The Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro is noted for the looting and destruction of the Inca Empire of Peru. He stands as perhaps the most avaricious and despicable of the New World adventurers.
Born in Trujillo, Spain, Pizarro grew up in a poor family, worked for a while as a swineherd and never learned to read or write. In 1502, he hoped to improve his lot in life by venturing to Hispaniola in the West Indies. He was engaged in a number of exploratory endeavors and accompanied Vasco Nuñez de Balboa during his discovery of the Pacific Ocean (1513). Later, Pizarro served in an administrative capacity in Panamá and was compelled to arrest Balboa on a treason charge; his former superior was found guilty and executed.
During the 1520s, Pizarro participated in two expeditions along the western coast of South America. He noticed the jewelry worn by some of the natives and began to plan the exploitation of the Inca Empire. Upon his return to Spain, Pizarro received the Crown's blessing for such a venture. He arrived in Peru in 1532 and, accompanied by a very small force, preceded into the Andes. The Inca (meaning emperor) Atahualpa allowed free passage through the mountains, reasoning that such a small force presented no threat.
Emperor and conquistador met in November 1532 in the town of Cajamarca, where a great feast was held in the public square. The Spanish forces surprised the unarmed Inca officials and soldiers, gathered them into a tight group and unleashed withering cannon fire. Most of the native leaders were killed, but Atahualpa survived only to be held for ransom. Under duress, the emperor’s supporters agreed to fill a huge room with gold and two smaller rooms with silver. Pizarro promised to release his prisoner in exchange for the treasure. Emissaries were sent throughout the empire to gather the ransom. After the task was completed, Pizarro, in one of the era’s most contemptible displays of duplicity, took possession of the treasure, then had Atahualpa killed.
The Spaniards then set about extending their control, taking the Inca capital of Cuzco later in 1533 and establishing a new administrative center at Lima in 1535.
All did not go well for Pizarro, however. He brazenly cheated his Spanish partners and was killed by disgruntled settlers in Lima in 1541. By that time, native resistance had been eradicated and Spain continued to loot the Inca riches and destroy their civilization.