Died At Age: 44
Born in: Jerez de los Caballeros, Spain
Famous as: Spanish Explorer
Spouse/Ex-: María de Peñalosa (m. 1516–1519)
father: Nuño Arias de Balboa
siblings: Álvaro Núñez de Balboa, Gonzalo Núñez de Balboa, Juan Núñez de Balboa
Died on: January 15, 1519
place of death: Acla
Cause of Death: Execution
Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa was one of the most important and influential explorers in the 16th century who became a governor under the King of Spain and was also a conquistador who went on to discover new lands that had remained unexplored in spite of the numerous voyages that had been conducted before his time. Balboa was greatly inspired by Christopher Columbus, who had discovered the ‘New World’ and decided to become an explorer. Balboa initially settled down in Hispaniola after embarking on a voyage to the Americas and during his life time he never returned to his native Spain as he stayed back in his new habitat in order to search for the legendary riches that could be found in the unexplored parts of the continent. Vasco Nunez de Balboa went on to discover new lands and was appointed governor of different regions in the Americas. One of his biggest achievements was that of crossing over the southern part of the continent by crossing the present day Isthmus of Panama. He became the first European to cross over and last but not the least it is also important to point out that Vasco Nunez de Balboa was the first person to introduce Europeans to the Pacific Ocean.
Childhood & Early Life
Vasco Nunez de Balboa was born to Nuno Arias de Balboa, a nobleman and Lady de Badajoz in Jerez de los Cabellaros in Spain. The exact date of his birth is unknown but the year of his birth is believed to be 1475.
Not much is known about the early days of Vasco Nunez de Balboa and his childhood is shrouded in mystery. However, at some point in his early life he did serve as the squire of the Lord of Moguer named Don Pedro de Portocarrero.
After coming to know about the exploits of Christopher Columbus, Balboa decided to accompany Juan de la Cosa on an expedition led by Rodrigo de Bastidas to the Americas in the year 1500. Following the completion of the voyage, Balboa stayed back in Hispaniola and started off as a pig farmer with the money he got out of the expedition but the businesses failed.
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Vasco Nunez de Balboa’s venture as a pig farmer had failed in Hispaniola and due to mounting debts he decided to escape from all his creditors in the island. He went on a voyage to the coastal areas of Uraba, at the time under the governorship of Alonso de Odeja, as a stowaway in the year 1510. The voyage, which was meant to rescue the settlers in the area, proved to be a very important voyage in his career as an explorer.
Balboa’s knowledge of the area proved to be vital for those who led the voyage to Uraba and upon arriving in the area, the settlers in the colony were found. It was Balboa’s idea to move the settlers from Uraba to Darien, which was located in the area known as the Isthmus of Panama in the modern day. The city named Santa Maria la Antigua del Darien was founded in 1510.
Alonso de Odeja, the founder of the settlement at Uraba, had gone away and in the ensuing power vacuum among the settlers who had gone to Darien, Balboa became a prominent and powerful man. In the year 1511 the King of Spain, Ferdinand II proclaimed him as the governor of Darien, albeit temporarily. In the same year Balboa outmanoeuvred the Governor of Veragua and usurped his position.
In 1513 Vasco Nunez de Balboa was informed about a gold-rich area and he immediately recruited men from Hispaniola to capture the territory. He also sent letter to the King of Spain but his requests for men were rejected at the insistence of his enemies. The expedition ended in a mountain near the Chucunaque River and the only discovery that Balboa claimed to make was the discovery of the ‘South Sea’ or the Pacific Ocean, then unknown to Europeans.
After discovering the South Sea, Balboa also captured the territories in the nearby areas and went back to Santa Maria at the beginning of 1514. Following these successes, Balboa was made the governor of Panama, Coiba as well as Mar del Sur. However, Balboa’s relationship with the nobleman Pedrarias, who had been sent by the King of Spain wasn’t amicable and his career came to an end after he lost a power struggle.
Vasco Nunez de Balboa’s most important work is most certainly that of discovering the South Sea and introducing Europe to the Pacific Ocean.
Personal Life & Legacy
Vasco Nunez de Balboa was engaged to be married to Maria de Penalosa as part of a matrimonial alliance but as Balboa never went back to Spain, they never really had a married life. He had no children.
Following Balboa’s long rivalry with Pedrarias and after falling out of favour with the powers that be; he was charged for treason and in a trial that was hardly a fair one; he was sentence to death. Balboa was beheaded at some point in January of 1519.