When it comes to the accomplishments of major explorers, there is always going to be some measure of controversy. This is going to depend on how you feel about groups like the English, Spanish, or French “discovering” and colonizing new worlds. Nonetheless, however you may feel about these explorers, there is no question that they have dramatically shaped the world around us. The major accomplishments of Vasco Nunez de Balboa is a good example of that thought.
1. He Was Born Into Nobility
While we perhaps do not know as much about Balboa’s childhood as we would like, we do know that he came from a noble background. Balboa was a descendent of the Lord mason of Castle Balboa. His mother was the Lady de Badajoz, while his father was a nobleman. We also know that Balboa was the 3rd of 4 boys.
2. He Started Off On The Right Foot
Like a lot of people, Balboa found significant inspiration in the travels and accomplishments of Christopher Columbus. Balboa established his ambition early, making plans for such a trip almost immediately after hearing of what Columbus had been doing. Alongside Juan de la Cosa, Vasco Nunez de Balboa joined Rodrigo de Bastidas’ journey to the Americas. Balboa made the most of this opportunity. With the savings gained from the venture, he was able to set up shop in Hispaniola.
3. He Was Not The Most Successful Farmer
While living in Hispaniola, Balboa tried to make his living as a farmer. While it is not necessarily an accomplishment to fail in this venture, it was nonetheless a crucial step for Balboa. Had he been successful as a farmer, it stands to reason that he would have stayed in the profession. Balboa failed to make an impact as a farmer, picked up some debt, and had to look for new opportunities beyond Hispaniola.
4. He Became An Acting Governor
Despite struggling for a number of years as a pig farmer, Balboa found some measure of success as a governor. He was given the position of acting governor of Darien. Using this position to establish a stronger foundation, or a greater base of power, Balboa continued in his desire to mount and lead a variety of expeditions.
5. He Led Several Expeditions Into Panama
From his position as the governor of Darien, Balboa led a number of expeditions to Panama. He conquered several Indian tribes, over the course of these expeditions. At the same time, he also established agreements with other tribes, allowing them to set up casinos.
6. He Was Told Of A Wealthy Land
Thanks to his connections with some of the tribes he deemed to be friendly, Balboa learned of a place known as Tubanama. He was told that this place could be found by going across the mountains, and into what was known as a great sea. The Indians who told Balboa about this place told him that by visiting this locale, he could secure a massive fortune.
7. He Led An Expedition That Would Make Him Famous
Balboa had several reasons for wanting to mount an expedition to this mysterious land known as Tubanama. He wanted to establish a stellar reputation with King Ferdinand of Spain, and he believed that making a major discovery on an expedition could achieve that. In September of 1513, Balboa led an expedition from Darien for lands unknown to the Europeans at that time.
8. He Didn’t Let A Closed Panama Canal Slow Him Down
However you might feel about the accomplishments of Vasco Nunez de Balboa, there is no question that he overcame a number of hardships. Due to strikes by natives, the Panama Canal was closed to travelers, at the time of Balboa’s expedition. Not to be deterred, Balboa and his fellow explorers opted to utilize a far less established, considerably more dangerous land route.
9. He “Discovered” The Pacific Ocean
Widely regarded as his greatest accomplishment, Balboa didn’t really “discover” the Pacific Ocean, as some people have suggested he did. What he actually did was become the first European to see this ocean at all. In this sense, and in terms of what it meant for him to arrive at this ocean, you can certainly make a case that he “discovered” the Pacific Ocean for Spain, his fellow Europeans, and for generations to come.
10. He Left Behind An Impressive Estate
Although Balboa died at a fairly young age, even for that time and place, he left behind an estate for his children. His armor proved to be highly valuable later on. His death came due to an embittered rival falsely accusing Balboa of treason. The King tried Balboa on the strength of these accusations, and he was found guilty. In the town of Acla in Panama, which he worked to establish, he was beheaded by his own people and government.