Francisco Pizarro: A Timeline

A Brief Biography of the Spanish Conquistador

Francisco Pizarro timeline
"Seizing the Inca of Peru," a painting by John Everett Millais showing Pizarro capturing the Inca Atahualpa. Public domain image

Francisco Pizarro was a complex man involved in an even more complex conquest. At times celebrated and later vilified, his name conjures images of both great daring and great destruction. The following timeline aims to provide a brief introduction to Pizarro and his passage to and through Peru...

The Francisco Pizarro Timeline

c. 1471 or 1476 -- Pizarro was born in Trujillo, Spain, the illegitimate son of an infantry colonel and a poor woman from the local area. Little is known of his early life; he was poorly educated and quite possibly illiterate.

1509 -- Pizarro sails to the New World with the Alonzo de Ojeda expedition. He then arrives in the port town of Cartagena.

1513 -- He joins the Nuñez de Balboa expedition, traveling across the Isthmus of Panama to discover the Pacific Ocean.

1519 -- Pizarro becomes magistrate of the recently-founded settlement of Panama, a position he held until 1523.

1524 -- Pizarro forms a partnership with the conquistador Diego de Almagro. He sails south of Panama to lands shrouded in rumors of strange tribes... and gold. The small expedition reaches only as far as the coast of Colombia before being forced back towards Panama.

1526 to 1528 -- A second expedition by Pizarro and Almagro sails south. Pizarro lands again on the Colombian coast; Almagro soon returns to Panama to seek reinforcements, while Bartolomé Ruiz (the expedition’s main pilot) explores further south. The expedition, which lasted at least 18 months, met with mixed fortunes. Bartolomé Ruiz found concrete evidence of gold and other riches to the south, while also obtaining native interpreters. Pizarro and a small band pushed south to Tumbes and Trujillo in what is now Peru, meeting with hospitable natives.

Knowing that any concerted conquest would require greater numbers, Pizarro returned to Panama.

1528 -- With the new governor of Panama unwilling to sanction a third expedition, Pizarro heads back to Spain to seek an audience with the King himself. King Charles I gives Pizarro permission to go ahead with the conquest of Peru.

1532 -- The conquest of Peru begins. Pizarro first lands in Ecuador before sailing to Tumbes. His small force of conquistadors moves inland and forms the first Spanish settlement in Peru, San Miguel de Piura (modern-day Piura, just inland from the north coast of Peru). An Inca envoy meets with the conquistadors; a meeting between the two leaders is arranged.

1532 -- Pizarro marches to Cajamarca to meet with the Inca Atahualpa. Atahualpa refuses Pizarro’s request to march into Inca territory, secure in the knowledge that his soldiers vastly outnumbered those of Pizarro (which numbered 62 horsemen and 102 infantry). Pizarro decides to ambush the Inca and his army, taking them off guard in the Battle of Cajamarca (November 16, 1532). Pizarro routes the Inca army and takes Atahualpa hostage, demanding a ransom of gold for his release.

1533 -- Despite receiving the ransom, Pizarro executes Atahualpa. This causes contention among the conquistadors and concerns the Spanish Crown. Pizarro, however, does not waver. His conquistadors march to the Inca capital of Cusco, first entering the city on November 15, 1533 (Pizarro arrives in Cusco in March 1534). The city was later retaken by the Incas following the lengthy Siege of Cuzco of 1536, but the Spaniards soon regained control.

1535 -- Pizarro founds the city of Lima on January 18, making it the new capital of Peru.

1538 -- Ongoing territorial disputes between rival Spanish factions culminate in the Battle of Las Salinas, where Pizarro and his brothers defeat and execute Diego de Almagro (partner in Pizarro’s first expeditions).

1541 -- On June 26, Diego de Almagro II (son of the executed Diego de Almagro) storms Pizarro’s palace in Lima, assisted by about 20 heavily armed supporters. Despite his best attempts to defend himself, Pizarro receives multiple stab wounds and dies. Diego de Almagro II was captured and executed the following year.