Francisco Pizarro (1471 - 1541) was a Spanish explorer and conquistador. With a small force of Spaniards, he was able to capture Atahualpa, Emperor of the mighty Inca Empire, in 1532. Eventually he led his men to victory over the Inca, collecting mind-boggling quantities of gold and silver along the way. Once the Inca Empire was defeated, the conquistadors took to warring among themselves over the spoils, Pizarro included, and he was killed in Lima in 1541 by forces loyal to the son of a former rival.
Francisco was the illegitimate son of Gonzalo Pizarro Rodríguez de Aguilar, an Extremaduran nobleman who had fought with distinction in wars in Italy. There is some confusion as to Francisco's date of birth: it is listed as early as 1471 or as late as 1478. As a young man, he lived with his mother (a maid in the Pizarro household) and tended animals in the fields. As a bastard, Pizarro could expect little in the way of inheritance and decided to become a soldier. It is likely that he followed in his father's footsteps to the battlefields of Italy for a time before hearing of the riches of the Americas. He first went to the New World in 1502 as part of a colonization expedition led by Nicolás de Ovando.
San Sebastián de Uraba and the Darién
In 1508, Pizarro joined the Alonso de Hojeda expedition to the mainland. They fought the natives and created a settlement called San Sebastián de Urabá. Beset by angry natives and low on supplies, Hojeda set out for Santo Domingo in early 1510 for reinforcements and supplies. When Hojeda did not return after fifty days, Pizarro set out with the surviving settlers to return to Santo Domingo. Along the way, they joined an expedition to settle the Darién region: Pizarro served as second-in-command to Vasco Nuñez de Balboa.
First South American Expeditions
In Panama, Pizarro established a partnership with fellow conquistador Diego de Almagro. News of Hernán Cortés' audacious (and lucrative) conquest of the Aztec Empire fueled the burning desire for gold among all of the Spanish in the New World, including Pizarro and Almagro. They made two expeditions in 1524-1526 along the western coast of South America: harsh conditions and native attacks drove them back both times. On the second trip they visited the mainland and the Inca city of Tumbes, where they saw llamas and local chieftains with silver and gold. These men told of a great ruler in the mountains, and Pizarro became more convinced than ever that there was another rich Empire like the Aztecs to be looted.
Pizarro went personally to Spain to make his case to the King that he should be allowed a third chance. King Charles, impressed with this eloquent veteran, agreed and awarded Pizarro the governorship of lands he acquired. Pizarro brought his four brothers back with him to Panama: Gonzalo, Hernando and Juan Pizarro and Francisco Martín de Alcántara. In 1530, Pizarro and Almagro returned to the western shores of South America. On his third expedition, Pizarro had about 160 men and 37 horses. They landed on what is now the coast of Ecuador near Guayaquil. By 1532 they made it back to Tumbes: it was in ruins, having been destroyed in the Inca Civil War.
The Inca Civil War
While Pizarro was in Spain, Huayna Capac, Emperor of the Inca, had died, possibly of smallpox. Two of Huayna Capac's sons began fighting over the Empire: Huáscar, the elder of the two, controlled the capital of Cuzco. Atahualpa, the younger brother, controlled the northern city of Quito, but more importantly had the support of three major Inca Generals: Quisquis, Rumiñahui and Chalcuchima. A bloody civil war raged across the Empire as Huáscar and Atahualpa's supporters fought. Sometime in mid-1532, General Quisquis routed Huáscar's forces outside of Cuzco and took Huáscar prisoner. The war was over, but the Inca Empire was in ruins just as a far greater threat approached: Pizarro and his soldiers.
Capture of Atahualpa
In November of 1532, Pizarro and his men headed inland, where another extremely lucky break was awaiting them. The nearest Inca city of any size to the conquistadors was Cajamarca, and Emperor Atahualpa happened to be there. Atahualpa was savoring his victory over Huáscar: his brother was being brought to Cajamarca in chains. The Spanish arrived to Cajamarca unopposed: Atahualpa evidently did not consider them a threat. On November 16, 1532, Atahualpa agreed to meet with the Spanish: the Spanish treacherously attacked the Inca, capturing him and murdering thousands of his soldiers and followers.
A King's Ransom
Pizarro and Atahualpa soon made a deal: Atahualpa would go free if he could pay a ransom. The Inca selected a large hut in Cajamarca and offered to fill it half full with golden objects, and then fill the room twice with silver objects. The Spanish quickly agreed. Soon the treasures of the Inca Empire began flooding into Cajamarca. The people were restless, but none of Atahualpa's generals dared attack the intruders. Hearing rumors that the Inca generals were planning an attack, the Spanish executed Atahualpa on July 26, 1533.