The Spanish empire was fighting the battle of "reconquista" for a number of decades. The battle for the Peninsula of Iberia was fought against the Muslim Moors. During this time period, the elite version of the mounted cavalry evolved to what is now known as the 'Conquistador'. The conquistadors fulfilled the multiple tasks of exploration and conquest.
The Conquistadors took up the task of conquering the New World. Within a very short span of time, they brought a huge area of the American continent under the Spanish rule. The Spanish empire in the American continent covered the southernmost tip to the central parts of present-day Mexico.
In the process of exploring the American continent, they became extremely rich, as this vast area was laden with gold and precious stones. They also introduced several plants, fruits, and vegetables into the European economy.
Indirectly, they contributed to the success of Spain during the imperial period. They earned a lot of respect and held a very prestigious position in the Spanish society. Some of the conquistadors were legendary heroes. Amongst them was Francisco Pizarro, who laid the foundation of the City of Lima, Peru.
Among the Incan people, he was known as 'Apu Machu'. Pizarro was probably one of the most senior and famous conquistadors of his age. Though being a high-ranked conquistador, Pizarro did not belong to any of the noble families in Spain, which was unusual at that time, since most high-ranking conquistadors belonged to nobility.
Pizarro's actual date of birth is not known. The only thing that is known is that Pizarro was either born in the year 1471 or 1478, in the town of Trujillo, in Extremadura, Spain. Even though Pizarro never received any formal education or military training, he is often considered to be one of the most brilliant generals of his time.
Pizarro sailed with the crew of Alonso de Ojeda to the New World. Upon landing, Ojeda founded the city of San Sebastian. He was also a member of the 'Nunez de Balboa' expedition. This expedition reached the Isthmus of Panama on September 29, 1513. The expedition also discovered the Pacific Ocean.
Another expedition in which Pizarro participated was the one that discovered present-day Costa Rica. This expedition was led by Espinosa, another famous conquistador. In the years between 1515 to 1520, Pizarro tried settling down by becoming a trader along the coast.
Later in the 1520s, he received funding for an expedition to the south of Panama. The expedition was a financial failure, since Pizarro found relatively less gold on the coast of Colombia. In the late 1520s, he undertook another expedition into the far south, where he reached Peru.
Pizarro received the title of Governor and Captain General. These titles gave him complete authority over the regions that he conquered or explored for Spain. In the 1530s, he began his campaigns to conquer the whole of South America.
During the battle against the Incas, Pizarro defeated and captured King Atahualpa. As a ransom, King Atahualpa offered Pizarro enough gold to fill the 22 feet high room in which he was held captive.
In the year 1535, Pizarro founded the city of Lima. Sadly on 26th June, 1541, followers of Pedro de Almagro assassinated Pizarro as they wanted to loot the wealth of Lima.
Even today, Francisco Pizarro is considered as one of the greatest conquistadors. He was also considered a very successful general because of his judgments regarding the enemy. Using only a very small amount of men, he was able to conquer a major part of the South American continent. He was successful in making Spain powerful.
Hernán Cortés attended the famous University of Salamanca. He is credited with the feat of conquering more than 5 million Aztecs with a force of only 1000 soldiers. His journey began in the year 1502, after he left law college due to academic failure.
He joined the voyage of Nicolás de Ovando and grew extremely popular among the other members of the voyage. He also proved to be an efficient soldier under the command of military man Diego Velazquez.
Cortés accompanied Velazquez on the campaign against Cuba and proved his skills as a warrior. He also tried to become a rancher in the year 1514; however, this peaceful phase in his life did not last long.
On the request of Velazquez, Cortés commenced an expedition into the regions of Mexico. The objective of this expedition was to establish a Spanish colony in the mainland of Mexico. Cortés, at that time, commanded only 600 troops. He captured the town of Tabasco. In order to make a home for his army, Cortes founded the town of La Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz.
One of his strange habits was that he would learn the social customs, rituals, and traditions of the local people in any place that he went. He forced the Aztec Indians in Tlaxcala to sign an alliance with him. Due to his appearance, the Aztecs believed that Cortés was their God-King Quetzalcoatl, who was supposed to return according to a prophecy.
Cortes faced no resistance from King Montezuma II. The actual combat that took place was very small, as the European diseases that the Aztecs were not used to, wiped out a large part of their population.
The conquests of Cortés and Pizarro were a major turn in the history of the Spanish empire. Their expeditions also changed the vast areas of the South American continent.