Spanish conquistador Vasco Núñez de Balboa is most famous for being the first European to see the Pacific Ocean in 1513. He would be a key figure in the exploration and colonization of the region around modern-day Panama.
Vasco Núñez de Balboa Part 1
In Part 1 of our series on Balboa, he begins his journey as a stowaway on a ship to the province of Tierre Firme. In short order, he will establish the first permanent European colony in the Americas and kick start the seemingly insatiable Spanish quest for gold in the new lands.
Vasco Núñez de Balboa Part 2
Balboa has established the colony of Santa Maria on the eastern shore in the province of Darien. But when the local natives tell him about the ‘other sea’ over the mountains – not to mention the kingdom where men drink from golden goblets and eat off plates of gold – the conquistador is ensnared. Part 2 is the conclusion of our series on Balboa.
Balboa’s journeys were centered primarily in the region of what is modern-day Columbia and Panama. Below is a map showing off several key locations, such as the colony of Santa Maria, and the route Balboa would take to the Pacific Ocean.
Note: the Gulf of Uraba is located just east of Santa Maria on the map (it is not marked).
Sadly, I could find no really comprehensive contemporary biographies about Balboa. Some earlier works from the 1800s and early 1900s are very romanticized – and very much a blend of fact and fiction.
When I found more contemporary looks at Balboa, the details were short and not that in-depth – often a part of a larger theme. But taking it all as a whole, it added up to some good reading – even if contradictions and inaccuracies are more the norm than the exception.
With that in mind, here’s a list of some of the more interesting items I found:
Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire from Columbus to Magellan was a good read about the early colonial era, and contained a couple of chapters on Balboa (especially his rivalry with Pedrarias).
Frederick Ober’s Vasco Nunez de Balboa, written in 1906, is an entertaining biography of Balboa – even if it is quite hokey and romanticized. You can read it free.
The Lives of Vasco Nunez de Balboa and Francisco Pizarro is one of the earliest biographies of Balboa. The book is written by Manuel Jose Quintana in 1832 and is translated into English. You can read it for free.
Historic Panama Web Page by Bruce Ruiz – This website was created by a gentleman in the early 2000s named Bruce Ruiz. The man passed away in 2003, but his son keeps the page online. It has a ton of information on colonial Panama, although there is a lot of inaccurate information. It’s very entertaining.
Wikipedia has a good Balboa page. From there you can link to many of the other people in our tale.
Image of Balboa claiming the Pacific Ocean is from Wikipedia.