CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS (Italian : _Cristoforo Colombo_; c. 1451 –
20 May 1506) was an Italian explorer, navigator, and colonizer. Born
in the Republic of
Genoa , under the auspices of the Catholic
Spain he completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean.
Those voyages and his efforts to establish settlements on the island
Hispaniola initiated the permanent European colonization of the New
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 at
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
Central America , claiming all of it for the
Crown of Castile
Crown of Castile .
Columbus was not the first European explorer to reach the Americas,
having been preceded by the Viking expedition led by
Leif Erikson in
the 11th century, but his voyages led to the first lasting European
contact with the Americas, inaugurating a period of exploration,
conquest, and colonization that lasted several centuries. These
voyages thus had an enormous effect on the historical development of
the modern Western world. He spearheaded the transatlantic slave trade
and has been accused by several historians of initiating the genocide
Hispaniola natives. Columbus himself saw his accomplishments
primarily in the light of spreading the Christian religion .
Columbus never admitted that he had reached a continent previously
unknown to Europeans, rather than the
East Indies for which he had set
course. 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
Hispaniola in 1500, and later to protracted litigation over
the benefits that he and his heirs claimed were owed to them by the
* 1 Early life
* 2 Quest for
* 2.1 Background
* 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 Voyages
* 3.1 First voyage
* 3.2 Second voyage
* 3.3 Third voyage
* 3.4 Fourth voyage
* 4 Accusations of tyranny during governorship
* 5 Later life
* 6 Illness and death
* 7 Commemoration
* 8 Legacy
* 8.1 Discoverer
Flat Earth mythology
* 8.3 America as a distinct land
* 8.4 Criticism in modern scholarship
* 9 Physical appearance
* 10 See also
* 11 Notes
* 12 References
* 12.1 Bibliography
* 13 Further reading
* 14 External links
For more details on Columbus's birthplace and family background, see
Origin theories of Christopher Columbus . _ Christopher Columbus
at the gates of the monastery of Santa María de la Rábida with his
son Diego_, by
The name _Christopher Columbus_ is the
Anglicisation of the Latin
CHRISTOPHORUS COLUMBUS. His name in Italian is CRISTOFORO COLOMBO and,
in Spanish , it is 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. 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 in
Lisbon for at least
part of his adulthood. He also had a sister named Bianchinetta.
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: ). 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 of
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
Spain or from
Portugal . These competing hypotheses have
generally been discounted by mainstream scholars. _ Columbus's
handwritten notes in Latin, on the margins of his copy of The Travels
Marco Polo _
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
carry valuable cargo to northern Europe. He docked in
Galway , Ireland. In 1477, he was possibly in
In the autumn of 1477, he sailed on a Portuguese ship from
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 of
Porto Santo governor and Portuguese nobleman of Lombard origin
Bartolomeu Perestrello .
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
Mongol Empire 's hegemony over
Asia (the _
Pax Mongolica _,
or _Mongol peace_), Europeans had long enjoyed a safe land passage,
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
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 include Saint 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 by mariners.
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:
Alexandria and Syene (modern-day
Aswan ). Eratosthenes's results were
confirmed by a comparison of stellar observations at
Rhodes , carried out by
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 the
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
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 Toscanelli, who corresponded with
Columbus before his death in 1482 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. 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 _ ("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 , 17th c.
In 1485, Columbus presented his plans to King John II of
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
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
Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze , 1843
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
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.
Voyages of Christopher Columbus The voyages of
Between 1492 and 1503, Columbus completed four round-trip voyages
Spain and the Americas, each voyage being sponsored by the
Crown of Castile
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 blue
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_,
nicknamed the _
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 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, a lookout on the _Pinta_, 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_; 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 are San
Salvador Island (so named in 1925 on the theory that it was Columbus's
Samana Cay , and
Plana Cays . _ Landing of
Columbus_ (12 October 1492), painting by
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 remarked
that their lack of modern weaponry and metal-forged swords or pikes
was a tactical vulnerability, writing, "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 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,
Luis de Torres , the
Converso interpreter, who spoke Hebrew
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 coast of
Hispaniola with a single ship, until he
encountered Pinzón and the _Pinta_ on 6 January.
On 13 January 1493, Columbus made his last stop of this voyage in the
New World, in the
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 Spaniard 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 the
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
Spain alive). _ The return of Christopher Columbus; his audience
before King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella_, painting by Eugène
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 and was
Bartolomeu Dias , whose rounding of the Cape of Good
Hope a few years earlier in 1488–1489 had complicated Columbus's
attempts for funding from the Portuguese court. Not finding King John
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
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 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
Michele da Cuneo, Columbus's childhood friend from
Savona , sailed
with Columbus during the second voyage and wrote: "In my opinion,
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
Sint Eustatius (for the early Roman martyr, St. Eustachius ),
Saba (after the Biblical
Queen of Sheba
Queen of Sheba ),
Saint Martin (_San Martín_), and
Saint Croix (from the Spanish _Santa Cruz_, meaning "Holy Cross
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
Virgin Gorda ("Fat Virgin"),
Tortola , and Peter Island
He continued to the
Greater Antilles , and landed in
Puerto Rico ,
which he named _San Juan Bautista_ in honor of 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
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 and sailed to
the west with merchandise."
On 30 May 1498, Columbus left with six ships from Sanlúcar,
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
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
Garden of Eden
Garden of Eden . He then sailed to the islands of
Chacachacare and Margarita . He sighted
Tobago (which he named "Bella
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
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 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
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
suffering. Columbus awes the Jamaican natives by predicting the
lunar eclipse of 1504.
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
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,
For one year Columbus and his men remained stranded on
Jamaica . A
Diego Méndez, and some natives paddled a canoe to get help
Hispaniola . The governor,
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 DURING GOVERNORSHIP
Following his first voyage, Columbus was appointed
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
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 Court of
Spain to appoint a royal commissioner to help him
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. A recently
discovered report by Bobadilla alleges that Columbus regularly used
torture and mutilation to govern Hispaniola. The 48-page report, found
in 2006 in the state archive in the Spanish city of
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 seven-year rule.
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 claims 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 mismanagement of governance, Columbus and his
brothers were arrested and imprisoned upon their return to
the third voyage. They lingered in jail for six weeks before busy King
Ferdinand ordered their release. Not long after, the king and queen
summoned the Columbus brothers to the
Alhambra palace in
Granada . In
Granada, 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. Henceforth
Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres was to be
the new governor of the West
_ 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 eschatology
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 "> Tomb in
Seville Cathedral . The remains are borne by kings of Castile , Leon ,
Based on Columbus's lifestyle and the described symptoms, modern
doctors suspect that he suffered from Reiter\'s syndrome , rather than
gout. Reiter's syndrome is a common presentation of reactive
arthritis, a joint inflammation caused by intestinal bacterial
infections or after acquiring certain sexually transmitted diseases
(primarily chlamydia or gonorrhea ). "It seems likely that 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
Spain. His remains were first interred at Valladolid, then at the
La Cartuja in
Seville (southern Spain) by the will of his
Diego Colón , who had been governor of
Hispaniola . In 1542, the
remains were transferred to Colonial
Santo Domingo , in the
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 .
Silver Caravel. Ashes of
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
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 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
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 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.
_ Columbus Lighthouse (Faro a Colón_),
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
Pope Alexander VI
Pope Alexander VI where he asserted that
Cuba was the east
coast of Asia. He also rationalized that the new continent of 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 Maria_ sailed from Spain
Chicago Columbian Exposition Columbus monument near the
state capitol in
Denver , Colorado
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 (
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 Taino people of Hispaniola,
where Columbus began a rudimentary tribute system for 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. De las Casas records that when he first came
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 of
Hispaniola are around
250,000–300,000. According to the historian Gonzalo Fernandez de
Oviedo y Valdes by 1548, 56 years after Columbus landed, fewer than
five hundred Taino were left on the island.
The native Taino 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. And by the end of
1494, disease and famine had claimed two-thirds of the Spanish
settlers. When the first 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 de
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
De 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
Haiti were dead.
The main cause for the depopulation was disease followed by other
causes such as warfare and harsh enslavement.
Samuel Eliot Morison
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
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.
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
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 day.
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
* ^ In other relevant languages:
* 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 Genoa
in 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 as evidence."
* ^ About 10,600 nautical miles
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* _ Works written by or about
Christopher Columbus at
* Media related to
Christopher Columbus at Wikimedia Commons
* Quotations related to
Christopher Columbus at Wikiquote
* Works by