Francisco Pizarro was an explorer, soldier and conquistador best known for conquering the Incas and executing their leader, Atahuapla. He was born around 1474 in Trujillo, Spain. As a soldier, he served on the 1513 expedition of Vasco Núñez de Balboa, during which he discovered the Pacific Ocean. The downfall of the Incan Empire paved the way for the colonization of Peru by Spain and the founding of its capital, Lima.

Francisco Pizarro: Early Life

Francisco Pizarro was born in 1474 in Trujillo, Spain. His father, Captain Gonzalo Pizarro, was a poor farmer. His mother, Francisca González, was also of low birth, and was not married to Pizarro’s father.

Tempted by tales of adventure in the New World, in 1510, Pizarro joined 300 settlers led by Alonso de Ojeda to establish a colony on the South American coast. They named the swampy colony in today’s Colombia “San Sebastian.” With food supplies running low, Ojeda left the colony to get supplies, leaving Pizarro in charge. Only 100 of the original 300 settlers survived the tropical heat and diseases in their new home, and the remaining survivors returned to Cartagena. In Cartagena, Pizarro joined forces with Vasco Núñez de Balboa to found a new colony, Darién, on the western side of the Gulf of Urabá. It became the first stable Spanish settlement on the South American continent.

In 1513, Pizarro acted as captain for Vasco Núñez de Balboa on the trip where Balboa became the first European to “discover” the Pacific Ocean.

The following year, Pedro Arias Dávila replaced Balboa as governor of Castilla de Oro. Dávila commanded Pizarro to arrest Balboa, his former associate, which Pizarro did. When Balboa was executed, Pizarro was rewarded handsomely for his loyalty to Dávila: From 1519 to 1523, Pizarro was the mayor of the newly founded town of Panamá and soon grew wealthy.

Pizarro Conquers Peru

Desirous of making his own discoveries, Pizarro formed a partnership with fellow soldier Diego de Almagro. From 1524-1525, then again from 1526-1528, he sailed with Almagro and a priest, Hernando de Luque, on voyages of discovery and conquest down the west coast of South America.

The first expedition failed, but in 1526, Pizarro arrived in Peru and heard stories of a great ruler and his riches in the mountains. He returned to get permission to claim the land for Spain.

King Charles of Spain agreed to Pizarro’s request and promised him that he would be governor of any lands he conquered. In 1531, Pizarro and his crew, including three of his half-brothers—Gonzalo, Hernando and Juan Pizarro—sailed from Panama. In November of 1532, Pizarro entered the city of Cajamarca, where Inca leader Atahuapla was celebrating his victory over his brother, Huáscar, in the Inca Civil War. Pizarro took Atahuapla hostage. Despite having paid a large ransom to spare his life, Atahuapla was killed in 1533. Pizarro then conquered Cuzco, another important Inca city, and founded the city of Lima, now the capital of Peru.

Death of Francisco Pizarro

Pizarro’s rivalry with Almagro led to conflict in 1537. Almagro had taken over Cuzco after one of Pizarro’s half-brothers, Juan Pizarro, was killed during a revolt. Pizarro did not want Almagro to have the city, but was too old to fight himself so he sent his brothers to Cuzco to fight. They defeated Almagro and killed him afterward. In retaliation, armed supporters of Almagro broke into Pizarro’s palace in Lima and assassinated him on June 26, 1541.