Francisco Pizarro: Explorer and Conquistador

Francisco Pizarro: Explorer and Conquistador

Francisco Pizarro was a Spanish conquistador who played a pivotal role in the conquest of the Inca Empire in the 16th century. His life was a mix of adventure, ambition, and brutality, leaving a lasting impact on the history of South America.

Early Life and Origins

Pizarro was born in Trujillo, Spain, in 1475. He came from a poor family and received little formal education. In his youth, he worked as a swineherd and later joined the Spanish army, participating in expeditions to the New World. His early experiences in the Americas exposed him to the wealth and power of the Inca Empire, sparking his ambition to conquer it.

The Discovery of the Pacific Ocean

In 1524, Pizarro joined an expedition led by Pascual de Andagoya, which explored the coast of South America. This journey led them to the Gulf of Guayaquil, where they encountered the Inca Empire for the first time. Pizarro was deeply impressed by the Inca’s advanced civilization and their vast riches. This encounter fueled his desire to conquer the Inca Empire and claim its wealth for Spain.

The Conquest of the Inca Empire

After returning to Spain, Pizarro obtained a royal grant to conquer the Inca Empire. He assembled a small army and set sail for Peru in 1531. He landed at Tumbes, a coastal Inca city, and began his conquest. The Inca Empire was weakened by internal conflicts and a recent civil war, making it vulnerable to Pizarro’s invasion.

Pizarro’s forces, though outnumbered, were equipped with superior weapons and tactics. They defeated the Inca army at the Battle of Cajamarca in 1532, capturing the Inca emperor Atahualpa. Atahualpa offered a vast ransom of gold and silver, but Pizarro broke his promise and executed the Inca emperor in 1533.

The Foundation of Lima

With the Inca Empire in ruins, Pizarro established the city of Lima as the capital of the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru. He divided the Inca territory among his followers, creating a system of encomiendas, which granted them control over the indigenous population and their labor.

Pizarro’s Downfall

Pizarro’s rule was marked by greed, brutality, and internal conflicts. His actions angered many of his followers, who eventually revolted against him. In 1541, Pizarro was assassinated by a group of disgruntled conquistadors led by his former lieutenant, Diego de Almagro.

Legacy and Impact

Francisco Pizarro’s conquest of the Inca Empire had a profound impact on the history of South America. It led to the destruction of the Inca civilization, the introduction of European diseases, and the exploitation of indigenous populations. Pizarro’s legacy remains controversial, with some viewing him as a ruthless conqueror and others as a bold explorer who brought the benefits of European civilization to the Americas.

Despite his brutal methods, Pizarro’s conquest paved the way for Spanish colonization of South America and the establishment of a vast colonial empire. His story is a reminder of the complex and often tragic history of European exploration and conquest.


Francisco Pizarro was a complex figure whose life and legacy continue to be debated. He was a ruthless conqueror who played a key role in the destruction of the Inca Empire, but he was also a skilled explorer and a visionary leader who established the foundations of Spanish rule in South America. His story is a reminder of the enduring power of human ambition and the lasting consequences of conquest.