Greek Conquistadors and explorers in the Spanish army

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, in the hands of the Ottomans many Greeks migrated to European countries. Many of them went to Italy, France, Austria, Russia and Spain. Most of them managed to prosper in various sectors, such as merchants, artists, scholars, soldiers or even officers in foreign armies. Many Greeks migrated to Spain, one of the most famous was El Greco (whose name was Dominikos Theotokopoulos), a great artist and distiguished painter (he is considered as the father of Expressionism). But besides El Greco there were others who even served in the Spanish army. Many of those Greek soldiers were mercenaries, or Condottieri, who helped the Spanish against the Ottomans in many battles. Greek soldiers even travelled to the New world in the 16th century, where they served as shipmasters, sailors, soldiers and especially as artilerymen, conquistadors and explorers. Many of those Greeks knew how to manufacture gunpowder and could operate cannons and firearms.

Don Theodoro Griego

Theodoro Griego was a Greek explorer and conquistador, he was born in the Aegean and later moved into Spain. He then set sailed from the spanish port of Sanlucar de Barrameda and followed Panfilo de Narvaez in his expedition to North America in 1527. He was one of the first Greeks to reach the new continent (America) in the modern era. The expedition sailed from Cuba in 1527 and reached Florida. Narvaez ordered his men to explore Florida and march further to the north, in 1528 they reached the Apalachee, but Narvaez arrogantly attacked the Indians and destroyed their settlements. Soon after they were attacked by the Apalachee warriors and they run out of resources. At that difficult moment Don Theodoro made 5 rafts, using liquid from pines, wood and leather and saved most of his companions. Eventually Don Theodoro Griego was killed searching for water in a nearby Indian settlement. Most of the men who participated in the Narvaez expedition were killed, including Narvaez himself and only 4 survived to tell the story. Today a statue has been erected in Florida in the city of Tampa in honor of this great Greek Conquistador and explorer.

Pedro de Candia

Pedro de candia was born in Crete somewhere in 1485 or 1494 in the Greek city of Candia (Heraclion), he was a Greek conquistador and explorer and his Spanish companions and Spanish archives called him El Griego. Pedro de Candia served in the Spanish army as Condottieri and fought the Turks in many places of the mediteranean sea and he also participated in various battles in Italy. Later he  married the daughter of a Duke in Spain at Villapando, his descendants became members of the Spanish and Italian nobility. In 1526 he followed Pedro de los Rios to Panama (also known as Tierra Firme). In 1527 he joined the expedition of Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro, who went to explore the lands south of Panama. During that expedition Diego de Almagro and Francisco Pizarro argued, as Almagro wanted to return to Panama to take provisions and reinforcements, while Pizarro refused to return. Pizarro decided to stay in the isla del Gallo and only Pedro de Candia and few men which were called the famous 13 (Los Trece de fama) decided to stay with Pizarro. When Diego de Almagro returned Pizarro and his men joined another expedition to the south. They passed todays Colombia and Equador and reached northern Peru. There Francisco Pizarro sent Pedro de Candia to explore the city of Tumbes. The Greek Conquistador entered alone the Inca city, the indians were astonished by the looks of Pedro de Candia, as he was wearing a shining armor and was very tall and white, with blue eyes and black hair and beard (In fact Pedro de candia was the tallest man amongst the Spaniards). He was then brought infront of
the Inca governor who was very curious of his arquebus and challenged him to prove his might. Pedro de Candia then aimed and fired a wooden tablet which he completly destroyed. As soon as the sound of the firearm was heard some indians screamed and others fell to the ground terrified. The Inca governor then ordered to bring wild beasts (apparently Jaguars) to see what Pedro de Candia would do. Pedro then fired again with his arquebus and the wild beasts approached him and stood calmly by his side. The governor of Tumbes then said to him that he holds the thunder of the sky and made an offering to him, an offer which is made to the gods and especially Illapa the god of thunder! Then the virgin priestesses of the sun god, escorted him to the sun temple of Tumbes. In the city Candia noticed golden and silver leafs and Jewels unprotected and in public in common sight. The gold or the silver for the Indians was of no importance. When Candia returned into the Spaniards he reported all that he had seen in the city and his report, especially about the gold and silver, filled the Spaniards with enthusiasm. Pedro de Candia returned in Spain in 1528-1529 and he was declared a nobleman, commander of the artillery of the Spanish army in Peru and was apointed as mayor of Tumbes. In 1532 the Spanish army with Diego de Almagro and Francisco Pizzaro arrived in Peru again, they conquered Tumbes and marched to the south. The Inca emperor Atahualpa attacked the Spanish army at Cajamarca. During the battle Candia's cannons played an important role in the battle, as the indians had never seen cannons before and had a psychological effect on them. At Cajamarca the Spanish army (only 138 men) managed to beat the Inca army (9000 men) and managed to capture Attahualpa himself. After they captured Cuzco which was the capital of the inca empire, Pizarro killed Atahualpa, although the inca emperor had converted to Christianity and requested to spare his life. Pizarro also apointed Manco Inca as the new emperor of Cuzco. In the years that followed Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro became enemies and in 1538 fought each other in the battle of las Salinas. Pedro de Candia and his cannons gave the victory to Pizarro. After that battle Pedro de Candia had aquired much wealth and he even had his own army of about 300 men. In 1538 he decided to make an expedition east of Cuzco with his men, in search of a mythical kingdom similar to El Dorado which was called Ambaya and according to the indians, it was full of riches (It should be noted that gold for the indians was not a sign of wealth). Pedro de Candia had learnt of the existance of that kingdom, as he had friendly relations with the native indians and he even had one son with an Indian woman. Candia and his army travelled east of Cuzco and entered a dangerous jungle in an area called today as Madre de Dios. The jungle was an unfriendly enviroment for Candias men, and it was also habited by fierce indian tribes which were also practising cannibalism. Facing the indian attacks in the jungle and mistrust by his men he decided to return to Cuzco. In the following years Francico Pizarro was assasinated by Diego the son of Almagro. War broke out in 1542 between Almagro the younger and the brothers of Pizarro. Pedro de Candia and his men this time joined the forces of Almagro. Amongst Candia's men there were many Greeks under his command, 16 of them were engineers who could operate and create cannons and gunpowder. From the other side were also 4 or 5 Greeks in the army of the Pizarro brothers. Almagro and Candia met the forces of the Pizarro brothers at a place called Chupas.  Almagro's men before the battle discovered one letter which was sent for Candia by the Pizarro brothers that talked to him to betray Almagro. The letter never came in the hands of Candia, although in the battle of Chupas, Candia and his Greek artillery men perfomed very badly, something that Diego Almagro the younger recieved as treachery. As the battle was lost Almagro run with anger against Candia and killed him with his own hands. Very soon Almagro was killed as he tried to find refuge in the walls of Cuzco. This was the end of one of the greatest Conquistadors and explorers of the New world.

Map of Pizarro's conquest of Peru.

Jorge Griego

Jorge Griego (George the Greek) was a Greek Conquistador, he was born in Greece in 1504 and followed his Greek friend Pedro de Candia, who was a Conquistador and commander of the artillery, he went in Spain and then to Panama and Peru. Jorge Griego served in the spanish army in Peru as a footman. In 1532 under the command of Francisco Pizarro he participated in the battle of Cajamarca, where the much less Spanish army (probably 138 men) managed to beat the overwhelming Inca army (9000 men) of the Inca emperor Atahualpa. In Cuzco, Jorge recieved his share from the Inca treasures. He was later apointed as an encomendero in the city of Jauja in Peru. In later years he moved into Lima (where he had a large estate) and participated in 1544 and 1545 in the campaigns of Blasco Nunez Vela and of Pedro de la Gasca. Although it wasnt his profession he manufactured large quantities of gunpowder for the Spanish army. Finaly Jorge Griego after 1545 went back to Spain and settled in the city of Seville in the district of Triana.

Juan Griego (Philippines 1571)

Another Greek conquistador appears during the Spanish conquest of the Philippines. During the campaign of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi a Greek conquistador named Juan Griego follows Legazpi and for his services he becomes an encomendero (land lord) in the island of Mindanao. His encomienda included many lands of northern Mindanao, however in 1572 Legazpi recalled this encomienda because the Spanish forces did not effectively controlled the area.
Spanish map of the island Mindanao 17th century

Juan Griego 1514-1560

Juan Griego was another Greek conquistador who served in the Spanish army. After having spent 5 years in the far indies he went to Santo Dominigo in 1514 and in 1518 he went to Cuba. He became a member of the Cortez entrada and after the capture of Tenochtitlan he went to Guatemala. He returned to Mexico (New Spain) and was finally assigned as an encomendero of the province of Atoyaquillo untill his death in 1560. It should also be clarified that Juan Griego the encomendero of Atoyaquillo shouldnt not be confused with Juan Griego the encomendero of the Mindanao province. The name Juan or John (Ioannes in Greek) was a common name amongst the Greek population and many Greeks had that name.

Juan de Fuca

Juan de Fuca was a Greek explorer under the services of the Spanish empire. Juan de Fuca was either called Ioannis Fokas or Apostolos Valerianos. Juan de Fuca was born in the Greek island of Kefalonia in 1536, he later offered his services to the Spanish empire. In 1587 he arrived in New Spain (todays Mexico) and began to travel as a maritime pilot from Mexico to the Philippines and China. His Galleon though santa Anna was attacked by an English ship and was shunk near California. Juan de Fuca survived but he lost all of his fortune. In 1592 the viceroy of New Spain Luis de Velasco ordered him to undertake a journey in an effort to explore the fabled strait of Anian (todays Vancouver). In his first journey he joined the Spanish expedition of 3 ships under the overall command of a Spanish captain. The journey was a failure because of a mutiny and returned to California. In the second journey he lead the expedition with one Galleon and armed marines. He began his journey from Acapulco and went far to the north and finaly he found the strait of Anian. Juan de Fuca returned to Acapulco and described the latitude and the geographical composition of the strait. Juan de Fuca never recieved his payment for his survices and after two years having not been rewarded by viceroy Velasco, Juan went on to Spain. The old Greek explorer never recieved his payment in 1596 he decided to return to Kefalonia his homeland. But he met an Englishman, Michael Lok who recorded the journeys of Juan de Fuca and tried to convince the old explorer to join the English navy. Eventualy they didnt came to an agreement and Juan de Fuca retired in his homeland and died there in 1602.

Today the strait in Vancouver bears his name and is called Juan de Fuca strait.

Other Greeks who are mentioned in the Spanish army

 Also in Magellan's expedition, 1519-1522  many Greek sailors took part on the journey. It should also be mentioned that amongst the Spaniards the rest of the crew were Greeks, Italians, Portugese, English, French and Germans. These men were the first to make a circumnavigation of the globe, but many of them and including Ferdinand Magellan himself died during that journey and only 18 out of 237 men of the original crew survived. Amongst those 18 survivors, 4 of them were Greeks.

The 4 Greek survivors were:
Francisco Albo from Rodas (Island of Rhodes), a maritime pilot
Miguel de Rodas (Island of Rhodes), a maritime pilot
Nicholas the Greek from Nafplion, a mariner
Miguel Sanchez from Rodas (Island of Rhodes), a mariner

It should also be noted that Francisco Albo was the only one who kept a log book, along with the Italian Antonio Pigafetta. Their descriptions were a valuable source of information for the future explorers.

Other Greeks who are being mentioned in the Spanish archives are Anton de Rodas a respected Greek shipmaster and commander of two Spanish ships, the first one was San Jorge and the other was San Juan, he was a maritime pilot in the soars of Peru from 1535-1537. He made several journeys from Lima to Panama in the 1540s and finally he settled at Lima in 1550 where he had a large house. He married a Spanish wife and continued to be a ship master in the Pacific sea, at least until 1563. Another Greek shipmaster which is mentioned in the Spanish archives is Juan de Xio a Greek captain from Chios island. While most captains who sailed in the Pacific in the soars of Chille knew nothing of latitude and travelled by instinct, from the other hand Juan de Xio was the only one who navigated during that time (1540) with an astrolabe, a navigating chart and three mariner's compasses. A Greek captain in the Spanish army was Juan Griego, he was born in Seville, in the 16th century he began to make journeys from Spain to the Americas. Juan Griego is being mentioned in a census of 1545, he even founded a city on the island of isla Margarita in Northern Venezuela. Today that city is called Juan Griego and is named after the Greek captain, it has a population of about 28.256 inhabitants and is located on the Marcano municipality of the Nueva Esparta state, in the island of Margarita in Venezuela. Another Greek also named Juan Griego, son of Lazaro Griego from Negreponte or Crete, born in 1566, he participated in the expedition of Juan de Onate against the native indians of the Akoma tribe in Mexico in 1598. Juan Griego is described as a 32 years old man with a grey beard and of good stature, armed and with a big scar in his forhead. Juan was married with his wife Pascuala Bernal, and was one of the first residents of Santa Fe. He also had 3 sons named Lazaro, Juan and Fransisco. Juan died in Santa Fe probably after 1631.

The Greeks after the fall of their homeland and the fall of Constantinople seemed devastated but they never yielded, as they managed to rise up again and managed to prosper in various sectors in western Europe, as well as in the Ottoman empire. Many Greeks became succesfull captains and soldiers, artists and scholars in countries such as Italy and Spain and even in the ottoman empire many high officers, dragomans and captains were of Greek origins. While in Spain Greek scholars and artists like El Greco, distinguished themselves. The Greeks of the Spanish army contributed mainly in the conquest and exploration of the continent of America and played a significant role. Many of them were sailors and captains, others were explorers like Juan de Fuca and artillery men, while some of them were even Conquistadors like Pedro de Candia and Jorge Griego.


  • Spanish Peru, 1532-1560: a Social history by James Lockhart
  • The discovery and the conquest of Peru of Pedro de Cieza by Alexandra Parma Cook and Noble Cook
  • Men of Cajamarca by James Lockhart
  • A history of the Conquest of Peru by William H. Prescott 
  • Old ties and new solidarities: studies on Philippine communities by Charles J-H Macdonald and Guillermo M. Pesigan
  • The encomenderos of new Spain 1521-1555 by Romerich Himmerich y Valencia
And Wiki articles
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