By Tim Lambert

His Early Life

Francisco Pizarro is famous as the man who destroyed the Inca Empire. Pizarro was born about 1475. He was the son of an army captain called Gonzalo Pizarro and a woman of humble birth named Francisca Gonzalez. Little is known about his early life but in 1502 Pizarro went to seek his fortune in Hispaniola (which is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic).

In 1513 Pizarro accompanied the explorer Balboa, the first European to see the Pacific). Pizarro must have been a talented individual for in 1519 he was made mayor and magistrate of the newly founded city of Panama.

Pizarro took part in two expeditions along the east coast of South America in 1524-25 and 1526-28 Pizarro. The second expedition reached what is now Peru and Pizarro found evidence of a rich civilization in the area. However when he returned to Panama the governor was opposed to any more expeditions. So Pizarro went to Spain to seek the kings permission to conquer Peru. The king of Spain readily agreed and he made Pizarro governor of Peru.

The Conquest of the Incas

Pizarro is, of course, famous as the Spanish conquistador (conqueror) who destroyed the Inca Empire. In 1532 he set out seeking to conquer Peru.

Even before the Conquistadors arrived smallpox began to spread among the Incas. They had no resistance to this European disease and many of them died. So the Inca Empire was weakened even before Pizarro came.

Worse the Inca Empire was afflicted by a civil war. When the emperor Huayna died in 1527 he did not name a successor. There were two claimants to the throne. Huayna had many wives. His 'chief' wife or coya had a son called Huascar. However he had an older brother called Atahualpa. His mother was one of Huayna's 'ordinary' wives.

The two half-brothers Huascar and Atahualpa fought a civil war. Atahualpa eventually won and he wreaked a terrible revenge on his enemies. However when the Spaniards came Atahualpa's surviving enemies were willing to join them against the emperor.

In 1532 a small force of Spaniards, 100 infantry and 67 cavalrymen arrived on the coast. They were led by Francisco Pizarro. At first the Spaniards inspected the country then they entered a town called Cajamarca. Atahualpa was staying in a camp nearby.

Atahualpa was not afraid of the small group of strangers. After all he had thousands of soldiers at his command. However Pizarro planned to kidnap him.

Atahualpa and several thousand bodyguards entered a square in the town. There were only a few entrances to the square, which were easily blocked. Furthermore the Spaniards hid guns in the buildings around the square.

A Spanish friar (friars were like monks) approached the Sapa Inca and offered him a bible. Atahualpa had never seen a book before and he threw it onto the ground. Angrily the friar called on the Spaniards to avenge what he thought was an insult to God.

The Spanish fired cannons and muskets and the cavalry charged. (Incas had never seen horses before and the sight of a man charging on a horse must have been terrifying). The Spaniards were also protected by steel armor and they carried steel swords. (Steel was a metal unknown to the Incas). The bodyguards had little chance against the Spaniards and thousands were slaughtered in the square. Atahualpa himself was taken, prisoner.

The Inca Empire was rather like a pyramid with the Sapa Inca at the top. Orders flowed from him. Capturing him was rather like cutting the head from a body. Without him, the Incas did not know what to do.

Eventually Atahualpa offered to fill a large room with gold and a small room with silver twice over if the Spaniards would let him go. In the meantime, the Spanish reinforcements arrived. However when the gold and silver were collected Pizarro had no intention of letting the Sapa Inca go. He claimed that Atahualpa was plotting against him and the Sapa Inca was tried for treason and sentenced to death.

At first he was sentenced to be burned. Atahualpa was horrified because he believed his spirit would be destroyed if his body was burned and he could not enter the afterlife. Instead, he agreed to be baptized a Christian and he was strangled with a rope.

Pizarro spent the rest of his life ruling Peru. He founded Lima founded in 1535). However both sieges failed. However Francisco Pizarro was assassinated in Lima on 26 June 1541.

A brief biography of Henry VIII

A brief Biography of Hernando Cortes

A brief Biography of Catherine of Aragon

A history of Peru

The Incas


Last revised 2020