Francisco Pizarro (1476?-1541), Spanish conqueror and governor of Peru (1532-1541). He was born in Trujillo, Spain.
Pizarro was raised in poverty and never learned to read and write. He left Spain for the West Indies in 1502 and lived on the island of Hispaniola. In 1509 he joined Alonso de Ojeda’s expedition to Colombia. Serving under Vasco Núñez de Balboa in 1513, he was his chief lieutenant when Balboa sighted the Pacific Ocean and claimed it for Spain. Later Pizarro served in Panama under governor Pedrarias Dávila, who had Pizarro arrest Balboa for treason. Balboa was then tried and quickly executed in January 1519.
In Panama, Pizarro heard tales of a southern land rich in gold. During the 1520s Pizarro led two expeditions down the west coast of South America and saw the golden ornaments worn by Native Americans of the Inca Empire of Peru. Returning to Spain, he secured the king’s permission to conquer the land and become its governor.
Pizarro raised an army and returned to Peru in 1532. Atahualpa, the Inca, or emperor, quickly learned of the Spaniards’ arrival but let them pass freely, awaiting them at the inland town of Cajamarca. When Pizarro reached Cajamarca, he invited the Inca and his nobles to a feast in the public square. On November 16, 1532, Atahualpa and thousands of nobles and soldiers came to meet the visitors, whom they called “children of the sun” because they believed they might be gods. Pizarro’s troops, who numbered fewer than 200, then rushed forward brandishing their swords. They surrounded the startled and unarmed guests and, with the aid of horses and cannons, cut down almost all the leaders of the empire within half an hour. Atahualpa was captured alive and held for ransom. The emperor offered to fill a large room with gold, and two smaller rooms with silver, in exchange for his release. Pizarro agreed. Couriers came from all parts of the empire to fill the rooms with a treasure worth $100 million in today’s money. After amassing this fortune, Pizarro broke his word and had Atahualpa executed on August 29, 1533.
Pizarro then marched south and took the Inca capital at Cuzco. After looting Cuzco he established the encomienda, or forced labor, system over the native people. With most of their leaders dead, they offered only sporadic resistance to Pizarro’s rule. Pizarro governed Peru from Lima, which he founded in 1535.
The Spaniards then quarreled among themselves. Diego de Almagro, Pizarro’s former partner who had been granted what is now northern Chile, claimed Cuzco and seized it. The power struggle between Pizarro and Almagro led to the War of Las Salinas in 1538. Almagro was killed, but his son, known as Almagro the Lad, continued the war. Pizarro was murdered in his palace in Lima by followers of Almagro in 1541.