Published: November 25, 1997
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