Christopher Columbus[a] (/kəˈlʌmbəs/ c. 31 October
1451 – 20 May 1506) was an Italian explorer, navigator, and
colonizer. Born in the Republic of Genoa, under the auspices of the
Catholic Monarchs of
Spain he completed four voyages across the
Atlantic Ocean. Those voyages and his efforts to establish settlements
on the island of Hispaniola, initiated the permanent European
colonization of the New World.
At a time when European kingdoms were beginning to establish new trade
routes and colonies, motivated by imperialism and economic
competition, Columbus proposed to reach the
East Indies (South and
Southeast Asia) by sailing westward. This eventually received the
support of the Spanish Crown, which saw a chance to enter the spice
Asia through this new route. During his first voyage in
1492, he reached the
New World instead of arriving in
Japan as he had
intended, landing on an island in the Bahamas archipelago that he
named San Salvador. Over the course of three more voyages, he visited
the Greater and Lesser Antilles, as well as the Caribbean coast of
Venezuela and Central America, claiming all of it for the Crown of
Though preceded by short-lived
Norse colonization of North America
Norse colonization of North America led
Leif Erikson in the 11th century, Columbus is the European
explorer credited with establishing and documenting routes to the
Americas, securing lasting European ties to the Americas, and
inaugurating a period of exploration, conquest, and colonization that
lasted for centuries. His exertions thereby strongly contributed to
the development of the modern Western world. He also founded the
transatlantic slave trade and has been accused by several historians
of initiating the genocide of the
Hispaniola natives. Columbus himself
saw his accomplishments primarily in the light of spreading the
Columbus had set course in hopes of finding a western route to the
Indies (Asia). He called the inhabitants of the lands that he visited
indios (Spanish for "Indians"). His strained relationship
with the Spanish crown and its appointed colonial administrators in
America led to his arrest and dismissal as governor of the settlements
on the island of
Hispaniola in 1500, and later to protracted
litigation over the benefits that he and his heirs claimed were owed
to them by the crown.
1 Early life
2 Quest for Asia
2.2 Geographical considerations
2.3 Nautical considerations
2.4 Quest for financial support for a voyage
2.5 Agreement with the Spanish crown
3.1 First voyage
3.2 Second voyage
3.3 Third voyage
3.4 Fourth voyage
4 Accusations of tyranny
5 Later life
6 Illness and death
Flat Earth mythology
8.3 America as a distinct land
8.4 Criticism in modern scholarship
9 Physical appearance
10 See also
13 Further reading
14 External links
Further information on Columbus's birthplace and family background:
Origin theories of Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus at the gates of the monastery of Santa María de
la Rábida with his son Diego, by Benet Mercadé
Christopher Columbus is the
Anglicisation of the Latin
Christophorus Columbus. His name in Ligurian is Cristòffa Cónbo, in
Italian Cristoforo Colombo and in Spanish Cristóbal Colón. He was
born before 31 October 1451 in the territory of the Republic of Genoa
(now part of modern Italy), though the exact location remains
disputed.[b] His father was Domenico Colombo, a middle-class
wool weaver who worked both in
Savona and who also owned a
cheese stand at which young Christopher worked as a helper. His mother
was Susanna Fontanarossa. Bartolomeo, Giovanni Pellegrino, and
Giacomo were his brothers. Bartolomeo worked in a cartography workshop
Lisbon for at least part of his adulthood. He also had a sister
Columbus never wrote in his native language, which is presumed to have
been a Genoese variety of Ligurian (his name would translate in the
16th-century Genoese language as Christoffa Corombo Ligurian
pronunciation: [kriˈʃtɔffa kuˈɹuŋbu]). In one of
his writings, he says he went to sea at the age of 10. In 1470, the
Columbus family moved to Savona, where Domenico took over a tavern. In
the same year, Christopher was on a Genoese ship hired in the service
René of Anjou to support his attempt to conquer the Kingdom of
Naples. Some modern historians have argued that he was not from Genoa
but, instead, from the
Aragon region of Spain or from
Portugal. These competing hypotheses have generally been
discounted by mainstream scholars.
Columbus's copy of The Travels of Marco Polo, with his handwritten
Latin written on the margins
In 1473, Columbus began his apprenticeship as business agent for the
important Centurione, Di Negro and Spinola families of Genoa. Later,
he allegedly made a trip to Chios, an Aegean island then ruled by
Genoa. In May 1476, he took part in an armed convoy sent by Genoa
to carry valuable cargo to northern Europe. He docked in Bristol,
England and Galway, Ireland. In 1477, he was possibly in
Iceland. In the autumn of 1477, he sailed on a Portuguese ship from
Galway to Lisbon, where he found his brother Bartolomeo, and they
continued trading for the Centurione family. Columbus based himself in
Lisbon from 1477 to 1485. He married Filipa Moniz Perestrelo, daughter
Porto Santo governor and Portuguese nobleman of Lombard origin
In 1479 or 1480, his son
Diego Columbus was born. Between 1482 and
1485, Columbus traded along the coasts of West Africa, reaching the
Portuguese trading post of
Elmina at the Guinea coast. Some records
report that Filipa died sometime around 1485, while Columbus was away
in Castile. He returned to
Portugal to settle her estate and take his
Diego with him. He had left
Portugal for Castile in 1485,
where he found a mistress in 1487, a 20-year-old orphan named Beatriz
Enríquez de Arana. It is likely that Beatriz met Columbus when he
was in Córdoba, a gathering site of many Genoese merchants and where
the court of the Catholic monarchs was located at intervals. Beatriz,
unmarried at the time, gave birth to Columbus's natural son Fernando
Columbus in July 1488, named for the monarch of Aragón. Columbus
recognized the boy as his offspring. Columbus entrusted his older,
Diego to take care of Beatriz and pay the pension set
aside for her following his death, but
Diego was negligent in his
Ambitious, Columbus eventually learned Latin, Portuguese, and
Castilian. He read widely about astronomy, geography, and history,
including the works of Claudius Ptolemy, Cardinal Pierre d'Ailly's
Imago Mundi, the travels of
Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville,
Pliny's Natural History, and Pope Pius II's Historia Rerum Ubique
Gestarum. According to historian Edmund Morgan,
Columbus was not a scholarly man. Yet he studied these books, made
hundreds of marginal notations in them and came out with ideas about
the world that were characteristically simple and strong and sometimes
Throughout his life, Columbus also showed a keen interest in the Bible
and in Biblical prophecies, often quoting biblical texts in his
letters and logs. For example, part of the argument that he submitted
to the Spanish
Catholic Monarchs when he sought their support for his
proposed expedition to reach the
Indies by sailing west was based on
his reading of the Second Book of
Esdras (Ezra): see
2 Esdras 6:42,
which he took to mean that the Earth is made of six parts of land to
one of water. Towards the end of his life, he produced a Book of
Prophecies in which his career as an explorer is interpreted in the
Christian eschatology and of apocalypticism.
Quest for Asia
"Columbus map", drawn c. 1490 in the
Lisbon workshop of
Bartolomeo and Christopher Columbus
Under the Mongol Empire's hegemony over
Asia (the Pax Mongolica, or
Mongol peace), Europeans had long enjoyed a safe land passage, the
Silk Road, to the
Indies (then construed roughly as all of south and
east Asia) and China, which were sources of valuable goods such as
spices and silk. With the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks
in 1453, the land route to
Asia became much more difficult and
dangerous. Portuguese navigators tried to find a sea way to Asia.
In 1470, the Florentine astronomer Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli
suggested to King Afonso V of
Portugal that sailing west would be a
quicker way to reach the Spice Islands, Cathay, and
Cipangu than the
route around Africa. Afonso rejected his proposal. Portuguese
explorers, under the leadership of King John II, then developed the
Cape Route to
Asia around Africa. Major progress in this quest was
achieved in 1488, when
Bartolomeu Dias reached the Cape of Good Hope,
in what is now South Africa. Meanwhile, in the 1480s, the Columbus
brothers had picked up Toscanelli's suggestion and proposed a plan to
Indies by sailing west across the "Ocean Sea", i.e., the
Atlantic. However, Dias's discovery had shifted the interests of
Portuguese seafaring to the southeast passage, which complicated
Columbus's proposals significantly.
Washington Irving's 1828 biography of Columbus popularized the idea
that Columbus had difficulty obtaining support for his plan because
many Catholic theologians insisted that the Earth was flat. In
fact, nearly all educated Westerners had understood, at least since
the time of Aristotle, that the Earth is spherical. The
sphericity of the Earth is also accounted for in the work of Ptolemy,
on which medieval astronomy was largely based. Christian writers whose
works clearly reflect the conviction that the Earth is spherical
Bede the Venerable in his Reckoning of Time, written
around AD 723. In Columbus's time, the techniques of celestial
navigation, which use the position of the sun and the stars in the
sky, together with the understanding that the Earth is a sphere, had
long been in use by astronomers and were beginning to be implemented
As far back as the 3rd century BC,
Eratosthenes had correctly computed
the circumference of the Earth by using simple geometry and studying
the shadows cast by objects at two different locations:
Syene (modern-day Aswan). Eratosthenes's results were confirmed by
a comparison of stellar observations at
Alexandria and Rhodes, carried
Posidonius in the 1st century BC. These measurements were
widely known among scholars, but confusion about the old-fashioned
units of distance in which they were expressed had led, in Columbus's
day, to some debate about the exact size of the Earth.
Toscanelli's notions of the geography of the
Atlantic Ocean (shown
superimposed on a modern map), which directly influenced Columbus's
From d'Ailly's Imago Mundi Columbus learned of Alfraganus's estimate
that a degree of latitude (or a degree of longitude along the equator)
spanned 56⅔ miles, but did not realize that this was expressed in
Arabic mile rather than the shorter
Roman mile with which he was
familiar (1,480 m). He therefore estimated the circumference
of the Earth to be about 30,200 km, whereas the correct value is
40,000 km (25,000 mi).
Furthermore, most scholars accepted Ptolemy's estimate that Eurasia
spanned 180° longitude, rather than the actual 130° (to the Chinese
mainland) or 150° (to
Japan at the latitude of Spain). Columbus, for
his part, believed the even higher estimate of Marinus of Tyre, which
put the longitudinal span of the Eurasian landmass at 225°, leaving
only 135° of water. He also believed that
Japan (which he called
"Cipangu", following Marco Polo) was much larger, farther to the east
China ("Cathay"), and closer to the equator than it is, and that
there were inhabited islands even farther to the east than Japan,
including the mythical Antillia, which he thought might lie not much
farther to the west than the Azores. In this, he was influenced by the
ideas of Florentine astronomer, Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli, who
corresponded with Columbus in 1474 and who also defended the
feasibility of a westward route to Asia.
Columbus therefore estimated the distance from the
Canary Islands to
Japan to be about 3,000 Italian miles (3,700 km, or 2,300 statute
miles). The true figure is now known to be vastly larger: about
20,000 km.[c] No ship in the 15th century could have carried
enough food and fresh water for such a long voyage, and the dangers
involved in navigating through the uncharted ocean would have been
formidable. Most European navigators reasonably concluded that a
westward voyage from Europe to
Asia was unfeasible. The Catholic
Monarchs, however, having completed an expensive war in the Iberian
Peninsula, were eager to obtain a competitive edge over other European
countries in the quest for trade with the Indies. Columbus's project,
though far-fetched, held the promise of such an advantage.
Though Columbus was wrong about the number of degrees of longitude
that separated Europe from the Far East and about the distance that
each degree represented, he did possess valuable knowledge about the
trade winds, which would prove to be the key to his successful
navigation of the Atlantic Ocean. During his first voyage in 1492, the
brisk trade winds from the east, commonly called "easterlies",
propelled Columbus's fleet for five weeks, from the
Canary Islands to
The Bahamas. The precise first land sighting and landing point was San
Salvador Island. To return to
Spain against this prevailing wind
would have required several months of an arduous sailing technique,
called beating, during which food and drinkable water would probably
have been exhausted.
Instead, Columbus returned home by following the curving trade winds
northeastward to the middle latitudes of the North Atlantic, where he
was able to catch the "westerlies" that blow eastward to the coast of
Western Europe. There, in turn, the winds curve southward towards the
It is unclear whether Columbus learned about the winds from his own
sailing experience or if he had heard about them from others. The
corresponding technique for efficient travel in the Atlantic appears
to have been exploited first by the Portuguese, who referred to it as
Volta do mar
Volta do mar ("turn of the sea"). Columbus's knowledge of the
Atlantic wind patterns was, however, imperfect at the time of his
first voyage. By sailing directly due west from the Canary Islands
during hurricane season, skirting the so-called horse latitudes of the
mid-Atlantic, Columbus risked either being becalmed or running into a
tropical cyclone, both of which, by chance, he avoided.
Quest for financial support for a voyage
Columbus offers his services to the King of Portugal; Chodowiecki,
In 1485, Columbus presented his plans to King John II of Portugal. He
proposed that the king equip three sturdy ships and grant Columbus one
year's time to sail out into the Atlantic, search for a western route
to the Orient, and return. Columbus also requested he be made "Great
Admiral of the Ocean", appointed governor of any and all lands he
discovered, and given one-tenth of all revenue from those lands. The
king submitted Columbus's proposal to his experts, who rejected it. It
was their considered opinion that Columbus's estimation of a travel
distance of 2,400 miles (3,860 km) was, in fact, far too low.
In 1488, Columbus appealed to the court of
Portugal once again and,
once again, John II invited him to an audience. That meeting also
proved unsuccessful, in part because not long afterwards Bartolomeu
Dias returned to
Portugal with news of his successful rounding of the
southern tip of Africa (near the Cape of Good Hope). With an eastern
sea route to
Asia apparently at hand, King John was no longer
interested in Columbus's far-fetched project.
Columbus before the Queen, as imagined by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze,
Columbus traveled from
Portugal to both
Genoa and Venice, but he
received encouragement from neither. He had also dispatched his
brother Bartholomew to the court of
Henry VII of England
Henry VII of England to inquire
whether the English crown might sponsor his expedition, but also
Columbus had sought an audience from the monarchs Ferdinand II of
Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, who had united several kingdoms in
Iberian Peninsula by marrying and were ruling together. On 1 May
1486, permission having been granted, Columbus presented his plans to
Queen Isabella, who, in turn, referred it to a committee. After the
passing of much time, the savants of Spain, like their counterparts in
Portugal, replied that Columbus had grossly underestimated the
distance to Asia. They pronounced the idea impractical and advised
their Royal Highnesses to pass on the proposed venture.
However, to keep Columbus from taking his ideas elsewhere, and perhaps
to keep their options open, the
Catholic Monarchs gave him an annual
allowance of 12,000 maravedis and, in 1489, furnished him with a
letter ordering all cities and towns under their domain to provide him
food and lodging at no cost.
Agreement with the Spanish crown
The Flagship of Columbus and the Fleet of Columbus. 400th Anniversary
Issues of 1893. (On ships.)
After continually lobbying at the Spanish court and two years of
negotiations, he finally had success in January 1492. Ferdinand and
Isabella had just conquered Granada, the last Muslim stronghold on the
Iberian Peninsula, and they received Columbus in Córdoba, in the
Alcázar castle. Isabella turned him down on the advice of her
confessor. Columbus was leaving town by mule in despair when Ferdinand
intervened. Isabella then sent a royal guard to fetch him, and
Ferdinand later claimed credit for being "the principal cause why
those islands were discovered".
In the April 1492 "Capitulations of Santa Fe", King Ferdinand and
Queen Isabella promised Columbus that if he succeeded he would be
given the rank of
Admiral of the
Ocean Sea and appointed
Governor of all the new lands he could claim for Spain. He had the
right to nominate three persons, from whom the sovereigns would choose
one, for any office in the new lands. He would be entitled to 10
percent of all the revenues from the new lands in perpetuity.
Additionally, he would also have the option of buying one-eighth
interest in any commercial venture with the new lands and receive
one-eighth of the profits.
Columbus was later arrested in 1500 and dismissed from his posts. He
and his sons,
Diego and Fernando, then conducted a lengthy series of
court cases against the Castilian crown, known as the pleitos
colombinos, alleging that the Crown had illegally reneged on its
contractual obligations to Columbus and his heirs. The Columbus family
had some success in their first litigation, as a judgment of 1511
confirmed Diego's position as Viceroy, but reduced his powers. Diego
resumed litigation in 1512, which lasted until 1536, and further
disputes continued until 1790.
Main article: Voyages of Christopher Columbus
The voyages of Christopher Columbus
Between 1492 and 1503, Columbus completed four round-trip voyages
Spain and the Americas, each voyage being sponsored by the
Crown of Castile. These voyages marked the beginning of the European
exploration and colonization of the American continents, and are thus
of enormous significance in Western history.
Columbus always insisted, in the face of mounting evidence to the
contrary, that the lands that he visited during those voyages were
part of the Asian continent, as previously described by
Marco Polo and
other European travelers. Columbus's refusal to accept that the
lands he had visited and claimed for
Spain were not part of
explain, in part, why the American continent was named after the
Amerigo Vespucci and not after Columbus.
First voyage. Modern place names in black, Columbus's place names in
On the evening of 3 August 1492, Columbus departed from Palos de la
Frontera with three ships: a larger carrack, the Santa María
ex-Gallega ("Galician"), and two smaller caravels, the Pinta ("The
Pint", "The Look", or "The Spotted One") and the Santa Clara,
Niña ("Girl") after her owner Juan Niño of Moguer.
The monarchs forced the citizens of Palos to contribute to the
expedition. The Santa María was owned by
Juan de la Cosa and
captained by Columbus. The Pinta and the
Niña were piloted by the
Pinzón brothers (Martín Alonso and Vicente Yáñez).
Columbus first sailed to the Canary Islands, which belonged to
Castile. He restocked provisions and made repairs in Gran Canaria,
then departed from
San Sebastián de La Gomera
San Sebastián de La Gomera on 6 September, for
what turned out to be a five-week voyage across the ocean. At about
2:00 in the morning of 12 October (21 October, Gregorian Calendar New
Style), a lookout on the Pinta,
Rodrigo de Triana
Rodrigo de Triana (also known as Juan
Rodríguez Bermeo), spotted land, and immediately alerted the rest of
the crew with a shout. Thereupon, the captain of the Pinta, Martín
Alonso Pinzón, verified the discovery and alerted Columbus by firing
a lombard. Columbus later maintained that he himself had already
seen a light on the land a few hours earlier, thereby claiming for
himself the lifetime pension promised by Ferdinand and Isabella to the
first person to sight land.
Columbus called the island (in what is now the Bahamas) San Salvador
(meaning "Holy Savior"); the natives called it Guanahani. Exactly
which island in the Bahamas this corresponds to is unresolved. Based
on primary accounts and on what one would expect from the geographic
positions of the islands given Columbus's course, the prime candidates
San Salvador Island
San Salvador Island (so named in 1925 on the theory that it was
Columbus's San Salvador), Samana Cay, and Plana Cays.
Landing of Columbus (12 October 1492), painting by John Vanderlyn
The indigenous people he encountered, the Lucayan, Taíno, or Arawak,
were peaceful and friendly. Noting their gold ear ornaments, Columbus
took some of the Arawaks prisoner and insisted that they guide him to
the source of the gold. From the entry in his journal of 12
October 1492, in which he wrote of them: "Many of the men I have seen
have scars on their bodies, and when I made signs to them to find out
how this happened, they indicated that people from other nearby
islands come to San Salvador to capture them; they defend themselves
the best they can. I believe that people from the mainland come here
to take them as slaves. They ought to make good and skilled servants,
for they repeat very quickly whatever we say to them. I think they can
very easily be made Christians, for they seem to have no religion. If
it pleases our Lord, I will take six of them to Your Highnesses when I
depart, in order that they may learn our language." Columbus noted
that their primitive weapons and military tactics made them
susceptible to easy conquest, writing, "… these people are very
simple in war-like matters … I could conquer the whole of them with
50 men, and govern them as I pleased."
Columbus also explored the northeast coast of Cuba, where he landed on
28 October. On 22 November,
Martín Alonso Pinzón
Martín Alonso Pinzón took the Pinta on
an unauthorized expedition in search of an island called "Babeque" or
"Baneque", which the natives had told him was rich in gold. Columbus,
for his part, continued to the northern coast of Hispaniola, where he
landed on 5 December. There, the Santa María ran aground on
Christmas Day 1492 and had to be abandoned. The wreck was used as a
target for cannon fire to impress the native peoples. Columbus was
received by the native cacique Guacanagari, who gave him permission to
leave some of his men behind. Columbus left 39 men, including Luis de
Converso interpreter, who spoke Hebrew and Arabic, and
founded the settlement of
La Navidad at the site of present-day Bord
de Mer de Limonade, Haiti. Columbus took more natives prisoner and
continued his exploration. He kept sailing along the northern
Hispaniola with a single ship, until he encountered Pinzón
and the Pinta on 6 January.
The return of Christopher Columbus; his audience before King Ferdinand
and Queen Isabella, painting by Eugène Delacroix
"The Letter of Columbus on the Discovery of America"
Read by Availle for LibriVox
Audio 00:20:05 (full text)
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On 13 January 1493, Columbus made his last stop of this voyage in the
New World, in the
Bay of Rincón
Bay of Rincón at the eastern end of the Samaná
Peninsula in northeast Hispaniola. There he encountered the
warlike Cigüayos, the only natives who offered violent resistance
during his first voyage to the Americas. The Cigüayos refused to
trade the amount of bows and arrows that Columbus desired; in the
ensuing clash one Ciguayo was stabbed in the buttocks and another
wounded with an arrow in his chest. Because of this and because of
the Cigüayos' use of arrows, he called the inlet where he met them
Bay of Arrows (or Gulf of Arrows). Columbus kidnapped about 10
to 25 natives and took them back with him (only seven or eight of the
natives arrived in
Columbus headed for
Spain on the Niña, but a storm separated him from
the Pinta, and forced the
Niña to stop at the island of Santa Maria
in the Azores. Half of his crew went ashore to say prayers in a chapel
to give thanks for having survived the storm. But while praying, they
were imprisoned by the governor of the island, ostensibly on suspicion
of being pirates. After a two-day standoff, the prisoners were
released, and Columbus again set sail for Spain.
Another storm forced him into the port at Lisbon. He anchored next
to the King's harbor patrol ship on 4 March 1493 in Portugal. There,
he was interviewed by Bartolomeu Dias, who had rounded the Cape of
Good Hope a few years earlier, in 1488–1489. Dias's success had
complicated Columbus's attempts to secure funding from the Portuguese
court because the sure route to the
Indies that Dias pioneered made a
risky, conjectural western route unnecessary. Not finding King
John II of
Portugal in Lisbon, Columbus wrote a letter to him and
waited for John's reply. John asked Columbus to go to Vale do Paraíso
Lisbon to meet him. Relations between
Portugal and Castile
were poor at the time. Columbus went to meet with John at Vale do
Paraíso. Hearing of Columbus's discoveries, John told him that he
believed the voyage to be in violation of the 1479 Treaty of
After spending more than a week in Portugal, and paying his respects
to Eleanor of Viseu, Columbus again set sail for Spain. Ferdinand
Magellan was a young boy and a ward of Eleanor's court; it is likely
he saw Columbus during this visit. After departing, and after
reportedly being saved from assassins by King John, Columbus crossed
the bar of Saltes and entered the harbor of
Palos de la Frontera
Palos de la Frontera on 15
March 1493. Word of his finding new lands rapidly spread throughout
Columbus's second voyage
Columbus left the port of
Cádiz on 24 September 1493, with a fleet of
17 ships carrying 1,200 men and the supplies to establish permanent
colonies in the New World. The passengers included priests, farmers,
and soldiers, who would be the new colonists. This reflected the new
policy of creating not just "colonies of exploitation", but also
"colonies of settlement" from which to launch missions dedicated to
converting the natives to Christianity. Modern studies suggest
that, as reported by the Washington Post, "crew members may have
included free black Africans who arrived in the
New World about a
decade before the slave trade began."
As in the first voyage, the fleet stopped at the Canary Islands, from
which it departed on 13 October, following a more southerly course
than on the previous expedition. On 3 November, Columbus sighted a
rugged island that he named
Latin for Sunday); later that
day, he landed at Marie-Galante, which he named Santa María la
Galante. After sailing past
Les Saintes (Los Santos, "The Saints"), he
arrived at the island of Guadeloupe, which he named Santa María de
Guadalupe de Extremadura, after the image of the Virgin Mary venerated
at the Spanish monastery of Villuercas, in Guadalupe, Cáceres, Spain.
He explored that island from 4 to 10 November.
Michele da Cuneo, Columbus's childhood friend from Savona, sailed with
Columbus during the second voyage and wrote: "In my opinion, since
Genoa was Genoa, there was never born a man so well equipped and
expert in the art of navigation as the said lord Admiral."
Columbus named the small island of "Saona ... to honor Michele da
Cuneo, his friend from Savona."
The same childhood friend reported in a letter that Columbus had
provided one of the captured indigenous women to him. He wrote, "While
I was in the boat, I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, whom the
Admiral gave to me. When I had taken her to my cabin she was
naked—as was their custom. I was filled with a desire to take my
pleasure with her and attempted to satisfy my desire. She was
unwilling, and so treated me with her nails that I wished I had never
begun. But—to cut a long story short—I then took a piece of rope
and whipped her soundly, and she let forth such incredible screams
that you would not have believed your ears. Eventually we came to such
terms, I assure you, that you would have thought that she had been
brought up in a school for whores."
The Inspiration of
Christopher Columbus by José María Obregón, 1856
Pedro de las Casas, father of the priest Bartolomé de las Casas, also
accompanied Columbus on this voyage.
The exact course of Columbus's voyage through the
Lesser Antilles is
debated, but it seems likely that he turned north, sighting and naming
several islands, including:
Montserrat (for Santa María de Montserrate, after the Blessed Virgin
of the Monastery of Montserrat, which is located on the Mountain of
Montserrat, in Catalonia, Spain),
Antigua (after a church in Seville, Spain, called Santa María la
Antigua, meaning "Old St. Mary's"),
Redonda (Santa María la Redonda, Spanish for "St. Mary the Round",
owing to the island's shape),
Nevis (derived from the Spanish Nuestra Señora de las Nieves, "Our
Lady of the Snows", because Columbus thought the clouds over Nevis
Peak made the island resemble a snow-capped mountain),
Saint Kitts (for St. Christopher, patron of sailors and travelers),
Sint Eustatius (for the early Roman martyr, St. Eustachius),
Saba (after the Biblical Queen of Sheba),
Saint Martin (San Martín), and
Saint Croix (from the Spanish Santa Cruz, meaning "Holy
Columbus also sighted the chain of the Virgin Islands, which he named
Islas de Santa Úrsula y las Once Mil Vírgenes, "Islands of Saint
Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins" (shortened, both on maps of the time
and in common parlance, to Islas Vírgenes). He also named the islands
Virgin Gorda ("Fat Virgin"), Tortola, and
Peter Island (San Pedro).
He continued to the Greater Antilles, and landed in Puerto Rico, which
he named San Juan Bautista in honor of
Saint John the Baptist
Saint John the Baptist (a name
that was later retained only for the capital city of San Juan). One of
the first skirmishes between Native Americans and Europeans since the
time of the Vikings occurred when Columbus's men rescued two
native boys who had just been castrated by their captors in another
On 22 November, Columbus returned to Hispaniola, where he intended to
visit the fort of La Navidad, built during his first voyage and
located on the northern coast of Haiti. Columbus found the fort in
ruins, destroyed by the native Taino people. Among the ruins were
the corpses of 11 of the 39 Spaniards who had stayed behind as the
first colonists in the New World.
Columbus then sailed more than 100 kilometres (62 miles) eastwards
along the northern coast of Hispaniola, establishing a new settlement,
which he called La Isabela, in the present-day Dominican Republic.
La Isabela proved to be poorly located and the settlement was
According to the abstract of Columbus's journal made by Bartolomé de
Las Casas, the objective of the third voyage was to verify the
existence of a continent that King John II of
Portugal suggested was
located to the southwest of the
Cape Verde Islands. King John
reportedly knew of the existence of such a mainland because "canoes
had been found which set out from the coast of Guinea [West Africa]
and sailed to the west with merchandise."
On 30 May 1498, Columbus left with six ships from Sanlúcar, Spain,
for his third trip to the New World. Three of the ships headed
Hispaniola with much-needed supplies, while Columbus took
the other three in an exploration of what might lie to the south of
the Caribbean islands he had already visited, including a hoped-for
passage to continental Asia.
Columbus led his fleet to the Portuguese island of Porto Santo, his
wife's native land. He then sailed to
Madeira and spent some time
there with the Portuguese captain João Gonçalves da Camara, before
sailing to the
Canary Islands and Cape Verde. As he crossed the
Atlantic, Columbus discovered that the angle between North as
indicated by a magnetic compass and North as measured by the position
of the pole star changed with his position (a phenomenon now known as
"compass variation"). He would later use his previous measurements of
the compass variation to adjust his reckoning.
After being becalmed for several days in the doldrums of the
mid-Atlantic, Columbus's fleet regained its wind and, dangerously low
on water, turned north in the direction of Dominica, which Columbus
had visited in his previous voyage. The ships arrived at King John's
hypothesized continent, which is South America, when they sighted the
Trinidad on 31 July approaching from the southeast. The
fleet sailed along the southern coast and entered Dragon's Mouth,
Soldado Rock where they made contact with a group of
native Amerindians in canoes. Columbus then landed on
Icacos Point (which he named Punta de Arenal) on 2 August. After
resupplying with food and water, from 4 to 12 August Columbus explored
the Gulf of Paria, which separates
Trinidad from what is now
Venezuela, near the delta of the Orinoco River. He then touched the
South America at the Paria Peninsula.
Exploring the new continent, Columbus correctly interpreted the
enormous quantity of fresh water that the Orinoco delivered into the
Atlantic Ocean as evidence that he had reached a large landmass rather
than another island. As he sailed the Gulf of Paria, he observed the
diurnal rotation of the pole star in the sky, which he erroneously
interpreted as evidence that the Earth was not perfectly spherical,
but rather bulged out like a pear around the new-found continent.
He also speculated that the new continent might be the location of the
biblical Garden of Eden. He then sailed to the islands of Chacachacare
and Margarita. He sighted
Tobago (which he named "Bella Forma") and
Grenada (which he named "Concepción").
In poor health, Columbus returned to
Hispaniola on 19 August, only to
find that many of the Spanish settlers of the new colony were in
rebellion against his rule, claiming that Columbus had misled them
about the supposedly bountiful riches of the New World. A number of
returning settlers and sailors lobbied against Columbus at the Spanish
court, accusing him and his brothers of gross mismanagement. Columbus
had some of his crew hanged for disobedience. He had an economic
interest in the enslavement of the
Hispaniola natives and for that
reason was not eager to baptize them, which attracted criticism from
some churchmen. An entry in his journal from September 1498 reads:
"From here one might send, in the name of the Holy Trinity, as many
slaves as could be sold ..."
Columbus was eventually forced to make peace with the rebellious
colonists on humiliating terms. In 1500, the Crown had him removed
as governor, arrested, and transported in chains to
"Accusations of tyranny during governorship" section below). He was
eventually freed and allowed to return to the New World, but not as
Columbus's fourth voyage
Coat of Arms
Coat of Arms granted to
Christopher Columbus and the House of Colon by
Pope Alexander VI
Pope Alexander VI motu proprio in 1502.
Before leaving for his fourth voyage, Columbus wrote a letter to the
Governors of the Bank of Saint George, Genoa, dated at Seville, 2
April 1502. He wrote "Although my body is here my heart is always
Columbus made a fourth voyage nominally in search of the Strait of
Malacca to the Indian Ocean. Accompanied by his brother Bartolomeo and
his 13-year-old son Fernando, he left
Cádiz on 11 May 1502, with his
flagship Santa María and the vessels Gallega, Vizcaína, and Santiago
de Palos. He sailed to
Arzila on the Moroccan coast to rescue
Portuguese soldiers whom he had heard were under siege by the Moors.
On 15 June, they landed at Carbet on the island of Martinique
(Martinica). A hurricane was brewing, so he continued on, hoping to
find shelter on Hispaniola. He arrived at
Santo Domingo on 29 June,
but was denied port, and the new governor refused to listen to his
storm prediction. Instead, while Columbus's ships sheltered at the
mouth of the Rio Jaina, the first
Spanish treasure fleet
Spanish treasure fleet sailed into
the hurricane. Columbus's ships survived with only minor damage, while
29 of the 30 ships in the governor's fleet were lost to a storm on 1
July. In addition to the ships, 500 lives (including that of the
governor, Francisco de Bobadilla) and an immense cargo of gold were
surrendered to the sea.
After a brief stop at Jamaica, Columbus sailed to Central America,
Guanaja (Isla de Pinos) in the Bay Islands off the coast
Honduras on 30 July. Here Bartolomeo found native merchants and a
large canoe, which was described as being "long as a galley" and
filled with cargo. On 14 August, he landed on the continental mainland
at Puerto Castilla, near Trujillo, Honduras. He spent two months
exploring the coasts of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, before
arriving in Almirante Bay in
Panama on 16 October.
On 5 December 1502, Columbus and his crew found themselves in a storm
unlike any they had ever experienced. In his journal Columbus writes,
For nine days I was as one lost, without hope of life. Eyes never
beheld the sea so angry, so high, so covered with foam. The wind not
only prevented our progress, but offered no opportunity to run behind
any headland for shelter; hence we were forced to keep out in this
bloody ocean, seething like a pot on a hot fire. Never did the sky
look more terrible; for one whole day and night it blazed like a
furnace, and the lightning broke with such violence that each time I
wondered if it had carried off my spars and sails; the flashes came
with such fury and frightfulness that we all thought that the ship
would be blasted. All this time the water never ceased to fall from
the sky; I do not say it rained, for it was like another deluge. The
men were so worn out that they longed for death to end their dreadful
Columbus awes the Jamaican natives by predicting the lunar eclipse of
In Panama, Columbus learned from the
Ngobe of gold and a strait to
another ocean, but was told by local leader
Quibían not to go past a
certain point down the river. After much exploration, in January 1503,
he established a garrison at the mouth of the Belén River. On 6
April, one of the ships became stranded in the river. At the same
time, the garrison was attacked by
Quibían and the other ships were
damaged. Shipworms also damaged the ships in tropical waters.
Columbus left for
Hispaniola on 16 April heading north. On 10 May he
sighted the Cayman Islands, naming them "Las Tortugas" after the
numerous sea turtles there. His ships next sustained more damage in a
storm off the coast of Cuba. Unable to travel farther, on 25 June 1503
they were beached in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica.
For one year Columbus and his men remained stranded on Jamaica. A
Diego Méndez, and some natives paddled a canoe to get help
from Hispaniola. The governor,
Nicolás de Ovando
Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres, detested
Columbus and obstructed all efforts to rescue him and his men. In the
meantime Columbus, in a desperate effort to induce the natives to
continue provisioning him and his hungry men, won their favor by
predicting a lunar eclipse for 29 February 1504, using Abraham
Zacuto's astronomical charts.
Help finally arrived, no
thanks to the governor, on 29 June 1504, and Columbus and his men
arrived in Sanlúcar, Spain, on 7 November.
Accusations of tyranny
Following his first voyage, Columbus was appointed
Governor of the Indies
Governor of the Indies under the terms of the Capitulations of Santa
Fe. In practice, this primarily entailed the administration of the
colonies in the island of Hispaniola, whose capital was established in
Santo Domingo. By the end of his third voyage, Columbus was physically
and mentally exhausted, his body wracked by arthritis and his eyes by
ophthalmia. In October 1499, he sent two ships to Spain, asking the
Spain to appoint a royal commissioner to help him govern.
By this time, accusations of tyranny and incompetence on the part of
Columbus had also reached the Court. Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand
responded by removing Columbus from power and replacing him with
Francisco de Bobadilla, a member of the Order of Calatrava. Bobadilla,
who ruled as governor from 1500 until his death in a storm in 1502,
had also been tasked by the Court with investigating the accusations
of brutality made against Columbus. Arriving in
Santo Domingo while
Columbus was away in the explorations of his third voyage, Bobadilla
was immediately met with complaints about all three Columbus brothers:
Christopher, Bartolomeo, and Diego. Bobadilla reported to
Columbus regularly used torture and mutilation to govern Hispaniola.
The 48-page report, found in 2006 in the national archive in the
Spanish city of Simancas, contains testimonies from 23 people,
including both enemies and supporters of Columbus, about the treatment
of colonial subjects by Columbus and his brothers during his
According to the report, Columbus once punished a man found guilty of
stealing corn by having his ears and nose cut off and then selling him
into slavery. Testimony recorded in the report stated that Columbus
congratulated his brother Bartolomeo on "defending the family" when
the latter ordered a woman paraded naked through the streets and then
had her tongue cut out for suggesting that Columbus was of lowly
birth. The document also describes how Columbus put down native
unrest and revolt; he first ordered a brutal crackdown in which many
natives were killed and then paraded their dismembered bodies through
the streets in an attempt to discourage further rebellion.
"Columbus's government was characterised by a form of tyranny,"
Consuelo Varela, a Spanish historian who has seen the document, told
journalists. "Even those who loved him had to admit the atrocities
that had taken place."
Because of their gross misgovernance, Columbus and his brothers were
arrested and imprisoned upon their return to
Spain from the third
voyage. They lingered in jail for six weeks before King Ferdinand
ordered their release. Not long after, the king and queen summoned the
Columbus brothers to the
Alhambra palace in Granada. There, the royal
couple heard the brothers' pleas; restored their freedom and wealth;
and, after much persuasion, agreed to fund Columbus's fourth voyage.
But the door was firmly shut on Columbus's role as governor.
Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres
Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres was to be the new governor of
the West Indies.
Replica of the Santa María, Columbus's flagship during his first
voyage, at his
Columbus had always claimed the conversion of non-believers as one
reason for his explorations, but he grew increasingly religious in his
later years. Probably with the assistance of his son
Diego and his
Carthusian monk Gaspar Gorricio, Columbus produced two
books during his later years: a
Book of Privileges (1502), detailing
and documenting the rewards from the Spanish Crown to which he
believed he and his heirs were entitled, and a Book of Prophecies
(1505), in which he considered his achievements as an explorer but a
Bible prophecy in the context of Christian
In his later years, Columbus demanded that the Spanish Crown give him
10 percent of all profits made in the new lands, as stipulated in the
Capitulations of Santa Fe. Because he had been relieved of his duties
as governor, the crown did not feel bound by that contract and his
demands were rejected. After his death, his heirs sued the Crown for a
part of the profits from trade with America, as well as other rewards.
This led to a protracted series of legal disputes known as the pleitos
colombinos ("Columbian lawsuits").
Illness and death
The death of Columbus, lithograph by L. Prang & Co., 1893
During a violent storm on his first return voyage, Columbus, then 41,
suffered an attack of what was believed at the time to be gout. In
subsequent years, he was plagued with what was thought to be influenza
and other fevers, bleeding from the eyes, and prolonged attacks of
gout. The suspected attacks increased in duration and severity,
sometimes leaving Columbus bedridden for months at a time, and
culminated in his death 14 years later.
Seville Cathedral. The remains are borne by kings of Castile,
Aragon and Navarre.
Based on Columbus's lifestyle and the described symptoms, modern
doctors suspect that he suffered from Reactive arthritis, rather than
gout. Reactive arthritis, previously known as Reiter's
syndrome, is a joint inflammation caused by intestinal bacterial
infections or after acquiring certain sexually transmitted diseases
(primarily chlamydia or gonorrhea). "It seems likely that [Columbus]
acquired reactive arthritis from food poisoning on one of his ocean
voyages because of poor sanitation and improper food preparation,"
writes Dr. Frank C. Arnett, a rheumatologist and professor of internal
medicine, pathology and laboratory medicine the University of Texas
Medical School at Houston.
On 20 May 1506, aged probably 54, Columbus died in Valladolid, Spain.
His remains were first interred at Valladolid, then at the monastery
La Cartuja in
Seville (southern Spain) by the will of his son Diego
Colón, who had been governor of Hispaniola. In 1542, the remains were
transferred to Colonial Santo Domingo, in the present-day Dominican
Republic. In 1795, when France took over the entire island of
Hispaniola, Columbus's remains were moved to Havana, Cuba. After Cuba
became independent following the
Spanish–American War in 1898, the
remains were moved back to Spain, to the Cathedral of Seville,
where they were placed on an elaborate catafalque.
Tomb in Columbus Lighthouse,
Santo Domingo Este, Dominican Republic.
Silver Caravel. Ashes of Christopher Columbus
However, a lead box bearing an inscription identifying "Don
Christopher Columbus" and containing bone fragments and a bullet was
Santo Domingo in 1877. To lay to rest claims that the
wrong relics had been moved to
Havana and that Columbus's remains had
been left buried in the cathedral at Santo Domingo,
DNA samples of the
corpse resting in
Seville were taken in June 2003 (History Today
August 2003) as well as other
DNA samples from the remains of his
Diego and younger son Fernando Colón. Initial observations
suggested that the bones did not appear to belong to somebody with the
physique or age at death associated with Columbus.
proved difficult; only short fragments of mitochondrial
DNA could be
isolated. The mitochondrial
DNA fragments matched corresponding DNA
from Columbus's brother, giving support that both individuals had
shared the same mother.
Such evidence, together with anthropologic and historic analyses, led
the researchers to conclude that the remains found in
to Christopher Columbus. The authorities in
Santo Domingo have
never allowed the remains there to be exhumed, so it is unknown if any
of those remains could be from Columbus's body as well. The
Dominican remains are located in "The Columbus Lighthouse" (Faro a
Colón), in Santo Domingo.
The anniversary of Columbus's 1492 landing in the
Americas is usually
observed on 12 October in
Spain and throughout the Americas, except
Spain it is called the Fiesta Nacional de España y Día de
la Hispanidad, while a number of countries in
Latin America celebrate
it as Día de la Raza. In the United States it is called Columbus Day
and is observed annually on the second Monday in October.
Columbian Issue of 1893.
World Columbian Exposition
World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893, commemorated the
400th anniversary of the landing of
Christopher Columbus in the
Americas. Over 27 million people attended the exposition during
its six-month duration.
United States Postal Service
United States Postal Service participated in the celebration
issuing the first US commemorative postage stamps, a series of 16
postage issues called the
Columbian Issue depicting Columbus, Queen
Isabella and others in the various stages of his several voyages. The
issues range in value from the 1-cent to the 5-dollar denominations.
Under Benjamin Harrison and his Postmaster General
John Wanamaker the
Columbian commemorative stamps were made available and were first
issued at the
World Columbian Exposition
World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, in
1893. Wanamaker originally introduced the idea of issuing the nation's
first commemorative stamp to Harrison, the Congress and the U.S. Post
Office. To demonstrate his confidence in the new Columbian
commemorative issues Wanamaker purchased $10,000 worth of stamps with
his own money. The Columbian Exposition lasted several months, and
over $40 million in commemorative postage stamps had been
sold. The 400th anniversary Columbian issues were very popular in
the United States. A total of two billion stamps were issued for all
the Columbian denominations, and 72 percent of these were the two-cent
stamps, "Landing of Columbus", which paid the first-class rate for
domestic mail at the time.
In 1992, a second Columbian issue was released that was identical to
the first to commemorate the 500th anniversary, except for the date in
the upper right hand corner of each stamp. These issues were made from
the original dies of which the first engraved issues of 1893 were
produced. The United States issued the series jointly for the first
time with three other countries, Italy in lire,
Portugal in escudos
Spain in pesetas.
Further information: Columbian Exchange
Columbus Lighthouse (Faro a Colón), Santo Domingo
Christopher Columbus came to be considered the "discoverer of
America" in US and European popular culture, his true historical
legacy is more nuanced. America was first discovered by its indigenous
population, and Columbus was not even the first European to reach its
shores, as he was preceded by the
Vikings at L'Anse aux Meadows. But
the lasting significance of Columbus's voyages outshone that of his
Viking predecessors, because he managed to bring word of the continent
back to Europe. By bringing the continent to the forefront of Western
attention, Columbus initiated the enduring relationship between the
Earth's two major landmasses and their inhabitants. "Columbus's claim
to fame isn't that he got there first," explains historian Martin
Dugard, "it's that he stayed."
Historians have traditionally argued that Columbus remained convinced
to the very end that his journeys had been along the east coast of
Asia, but writer
Kirkpatrick Sale argues that a document in the
Book of Privileges indicates Columbus knew he found a new
continent. Furthermore, his journals from the third voyage call
the "land of Paria" a "hitherto unknown" continent. On the other
hand, his other writings continued to claim that he had reached Asia,
such as a 1502 letter to
Pope Alexander VI
Pope Alexander VI where he asserted that Cuba
was the east coast of Asia. He also rationalized that the new
South America was the "Earthly Paradise" that was located
"at the end of the Orient". Thus, it remains unclear what his
true beliefs were.
The term "pre-Columbian" is usually used to refer to the peoples and
cultures of the
Americas before the arrival of Columbus and his
Flat Earth mythology
Columbus is often credited with refuting a prevalent belief in a flat
Earth. However, this legacy is a popular misconception. To the
contrary, the spherical shape of the Earth had been known to scholars
since antiquity, and was common knowledge among sailors.
Coincidentally, the oldest surviving globe of the Earth, the Erdapfel,
was made in 1492 just before Columbus's return to Europe. As such it
contains no sign of the
Americas and yet demonstrates the common
belief in a spherical Earth.
America as a distinct land
Replicas of Niña, Pinta and Santa María sailed from
Spain to the
Chicago Columbian Exposition
Columbus monument near the state capitol in Denver, Colorado
The scholar Amerigo Vespucci, who sailed to America in the years
following Columbus's first voyage, was the first to speculate that the
land was not part of
Asia but in fact constituted some wholly new
continent previously unknown to Eurasians. His travel journals,
published 1502–04, convinced German cartographer Martin
Waldseemüller to reach the same conclusion, and in 1507—a year
after Columbus's death—Waldseemüller published a world map calling
the new continent America from Vespucci's Latinized name "Americus".
According to Paul Lunde, "The preoccupation of European courts with
the rise of the Ottoman Turks in the East partly explains their
relative lack of interest in Columbus's discoveries in the West."
Historically, the English had downplayed Columbus and emphasized the
role of the Venetian
John Cabot as a pioneer explorer, but for the
emerging United States, Cabot made for a poor national hero.
Veneration of Columbus in America dates back to colonial times. The
name Columbia for "America" first appeared in a 1738 weekly
publication of the debates of the British Parliament. The use of
Columbus as a founding figure of
New World nations and the use of the
word "Columbia", or simply the name "Columbus", spread rapidly after
the American Revolution. Columbus's name was given to the federal
capital of the United States (District of Columbia), the capital
cities of two U.S. states (
Ohio and South Carolina), and the Columbia
River. Outside the United States the name was used in 1819 for the
Gran Colombia, a precursor of the modern Republic of Colombia.
Numerous cities, towns, counties, streets, and plazas (called Plaza
Colón or Plaza de Colón throughout
Latin America and Spain) have
been named after him. A candidate for sainthood in the Catholic Church
in 1866, celebration of Columbus's legacy perhaps reached a zenith in
1892 with the 400th anniversary of his first arrival in the Americas.
Monuments to Columbus like the Columbian Exposition in Chicago and
Columbus Circle in New York City were erected throughout the United
Latin America extolling him.
In 1909, descendants of Columbus undertook to dismantle the Columbus
family chapel in
Spain and move it to
Boalsburg near State College,
Pennsylvania, where it may now be visited by the public. At the
museum associated with the chapel, there are a number of Columbus
relics worthy of note, including the armchair that the "
Admiral of the
Ocean Sea" used at his chart table.
Criticism in modern scholarship
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More recent views of Columbus have been critical of his colonization
and treatment of natives. Among reasons for this
criticism is the treatment and disappearance of the native Taíno
people of Hispaniola, where Columbus began a rudimentary tribute
system of gold and cotton. The people disappeared rapidly after
contact with the Spanish because of overwork and the first pandemic of
European diseases, which struck
Hispaniola after 1519. Las
Casas records that when he first came to
Hispaniola in 1508, "there
were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so
that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from
war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe
this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly
believe it...." Modern estimates for the pre-Columbian population
Hispaniola are around 250,000–300,000. According to the historian
Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes
Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes by 1548, 56 years after Columbus
landed, fewer than five hundred Taínos were left on the island.
Taíno people of the island were systematically enslaved
via the encomienda system implemented by Columbus, which
resembled a feudal system in Medieval Europe. Disease played a
significant role in the destruction of the natives. Indirect evidence
suggests that some serious illness may have arrived with the 1500
colonists who accompanied Columbus's second expedition in 1493. By the
end of 1494, disease and famine had claimed two-thirds of the Spanish
settlers. When the pandemic finally struck in 1519 it wiped
out much of the remaining native population.
Columbus's soldiers killed and enslaved with impunity at every
landing. When Columbus fell ill in 1495, "what little restraint he had
maintained over his men disappeared as he went through a lengthy
period of recuperation. The troops went wild, stealing, killing,
raping, and torturing natives, trying to force them to divulge the
whereabouts of the imagined treasure-houses of gold." According to Las
Casas, 50,000 natives perished during this period. Upon his recovery,
Columbus organized his troops' efforts, forming a squadron of several
hundred heavily armed men and more than twenty attack dogs. The men
tore across the land, killing thousands of sick and unarmed natives.
Soldiers would use their captives for sword practice, attempting to
decapitate them or cut them in half with a single blow.
Howard Zinn writes that Columbus spearheaded a massive
slave trade; in 1495 his men captured in a single raid 1500 Arawak
men, women, and children. When he shipped five hundred of the slaves
to Spain, 40 percent died en route. Historian James W. Loewen
asserts that "Columbus not only sent the first slaves across the
Atlantic, he probably sent more slaves – about five thousand –
than any other individual... other nations rushed to emulate
Las Casas writes that when slaves held in captivity began to die at
high rates, Columbus switched to a different system of forced labor:
he ordered all natives over the age of thirteen to collect a specified
amount (one hawk's bell full) of gold powder every three months.
Natives who brought the amount were given a copper token to hang
around their necks, and those found without tokens had their hands
amputated and were left to bleed to death.
The Arawaks attempted to fight back against Columbus's men but lacked
their armor, guns, swords, and horses. When taken prisoner, they were
hanged or burned to death. Desperation led to mass suicides and
infanticide among the natives. In just two years under Columbus's
governorship more than half of the 250,000 Arawaks in
dead. The main cause for the depopulation was disease followed by
other causes such as warfare and harsh enslavement.  
Samuel Eliot Morison, a Harvard historian and author of a multivolume
biography on Columbus writes, "The cruel policy initiated by Columbus
and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide."
Loewen laments that while "
Haiti under the Spanish is one of the
primary instances of genocide in all human history", only one major
history text he reviewed mentions Columbus's role in it.
However some of these accounts may be part of Black
Legend. Noble David Cook, writing about the Black
Legend and the conquest of the
Americas wrote, "There were too few
Spaniards to have killed the millions who were reported to have died
in the first century after Old and
New World contact". He instead
estimates that the death toll was caused by diseases like
smallpox, which according to some estimates had an 80–90%
fatality rate in Native American populations.
There is evidence that the men of the first voyage also brought
syphilis from the
New World to Europe. Many of the crew members
who served on this voyage later joined the army of King Charles VIII
in his invasion of Italy in 1495. After the victory, Charles's largely
mercenary army returned to their respective homes, thereby spreading
"the Great Pox" across Europe and triggering the deaths of more than
five million people.
In The Virgin of the Navigators, 1531–36
Although an abundance of artwork involving Christopher Columbus
exists, no authentic contemporary portrait has been found. James
W. Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me, believes the various
posthumous portraits have no historical value.
Sometime between 1531 and 1536,
Alejo Fernández painted an
altarpiece, The Virgin of the Navigators, that includes a depiction of
Columbus. The painting was commissioned for a chapel in Seville's Casa
de Contratación (House of Trade) and remains there, as the earliest
known painting about the discovery of the Americas.
At the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, 71 alleged portraits of
Columbus were displayed; most did not match contemporary
descriptions. These writings describe him as having reddish or
blond hair, which turned to white early in his life, light colored
eyes, as well as being a lighter-skinned person with too much sun
exposure turning his face red. Accounts consistently describe Columbus
as a large and physically strong man of some six feet (1.83 metres) or
more in height, easily taller than the average European of his
The most iconic image of Columbus is a portrait by Sebastiano del
Piombo, which has been reproduced in many textbooks. It agrees with
descriptions of Columbus in that it shows a large man with auburn
hair, but the painting dates from 1519 and cannot, therefore, have
been painted from life. Furthermore, the inscription identifying the
subject as Columbus was probably added later, and the face shown
differs from other images, including that of the "Virgin of the
Christopher Columbus in fiction
Egg of Columbus
Indigenous Peoples' Day
Monument and memorial controversies in the United States#Christopher
^ In other relevant languages:
Italian: Cristoforo Colombo [kriˈstɔːforo koˈlombo]
Ligurian: Cristoffa Corombo
Spanish: Cristóbal Colón
Portuguese: Cristóvão Colombo
Catalan: Cristòfor (or Cristòfol) Colom
Latin: Christophorus Columbus
^ "Even with less than a complete record, however, scholars can state
with assurance that Columbus was born in the republic of
northern Italy, although perhaps not in the city itself, and that his
family made a living in the wool business as weavers and
merchants. ... The two main early biographies of Columbus have
been taken as literal truth by hundreds of writers, in large part
because they were written by individuals closely connected to Columbus
or his writings. ... Both biographies have serious shortcomings
^ About 10,600 nautical miles
^ Lester, Paul Martin. "Looks Are Deceiving: the Portraits of
Christopher Columbus." Visual Anthropology, Vol. 5, 1993, Harwood
Academic Publishers GmbH. pp. 211-227. Portraits may be seen here:
Christopher Columbus – Columbus Monuments Pages.
^ Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905).
"Columbus, Diego. The youngest brother of Christopher Columbus". New
International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead. –
The names Giacomo and
Diego are cognates, along with James, all
sharing a common origin. See Behind the Name, Mike Campbell, pages
Giacomo, Diego, and James. All retrieved 2017-02-03.
^ "Columbus". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
^ a b c d e Beazley 1911, p. 741.
^ "History –
Leif Erikson (11th century)". BBC. Retrieved 12 October
^ "Why Do We Celebrate
Columbus Day and Not
Leif Erikson Day?".
National Geographic. 11 October 2015. Retrieved 12 October 2015.
^ a b c d "
Christopher Columbus (Italian explorer)". Encyclopædia
^ Hoxie, Frederick (1996). Encyclopedia of North American Indians.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. p. 568.
^ Herbst, Philip (1997). The Color of Words: An Encyclopaedic
Dictionary of Ethnic Bias in the United States. Intercultural Press.
p. 116. ISBN 978-1-877864-97-1. Retrieved 2016-02-28.
^ Wilton, David (2 December 2004). Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic
Urban Legends. Oxford University Press. pp. 164–165.
^ Phillips, Jr 1992, p. 9.
^ a b c d e Encyclopædia Britannica, 1993 ed., Vol. 16, pp. 605ff /
Morison, Christopher Columbus, 1955 ed., pp. 14ff
^ Bergreen, Lawrence (2012). Columbus The Four Voyages, 1493–1504.
Penguin Group US. ISBN 978-0-14-312210-4.
^ Rime diverse, Pavia, 1595, p. 117
^ Tasso, Torquato (1755). Ra Gerusalemme deliverâ. Genoa: Ra
Stamparia de Tarigo. p. –32. Retrieved 2 February 2012.
^ Çittara zeneize – Regole d'Ortografia, Genoa, 1745
^ Consulta ligure, Vocabolario delle parlate liguri, SAGEP, 1982,
^ The Daily Telegraph, 14 October 2009, Georgetown University team led
by Professor Estelle Irizarry claims that
Christopher Columbus was
^ da Silva, Manuel Luciano and Silvia Jorge da Silva, 2008.
Christopher Columbus was Portuguese. Express Printers, Fall River.
^ Davidson 1997, p. 3.
^ Phillips, Jr 1992, p. 85.
^ "Christopher Columbus". Archived from the original on 23 March
2002. . Thomas C. Tirado, PhD Professor History. Millersville
^ "It is most probable that Columbus visited Bristol, where he was
introduced to English commerce with Iceland." Bedini, Silvio A. and
David Buisseret (1992). The
Christopher Columbus encyclopedia, Volume
1, University of Michigan Press, republished by Simon & Schuster,
ISBN 0-13-142670-2, p. 175
^ Freitas, Antonio Maria de (1893). The Wife of Columbus: With
Genealogical Tree of the Perestrello and Moniz Families. New York:
Stettinger, Lambert & Co.
^ Paolo Emilio Taviani, "Beatriz Arana" in The Christopher Columbus
Encyclopedia, vol. 1, p. 24. New York: Simon and Schuster 1992.
Christopher Columbus Biography". Columbus-day.123holiday.net.
p. 2. Retrieved 29 July 2009.
^ Taviani, "Beatriz Arana" in The
Christopher Columbus Encyclopedia,
vol. 1, pp. 24–25.
^ Morgan, Edmund S. (2009). "Columbus' Confusion About the New World".
Marco Polo et le Livre des Merveilles", p. 37.
^ Charles R. Boxer (1951). The Christian Century in Japan:
1549–1650. University of California Press. p. 2. Retrieved
^ a b c d e f g h i j Murphy, Patrick J.; Coye, Ray W. (2013). Mutiny
and Its Bounty: Leadership Lessons from the Age of Discovery. Yale
University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-17028-3. Archived from the
original on 27 June 2015. CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status
^ Boller, Paul F (1995). Not So!: Popular Myths about America from
Columbus to Clinton. New York: Oxford University Press.
^ Russell, Jeffrey Burton 1991. Inventing the Flat Earth. Columbus and
modern historians, Praeger, New York, Westport, London 1991;
Zinn, Howard 1980. A People's History of the United States,
HarperCollins 2001. p. 2
^ See, e.g. "Mariner's Astrolabe", Navigation Museum, Institute of
^ Sagan, Carl. Cosmos; the mean circumference of the Earth is
40,041.47 km (24,881 mi).
^ Morison (1942, pp. 65, 93).
^ Journal article:- Christopher Columbus. An address delivered before
the American Catholic Historical Society 
^ a b c d Samuel Eliot Morison,
Admiral of the Ocean Sea: The Life of
Christopher Columbus, (Boston: Atlantic-Little, Brown, 1942). Reissued
by the Morison Press, 2007. ISBN 1-4067-5027-1
^ Phillips, Jr 1992, p. 110.
^ "The First Voyage Log". Archived from the original on 7 March 2012.
Retrieved 18 April 2008.
^ "Trade Winds and the Hadley Cell". Retrieved 18 April 2008.
^ The Brooklyn Museum catalogue notes that the most likely source for
Leutze's trio of Columbus paintings is Washington Irving's
best-selling Life and Voyages of Columbus (1828).
^ Durant, Will The Story of Civilization vol. vi, "The Reformation".
Chapter XIII, p. 260.
^ Phillips, Jr 1992, p. 132.
^ Mark McDonald, "Ferdinand Columbus, Renaissance Collector
(1488–1539)", 2005, British Museum Press,
^ "The Naming of America". Umc.sunysb.edu. Archived from the original
on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 10 April 2011.
^ "THE ORIGINAL NIÑA". The
Niña & Pinta. British Virgin Islands:
The Columbus Foundation. Retrieved 12 October 2013.
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^ Lopez, (1990, p. 15)
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(ed.), The Oxford Companion to World Exploration, (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, online edition 2012).
^ a b c d e Zinn, Howard (2003). A People's History of the United
States. New York: HarperCollins. pp. 1–22.
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1992, International Marine Publishing, ISBN 0-87742-316-4.
^ Columbus (1991, p. 87). Or "… these people are very simple as
regards the use of arms … for with fifty men they can all be
subjugated and made to do what is required of them." (Columbus &
Toscanelli, 2010, p. 41)
^ Keith A. Pickering. "The First Voyage of Columbus". Archived from
the original on 7 March 2012.
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Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 24 January 2008.
^ Fuson, Robert. The Log of
Christopher Columbus (Camden,
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Anthology. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. p. 33.
ISBN 0-89950-696-8. Retrieved 2016-02-28.
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London: Hakluyt Society. pp. 159–160. Retrieved
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First Voyage to America (London: University of Oklahoma Press),
^ a b Loewen 1995.
^ Catz, Rebecca (1 January 1990). "Columbus in the Azores". Portuguese
Studies. 6: 17–23. JSTOR 41104900.
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^ "Who Went With Columbus? Dental Studies Give Clues.". The Washington
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^ Felipe Fernández-Armesto, Columbus, Oxford Univ. Press, (1991) pp.
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York (1991) p. 185
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of America. p. 48. ISBN 0-8191-9642-8. Retrieved
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American Studies. Dr. Antonio Rafael de la Cova. Retrieved 10 July
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Life & Voyages of Christopher Columbus. New York: The Heritage
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his remains, as revealed by original printed and manuscript records,
together with an essay on Peter Martyr of Anghera and Bartolomé De
Las Casas, the first Historians of America. New York: G. P. Putnam’s
Sons. pp. 379–380.
^ Christopher Minster, "The Third Voyage of Christopher Columbus"
^ Joseph 1838, p. 124
^ Joseph 1838, p. 125
^ Joseph 1838, p. 126
^ Varela (2006, p. 111)
^ Keith A. Pickering. "The Third Voyage of Columbus, 1498–1500".
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Christopher Columbus to the Governors of the Bank of
St. George, Genoa. Dated at Seville, April 2nd, 1502'. Google Books.
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^ The authentic letters of Columbus. Google Books. 1894. Retrieved 29
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Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of
Christopher Columbus, Boston, 1942, p. 617.
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^ Joy Jakim, The First Americans: Prehistory – 1600 A History of US
Oxford University Press 2005
^ Clayton J., Drees, The Late Medieval Age of Crisis and Renewal:
1300–1500 a Biographical Dictionary, 2001, pp. 511
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Prophetic Rhetoric As Conquering Ideology, University of California
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^ "Columbus Monuments Pages: Valladolid". Retrieved 3 January
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^ "Cristóbal Colón: traslación de sus restos mortales a la ciudad
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^ Tremlett, Giles. "Young bones lay Columbus myth to rest". The
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^ a b "
DNA verifies Columbus' remains in Spain". Associated Press. 19
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^ a b Álvarez-Cubero, MJ; Martínez-González, LJ; Saiz, M; Álvarez,
JC; Lorente, JA (8 March 2010). "New applications in genetic
identification". Cuadernos de Medicina Forense. 16 (1–2): 5–18.
doi:10.4321/S1135-76062010000100002. ISSN 1135-7606. Archived
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^ "Bird's-Eye View of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago,
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^ "John Wanamaker, Postmaster General". United States Postal Service.
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postage & the post, National Postal Museum online, viewed 18 April
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the post, National Postal Museum online, viewed 18 April 2014.
^ "Columbus Monuments Pages: Santo Domingo". Retrieved 3 January
^ Dugard, Martin. The Last Voyage of Columbus. Little, Brown and
Company: New York, 2005.
^ Thomas F. McIlwraith; Edward K. Muller (2001). North America: the
historical geography of a changing continent. Rowman &
Littlefield. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-7425-0019-8. Retrieved
^ Sale, Kirkpatrick (1991). The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher
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^ a b Eviatar Zerubavel (2003). Terra cognita: the mental discovery of
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and modern historians. New York: Praeger.
^ "Columbus Monuments Pages: Denver". Retrieved 3 January 2010.
^ "Piri Reis and the Columbus Map". Paul Lunde. Saudi Aramco World.
^ The Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. 8, June 1738, p. 285.
^ "Columbus Monuments Pages: Boalsburg". Retrieved 3 January
^ Howard Zinn. "
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^ "Jack Weatherford, Examining the reputation of Christopher
Columbus". Hartford-hwp.com. 20 April 2001. Retrieved 29 July
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^ Alfred W. Crosby, The Columbian Exchange, Westport, 1972, pp. 39,
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^ Las Casas, Bartolome de (1971). History of the Indies. New York:
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^ Alfred Crosby, The
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Encomienda or Slavery? The Spanish Crown's Choice of Labor
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^ "Deadly Diseases: Epidemics throughout history". CNN. Retrieved 25
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one of the so-called portraits of Columbus is unquestionably
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contemporaries. The word rubio can mean "blonde," "fair," or "ruddy."
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