Spanish Empire—South America

1525 to 1921
Conquests of Pizarro to Early 20th Century

Era Summary       Characters       Timeline       Reading Assignments      

Era Summary—South America

Conquest of Peru—The conquest of Peru is often told simply as the story of the battle of Caxamalca, during which Francisco Pizarro and his men massacred a group of unarmed Incas, and captured their leader, Atahualpa. It was a shameless deed, and Pizarro is deserving of his poor reputation, but the conquest of the Incas was far from a single-battle event. Pizarro had spent eight difficult years exploring the region and trading with the natives on his own initiative. It was only after he survived a series of perilous expeditions and returned to Spain with samples of gold and silver, that he was given the men and resources he required to complete the conquest.

Even with government support however, the obstacles to conquest were almost insurmountable. The climate and terrain were very difficult, and to even reach the coast of Peru one had to march through a trackless jungle, embark on a small boat, and sail through treacherous waters, only to find oneself at the base of an enormous mountain range. The Incan capital was dozens of miles inland, at a high altitude and the entire region was populated with tens of thousands of Inca warriors. In addition, there were severe conflicts and jealousies among the Spaniards, and Pizarro had many enemies. In the end however, he rose (or rather sunk) to the occasion, and using a combination of brutality, superstition, terror and treachery, managed to get the Inca into his control, and ward off challenges from his Spanish rivals. He was granted governorship of the new province, which proved to be the richest in Spanish possession, but was soon murdered by partisans of a man he had betrayed.

Rule of the Viceroys—With its immense wealth in silver and gold, Peru quickly became the focal point of Spanish interest in South America. The city of Lima was created, and it became the center of Spanish trade and government. During the viceroyalty period, the province of Peru referred to the entire west half of South America, encompassing everything but Portugal's Brazil. By the 18th century, the viceroyalty in South America had broken into three portions. New Granada consisted of modern day Columbia, Venezuela, and Panama; Rio de la Plata consisted of Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay; and Peru consisted of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Ecuador. These divisions are important for understanding how the Independence of South America came about.

Wars of Independence—The most famous early advocate of South American Independence was Miranda.

Characters—South America

Character/Date Short Biography

Conquest of Incas

Last monarch of the Incan Empire. Captured by Pizarro at Caxamalca and eventually killed.
Francisco Pizarro
With only 160 men, conquered six thousand Inca and took control of Peru.
~ 1541
Military leader of the Araucanian tribe of Chile, who maintained their independence from Spain.
Manco Inca
Puppet Inca ruler who was crowned by the Spaniards, but rebelled against them and laid siege to Cuzco.

Venezuela, Columbia, Bolivia, Equador

Early leader of South American Independence. Led a failed revolution in Venezuela in 1813. Died in prison.
Simon Bolivar
Crossed Andes to attack Spanish outposts in Columbia, then met San Martin in Peru.
Antonio Jose de Sucre
South American patriot. Friend and trusted general of Simon Bolivar. Hero of the Battles of Pinchincha and Junin.
Jose Antonio Paez
A cavalry leader during War of Independence who rose from humble origins to be President (really dictator) of Venezuela.
Gabrial Garcia Moreno
Catholic president of Ecuador who resisted the secular forces in his country, made many reforms, and was assassinated by Freemasons.

Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uraguay

Pedro de Valdivia
Conquistador who attempted to conquer Chile, but was killed by the native tribes. Founded Santiago.
Bernardo O'Higgins
Military commander who together with San Martin freed Chile from Spanish rule. First 'Supreme Director' of Chile.
Jose de San Martin
Won independence from Spain for Argentina, then crossed the Andes and helped free Chili.
Jose Francia
Ruled Paraguay as a dictator after its independence, and cut off most contact with outside influences.
Tupac Amaru
d. 1572
Son of Manco Inca, rebelled against Spain. Led the last independent tribe of Incas at their refuge in Vilcabamba.
Francisco Lopez
Dictator who provoked a war against Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay that devastated and depopulated Paraguay.
Juan Manuel de Rosas
Gaucho hero who brought law and order to Argentina after 20 years of chaos. Ruled as a dictator for 25 year, then sent into exile.
Jose Miguel Carrera
Leader of a republican faction in Chile during the Wars of Independence and rival of Bernardo O'Higgins.


Dom Pedro I
Portuguese prince who became the first Emperor of Brazil but struggled with competing political factions.
Dom Pedro II
Emperor of Brazil who tried to modernize while maintaining a constitutional monarchy. Forcibly exiled after Republican coup in 1889.

Cuba and Caribbean

Don Miguel Tacon
~ 1834
Stern willed Governor of Cuba who tried to curtail smuggling in his realm.
Bartholemy Portuguez
~ 1666
Famous South American Pirate of the Caribbean during the mid-17th century.
Pierre la Grande
~ 1620
Famous French Pirate of the Caribbean during the mid-17th century.
Jose Marti
Leader of the Cuban independence movement in the years before the Spanish-American.
General Maceo
Led the Cuban forces against Spain during the Cuban Rebellion.
~ 1739
Leader of a tribes of Jamaican of mixed native and African descent. Fought British in the First Maroon War.

Timeline—South America

AD YearEvent
1532 Pizzaro and Almagro conquer Peru
1542 Bartholomew de Casas promotes better treatment of Native Americans
1572 Tupac Amaru leads the last Incan revolt against the Spaniards
1640 Dutch take control of Northern Brazil; Found Guyana
1697 Mayans defeated by the Spaniards
1767 Jesuits expelled from Latin America
1799 Humboldt explores Mexico and South America
1797-1814 Napoleonic Wars in Europe disrupt governments of Latin America
1811 Venezuela, led by Miranda, declares its independence from Spain
1812 Earthquake in Caracus destroys popular support for independence
1825 Bolivia declares its independence from Spain
1580 Buenos Aires established as primary port on Pacific
1609 Jesuit "reductions" in Paraguay founded
1816 Argentina declares its independence
1818 Chile declares its independence
1822 San Martin and Bolivar meet in Guayaguil
1879-84 Chile defeats Peru and BOlivia in the War of the Pacific
1864-70 War of the Triple Alliance; Paraguay is defeated
1500 Brazil discovered and claimed for Portugal by Cabral
1808 Monarchs of Portugal move their capital to Rio de Janiero
1816-31 Reign of Dom Pedro I of Brazil; Brazil declares independence in 1822
1840 Pedro II becames the head of a constitutional monarchy in Brazil
1889 Overthrow of Dom Pedro II by Brazilian military
1804 Slave revolt in Haiti expells the Europeans

Recommended Reading—South America

Book Title
Selected Chapters (# chapters)

Core Reading Assignments

Brooks - Stories of South America    entire book
Morris - Historical Tales: Spanish American   Miranda and Argentina to The Governor and the Smuggler (17)

Supplemental Recommendations

Scott - Gabrial Garcia Moreno    entire book
Butterworth - South America    entire book
Stockton - Buccaneers and Pirates of Our Coasts    entire book
Towle - The Adventures of Pizarro    entire book
Noll - The Peruvians    entire book
Schoellkopf - Don Jose de San Martin    entire book
Sherwell - Simon Bolivar    entire book

Also Recommended

Brady - South American Fights and Fighters    entire book
Esquemeling - The Buccaneers of America    entire book
Browne - South America: Peeps at Many Land    entire book
Browne - Panama: Peeps at Many Lands    entire book
Southworth - Our South American Neighbors    entire book
Ober - Vasco Nunez de Balboa    entire book
Ober - Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru    entire book

I: Introductory, II: Intermediate