Hernan Cortes, Francisco Pizarro, & their Conquest and Settlement of Latin America

Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro were quite parallel in their conquest and settlement of Latin America, though their lives had differed up until that point. Both born in the late 1400s, Cortes was a student studying law that left university for the promises of the New World, and Pizarro was a soldier and explorer. Yet, they would both lead the conquests and cause the fall of the Aztec and Inca empires, respectively.

In the early 1500s, Cortes moved to Cuba to aid Diego Velazquez in conquering the island. Later, in 1518, when Velazquez was governor, Cortes asked to be made a commander of his own expedition to Mexico. However, before Cortes was able to depart, his commission was suddenly cancelled - though this did not deter him. When he arrived in what was the region of the Aztec civilization, he established a settlement and became allies with locals. He was then able to make his way to the capital of Tenochtitlan by wooing the Aztecs and by allowing them to believe that he was a messenger of the god Quetzalcoatl. Once there, he took the Aztec leader, Montezuma II, hostage and, perhaps accidentally, caused his death. He eventually secured control over Mexico, and in 1523 was named captain general and governor of "New Spain." (1)

Pizarro served on an expedition in 1513, during which he discovered the Pacific Ocean. Wanting to lead his own expedition, he formed a partnership with Diego de Almagro and traveled to Peru in the 1520s and 1530s to conquer land for the crown. Like Cortes, Pizarro entered the Inca city of Cajamarca and took the leader, Atahuapla, hostage. Though the Inca consented to his demands, Pizarro still murdered Atahuapla and invaded Cuzco and founded the now-capital of Peru, Lima. (2)


(1) BBC, "Hernando Cortes (1485-1547)," https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/cortes_hernan.shtml

(2) "Francisco Pizarro," History, September 12, 2018, https://www.history.com/topics/exploration/francisco-pizarro

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Anna Darelli-Anderson

Anna Darelli-Anderson

University of Utah

Department of Surgery

Office of Surgical Education

30 N. 1900 E. 3B110 

Salt Lake City, UT 84132




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