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The Discovery and Conquest of Peru

The Discovery and Conquest of Peru

by Pedro de Cieza de León

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Dazzled by the sight of the vast treasure of gold and silver being unloaded at Seville’s docks in 1537, a teenaged Pedro de Cieza de León vowed to join the Spanish effort in the New World, become an explorer, and write what would become the earliest historical account of the conquest of Peru. Available for the first time in English, this history of Peru


Dazzled by the sight of the vast treasure of gold and silver being unloaded at Seville’s docks in 1537, a teenaged Pedro de Cieza de León vowed to join the Spanish effort in the New World, become an explorer, and write what would become the earliest historical account of the conquest of Peru. Available for the first time in English, this history of Peru is based largely on interviews with Cieza’s conquistador compatriates, as well as with Indian informants knowledgeable of the Incan past.
Alexandra Parma Cook and Noble David Cook present this recently discovered third book of a four-part chronicle that provides the most thorough and definitive record of the birth of modern Andean America. It describes with unparalleled detail the exploration of the Pacific coast of South America led by Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro, the imprisonment and death of the Inca Atahualpa, the Indian resistance, and the ultimate Spanish domination.
Students and scholars of Latin American history and conquest narratives will welcome the publication of this volume.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Even those outside the specialty of Peruvian history will welcome the publication of this translation, as it provides a window into the conquest era written by a Spaniard who was both conscientious about the material and a shrewd observer.”—Susan Ramirez, DePaul University

“This volume contains a wealth of detail about the conquest of Peru, revealing both the insights of a keen mind and invaluable first-hand accounts of the events covered.”—Roland Hamilton, San Jose State University

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Duke University Press
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Chronicles of the New World Encounter
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The Discovery and Conquest of Peru

Chronicles of the New World Encounter

By Pedro de Cieza de León, Alexandra Parma Cook, Noble David Cook

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1998 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-8250-8


About the discovery of Peru

When I lifted the pen to tell men of today and tomorrow about the conquest and discovery that our Spaniards made in Peru when they won it, I could not but reflect that I was treating the highest matter that one can write about in the universe regarding worldly things. What I mean to say is, where have men seen what they see today, fleets entering loaded with gold and silver as if it were iron? Or where was it known or read that so much wealth could come from one kingdom? So much and so great is it that Spain is full of these treasures, and her cities are populated by many rich peruleros who have left there. Furthermore, with all the money they have carried back, they have caused things to become more expensive in this kingdom, as those who have contemplated it well know. Not only has Spain become expensive, but all of Europe has changed, and the merchandise and all commerce have prices other than they had. Prices have risen so much in Spain that if it continues as it has, I do not know how high prices will rise or how men will be able to live.

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And, that I would write about a land where to spend a human life, a land so extensive, so plentiful, and so abundant, and where there is neither snow nor forest, that it cannot be improved upon, as I already noted in [Part] One. And that God could have permitted something so great would be hidden from the world for so many years and such a long time, and not known by men, yet that it would be found and discovered and won, all in the time of Emperor Charles, who had such need of its help because of the wars that had taken place in Germany against the Lutherans and [because of] other most important expeditions. I am certain that all this sphere of the Indies, which is so large, had been discovered in times of much wealth. Furthermore, if the royal officials wanted to take the time to see from the quintos what the treasure that had come from Peru added up to, it alone would be worth more than all the others put together, and not by a little, but by much.

One reads that in Spain, in eight hundred and twenty-two before the birth of Christ, the Pyrenees mountains were engulfed in flames so that the Phoenicians and those from Marseilles took many ships loaded with silver and gold, and then there was much silver in Andalusia. And we also know that in Churabón in time [blank] there was so much silver that it was taken for granted. And when Salomon embellished the temple with vessels and riches, a lot was spent for it. Aside from all this, we know that in the Levant there are regions rich in gold and silver. But none of these things can equal or compare to [the wealth] of Peru because counting what was in Cajamarca when the ransom [was collected] for Atahualpa, and what was later divided in Jauja and in Cuzco, and what else there was in the kingdom, it is such a great sum that I, although I could, do not dare to state it. But if one wanted to build another temple with it, it would be more opulent than the one of Cuzco and as none that has existed in the world. All that had been taken from Peru is nothing compared with what is lost in the land, buried in tombs of kings and of caciques and in the temples. The Indians themselves know it and acknowledge it. Indeed, after everything that they took from Huaylas, Porco, Caravaya, Chile, and from the Cañari, who will count the gold that arrived in Spain from these places? And if we encounter such difficulties with this, what will we say of the peak of Potosí, where as far as I know, ever since they have been extracting silver there and without knowing how much the Indians had taken, more than twenty-five million pesos of gold, all in silver, have come out? And they will always extract this metal as long as there are men willing to search for it.

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Now I will begin the delicate writing to relate the end of the war between the brothers Huascar and Atahualpa and how thirteen Christians almost miraculously discovered it [Peru], and then proceeded to win it in a war where no more than 160 fought. And how later events evolved from one thing to another so that in Peru there was so much dissent, so many wars among our [men], conducted in such a harsh manner, and they were so cruel one with another that Sila and Mario and the other usurpers pale in comparison. Many of the incidents related in this discourse would cause disbelief had there not been witnesses, so that in dealing with Peru it is unnecessary to talk about Italy or Lombardy or any other land, even if it were more belicose, because what so few people have done can only be compared to itself. During these altercations many died, and many who had been forgotten came to be captains and became so wealthy that some—[even] one alone—had more income than the greatest lord of Spain, except for the king.


About how Governor Pedrarias named Francisco Pizarro captain of the South Sea and how he left Panama for the discovery

Following Alonso de Hojeda and Nicuesa, Pedrarias de Avila came as governor, and he remained in the city of Darién for some time. As Panama and the kingdom of Tierra Firme were being settled, and as the Adelantado Vasco Núñez de Balboa and the pilot Pedro Miguel, according to some son of Juan de la Cosa, first discovered the South Sea, there was discussion of exploring the lands of the said South Sea. The chronicler Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, who was a royal official in Darién, wrote most elegantly and well about those times; indeed, he was present there and saw most of it. Although I was able to obtain some information and could write something about the subject, I will proceed to the multitude of things that I have to do, and refer the reader to what Oviedo writes, where he will see it quite long and copious.

fol. 2

Therefore, I say [that] at the time that Darién was being settled there were two men [among] the Spaniards present there—one named Francisco Pizarro, who was at first a captain of Alonso de Hojeda, and Diego de Almagro. They were people on whom the governors often relied, because they were enterprising and steady and would persevere in any task. They became vecinos the city of Panama during the distribution of Indians made by Governor Pedrarias. The two were partners even in their Indians and property.

It happened that Pedrarias sent Captain Zaera to the island of Hispaniola to try to bring some people and horses to settle in the province of Nicaragua before Gil González Dávila could do it because [Pedrarias] learned that [González Dávila] had been exploring there in order to settle it. Nicolás de Ribera, vecino of the City of the Kings (Lima), who is a contemporary of that time and one of the thirteen who discovered Peru, informed me that he knew that when Zaera arrived in the city of Santo Domingo, he contracted one Juan Basurto to come to Panama, where Pedrarias would make him his captain-general in order that he could settle and explore the province of Nicaragua.

Basurto, anxious to undertake that expedition, came to Tierra Firme with Zaera, and they brought some people and horses. In the meantime, Governor Pedrarias had given the commission for the said expedition to Captain Francisco Hernández. Juan Basurto resented it, and Pedrarias was aware of it. In order that his journey would not be in vain, [Pedrarias] negotiated with him that because Francisco Hernández had been confirmed in the post, and [Basurto] could not go to Nicaragua now, instead, he should go exploring with some ships in the South Sea because there were great expectations of finding prosperous land.

fol. 2v

They say that Juan Basurto accepted the post that Pedrarias gave him. In order to make the expedition more to his liking, he decided to return to Santo Domingo to bring additional people and horses because in those times the kingdom of Tierra Firme lacked provisions. He left with great haste to embark from Nombre de Dios, where death intercepted his design and called him to account for his life's journey.

They learned in Panama about the death of this Basurto and how he was going to do what has been written. Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro were living in the same city, and they were partners there, along with Hernando de Luque, a cleric. Half in jest they talked about that expedition and how much Adelantado Vasco Núñez de Balboa wished to undertake it and to discover what existed in the southern part. Pizarro revealed to his companions his desire to risk his person and property in order to undertake that expedition. He prodded Almagro, pointing out that without taking chances men can never achieve their goals. They decided to request the venture for the said Francisco Pizarro. And thus, those who know it and are still alive state that they went to Pedrarias and petitioned him for the command of the discovery. Following long discussions, Pedrarias granted it to them with the provision that they form a partnership with him so that he could have a share in whatever profits there might be. The partners were satisfied, and all four formed a partnership whereby after the expenses were covered, all the gold and silver and other booty would be divided equally between them without one taking more than another. Pedrarias then named Pizarro his captain so that in the name of the emperor he would undertake the aforesaid expedition.

The news spread around Panama and most of the vecinos were laughing, considering them crazy because they wanted to spend their money in exploring mangroves and ceburocos. But this talk did not prevent them from seeking money to outfit the expedition, and they purchased a ship that was in the harbor, which was said to be one of those that Vasco Núñez procured from one Pedro Gregorio. They took as pilot—as far as I know—one whose name was Hernán Penate. They hastened to equip the ship with sails and rigging and everything else necessary for the voyage. They tried to recruit some of the people who were in the region. They collected eighty Spaniards, more or less, of whom Salcedo went as standard bearer, Nicolas de Ribera as treasurer, and Juan Carvallo as inspector. After they finished putting on the ship everything that was necessary, they boarded four horses that were available and no more. The people embarked, and Francisco Pizarro, after taking leave of Pedrarias and his partners, did the same.

fol. 3


About how Captain Francisco Pizarro left to explore the coast of the South Sea and why that kingdom was called Peru

Francisco Pizarro, along with the Spanish Christians who accompanied him, embarked and left the port of the city of Panama in the middle of the month of November of the year of Our Lord fifteen hundred and twentythree. Diego de Almagro remained in the city to procure people and anything else necessary for the conquest in order to send succor to his partner.

When Pizarro left Panama on his ship, they traveled until they arrived at the Pearl Islands, where they landed and took on provisions of water, firewood, and grass for the horses. From there they proceeded until they reached a port that they named de Piñas (Pine-cones) because so many [pinetrees] were growing nearby. All the Spaniards disembarked with their captain so that no one was left on the vessel except the sailors. They decided to penetrate further inland in search of provisions to outfit the ship, believing that they would find them in the territory of a cacique named Beruquete or Peruquete.

For three days they followed a river upstream with great hardship because they walked through frightful forests. The terrain along the course of the river was so thickly overgrown that it was difficult to walk. They arrived at the foot of a great mountain range. They climbed it although they were already worn out from previous hardships, the little they had to eat, and from sleeping on damp ground in the forests, as well as having to carry on their shoulders their swords and shields along with their backpacks. Indeed, they became so tired that one Christian named Morales died from pure exhaustion and weakness.

The Indians who inhabited those forests were aware of the arrival of the Spaniards. Because they had already heard about some others [Spaniards], that they were very cruel, they did not want to wait for them. Rather, they abandoned their houses made of wood and straw or palm fronds and hid in the thicket of the forest, where they were safe. The Spaniards had reached some small houses, which they said were those of the cacique Peruquete, where they found nothing but some maize and those roots that [the Indians] eat. The old Spaniards say that the kingdom of Peru was named for this village or chief called Peruquete and not for a river because none exists of such name.

fol. 3v

Because the Christians neither saw any Indians or found provisions or anything else that they had expected, they were dejected and shocked to see such poor land. It seemed to them that hell could not be worse, and commending themselves to God, they and their captain patiently retraced their path, returning to where they had left the ship. They reached the seashore worn-out and covered with mud, and most of them barefoot, with their feet raw from the sharp thorns in the forests and from the river rocks. They then embarked, and as best as they could, they navigated westwardly, continuing their exploration. Within a few days they landed in a port, which they later named de la Hambre (Hunger), where they provisioned themselves with water and firewood.

They departed from this port and sailed for ten days, but they lacked provisions so that each person was given no more than two ears or spikes of maize to eat for the entire day. They also had little water because they carried only a few casks, and they did not eat any meat or any other refreshment because it was all gone. They all felt dejected, and some were cursing themselves for having left Panama, where food was already plentiful. Pizarro, who had suffered many hardships and currish hungers in his life, encouraged his companions, telling them to confide in God, that He would provide them with sustenance and good land. After conferring together, they returned to the port they had left and named it de la Hambre because they entered it so famished.

Because of the hardships they endured, the Spaniards were very thin and yellow looking, so that they found it distressing to look at one another. The land before them was hellish because even the birds and the beasts shied away from living there. They saw only thick underbrush and mangroves. Water came down from the heavens, and there was water always covering the land. The sun was so obscured by dense clouds that they could not see its brilliance for several days. And thus they found themselves trapped in those forests, expecting nothing but death because if they wanted to return to Panama, they lacked provisions, unless they killed the horses. Because there were among them men of good judgment who wished to see an end to the expedition, it was decided that some of them should sail to the Pearl Islands to secure provisions. And after they discussed it, they carried it out, although neither those who went had any food to take with them, nor did any remain for the rest of them.

fol. 4


About how Montenegro and several Spaniards returned in the ship to the Pearl Islands to get provisions without bringing anything to eat except a dry cowhide and some bitter palmettos, and about the hardship and hunger endured by Pizarro and those who remained with him

When the captain and his companions decided that the ship would return to the Pearl Islands for some supplies—indeed they needed them very much—they did not know how those who were to go would sustain themselves during the journey. There was no maize or anything else to eat, and to search for it on land was useless because the Indians lived in the forests between raging rivers and marshes. And after contemplating and carefully considering, they found no other solution to prevent them all from perishing except for the ship to set sail, and those who had to go would take with them a very dry and hard cowhide to eat, one that was on that very ship. They chose from among them Montenegro to carry out the aforesaid. In addition to the hide, they cut some bitter palmettos near the coast. I ate some of them in the forest of Caramanta when we were exploring with the Licentiate Juan de Badillo.


Excerpted from The Discovery and Conquest of Peru by Pedro de Cieza de León, Alexandra Parma Cook, Noble David Cook. Copyright © 1998 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Pedro de Cieza de León (c. 1518–1555) was a soldier in Spain’s royal forces who recorded that country’s conquest of Peru.

Alexandra Parma Cook, an independent scholar, and Noble David Cook, Professor of History at Florida International University, are co-authors of Good Faith and Truthful Ignorance: A Case of Transatlantic Bigamy, also published by Duke University Press.

Pedro de Cieza de León (c. 1518–1555) was a soldier in Spain’s royal forces who recorded that country’s conquest of Peru.

Alexandra Parma Cook, an independent scholar, and Noble David Cook, Professor of History at Florida International University, are co-authors of Good Faith and Truthful Ignorance: A Case of Transatlantic Bigamy, also published by Duke University Press.

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