Francisco Pizarro

Francisco Pizarro

Francisco Pizarro was a Spanish conquistador and explorer who is noted for discovering the Inca Empire and its treasures.


Pizarro was born in Trujillo, Spain in 1474. Although his father was a minor noble, Francisco was poorly educated as he was an illegitimate child born out of wedlock. As a child Pizarro worked as a swine handler, who trained pigs to entertain crowds by performing tricks.

Friendship with Vasco Nunez de Balboa

As a young man Pizarro moved to Hispaniola, a Spanish colony located in the Caribbean. In Hispaniola Pizarro befriended the famous explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa. Balboa offered Pizarro the position of chief lieutenant on his next expedition and Pizarro subsequently spent the next few years sailing the coast of South America with Balboa. After making a small fortune the two friends eventually settled in Panama City.

The search for the Inca Empire

Pizarro wasn’t content with living a lavish lifestyle in Panama City. In 1524 he set out to discover the Inca Empire, as by this time rumours of the Inca Empire and its treasures had reached Spain’s various colonies.

First two expeditions

It took Pizarro a total of three expeditions to find the Inca Empire. The first expedition was unsuccessful and offered no clues to the whereabouts of the elusive empire. The second expedition however was more fruitful and while Pizarro failed to discover the Inca Empire itself he did reach Tumbez, an outpost of the Inca Empire. It was in Tumbez where Pizarro met and trained three Inca youths who he would later use as translators.

Francisco Pizarro discovers the Inca Empire at war

In 1530, Pizarro set sail for Tumbez from Panama city with a sizeable crew of 180 men. Upon arrival Pizarro discovered that a civil war had broke out, as a result of a small pox epidemic taking the lives of both the emperor Huayna Capac and his heir. Two of the deceased emperor’s sons Huáscar and Atahualpa battled each other for the empty throne.

In 1532 the Inca civil war came to an end as Atahualpa’s army defeated that of his half brother’s Huáscar army. However, the Inca Empire found itself in a vulnerable position as its population dwindled as a result of the civil war and the small pox epidemic.

Francisco Pizarro captures the new emperor Atahualpa

With the Inca Empire in such a vulnerable state, Pizarro seized the opportunity to kidnap Atahualpa, the new emperor. Pizarro encountered little difficulty in capturing Atahualpa as initially the Inca’s were unaware of the threat the Spanish posed. Upon his capture Atahualpa offered Pizarro an extravagant ransom of gold and silver in exchange for his release. Pizarro accepted the ransom but had Atahualpa executed in 1533, in order to further demoralize the Incans.

Francisco Pizarro conquers Cuzco

After executing Atahualpa, Pizarro marched to the city of Cuzco, which he proceeded to pillage and loot for its treasure. As a result of discovering Cuzco’s treasure Pizarro became one of the richest Spanish explorers in the world. In Cuzco, Pizarro also recruited what remained of Huáscar’s army to defeat those loyal to Atahualpa, in order to ensure control of the city.

Francisco Pizarro appoints a figure head as the new ruler of the Inca Empire

Pizarro never intended to stay in the Inca Empire and so appointed Manco Capac, the brother of Huáscar, to rule as the nominal ruler of the Inca Empire. By appointing a native Incan with royal lineage whom he could control, Pizarro knew he could successfully control the Inca Empire without threats of an uprising or another civil war.

Francisco Pizarro founds Lima

Once Pizarro successfully stripped Cuzco of its riches and treasures, he set out to found a new capital city, which he named Lima.

The assassination of Francisco Pizarro

Ironically Pizarro was assassinated in Lima, the Peruvian city which he founded. Pizarro’s assassination in 1541 was attributed to the followers and supporters of Pedro de Almagro. Almagro was initially one of Pizarro’s allies, who turned on Pizarro in an effort to pillage Cuzco’s treasures for himself.

Almagro’s supporters eventually battled Pizarro’s supporters for control of Cuzco. Almagro’s followers were quickly defeated and Pizarro’s brother ordered Almagro’s execution as punishment for Almagro’s deceit. It is because of Almagro’s execution that his followers and family members decided to attain revenge by assassinating Pizarro.