Francisco Pizarro


Age of Discovery

Quick Facts:

He is most known for conquering the Incan Empire of Peru and putting to death its king, Atahualpa, which firmly established Spanish control over South America.

Name: Francisco Pizarro González

Birth/Death: 1475 CE - 1541 CE

Nationality: Spanish

Birthplace: Spain

Portrait of Francisco Pizarro, conqueror of the Incan Empire

Portrait Francisco Pizarro

Portrait of Francisco Pizarro, conqueror of the Incan Empire

Early Life

  • Francisco Pizarro was born in Trujillo, Spain around 1475, though the exact date is not known.
  • He was born into a poor family, the illegitimate son of a former colonel. His father was Gonzalo Pizarro Rodríguez de Aguilar and his mother was Francisca González Mateos.
  • Pizarro was illiterate and spent most of his time tending pigs. Not much else is known about Pizarro’s early life, most likely due to his obscurity.
  • His relation to his father made him the distant cousin of famed Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes.
  • During his teenage years, Pizarro found his way in to the Spanish army, though he had not received much of a formal education to accompany his new post.
  • In 1502 Pizarro joined the military detachment for the Governor of Hispaniola, crossing the Atlantic and arriving in the New World for the first time.

Early Expeditions

  • While in the New World, Francisco Pizarro participated in numerous expeditions throughout the region.
  • In 1510, he joined Vasco de Balboa’s expedition to Columbia and was part of the crew when Balboa discovered the Pacific Ocean in 1513. On this mission in particular Pizarro gained most of his military experience. Afterwards he became a wealthy landowner in Panama, rising to the position of Mayor of Panama City. Pizarro was not satisfied with his post, however.
  • He heard stories of vast riches that still lay untouched to the south of Panama, in modern day South America. Pizarro entered into a partnership with his friend Diego de Almagro and together they sailed down the Pacific coast in search of the untold wealth. They landed at a city known as Tumbes were they traded with the locals using gold and silver. The locals were unimpressed with the Spanish gold, indicating to Pizarro and Almagro that wealth had to be further inland.
  • Pizarro returned to Spain to petition the Spanish King for money and supplies to embark on an expedition further into modern day Peru. The King granted Pizarro’s request, adding the new title of Governor of Peru should Pizarro return successful.


  • In 1531 Francisco Pizarro and Almagro departed Panama with three ships, 180 men, and roughly 70 cavalry. Also joining the expedition were several of Pizarro’s brothers and rising fellow explorer Hernando de Soto. The fleet sailed to Tumbes to start where Pizarro had left off. Upon the fleet’s arrival, however, they found the city in ruins.
  • De Soto scouted ahead and reported that the city had apparently been destroyed due to a civil war within the mysterious Inca Empire. Pizarro had finally found what he had been hunting for and set up his own camp in 1532, later named San Miguel. Pizarro then marched inland and encountered traders from one of the Inca kings, Atahualpa. Pizarro learned that Atahualpa was at war with his brother whom he had imprisoned, the legitimate ruler by birth named “Young Cuzco.”
  • Pizarro brutally mistreated the traders and pushed in to Atahualpa’s capital of Cajamarca. There he attempted to convert Atahualpa, who immediately refused and was imprisoned himself. The king managed to arrange a ransom for his freedom by promising Pizarro rooms filled with gold and silver. Over the next year Atahualpa’s aids managed to gather enough gold and silver to pay the ransom, equivalent to $15,000,000 in current American currency. Pizarro, still not satisfied, ordered the king to kill his brother. After doing so, Pizarro then sentenced Atahualpa to death. Both Inca Kings had finally met their untimely end.
  • Pizarro then pressed on to Cusco, the capital of the empire itself. There Pizarro sacked the city and robbed its wealth, leading to a disagreement over who was in charge. Almagro and Pizarro’s brother fell out of favor with one another and fought for control of the city in 1538, where Almagro ultimately was killed.
  • Pizarro moved onto his governorship of Peru and founded the city of Lima but the fall out in Cuzco finally caught up with him. In 1541 Pizarro was assassinated by Almagro loyalists, ending his legacy and his complete conquest of Peru.


  • Because of the few soldiers Francisco Pizarro had in comparison to the vast empire of the Incas, Pizarro’s military victory was one of the most improbable victories in recorded history.
  • The Inca culture began its decline due to Pizarro’s rule, their religion was converted to Christianity, and their native languages were mostly replaced by Spanish.
  • Richman, Irving Berdine The Spanish Conquerors New Haven , CT: Yale University Press, 1921 (E141.H59 rare)
  • Novaresio, Paolo The Explorers New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1996.
  • Ash, Maureen. The World’s Great Explorers: Vasco Nunez De Balboa. Childrens Press, Inc. 1990. Print.
  • Baker, Daniel B. ed. Explorers and Discovers of the World. Gale Research, Inc. 1993. Print.
  • Bourne, Russell. Christopher Columbus and Other Early Adventures. Western Publishing Company, Inc. 1991. Print.
  • Elliot, J. H. Explorers of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830. Yale University Press. 2006. Print.
  • Hemming, John. Oxford Atlas of Explorers. Reed International Book Limited. 1993. Print.
  • Markham, Clements R. Reports on the Discovery of Peru. The Hakluyt Society. 1872. Print.
  • Means, Phillip Ainsworth. Fall of the Inca Empire and the Spanish Rule in Peru 1530-1780. Charles Scribner’s Son. 1932. Print.
  • Novaresio, Paolo. The Explorers: From the Ancient World to the Present. Stewart, Tabori, & Chang. 1996. Print.
  • “The Conquest of the Incas.” PBS. Wood, Michael, 2001. 6/05/13.

1.  Who was Francisco Pizarro’s father?

a.)  a sailor for the Spanish navy

b.)  a poor farmer

c.)  a former Spanish Army Colonel

d.) Hernan Cortes

2.  TRUE or FALSE: Not much is known about Pizarro’s early life due to his obscurity as a pig farmer.

3.  Which explorer was Pizarro on an expedition with when the Pacific Ocean was discovered in 1513?

a.)  Hernando de Soto

b.)  Vasco de Balboa

c.)  Hernan Cortes

d.)  none, Pizarro discovered it himself

4.  TRUE or FALSE: Pizarro was satisfied with his post as mayor of Panama City but was convinced by his friend Diego de Almagro to search for the Incan Empire.

5.  TRUE or FALSE: The Inca Empire was in civil war between two brothers, Atahualpa and “Young Cuzco,” when Pizarro arrived.

6.  What did Atahualpa promise Pizarro in exchange for his freedom?

a.)  the death of his brother

b.)  becoming a Christian convert

c.)  the throne of the whole Incan Empire

d.)  rooms filled with silver and gold

7.  Who had a falling out over control of Cuzco?

a.)  Francisco Pizarro and Hernan Cortes

b.)  Hernando de Soto and Diego de Almagro

c.)  Francisco Pizarro and the King of Spain

d.)  Pizarro’s brother and Diego de Almagro