10 Facts About Simon Bolivar

The Truth About the Greatest of the Liberators

What happens when a man becomes a legend, even in his own time? Facts can often get lost, overlooked or changed by historians with an agenda. Simon Bolivar was the greatest hero of a romantic time: Latin America's Age of Independence. Here are some facts about the man known as "the Liberator."

01
of 10

Simon Bolivar Was Incredibly Wealthy Before the Wars of Independence

Simon Bolivar
Hulton Archive - Stringer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Simón Bolívar came from one of the wealthiest families in all of Venezuela. He had a privileged upbringing and an excellent education. As a young man, he went to Europe, as was the fashion for people of his standing. In fact, Bolivar had much to lose when the existing social order was ripped apart by the independence movement. Still, he joined the patriot cause early and never gave anyone any reason to doubt his commitment. He and his family lost much of their wealth in the wars.

Bolivar wasn't the only patriot general with an army in the field in Venezuela in the turbulent years between 1813 and 1819. There were several others, including Santiago Mariño, José Antonio Páez, and Manuel Piar. Even though they had the same goal - independence from Spain — these generals did not always get along, and sometimes came close to warring amongst themselves. It wasn't until 1817, when Bolívar ordered Piar arrested, tried and executed for insubordination that most of the other generals fell into line under Bolívar. More »

Bolívar was married briefly while visiting Spain as a young man, but his bride died not long after their wedding. He never remarried, preferring a long series of flings with the women he met while campaigning. The closest thing to a long-term girlfriend he had was Manuela Saenz, the Ecuadorian wife of a British doctor, but he generally left her behind while he was campaigning and had several other mistresses at the same time. Saenz saved his life one night in Bogotá by helping him escape some assassins sent by his enemies. More »

Francisco de Miranda, a Venezuelan who had risen to the rank of General in the French Revolution, attempted to kick-start an independence movement in his homeland in 1806 but failed miserably. After that, he worked tirelessly to achieve independence for Latin America and helped found the First Venezuelan Republic. The republic was destroyed by the Spanish, however, and in the final days Miranda fell out with young Simón Bolivar. As the republic crumbled, Bolívar turned Miranda over to the Spanish, who locked him in a prison until he died a few years later. His betrayal of Miranda is probably the biggest stain on Bolívar's revolutionary record. More »

Francisco de Paula Santander was a New Granadan (Colombian) General who fought side-by-side with Bolívar at the decisive Battle of Boyacá. Bolívar had much faith in Santander and made him his vice-president when he was president of Gran Colombia. The two men soon fell out, however: Santander favored laws and democracy whereas Bolívar believed that the new nation needed a strong hand while it grew. Things got so bad that in 1828 Santander was convicted of conspiring to assassinate Bolívar. Bolívar pardoned him and Santander went into exile, returning after Bolívar's death to become one of the founding fathers of Colombia. More »

Simón Bolivar died of tuberculosis on December 17, 1830, at the age of 47. Oddly, despite fighting dozens if not hundreds of battles, skirmishes, and engagements from Venezuela to Bolivia, he never received a serious injury on the field of battle. He also survived numerous assassination attempts without so much as a scratch. Some have wondered if he was murdered, and it is true that some arsenic has been found in his remains, but arsenic was commonly used at the time as medicine. More »

Bolívar was a gifted general who knew when to take a big gamble. In 1813, as Spanish forces in Venezuela were closing in around him, he and his army made a mad dash forward, taking the key city of Caracas before the Spanish even knew he was gone. In 1819, he marched his army over the frigid Andes Mountains, attacking the Spanish in New Granada by surprise and capturing Bogotá so fast that the fleeing Spanish Viceroy left money behind. In 1824, he marched through bad weather to attack the Spanish in the Peruvian highlands: the Spanish were so surprised to see him and his massive army that they fled all the way back to Cuzco after the Battle of Junín. Bolívar's gambles, which must have seemed like madness to his officers, consistently paid off with big wins. More »

08
of 10

Simon Bolivar Lost Some Battles, Too

Bolívar was a superb general and leader and definitely won many more battles than he lost. Still, he was not invulnerable and did occasionally lose. Bolívar and Santiago Mariño, another top patriot general, got crushed at the Second Battle of La Puerta in 1814 by royalists fighting under Spanish warlord Tomás "Taita" Boves. This defeat would eventually lead (in part) to the collapse of the Second Venezuelan Republic.

09
of 10

Simon Bolivar Had Dictatorial Tendencies

Simón Bolívar, although a great advocate for Independence from the King of Spain, had a dictatorial streak in him. He believed in democracy, but he felt that the newly-liberated nations of Latin America weren’t quite ready for it. He believed that a firm hand was needed at the controls for a few years while the dust settled. He put his beliefs into effect while President of Gran Colombia, ruling from a position of supreme power. It made him very unpopular, however.

10
of 10

Simon Bolivar Is Still Very Important in Latin American Politics

You'd think that a man who has been dead for two hundred years would be irrelevant, right? Not Simón Bolívar! Politicians and leaders are still fighting over his legacy and who is his political "heir." Bolívar's dream was of a united Latin America, and although it failed, many today believe that he was right all along — to compete in the modern world, Latin America must unite. Among those who claim his legacy is Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, who has renamed his country "The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela" and modified the flag to include an extra star in honor of the Liberator.