Last updated on April 25, 2014 at 1:22 EDT

Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus was an Italian navigator, explorer, and colonizer that was born in 1451. He is best known for his explorations across the Atlantic Ocean, under the authority of the Catholic Monarchs in Spain, which resulted in the discovery of America and the settlement of the island of Hispaniola. This is thought to be the beginning of Spanish settlement in the New World. Although he was the first European to explore the Americas, he was not the first person to explore the area and he did not know that he had not reached his actual destination of the East Indies, so he called the inhabitants he found indios or Indians.

Christopher Columbus, whose name is Cristoforo Colombo in Italian, was born in Genoa, which is now part of northwestern Italy. He was one of five siblings born to Domenico Colombo and Susanna Fontanarossa. Christopher claimed to have gone out to sea at only ten years of age. In 1470, after he and his family moved to Savona, Christopher went on a Genoese ship that was hired by René I of Anjou in order to defeat the Kingdom of Naples. He was eventually known as an ambitious man, learning many languages and studying many topics, like astronomy and geography, without any formal training. He was also known for his study of the Bible and biblical prophecies.

Christopher Columbus took many voyages throughout his lifetime including a supposed trip to the Genoese colony on Chios and trips that involved trading for the Centurione family. He eventually married Filipa Moniz Perestrelo, had a son named Diego Columbus in 1479 or 1480, and began trading along the coast of West Africa shortly after his birth. It is thought that his wife Filipa died in the final year of that voyage, though some assert that he left his wife before this, but this cannot be proven. He remarried in 1487, taking twenty-year-old Beatriz Enríquez de Arana as his new wife.

Initially, Europe had relative peace traveling along the Silk Road to India and China, due to the Pax Mongolica that came from the Mongol Empire’s rule over Asia. When Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, that route became dangerous, so Portuguese navigators sought a better route by sailing around Africa. During this time, Christopher Columbus and his brothers devised a different route that would take them across the Atlantic Ocean.

Many suggest that Columbus had a difficult time funding his journey due to the idea that the earth was flat, but this is not true. However, his idea of the distance between Europe and Asia was not the same as other scholars of his time. Columbus did not know the actual size of the earth and he miscalculated the size of Eurasia. Although his geographical considerations were flawed, his knowledge of the trade winds was helpful to his voyage.

Under the influence of many scholars and his own experience, Columbus approached John II, King of Portugal with his proposal to sail to the Orient. He was denied access to three ships due to his calculations, which the king’s experts asserted were wrong. He requested another audience with the king in 1488, but the king still denied his request due to the successful voyage of Bartolomeu Dias, who had reached the southern tip of Africa. Columbus made several other attempts to obtain ships for his journey, seeking help from Venice, Genoa, and England, but he was unsuccessful. Finally, in 1492, Columbus was granted money and boats for his journey by the king and queen of Spain, who agreed to meet many of his terms.

Christopher Columbus made four round trips to the Americas between the years of 1492 and 1503, although he would not accept that these areas were not part of Asia. The voyages were important to the development of the Americas, as well as European and Western history. The first voyage was made on three ships known as the Santa María ex-Gallega, the Pinta, and the Santa Clara, nicknamed the Nina, by which it is now commonly known. His second journey was taken on seventeen ships that carried 1,700 men, including priests, farmers, soldiers, and others who would become the colonists of the newly discovered lands. In 1498, Columbus made his third trip with six ships, in hopes of discovering the route to Asia he initially set out to find. His fourth trip to the Americas, which was conducted using four ships including the Santa Maria, included his son Fernando and brother Bartolomeo.

When Columbus made an agreement with the Castilian crown, he was granted the title of Admiral of the Seas, if he succeeded, as well as some of the profits made in the enterprise activities in the colonized areas, the position of Viceroy and Governor of the new lands, and other benefits. However, by the end of his third journey, news of Columbus’s behavior reached the monarchs and in 1500, and he was stripped of his posts and arrested for claims of tyranny and genocide. His brothers were also arrested, but all were later released and given their money back before taking their fourth voyage. However, he was not given his governmental powers back.

During his later years, Christopher Columbus became more religious and produced two books, one of which was entitled Book of Prophecies which described his accomplishments in relation to Christian eschatology. During this time, he demanded that ten percent of the profits from the new worlds be given to him from the Spanish crown, but he was denied. His heirs later sued for the same money in a serious of lawsuits that were later called the pleitos colombinos. At the age of 41, Columbus had an attack of what he thought was gout and throughout his remaining years, he suffered from many ailments and eventually died from them. It is now thought that he suffered from Reiter’s Syndrome. Columbus is now celebrated for his accomplishments in many countries, like Columbus Day in the Americas.

Image Caption: Christopher Columbus. Credit: Sebastiano del Piombo/Wikipedia

Christopher Columbus