Why Was Balboa the Explorer Charged With Treason?


Quick Answer

Political infighting between Vasco Nunez de Balboa and his political superior, Pedro Arias Davila, led to Davila accusing Balboa of treason. The trial showed a lot more bias than substance, but even so, the trial ended with a guilty verdict for the explorer best known for discovering the Pacific Ocean.

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Full Answer

Balboa served as the interim governor of Darien, one of the administrative areas that the Spanish had set up in the Western Hemisphere and that included what would become the country of Panama. In late 1513, Balboa led an expedition with more than 200 Spaniards and Indians over the Isthmus of Panama. From the top of a mountain, he saw what he called the Mar del Sur (South Sea), which would later be called the Pacific Ocean.

While Balboa was on his expedition, Pedro Arias Davila (known as Pedrarias) showed up in Darien as the new governor. Balboa remained over Coiba and Panama, but he was not under Pedrarias' authority. The two men were suspicious of one another, but Balboa married Pedrarias' daughter. Even so, once Balboa headed off on an expedition to explore the Mar del Sur, Pedrarias found himself the target of his own enemies, who had convinced King Ferdinand of Spain to order a judicial inquiry into his conduct. Pedrarias believed that Balboa would speak against him, and so he accused him of treason and, upon Balboa's return, he had him tried and beheaded.

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