Amerigo Vespucci (Italian pronunciation: [ameˈriːɡo
vesˈputtʃi]; March 9, 1454 – February 22, 1512) was an
Italian explorer, financier, navigator and cartographer who first
demonstrated in about 1502 that
Brazil and the
West Indies did not
represent Asia's eastern outskirts as initially conjectured from
Columbus' voyages, but instead constituted an entirely separate
landmass hitherto unknown to people of the Old World. In 1505 he
became a citizen of Spain.
Colloquially referred to as the New World, this second super continent
came to be termed "Americas", deriving its name from Americus, the
Latin version of Vespucci's first name.
3 Historical role
4.1 First voyage
4.2 Second voyage
4.3 Third voyage (Mundus Novus: Letter to Lorenzo Pietro Di Medici)
4.4 Fourth voyage
5 Personal life
6 Final years
8 Further reading
10 External links
The birthplace of Amerigo Vespucci
Amerigo Vespucci was born and raised in
Florence on the Italian
Peninsula. He was the third son of Ser Nastagio (Anastasio) Vespucci,
a Florentine notary, and Lisabetta Mini. The father of Ser
Nastagio (Anastasio) Vespucci had the name
Amerigo Vespucci also.
Amerigo Vespucci was educated by his uncle, Fra Giorgio Antonio
Vespucci, a Dominican friar of the monastery of San Marco in Florence.
While his elder brothers were sent to the
University of Pisa
University of Pisa to pursue
Amerigo Vespucci embraced a mercantile life, and
was hired as a clerk by the Florentine commercial house of Medici,
headed by Lorenzo de' Medici. Vespucci acquired the favor and
Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici
Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici who became the head
of the business after the elder Lorenzo's death in 1492. In March
1492, the Medici dispatched the thirty-eight-year-old Vespucci and
Donato Niccolini as confidential agents to look into the Medici branch
Cádiz (Spain), whose managers and dealings were under
In April 1495, by the intrigues of Bishop Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca,
Crown of Castile
Crown of Castile broke their monopoly deal with Christopher
Columbus and began handing out licenses to other navigators for the
West Indies. Just around this time (1495–96), Vespucci was engaged
as the executor of Giannotto Berardi, an Italian merchant who had
recently died in Seville. Vespucci organized the fulfillment of
Berardi's outstanding contract with the Castilian crown to provide
twelve vessels for the Indies. After these were delivered, Vespucci
continued as a provision contractor for Indies expeditions, and is
known to have secured beef supplies for at least one (if not two) of
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Statue outside the Uffizi, Florence
At the invitation of king Manuel I of Portugal, Vespucci participated
as observer in several voyages that explored the east coast of South
America between 1499 and 1502. On the first of these voyages he was
aboard the ship that discovered that
South America extended much
further south than previously thought.
The expeditions became widely known in
Europe after two accounts
attributed to Vespucci were published between 1502 and 1504. In 1507,
Martin Waldseemüller produced a world map on which he named the new
continent America after the feminine
Latin version of Vespucci's first
name, which is Americus. In an accompanying book, Waldseemüller
published one of the Vespucci accounts, which led to criticism that
Vespucci was trying to upset Christopher Columbus' glory. However, the
rediscovery in the 18th century of other letters by Vespucci has led
to the view that the early published accounts, notably the Soderini
Letter, could be fabrications, not by Vespucci, but by
In 1508, the position of chief of navigation of Spain (piloto mayor de
Indias) was created for Vespucci, with the responsibility of planning
navigation for voyages to the Indies.
Vespucci's first encounter with Native Americans in Honduras, 1497 (De
Bry's illustration, c.1592)
Two letters attributed to Vespucci were published during his lifetime.
Mundus Novus (New World) was a
Latin translation of a lost Italian
letter sent from
Lisbon to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici. It
describes a voyage to
South America in 1501–1502.
Mundus Novus was
published in late 1502 or early 1503 and soon reprinted and
distributed in numerous European countries. Lettera di Amerigo
Vespucci delle isole nuovamente trovate in quattro suoi viaggi (Letter
Amerigo Vespucci concerning the isles newly discovered on his four
voyages), known as Lettera al Soderini or just Lettera, was a letter
in Italian addressed to Piero Soderini. Printed in 1504 or 1505, it
claimed to be an account of four voyages to the
Americas made by
Vespucci between 1497 and 1504. A
Latin translation was published by
Martin Waldseemüller in 1507 in Cosmographiae Introductio,
a book on cosmography and geography, as Quattuor Americi Vespucij
navigationes (Four Voyages of Amerigo Vespucci).
On March 22, 1508, King Ferdinand made Vespucci chief navigator of
Spain at a huge salary and commissioned him to found a school of
navigation, in order to standardize and modernize navigation
techniques used by Iberian sea captains then exploring the world.
Vespucci even developed a rudimentary, but fairly accurate method of
determining longitude (which only more accurate chronometers would
later improve upon).
The first known depiction of cannibalism in the New World. Engraving
by Johann Froschauer for an edition of Amerigo Vespucci's Mundus
Novus, published in Augsburg in 1505
In the 18th century, three unpublished familiar letters from Vespucci
Lorenzo de' Medici
Lorenzo de' Medici were rediscovered. One describes a voyage made
in 1499–1500 which corresponds with the second of the "four
voyages". Another was written from Cape Verde in 1501 in the early
part of the third of the four voyages, before crossing the Atlantic.
The third letter was sent from
Lisbon after the completion of that
Some have suggested that Vespucci, in the two letters published in his
lifetime, was exaggerating his role and constructed deliberate
fabrications. However, many scholars now believe that the two letters
were not written by him but were fabrications by others based in part
on genuine letters by Vespucci. It was the publication and widespread
circulation of the letters that might have led Waldseemüller to name
the new continent America on his world map of 1507 in Lorraine.
Vespucci used a Latinised form of his name, Americus Vespucius, in his
Latin writings, which Waldseemüller used as a base for the new name,
taking the feminine form America, according to the prevalent view. The
book accompanying the map stated: "I do not see what right any one
would have to object to calling this part, after Americus who
discovered it and who is a man of intelligence, Amerige, that is, the
Land of Americus, or America: since both Europa and
Asia got their
names from women". It is possible that Vespucci was not aware that
Waldseemüller had named the continent after him.
The two disputed letters claim that Vespucci made four voyages to
America, while at most two can be verified from other sources. At the
moment, there is a dispute between historians on when Vespucci visited
the mainland the first time. Some historians like Germán
Arciniegas and Gabriel Camargo Pérez think that his first voyage
was made in June 1497 with the Spanish pilot Juan de la Cosa.
Vespucci's real historical importance may well rest more in his
letters, whether he wrote them all or not, than in his discoveries.
From these letters, the European public learned about the newly
discovered continents of the
Americas for the first time; their
existence became generally known throughout
Europe within a few years
of the letters' publication. In his words:
..concerning my return from those new regions which we found and
explored ... we may rightly call a new world. Because our ancestors
had no knowledge of them, and it will be a matter wholly new to all
those who hear about them, for this transcends the view held by our
ancients, inasmuch as most of them hold that there is no continent to
the south beyond the equator, but only the sea which they named the
Atlantic and if some of them did aver that a continent there was, they
denied with abundant argument that it was a habitable land. But that
this their opinion is false and utterly opposed to the truth ... my
last voyage has made manifest; for in those southern parts I have
found a continent more densely peopled and abounding in animals than
Asia or Africa, and, in addition, a climate milder and more
delightful than in any other region known to us, as you shall learn in
the following account.
Portrait of a young member of the Vespucci family, identified by
Giorgio Vasari as Amerigo Vespucci.
The first and fourth voyages are perhaps fabricated, but the second
and third are certain.[b]
A letter published in 1504 purports to be an account by Vespucci,
written to Soderini, of a lengthy visit to the New World, leaving
Spain in May 1497 and returning in October 1498. However, some modern
scholars[b] have doubted that this voyage took place, and consider
this letter a forgery. Whoever did write the letter makes several
observations of native customs, including use of hammocks and sweat
About 1499–1500, Vespucci joined an expedition in the service of
Alonso de Ojeda
Alonso de Ojeda (or Hojeda) as the fleet commander. The
intention was to sail around the southern end of the African mainland
into the Indian Ocean. After hitting land at the coast of what is
now Guyana, the two seem to have separated. Vespucci sailed southward,
discovering the mouth of the
Amazon River and reaching 6°S, before
turning around and seeing
Trinidad and the
Orinoco River and returning
to Spain by way of Hispaniola. The letter, to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco
de' Medici, claims that Vespucci determined his longitude celestially
 on August 23, 1499, while on this voyage. However, that claim may
be fraudulent, which could cast doubt on the letter's credibility.
Third voyage (Mundus Novus: Letter to Lorenzo Pietro Di Medici)
Portrait engraving of Vespucci by Crispijn van de Passe, which titles
him "discoverer and conqueror of Brazilian land"
The last certain voyage of Vespucci was led by
Gonçalo Coelho in
1501–1502 in the service of Portugal. Departing from Lisbon, the
fleet sailed first to Cape Verde where they met two of Pedro Álvares
Cabral's ships returning from India. In a letter from Cape Verde,
Vespucci says that he hopes to visit the same lands that Álvares
Cabral had explored, suggesting that the intention is to sail west to
Asia, as on the 1499–1500 voyage. On reaching the coast of
Brazil, they sailed south along the coast of
South America to Rio de
Janeiro's bay. If his own account is to be believed, he reached the
Patagonia before turning back, although this also seems
doubtful, since his account does not mention the broad estuary of the
Río de la Plata, which he must have seen if he had gotten that far
south. Portuguese maps of South America, created after the voyage of
Coelho and Vespucci, do not show any land south of present-day
Cananéia at 25° S, so this may represent the southernmost extent of
After the first half of the expedition, Vespucci mapped Alpha and Beta
Centauri, as well as the constellation Crux, the Southern Cross and
the Coalsack Nebula. Although these stars had been known to the
ancient Greeks, gradual precession had lowered them below the European
horizon so that they had been forgotten. On his return to Lisbon,
Vespucci wrote in a letter to Medici that the land masses they
explored were much larger than anticipated and different from the Asia
Marco Polo and therefore, must be a New World,
that is, a previously unknown fourth continent, after Europe, Asia,
and Africa.
Vespucci awakens "America" in a
Stradanus engraving (circa 1638)
Vespucci's fourth voyage was another expedition for the Portuguese
crown down the eastern coast of Brazil, that set out in May 1503 and
Portugal in June 1504. Like his alleged first voyage,
Vespucci's last voyage in 1503–1504 is also disputed to have taken
place. The only source of information for the last voyage is the
Letter to Soderini, but as several modern scholars dispute
Vespucci's authorship of the letter to Soderini, it is also sometimes
doubted whether Vespucci undertook this trip.[b] However, Portuguese
documents do confirm a voyage to
Brazil was undertaken in 1503–04 by
the captain Gonçalo Coelho, very likely the same captain of the 1501
mapping expedition (Vespucci's third voyage), and so it is quite
possible that Vespucci went on board this one as well. However, it
is not independently confirmed Vespucci was aboard and there are some
difficulties in the reported dates and details.
The letters caused controversy after Vespucci's death, especially
among the supporters of Columbus who believed Columbus' priority for
the discovery of America was being undermined, and seriously damaged
Vespucci was a cousin of the husband of Simonetta Vespucci. He married
Maria Cerezo. One of the very few references to Amerigo's wife is
contained in a royal decree dated May 22, 1512, giving his widow,
Maria Cerezo a lifetime pension of ten thousand marvedis per annum
deducted from the salary of her husband's successor.
Not long after his return to Spain, Vespucci became a Spanish citizen.
On March 22, 1508 he was made the pilot major of Spain by Ferdinand II
of Aragon in honor of his discoveries. Vespucci also ran a school for
navigators in the Spanish House of Trade, based in Seville.
He died on February 22, 1512 at his home in Seville, Spain.
a Europeans had long conceptualized the Afro-Eurasian landmass as
divided into the same three continents known today: Europe, Asia, and
Africa. Once cosmographers realized that the
New World was not
connected to the Old (but before its true geography was fully mapped),
they considered the
Americas to be a single, fourth continent.
b The question of the authenticity of Vespucci's authorship of the
Mundus Novus and the 1505 Letter of Soderini, the only two texts
published in Vespucci's lifetime, was famously raised by Magnaghi
(1924). He proposed the Soderini letter was not written by Vespucci,
but rather cobbled together by unscrupulous Florentine publishers,
cutting and pasting together various accounts, some from Vespucci,
others from elsewhere. Magnaghi was the first to propose that only the
second and third voyages were true (as they are corroborated in
Vespucci's other manuscript letters), while the first and fourth
voyages (which are only found in the Soderini text) were fabricated by
the publishers. The later (1937) discovery of a corrobotary Vespucci
manuscript letter for the first voyage – the "Ridolfi fragment"
(Formisiano, 1992: p.37–44) – means only the fourth voyage is
really found in Soderini alone. The Magnaghi thesis has been a
bitterly divisive factor in Vespucci scholarship. The Magnaghi thesis
was accepted and popularized by Pohl (1944) but rejected by Arciniegas
(1955), who posited all four voyages as truthful. Formisiano (1992)
also rejects the Magnaghi thesis (although recognizing publishers
probably fiddled with it), and declares all four voyages genuine, but
in details (esp. the first) differing from Arciniegas.
Fernández-Armesto (2007: p.128) declares the authenticity question
"inconclusive", hypothesizes that the first voyage is probably just
another version of the second, the third is unassailable, and the
fourth probably true (but too mangled to be sure).
Arciniegas, German (1955) Amerigo and the New World: The Life &
Times of Amerigo Vespucci. New York: Knopf. 1955 English translation
by Harriet de Onís. First edition published in Spanish in 1952 as
Amerigo y el Nuevo Mundo, Mexico: Hermes.
Fernández-Armesto, Felipe (2007) Amerigo: The Man Who Gave his Name
to America. New York: Random House.
Formisano, Luciano (1992) Letters from a New World: Amerigo Vespucci's
Discovery of America. New York: Marsilio.
Magnaghi, Alberto (1924) Amerigo Vespucci: Studio critico, con
speciale riguardo ad una nuova valutazione delle fonti e con documenti
inediti tratti dal Codice Vaglienti, 2 vols, 1926 (2nd.) ed., Rome:
Markham, Clements R., ed. (1894) The Letters of Amerigo Vespucci, and
Other Documents Illustrative of His Career. Hakluyt Society. (Reissued
by Cambridge University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-108-01286-7)
Pohl, Frederick J. (1944) Amerigo Vespucci: Pilot Major. New York:
Columbia University Press.
Ober, Frederick A. (1907) Heroes of American History: Amerigo Vespucci
New York: Harper & Brothers
Schulz, Norbert Amerigo Vespucci,
Mundus Novus (mit Zweittexten).
M.M.O., Verlag zur Förderung des Mittel- und Neulat (Vivarium (Series
neolatina, Band II)) ISBN 978-3-9811144-2-3
Ray, Kurt (2003) Amerigo Vespucci: Italian
Explorer of the Americas,
The Rosen Publishing Group, 2003 ISBN 0-8239-3615-5.
Amerigo Vespucci (Charles Lester Edwards, Amerigo Vespucci) 
Viartis ISBN 978-1-906421-02-1
^ See e.g. Encyclopædia Britannica Online, Amerigo Vespucci; and
Room, Adrian. 2004. Placenames of the world: origins and meanings of
the names for over 5000 natural features, countries, capitals,
territories, cities and historic sights: America believed to have
derived their name from the feminized
Latin version of his first name.
^ Rival explanations have been proposed (see Arciniegas, Germán.
Amerigo and the New World: The Life & Times of Amerigo Vespucci.
Translated by Harriet de Onís. New York: Octagon Books,
1978.[specify]) For example, some have speculated that the name's
origin may lie with
Richard Amerike BBC, or with the region Amerrique
in Nicaragua. None of these theories has been accepted in mainstream
^ a b c d C.R. Markham (1894) "Introduction", in The Letters of
Amerigo Vespucci and other documents illustrative of his career.
^ Alexander Christopher Bickle et alii page: 6000000050473130275 Geni
November 28, 2016 Retrieved 2017-02-23
^ Alexander Christopher Bickle et alii - page:6000000050483095880 Geni
November 28, 2016 Retrieved 2017-02-23
^ a b c Formisano, Luciano (Ed.) (1992). Letters from a New World:
Amerigo Vespucci's Discovery of America. New York: Marsilio.
ISBN 0-941419-62-2. Pp. xix–xxvi.
^ Ober, p. 234
^ Ray, p.93
^ Germán Arciniegas, Amerigo and the New World : The Life &
Times of Amerigo Vespucci, translated by Harriet de Onís, Octagon
(1978) ISBN 0-374-90280-1
^ Mundus Novus: Letter to Lorenzo Pietro Di Medici, by Amerigo
Vespucci; translated by George Tyler Northrup, Princeton University
^ "Life of Amerigo Vespucci". Millersville.edu. Archived from the
original on 2010-03-28. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
^ "Account of alleged 1497 voyage". Fordham.edu. Retrieved
^ a b O'Gorman, Edmundo (1961). The Invention of America. Indiana
University Press. pp. 106–107.
^ a b on a rainy and stormy day with calm seas, stars could be
identified near the horizon to judge latitude/longitude celestially.
Although South America's continental shelf drops quickly into the deep
ocean beyond the Orinoco River, the mouth is on the shelf, avoiding
the ocean swells and waves which hinder visibility of stars near the
horizon. Seamen who could navigate from
Europe to America and back
could chart stars on the horizon, especially for a cartographer like
^ Dekker, Elly (1990), Annals of Science, vol. 47, pp. 535–543.
^ Ray, p.91
^ Markham, pp.52–56
^ Fernández-Armesto (2007: p.168–169).
^ Ray, pp.96–97; Arciniegas (1955:p.16)
^ Hoogenboom, Lynn (2005-09-01). Amerigo Vespucci: A Primary Source
Biography. The Rosen Publishing Group.
^ Donaldson-Forbes, Jeff (2002-01-01). Amerigo Vespucci. The Rosen
Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-8239-5833-7.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Amerigo Vespucci.
Wikisource has the text of the 1900 Appletons' Cyclopædia of American
Biography article Amerigo Vespucci.
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article
Canaday, James A. The Life of Amerigo Vespucci
Amerigo Vespucci at Project Gutenberg
Works by or about
Amerigo Vespucci at Internet Archive
Vespucci, Amerigo. "Account of His First Voyage 1497 (Letter to Pier
Soderini, Gonfalonier of the Republic of Florence)". Internet Modern
History Sourcebook-Fordham University (U.S.)
Mason, Wyatt, 'I am America. (And So?)' The New York Times, December
Library resources about
Resources in your library
Resources in other libraries
Martin Waldseemüller, Franz Wieser (Ritter von), Edward Burke
(trans), The Cosmographiæ Introductio of
Martin Waldseemüller in
facsimile: followed by the Four voyages of Amerigo Vespucci, The
United States Catholic Historical Society, 1908.
Map from the US Library of Congress
TOPS Lecture at Library of Congress, Drs. France and Easton
World Digital Library
World Digital Library presentation of the 1507 Waldseemüller
the Library of Congress. This is the only known surviving copy of the
wall map edition of which it is believed 1,000 copies were printed.
Four originals of the 1507 globe gore map are in existence in Germany,
UK and US.
Online Galleries, History of Science Collections, University of
Oklahoma Libraries High resolution images of works by and/or portraits
Amerigo Vespucci in .jpg and .tiff format.
Soderini Letters in Giovanni Battista Ramusio, Primo Volume delle
Nauigationi et Viaggi, Venetia, 1550, fol.138-140.
ISNI: 0000 0001 2119 7904
BNF: cb12234845j (data)