Francisco Orellana’s Accidental Discovery Of The Amazon
Among the daring exploits of those early Spanish conquistadors intent on claiming the New World for their own, none are as dramatic as Francisco Orellana’s perilous nine month journey to the Amazon in 1542. Originally an endeavor of conquest carried out alongside legendary General Gonzalo Pizarro, an impassable stretch of river would transform it into a desperate struggle for survival as Orellana and his small band of men unwittingly became the earliest explorers of a hidden world. On the way this errant search party would experience wonders and terrors beyond imagination, unexpectedly finding in the unforgiving wildernesses proof of the Grecian myth that gives the Amazon its name. Although Orellana would emerge surprisingly unscathed from the ordeal, in the aftermath luck would ultimately work against him.
The Astronomical Rise of Francisco Orellana
In 1511 Francisco Orellana was born in into a wealthy family in Trujillo, which was then part of the Kingdom of Castille and located in the Spanish region of Extremadura. Orellana’s family were true patricians and were related to some of the most powerful figures in the Castilian realm. Among the most prominent figures they shared blood with was Francisco Pizarro , a conquistador who had forged a reputation as a brilliant leader in the New World. In 1527, eager to follow in the footsteps of his famous relative, Orellana arrived in the Caribbean and established himself in Panama, before making his combat debut in its Northern regions. Over the span of a decade, Orellana distinguished himself on the battlefields of Central America, where at the cost of losing an eye he would win the admiration and respect of the Pizarro clan.
Francisco Pizarro inviting his soldiers to cross the line drawn on the ground, if they wished to continue their expedition to Peru, by Juan Lepiani, (1902) National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology, and History of Peru ( Public Domain )
By 1533 the Pizarros had undertaken a successful expedition to Peru, where they had murdered the last Incan emperor, Atahualpa and pillaged enormous quantities of priceless treasure in the process. However, Francisco Pizarro now found himself at odds with the expedition’s co-partner, Diego de Almagro, who demanded he receive an equal share of the booty despite not being involved in the final conquest of the Incan capital at Cajamarca. Verbal disagreements turned into violent clashes as a full-scale war broke out between the two greedy conquistadors.
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Jake Leigh-Howarth holds a masters degree in Modern History from the University of Leeds, where he specialized in the travelogues of Western visitors to Soviet Central Asia. His favorite historical periods include the Tamerlane Empire, the Mongolian Empire, and the Eleusinian Mysteries of Ancient Greece.