Little is known about the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro before he arrived in Hispaniola in 1502. He joined an expedition into Colombia and earned the reputation as a quiet, brave fighter.
In 1519, he became the mayor of Panama and made a small fortune. He stayed for several years before deciding to take a bold gamble.
In autumn 1532, Pizarro set off with 106 infantry and 62 cavalry into the peaks of the Andes mountains to conquer the Incan Empire of South America. The Incan emperor, Atahualpa, learned of the Spanish party and sent a note welcoming them, but he did not plan to let the Spanish stay.
When the Spanish arrived in the Incan city of Cajamarca, they found it deserted. Atahualpa, encamped with a giant army, waited nearby. Pizarro and Atahualpa exchanged greetings again, and Atahualpa promised to meet the Spaniard in the town square the next day.
When Atahualpa arrived with 6,000 warriors, the Spanish soldiers waited in ambush. Suddenly, they swarmed out of their hiding places and began slaughtering the surprised warriors. Terrified by the horses, the Indians were routed, leaving more than 2,000 dead.
Atahualpa was taken prisoner and Pizarro demanded a room filled with gold and two chambers filled with silver in ransom. To save their king, Incans across the empire tore gold and silver from their temples and their homes and sent it to Pizarro.
In May 1533, Pizarro’s men built nine forges to melt the metal into bars. Thousands of priceless artworks were lost. When the Spanish finished, they counted 13,265 pounds of gold and 26,000 pounds of silver.
Realizing that a free Atahualpa could rally his people, Pizarro ordered him executed by strangulation in August 1533. With his death, the Incan Empire fell under Spanish control.
The Incan Empire, with more than 16 million people, was crisscrossed with an elaborate network of paved roads. Its artists produced exquisite works in gold and silver.