He was well known for his persistence, a trait that did not endear him to his crew or even his patrons reportedly Ferdinand and Isabella were eager to be rid of him before the fourth voyage in Round versus Flat Earth. Contrary to popular belief, Columbus and his sailors did not think they might sail off the edge of the world. In the Renaissance, navigators and sailors were relatively certain that the world was round. Columbus, however, did err in his calculation of the circumference of the globe. Like his contemporary, the Nuremberg globemaker Martin Behaim , Columbus appears to have calculated the circumference based on Marco Polo 's land distances and Ptolemy's erroneous estimate of the earth's size.
Behaim and Columbus agreed on the earth's circumference, but their views were not shared by the various committees that reviewed and ultimately rejected Columbus's proposal in January Shortly thereafter, Queen Isabella rapidly accepted the plan because powerful friends intervened on his behalf.
Columbus made up for his weak sailing and interpersonal skills by proving to be an outstanding navigator. Having spent his young adulthood in Portugal and Spain, he had an opportunity to learn the best navigation techniques of the Iberian Peninsula. He also knew the Atlantic islands off of Africa, as he had lived on Madeira after his marriage.
On his first voyage, Columbus was able to turn his familiarity with Mediterranean and Atlantic shipping to good use. He chose what was perhaps the best route to the West and, more remarkably, the best route back. Columbus headed south to the Canaries and then took the trade winds across the Atlantic on his outbound voyage. He was obviously aware of the winds off the western coast of Africa. On the return voyage, he turned northward and caught the westerlies winds that blow from west to east to the Azores.
Columbus's successful voyages reveal a keen awareness of navigation techniques along with a familiarity of winds to the south and west of the Iberian Peninsula. He may have held wildly inaccurate views of the earth's size, but he understood the oceanic wind patterns. Naming the New Land. Several years after Columbus, another Italian sailor named Amerigo Vespucci sailed to South America and correctly identified that he was on a new continent.
Columbus transformed himself from a self-interested Genoese merchant mariner into a Spanish national hero. He may not have been the first to sail to the Americas, but he was the first to construct a written record of his journey across the Atlantic. The record shows his mis-taken ideas about a narrow Atlantic and the location of the islands that he chartered. History also reveals a man of questionable personality traits, whose lack of political skills produced a good deal of animosity. Columbus's perseverance helped turn his erroneous quest for Asia into a voyage that changed the way Europeans viewed the globe.
Historians may never agree on Columbus's intentions and merits, but they continue to recognize the fact that Columbus forced cartographers to reconsider how they mapped the world.
Columbus's legacy lies in the convergence of the European quest for contact with Asia and the gradual mapping of the Atlantic Ocean. Alfred W. William D. Phillips Jr. I f there is any explorer who, in the eyes of most Americans, seems to need no introduction, it is Christopher Columbus. Yet few figures in history have been the subject of so much myth. Old-fashioned political correctness maintained that Columbus was a sort of savior for discovering the New World, whereas modern political correctness—manifested particularly in , during the th anniversary of his discovery—condemns him as a murderer of Native Americans and destroyer of the environment.
In fact, both views miss the point that Columbus ultimately had no idea what he was doing: though he was right in surmising that it was possible to reach Asia by sea, he went to his grave believing incorrectly that he had done so. His parents, Domenico and Suzanna Fontanarossa Colombo, were humble people: Domenico was a weaver, and what little education their son received was primarily a result of his own efforts.
Young Columbus read, and was fascinated by, Marco Polo 's account of his odyssey on the ancient Silk Road to China. By Columbus's time, however, the Turks' destruction of the Byzantine Empire had virtually sealed off the eastward land route; thus explorers, beginning with those sent out by Portugal's Prince Henry the Navigator , had attempted to find a sea route.
Columbus, who first went to sea as a nine- or ten-year-old, gained considerable experience sailing the relatively safe Mediterranean. After being wounded in a battle off the coast of Portugal in , he settled in that country, where he and his brother Bartholomeu worked as mapmakers. During this time, he married Felipa Perestrelo, who gave him one son, Diego, before dying in The loss of his wife seemed to spark a restlessness in Columbus, now in his early thirties, that led him into the events that would make him an immortal.
Portuguese efforts at eastward exploration had concentrated on attempts to round the coast of Africa and reach Asia via the Indian Ocean ; Columbus, by contrast, presented King John II with the idea of a westward expedition to achieve the same goal. The latter did not agree to support the expedition, but took enough of an interest in Columbus to grant him a small annuity. He would wait for the better part of seven years to begin his voyage, during which time he had an affair with Beatriz Enriquez, with whom he had a son named Ferdinand.
Then suddenly in , a Spanish priest acted as broker in an agreement between the monarchs and Columbus, who promised them vast riches to be gained from the expedition. After 37 perilous days' voyage, the crew sighted land, and on October 12, set foot on what is now the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas. There they were greeted by the aboriginal Arawaks, who Columbus—believing he had reached Asia—dubbed "Indians. On the latter, they built a fort called Santo Domingo, today the capital of the Dominican Republic and the oldest continuous European settlement in the Americas.
Frustrated in his attempts to find either treasure or clear confirmation that he had reached Asia, Columbus departed for Spain in January with a pair of captured Indians, a few trinkets, and a small quantity of gold he had managed to obtain from the Arawaks. He left behind a group of 40 men, and one of the ships, at Santo Domingo. Columbus received a hero's welcome in Spain, and his rising fortunes were signified by the size of his second expedition: 17 ships, some 1, men, and six months' worth of supplies.
Yet things began to turn sour upon their return to Hispaniola in November as it turned out, tensions between the Indians and the greedy Europeans had resulted in the slaughter of all 40 Spaniards. A number of Columbus's men began succumbing to New World illnesses, and with supplies dwindling, he sent a dozen ships back to Spain. He and the remaining group explored parts of Cuba and Jamaica, but their demands for treasure again put them into conflict with the Indians.
Returning without significant treasure in , Columbus found that his standing with the royal couple had diminished considerably, and this was reflected in the size of the third expedition: just eight ships. This time Columbus, desperate to find the Asian mainland, sailed southward to Trinidad before returning to Hispaniola in August In Santo Domingo, he found a full-scale mutiny, and when returning sailors brought this news to Ferdinand and Isabella, they sent an official named Bobadilla to investigate. On Bobadilla's orders, Columbus was brought back to Spain in chains in October Within a few weeks of his arrival, however, Columbus managed to talk his way back into the royal couple's good graces.
Finally they authorized what would be his last voyage, in May , this time with just four ships. The situation in the New World was even worse than before: a new governor in Hispaniola prevented Columbus from landing on the island, and after his crew survived a hurricane, he had to wait a year before the colonial governor sent him help. By November he was back in Spain, a virtually forgotten man.
Within days of his arrival, Columbus lost his chief supporter, Queen Isabella. He himself would not live more than 18 months, during which time he continually beseeched King Ferdinand for the rewards that had been promised him in their agreement. He died in the town of Valladolid on May 20, Genoa, Italy, September — October ; d. Valladolid, Spain, May 20, Christopher, Bartholomew, and Diego, sons of Domenico Colombo and his wife, Susanna Fontanarossa, became wool carders but not master weavers like their father and grandfathers. Christopher went to sea at 14, without schooling.
His will of refers to Genoa as "that noble and powerful city by the sea. Christopher, "the Christ bearer. He had rare ability to acquire knowledge through observation and experience; he demonstrated superlative competence as a seaman and navigator during his four famous voyages. Little is known of his life prior to He served in a Genoese privateer; he made one or more voyages to Chios in the Aegean Sea.
He survived the sinking of a ship in battle, off Cape St. Vincent, Portugal, Aug. Although wounded, he seized a large oar and used it for partial support in swimming to the Portuguese coast. After being cared for in the Genoese colony of Lisbon, he became a chartmaker with his brother Bartholomew. He made a voyage to Iceland, and visited Galway, Ireland. Castilian Spanish was the language of the educated in Portugal when the Columbus brothers were establishing themselves as chartmakers.
The writings of Christopher are in Castilian with Portuguese spellings, or in Latin learned after he began to think in Spanish. As an agent for Genoese merchants he visited Genoa and lived in Madeira for a time. In command of a merchant vessel, he made at least one voyage to equatorial west Africa. Their son Diego was born c. She died before Columbus went to Spain and was buried in the Moniz family chapel in Lisbon's church of the Carmo. The Indies. Portugal led Europe in sea exploration and a chartmaker in Lisbon could be familiar with Portuguese progress.
Christopher studied geography, and three of his books have been preserved: Imago Mundi by peter of ailly of Cambrai, written c. Both brothers read and reread these books. Christopher made some 2, marginal notes and filled the blank pages at the ends of the volumes. He conceived the idea of sailing westward to Asia.
The "Fixed Idea" of Columbus was based on faith in his own ability as a seaman-navigator, combined with a gross underestimate of the distance involved. The size of the earth had been debated for 1, years. According to ptolemy a. Enthusiasm helped Columbus to prefer the earlier estimate of. Columbus argued that a degree on the equator measured Columbus obtained partial support from P.
Toscanelli of Florence in , when the latter estimated that Japan was only 3, miles west of the Canary Islands. Christopher calculated that 2, miles was the distance, and placed the coast of Japan in the longitude of San Juan , Puerto Rico. He asked the King of Portugal to send him westward to Asia, but Portuguese geographers advised that the voyage would require fully days.
Preparations for the Voyage. Columbus in Spain. Bartholomew continued chartmaking in Lisbon. At that time the sovereigns were engaged in war against the Moorish Kingdom of Granada. Columbus at Salamanca. Twice in Spain, and once in Portugal, royal commissions considered the advisability of financing an expedition for Columbus. Father Hernando de Talavera, later archbishop of Granada, headed the best known commission, December , in Salamanca. It should be remembered that there was no accurate way to determine longitude prior to In , neither the size of the earth nor the longitude of Japan was known.
The commission reported that the earth was considerably larger than Columbus believed, that the distance to Japan was far greater than he estimated, and that available ships could not carry sufficient food and water for a voyage of that length. On these three points the commission was correct, but the members were favorably impressed by the dignity and earnestness of Columbus himself. The consensus in Spain then was that a degree on the equator measured By contrast, Columbus underestimated by about The popular "Columbus Myth" describes the Salamanca meeting as an attempt by Columbus to convince university professors, mostly churchmen, that the earth is round.
The University of Salamanca was not involved. Spain had no capital at that time, and the royal commission met in that city because the court was there. The shape of the earth was not in question. Ever since men first built ships and put out from land it had been known that the earth is a sphere.
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The masts and spars of an approaching vessel appear over the horizon before the hull is seen. In heading away, a ship goes "hull down" before the masts disappear. Vessels often pass each other "hull down" at sea.
Lookouts go to the masthead to see objects not visible from the deck. This explains the use of fires on headlands or lights on towers as aids to navigation. Lighthouses were in use for 2, years before the meeting at Salamanca. He was invited to return there, and he wrote in his copy of Imago Mundi that he was in Lisbon in December when Bartholomew Dias returned after discovering the Cape of Good Hope. With the route to India around Africa thus open to him, the King of Portugal lost interest in Columbus's idea.
Columbus probably supported himself by selling books and charts in Seville. Although unsuccessful also in France, Bartholomew was retained at Fontainbleau as a chartmaker by the King's sister, Anne de Beaujeu , until he learned of his brother's discovery. Christopher suffered genuine distress after the unfavorable report of the Commission. Determined to go to France, he traveled first to La Rabida.
His proposals were considered again, and referred to the Royal Council of Castile. Immediately after Columbus marched in the triumphal procession entering Granada on Jan. Queen Isabella's Decision. Columbus was recalled and had another interview with Isabella. She won her husband's approval. Santangel argued that the enterprise required little risk while offering great possibilities.
Probably the character of Columbus won for him the support of the Queen and of many able men. The First Voyage. They departed the Canary Islands on September 9. With favorable weather and winds, they were beyond the position where land was expected on October 10, and the crew complained.
Columbus promised to turn back if land was not sighted in 2 or 3 days. San Salvador Island was discovered on Oct. After exploring northeastern Cuba, Columbus crossed the Windward Passage to the north shore of Hispaniola, where the Santa Maria was wrecked on Christmas morning. Forty men were left in a fort on shore called "Navidad. Heading northeast, Columbus weathered severe storms, stopped in the Azores, and was driven into Lisbon. News of the discovery spread rapidly in Spain and Italy, slowly elsewhere. Columbus visited the court at Barcelona, was ordered to prepare another expedition, and was confirmed in the title Admiral of the Ocean Sea.
While recognizing his discovery, many educated men doubted that he had reached the Indies in 33 days from the Canaries. The second departure was on Oct. A high mountainous island sighted Sunday, November 3 was named Dominica. Columbus was shocked by the discovery that all of the garrison were dead, and influenced by the necessity of returning ships to Spain, he hastily chose for the new town of "Isabela" a site that lacked natural advantages. A better anchorage was available 20 miles east at Puerto Plata. Throughout the first voyage crews had been healthy, but hard work, exposure to mosquitos, rain, and strange diets made men ill soon after work began at Isabela.
Medicaments were exhausted; the doctor worn out. Columbus was not an experienced administrator; his errors were repeated, however, by the English in Virginia a century later, and by other colonizers. Columbus explored part of the southern coast of Cuba in May, circled Jamaica, and returned along the southern coast of Hispaniola, reaching Isabela on Sept. His brother Bartholomew had arrived, and there was a letter from the sovereigns suggesting that he return to Spain to advise them.
Although suffering from arthritis, Columbus remained while discontent increased in the colony. He sailed March 10, and reached Cadiz June 11, Third Voyage. Departure was from the Cape Verde Islands July 4, Sighting Trinidad July 31, the admiral entered the Gulf of Paria, where he recognized that the volume of fresh water proved that the land to the South and West was part of a continent. Worried about conditions in Hispaniola, Columbus failed to seek the pearl fisheries after learning of them and seeing some pearls.
Instead he left the coast near Margarita Island, heading for the colony. With the hope of improving matters, the admiral asked for a chief justice from Spain. Francisco de Bobadilla arrived while Christopher and Bartholomew were absent from Santo Domingo City; he listened to the malcontents and sent the brothers home in chains without hearing them. The sovereigns released Columbus, but King Ferdinand was preoccupied with diplomacy and did not study the colonial problem. Fourth Voyage. This departure was from the Canaries May 26, Reaching Martinique June 15, the admiral headed for Santo Domingo with the hope of exchanging his flagship for a better vessel.
Columbus recognized that a hurricane was imminent, asked for shelter in the Ozama River, suggested that all vessels be held in port until the storm passed. Disregarding the warning, 25 ships sailed; 20 ships and men were lost. Denied shelter, the admiral rode out the storm at sea. He then spent nine months exploring the coast of Central America from Honduras to a point about miles east of Porto Bello.
He suffered from malaria, and bad weather, tropical rain, sickness, and difficulties with the natives affected all hands.
Shipworms damaged the hulls of his vessels, and he was forced to run them aground in Saint Ann's Bay, Jamaica. Bartholomew and the admiral's younger son, Ferdinand, were on this voyage. Nearly half the men mutinied, and mistreated the natives, and the latter almost ceased to supply food. Columbus knew that a total eclipse of the moon was expected on the night of Feb. Summoning the native chiefs to a conference, the admiral told them that the God of the Christians would make a sign with the moon to show his disapproval of their failure to supply food to the stranded white men.
The eclipse was persuasive. Rescued June 29, he reached Spain Nov. His remains rest in the cathedral of Santo Domingo City. Achievements of Columbus. In the most famous voyages of modern history Columbus set an example for Europe, raising standards as a seaman, as a navigator, and as an explorer. Before the development of celestial navigation he demonstrated a degree of skill in " dead reckoning " that would be highly creditable to the best navigators of the s.
He exhibited outstanding practical seamanship in fair weather and during storms. Although he had spent only a few years in the Caribbean area, his observations of weather conditions enabled him to predict an impending hurricane. He gave Spain an empire and extended Christian civilization.
As an administrator he made mistakes, but few men have done better under similar primitive conditions in colonization. Bibliography: j. Boston ; ed. Boston — 89 — Raccolta di documenti e studi pubblicati dalla R. Commissione Colombiana, 14 v. Rome — New York — Boston ; Christopher Columbus, Mariner Boston ; ed. Barcelona Studi Colombiana, 3 v. Madrid He was himself mysterious when speaking of his origin, apparently having something in his background which he wished to conceal.
However, he boasted cryptically about his connection with King David and had a penchant for Jewish and Marrano society. Spanish scholars have attempted to explain the fact that this great hero of Spanish history was almost certainly born in Genoa, Italy, by the assumption that his parents were Jewish or ex-Jewish refugees from Spain.
In fact, the name Colon or Colombo was not uncommon among Italian Jews of the late medieval period. A document recently discovered suggests that Columbus was of Majorcan origin, and almost certainly belonged to a Marrano family: but the authenticity of the document still remains to be proved.
On the other hand, Columbus' mysterious signature, which he adjured his son always to use, is susceptible to a Hebraic interpretation, which is no more improbable than the many other solutions that have been proposed. It is remarkable moreover that Columbus began his account of his voyage with a reference to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain; that in one document he refers to the Second Temple in Jerusalem by the Hebraic term "Second House"; that he dates its destruction as being in the year 68, in accordance with the Jewish tradition; and that he seems to have deliberately postponed the day of his sailing until August 3, while all was ready for the purpose on the previous day, which was the un-propitious fast day of the Ninth of Av commemorating the destruction of the Temple.
The mystery regarding Columbus' origins is largely the outcome of his own mendacity: and as a result it is equally impossible to exclude or to confirm the hypothesis that he was descended from a Jewish or ex-Jewish family. It was in fact to Santangel and Sanchez that Columbus wrote the famous account of his success on his return, which was immediately published and circulated throughout Europe in two recensions — one addressed to the former, the other to the latter.
The motivations behind Columbus' travels were varied. Alongside Franciscan-Joachimite traditions of the coming Third Age, Columbus had been interested for many years in biblical prophecies. He had collected them long before his first journey and later on as well, after his discoveries had verified his expectations. The chiliastic plans included not only the liberation of Jerusalem but the establishment of the Temple. The gold brought from the New World was supposed to serve for the coming crusade.
Unlike his entirely negative attitude to the Muslims, Columbus saw the Jews and Jewish tradition in a more positive light, as part of the religious quest of humanity. The discoveries of Columbus were echoed in Jewish sources; a collection of correspondence from 16 th century Italy Firenze, Biblioteca Medicea Laurentiana, Ms. A Hebrew translation of a book describing the discoveries in the New World was made in Voltaggio near Genoa in , refering specifically to "the new world found by Columbus.
Christopher Columbus was an Italian navigator and explorer whose four voyages to the Americas "opened the gates" for western Europe's overseas expansion. Columbus was born in Genoa, a thriving commercial port on the Mediterranean Sea , in —the same year as Queen Isabella — Columbus thus grew up among merchants seeking new routes to the silks, spices, and gold of the "Indies" to circumvent the routes that the Turks had restricted. By age twenty, Columbus was a full-time trader with the Spinola family, sailing the Mediterranean and the Ocean Sea the Atlantic north to England.
Shipwrecked off the coast of Portugal in , he swam ashore near Prince Henry the Navigator 's — school for mariners in Sagres. Columbus then moved to Lisbon, where he took up mapmaking. Lured by the sea, he sailed south to Portuguese trading forts along the African coast and far north of England, improving along the way his knowledge of commerce, navigation, and sea and wind currents.
In he married Felipa Moniz Perestrello, an impoverished Portuguese noblewoman whose father had been raised by Henry the Navigator and was now governor of Porto Santo in the Canary Islands. Perestrello gave his son-in-law all his papers and nautical instruments. It may have been while residing on Porto Santo, watching the sun set to the west and thinking about his future and that of his newborn son Diego Felipa died shortly after giving birth , that Columbus came up with the idea for his Great Enterprise of the Indies—an enterprise that would take him west across the Ocean Sea to the riches of the East faster than the circum-African route the Portuguese were seeking.
After Paolo Toscanelli — , a scholar in Florence, confirmed that such an enterprise was feasible, Columbus approached King John II — of Portugal for backing. King John turned him down. Columbus spent eight frustrating years seeking backing from the Spanish monarchs. In , triumphant but broke after finally reconquering Granada, the last Moorish stronghold on the Iberian Peninsula , Queen Isabella agreed to support Columbus and his enterprise. She needed money, and she admired Columbus's religious fervor.
They sighted land on October 12, an island that was part of a continent previously unknown to Europeans, later called America, though Columbus believed he had reached islands off the Asian continent. Columbus returned to Spain in as viceroy and governor of the Indies, a title granted to him along with "admiral of the Ocean Seas" and a percentage of the Spanish Crown's profits through the legal agreement capitulations he had signed with the crown. He was quickly granted permission to return and colonize the island of Hispaniola, which Columbus said was rich with gold—1, Spaniards accompanied him in 17 ships.
Although Columbus was an excellent navigator, he was not a good governor. So many complaints were made against him and his two brothers that the crown permanently replaced him as governor in Columbus made two more exploratory voyages in and On his last voyage, he explored the eastern coast of Central America , seeking a strait to the Indian Ocean.
Many scholars think he died without knowing he had discovered a new continent. Columbus's notes indicate that he realized it, but could not admit it, for that would nullify the capitulations and the benefits that were to be passed on to his heirs. Columbus's discoveries of new lands, mineral wealth, and new people and animals, and the idea of a strait through the American continent to Asia, set off a new era of European competition, exploration, and expansion.
Translated by Benjamin Keen. New Brunswick , N. Edited and translated by Oliver Dunn and James E. Kelley Jr. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, Dor-Ner, Zvi. Columbus and the Age of Discovery. New York : Morrow, Oxford: Oxford University Press, Morison, Samuel Eliot. Boston: Little, Brown, Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer who sailed in the service of the king and queen of Spain. Between and , he made four voyages to the Caribbean and South America , lands unknown to Europeans at that time. Columbus was born some time in the fall of to a humble family in Genoa, Italy.
He became a seaman at a young age. By the time he was in his twenties, he was a skilled sailor with enough knowledge to pilot his own boat. Columbus educated himself in the store, studying navigation and the art of cartography, or mapmaking. A devout Catholic, Columbus also studied religion.
During the s and early s, Columbus participated in several long voyages that took him as far as Iceland and Africa.
Trade with Asia then called the Indies was very profitable at the time, and he began to formulate the idea that it would be faster and easier to travel to Asia by. Contrary to legend, all educated fifteenth-century Europeans knew that the earth was round, but no one had any idea about its size; most theories underestimated the size of the earth by about one-third. Most people also believed the earth was one huge landmass, consisting of Europe, Africa, and Asia, surrounded by water. It was not surprising that Columbus guessed incorrectly at the distances between continents. In May , Spanish queen Isabella I — agreed to hear his plan.
Besides finding a new trade route and untold riches, part of Columbus's goal in his enterprise was to bring Christianity to the world's peoples. This appealed to Queen Isabella, who wished to create a vast, worldwide, Spanish empire that would spread the Christian religion to every corner of the earth.
The Santa Maria , at feet in length, was the largest of the three ships. The fleet sailed on August 3, By chance, Columbus found the best possible Atlantic route to the New World and the weather was good. Still, the voyage took weeks. Finally, on October 11, signs of land became apparent—branches with green leaves and flowers floating in the water. Very early on the morning of October 12, the lookout on the Pinta saw land. The grateful crew landed on a small island in the present-day Bahamas.
Columbus named the island San Salvador Holy Savior. Columbus stayed on the island for two days, meeting with its inhabitants, members of the peaceful Arawak-speaking Taino tribe. Not knowing where he was, and always assuming that he had reached the Indies, he called these people Indians. Columbus spent several days exploring the Bahamas , but the Taino told him about another much larger island named Colba Cuba , and he set off for it, thinking it must be part of China or Japan. He landed on Cuba on October 28, , and for the next month sailed along its north coast.
After leaving Cuba on December 5, , Columbus sailed. In Hispaniola, Columbus met a young Arawak chief who was wearing gold ornaments, which he was willing to trade for European goods. Farther east, Columbus met a more important chief who had even larger pieces of gold. Columbus entertained him and his people on board the Santa Maria on Christmas Eve. After the festivities, while everyone was asleep, the ship hit a coral reef and began to sink. Helped by the chief and his followers, the Spanish were able to unload most of the ship's goods and carry them to shore.
Making the best of a bad situation, Columbus founded the first European settlement in the Americas. He returned with spices, slaves, and a small amount of gold. He had written a pamphlet praising the lands he had found. Columbus stayed in Barcelona for three months. For having discovered a new route to the Indies, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand gave him titles and honors and agreed to sponsor a second voyage. Columbus's second expedition to the Americas in was much larger than the first, with seventeen ships and about twelve hundred to fifteen hundred men aboard.
After a smooth crossing, the ships sailed through the Caribbean islands. There they encountered the native Caribs, a warlike people who were skilled navigators and made raids upon others from their large dugout canoes. After a brief fight, some of the Caribs were captured and sent to Spain as slaves. When the Spanish fleet reached the settlement at La Navidad, they found it in ruins with the unburied bodies of Spaniards everywhere.
Many historians assume that the once-peaceful Arawak Indians rebelled against Spanish abuses and killed the Spaniards. Abandoning the site, Columbus took his new colonists seventy-five miles to the east where he built a trading fort called Isabela in what is now the Dominican Republic. Within four days, the settlers found gold near Isabela. Columbus then sent twelve ships laden with gold and spices back to Spain. In , Columbus's brother Bartholomew arrived from Spain.
The Arawak, who were traditionally a peaceful people, had by that time realized that the arrival of the Spanish meant their destruction. Columbus and his men took the Arawaks as slaves; his men also sexually assaulted the Arawak women. In addition, the Europeans brought with them epidemic diseases that were deadly to the natives. So the Arawak put together a large force to try to drive the intruders off the island. At the end of March , Columbus and his brother led a force that defeated the Native Americans and enslaved many of the survivors.
Despite Columbus's personal promise to Queen Isabella not to use unnecessary violence with the natives, many of Columbus's men were abusive to the Native Americans. Columbus, unsuccessful in imposing order, decided to return to Spain in He left his brother in charge of the colony, but Bartholomew quickly abandoned Isabela and moved the Spanish headquarters to the south side of the island at Santo Domingo. News had already reached Spain of the trouble in Isabela. It took Columbus two years to convince Ferdinand and Isabella to send him out on a third voyage.
The royals finally agreed. The small fleet did not actually leave until May 30, , because Columbus had trouble finding ships and supplies. Columbus landed on the island of Trinidad on August 1, The next day, he sailed to the mouth of the great Orinoco River in Venezuela, realizing almost at once he had reached a continental landmass. This was his first view of the mainland of the Americas. When he returned to Hispaniola, Columbus found trouble. Isabella and Ferdinand had sent a new governor to replace Columbus in Hispaniola.
When the new governor arrived, finding the Spanish inhabitants in a state of rebellion, he immediately arrested both Columbus brothers. He put them in chains and sent them back to Spain, where they arrived in October Columbus stayed in chains for five weeks after his return until he was released by Ferdinand and Isabella on December Columbus was granted one more expedition in He arrived in Santo Domingo in the middle of a hurricane, but its new governor would not let him enter the harbor.
Columbus sailed across the Caribbean to the coast of Honduras and journeyed southward along the coast of Central America looking for a passageway west. When he reached Panama, he was close to the Pacific Ocean. It is possible that Columbus may then have realized the continent he had found was not Asia, but there are no records to prove this.
Columbus tried to found a new colony in western Panama. As one of the rainiest places in the world and inhabited by Native Americans hostile to the Europeans, it proved unsuitable for settlement. After great delays due to leaky ships, Columbus chartered a boat and left for Spain in September Columbus's biggest supporter, Queen Isabella, died in Ill himself, the disgraced navigator continued to try to convince King Ferdinand to sponsor another voyage, but he failed.
Columbus moved into a house in the Spanish city of Valladolid in and died there on May Columbus made four voyages to the Caribbean and South America between and As governor of Hispaniola an island in the Caribbean , he oversaw the establishment of the first European settlements in the Americas. Columbus later brought over other Europeans, an act that resulted in devastating consequences to the people he called "Indians. Beginning with Columbus's brutal rule, the Native Americans of Hispaniola were soon virtually exterminated. Although he made great strides in Spain's effort to colonize the New World, Columbus was taken from Hispaniola in chains and under arrest, his career and reputation permanently damaged.
Christopher Columbus was born in the city of Genoa, Italy, in His family, who made and traded woolen fabrics, had lived in Genoa for at least three generations. From a young age, Columbus worked as a sailor on merchant and war ships in the Mediterranean Sea. In he went to Lisbon, Portugal, where he learned mathematics and astronomy study of the stars , subjects that are vital for navigation. He made several voyages, including one to Iceland an island between the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. In he married and settled on Madeira an island off the northwest coast of Africa , where his son Diego was born.
In he had another son, Fernando, with his Spanish mistress, Beatriz Enriquez. In the early s Columbus began to seek a sponsor for an expedition to Asia. He wanted to prove his theory that it would be faster and easier to get to Asia by sailing west across the Atlantic Ocean instead of going around Africa and into the Indian Ocean. For several years Columbus proposed his idea to the king of Portugal, but he was turned down. Not to be discouraged, Columbus went to try his luck in Spain. He first met with Queen Isabella I in Finally, in April , Isabella and her husband, King Ferdinand V, signed an agreement with Columbus in which they agreed to pay for his voyage.
The life of Christopher Columbus, from his own letters and journals and other documents of his time
According to this deal, Columbus would be named admiral, become the governor of any lands he discovered, and receive a tax-free ten percent share of any riches found in the new lands. The ships made good progress across the Atlantic, but as the weeks passed the crew wondered if they would ever reach land. According to Columbus's calculations, they already should have reached their destination. By October 10, the men began to turn mutinous rebellious , demanding that the ships turn back toward Spain.
But the next day some sailors saw signs of land: branches with green leaves and flowers floating in the water.
Early the following morning a lookout a sailor who keeps watch atop a ship mast on the Pinta sighted white cliffs in the moonlight and shouted, "Tierra! They had found a small island in the present-day Bahamas a group of islands southeast of Florida. Not knowing where they were, Columbus incorrectly assumed he had reached Asia, or the "Indies.
When the Tainos told Columbus about a larger island to the south, he thought it must be part of China or Japan. Actually it was the island we now call Cuba. After leaving the Bahamas , Columbus spent a month sailing along the coast of Cuba in search of gold. Today Hispaniola is comprised of the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
While sailing along the coast Columbus met an important Native American chief who was wearing gold ornaments that he gladly traded for European goods. On Christmas Eve, Columbus invited the chief and his people to come aboard the Santa Maria for a holiday celebration. When the party was over, everyone fell asleep and the Santa Maria hit a coral reef. The ship was damaged beyond repair. The Native Americans helped the Spanish sailors unload most of the goods from the ship and carry them to shore. Columbus then founded the first European settlement in the Americas on that site, a small bay where the Haitian village of Limonade-Bord-de-Mer now stands.
He named the settlement La Navidad "the birth" in honor of the fact that the colony was founded on Christmas Day. When Columbus left La Navidad a few weeks later to return to Spain, twenty-one of his men remained at the settlement. Thus began the Spanish colonization of the Americas. When Columbus returned to Spain, he had no trouble winning support for a second voyage.
After all, he had "discovered" previously unknown lands and had also brought evidence of gold and other riches. This time he was given seventeen ships that held more than one thousand colonists. But when they reached La Navidad in November , the settlement lay in ruins, and unburied Spaniard bodies were everywhere. Either the Native Americans had turned against the Europeans, or the Spaniards had fought among themselves. No one had survived to tell the story.
Abandoning the site, Columbus took his new colonists seventy-five miles east, where he built a settlement called Isabela. He wasted no time in searching for the gold that would enrich Spain and secure his position and power. Only four days after landing at Isabela, Columbus sent one of his officers, Alonso de Ojeda, to look for gold. Ojeda found a small amount of the precious mineral in the mountains. Meanwhile, as Columbus was exploring nearby islands, a curious incident occurred. At one point Columbus gathered all his men together and made them swear that they had been sailing along the mainland of Asia, not the coast of an island.
He was still convinced—or was trying to convince himself—that he had found the "Indies. He reported that Spaniards "made bets as to who would slit a man in two, or cut off his head at one blow. They tore the babes from their mother's breast by their feet, and dashed their heads against the rocks. They spitted [held like meat over a fire] the bodies of other babes, together with their mothers and all who were before them, on their swords. In this time, the greatest outrages and slaughterings of people were perpetrated, whole villages being depopulated. The Indians saw that without any offence on their part they were despoiled [robbed] of their kingdoms, their lands and liberties and of their lives, their wives, and homes.
As they saw themselves each day perishing by the cruel and inhuman treatment of the Spaniards, crushed to the earth by the horses, cut in pieces by swords, eaten and torn by dogs, many buried alive and suffering all kinds of exquisite [extreme] tortures, some of the Princes. There were still those people who fled to the mountains. New York : Knopf, When Columbus returned to Isabela in late September , he found tensions growing between the Native Americans and the Spaniards. The colonists were severely mistreating the Native Americans—taking them as slaves, beating them, and stealing from them.
By this time the Native Americans were fighting back, and they organized an army to drive the Europeans off the island. The Spanish took harsh steps to subdue the Native Americans, including an attack led by Columbus and his brother Bartholomew in March The Native Americans, who were no match for the Spanish army of soldiers, were completely defeated. During the next few years the Native people of Hispaniola were rapidly driven toward extinction.
The Spaniards governed harshly in Hispaniola. Columbus instituted a tribute system, which required every Native American over the age of fourteen to deliver a certain amount of gold to the Spanish every three months. Those who did not pay the tribute would receive severe punishment such as having their hands cut off. Another formal policy of the government was forced labor.
Colonists were assigned Native Americans to use as they liked for performing strenuous tasks, such as farming or mining. Native American offenses against the Spanish were punished with hanging, burning at the stake, beheading, or amputation cutting off arms or legs. Meanwhile the Spaniards acted without restraint or humanity, often attacking or killing men, women, and children on a whim. Other Native Americans were taken to Spain to be sold as slaves—thirty by Columbus himself and later three hundred by his brother Bartholomew.
Native Americans also died because of the diseases the Europeans brought with them. The original inhabitants of Hispaniola had had no previous contact with such illnesses, and therefore they had no resistance. Deadly diseases like smallpox a skin disorder caused by a virus proved fatal to the Native Americans of Hispaniola, and later of South America. Meanwhile, the first unfavorable reports about conditions in Hispaniola were beginning to reach King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in Spain. The Spanish monarchs were displeased because little gold was being sent to Spain, the colonists on Hispaniola had voiced complaints about Columbus's rule, and almost no Native Americans had been converted to Catholicism.
Columbus returned to Spain in to explain the situation. By now Ferdinand and Isabella had lost most of their confidence in his ability to govern the colony. It was some time before he could convince them to send him back to Hispaniola. During the two years he spent trying to restore their faith in him, Columbus wore the coarse dress of a Franciscan friar member of the Roman Catholic monastic order of Saint Francis. His strange attire has never been completely understood. Some historians speculate that he may have adopted it out of regret for wrongdoing, to show humility, or even as a disguise.
Finally the king and queen gave Columbus another chance, putting him in command of a small fleet carrying supplies to Hispaniola. He set sail in May During this third voyage he observed the coast of Venezuela, therefore becoming the first European to see the continent of South America. Columbus had left his brother Bartholomew in command at Isabela. Since Columbus's departure Bartholomew had moved the settlement to the south side of the island to a place the Spaniards named Santo Domingo. Columbus reached the new location in August , and for the next two years governed the island.
Soon after Columbus took over, the colonists rebelled against his authority. The Spanish colonists had many reasons to rebel. Prior to a big gold strike in late , any gold found was in small quantities and required a great deal of labor to extract. Because so many Native Americans had either run away or died, the Spaniards could not get enough workers to farm or mine for gold. There was constant conflict between the remaining Native Americans and the colonists.
At any given time a large number of colonists were sick with deadly diseases. Supplies were also scarce and living conditions were poor. Life on Hispaniola was not what Spanish colonists expected. By they were openly challenging the Columbus's authority. Indeed Columbus did seem to make a very poor governor. It appears he was more interested in managing his own fortune and promoting himself to the Spanish crown the king and queen than in solving the problems of the colonists. In a letter to Ferdinand and Isabella he even complained that he wanted "to escape from governing a dissolute [immoral] people [the Spanish] who fear neither God nor their king and queen, being full of folly and malice.
Columbus did not have the respect of the Spanish settlers, and he could not maintain order. The Spanish king and queen continued to receive complaints about the Columbus brothers. Finally they sent a trusted knight, Francisco de Bobadilla, to replace Columbus as the new governor of Hispaniola. The bodies of seven rebel Spaniards were hanging in the town square, and Columbus's brother Diego was planning to hang five more the following day. Columbus himself was not in Santo Domingo because he had gone to subdue a rebellion on another part of the island.
His other brother, Bartholomew, was dealing with similar problems elsewhere. De Bobadilla immediately put Diego in jail, then arrested the other two brothers. The colonists made serious accusations against Columbus and his brothers. After a hearing de Bobadilla decided to send them back to Spain for trial.
In chains, the three brothers walked to the ships that would take them to Europe. Crowds of angry colonists shouted insults at them as they passed. It was a painful moment for Columbus. He later described his "great dishonor" this way to the king and queen: "Suddenly, when I was expecting the arrival of ships to take me to your royal presence, bearing triumph and great tidings of gold, in great joy and security, I was arrested and cast into a ship with my two brothers, shackled with chains and naked in body, and treated very badly, without being brought to trial or convicted.
He tried to convince them of his innocence and asked for the restoration of all his titles, including governor. In Columbus set out on one more voyage of exploration to the Caribbean. Columbus connects the monsters story to another local legend about a tribe of female warriors , who are said to inhabit the island of "Matinino" east of Hispaniola "first island of the Indies, closest to Spain", possibly referring to Guadaloupe. Columbus speculates that the aforesaid canoe-borne monsters are merely the "husbands" of these warrior women, who visit the island intermittently for mating.
Lest his readers begin to get wary, Columbus rounds off with a more optimistic report, saying the local Indians of Hispaniola also told him about a very large island nearby which "abounds in countless gold" "en esta ay oro sin cuenta". He doesn't give this gold island a name in the printed letters, but in the Copiador version, this island is identified and named as " Jamaica ".
In the printed letters, Columbus claims to be bringing back some of the gold island's "bald-headed" inhabitants with him. Earlier in the letter, Columbus had spoken also of the land of "Avan" "Faba" in the Copiador letter , in the western parts of Juana, where men are said to be "born with tails" "donde nacan la gente con cola" —probably a reference to the Guanajatabey of western Cuba. The Libro Copiador version of the letter contains more native names of islands than the printed editions.
Columbus also gives an account of some of his own activities in the letters. In the letter, he notes that he ordered the erection of the fort of La Navidad on the island of Hispaniola, leaving behind some Spanish colonists and traders. He reports that La Navidad is located near reported gold mines, and is a well-placed entrepot for the commerce that will doubtlessly soon be opened with the Great Khan "gran Can" on the mainland. At the end of his printed letter, Columbus promises that if the Catholic Monarchs back his bid to return with a larger fleet, he will bring back a lot of gold, spices , cotton repeatedly referenced in the letter , mastic gum , aloe , slaves , and possibly rhubarb and cinnamon "of which I heard about here".
Columbus ends the letter urging their Majesties, the Church, and the people of Spain to give thanks to God for allowing him to find so many souls, hitherto lost, ready for conversion to Christianity and eternal salvation. He also urges them to give thanks in advance for all the temporal goods found in abundance in the Indies that shall soon be made available to Castile and the rest of Christendom. The Copiador version but not the printed Spanish or Latin editions also contains a somewhat bizarre detour into messianic fantasy, where Columbus suggests the monarchs should use the wealth of the Indies to finance a new crusade to conquer Jerusalem , Columbus himself offering to underwrite a large army of ten thousand cavalry and hundred thousand infantry to that end.
The sign off varies between editions. The printed Spanish letter is dated aboard the caravel "on the Canary Islands " on February 15, However, it is doubtful Columbus actually signed the original letter that way. According to the Capitulations of Santa Fe negotiated prior to his departure April , Christopher Columbus was not entitled to use the title of " Admiral of the Ocean Sea" unless his voyage was successful. It would be highly presumptuous for Columbus to sign his name that way in February or March, when the original letter was drafted, before that success was confirmed by the royal court.
In the Copiador version there are passages omitted from the printed editions petitioning the monarchs for the honors promised him at Santa Fe, and additionally asking for a cardinalate for his son and the appointment of his friend, Pedro de Villacorta, as paymaster of the Indies. There is no name or signature at the end of the Copiador letter; it ends abruptly "En la mar" "At sea".
In the printed Spanish editions albeit not in the Latin editions nor the Copiador , there is a small postscript dated March 14, written in Lisbon , noting that the return journey took only 28 days in contrast with the 33 days outward , but that unusual winter storms had kept him delayed for an additional 23 days. A codicil in the printed Spanish edition indicates that Columbus sent this letter to the "Escribano de Racion", and another to their Highnesses. The Latin editions contain no postscript, but end with a verse epigram added by Leonardus de Cobraria, Bishop of Monte Peloso.
Christopher Columbus's letter is often compared to the letters of other early explorers, notably his contemporary Amerigo Vespucci , whose letters of —05 enjoyed even greater dissemination and popularity. Columbus's descriptions of the lands and peoples are not really as a detached observer, filled with sheer curiosity, but rather more as an invested entrepreneur with an eye for economic opportunities.
It should be remembered that the Columbus expedition was commercial in purpose. Having failed to find the great markets and cities of China or India, he was returning with empty hulls. So it was unsurprising that in his letter, which has the purpose of reporting the results of his voyage to his investors, Columbus emphasized future economic prospects to make it appear a success.
At every turn, Columbus attempts to portray the islands of the Indies as suitable for future colonization. The notion of colonization for profit was not unfamiliar at the time. The Portuguese had already colonized the Atlantic islands of Madeira and the Azores and erected considerable export industries in timber, sugar and dragon's blood , and the Castilian crown was in the process of completing its conquest of the Canary Islands , drumming up trade in orchil and slaves as they went. In his letter, Columbus's description of the land focuses on listing exploitable natural resources and what can be built there in the future mines, towns, farms , rather than launching into descriptive dissertations.
There are no extended allusions to an earthly Garden of Eden, marvelous vegetation or colorful songbirds, or the structure of Indian villages, as can be found in Vespucci's letters or in Columbus's own journal. It seems evident Columbus's letter was written for an audience of European officials and merchants, not to delight the imagination of common European readers. The anthropological notes in Columbus's letter are relatively sparse. He does not really inquire into or describe the local Arawak natives, their lifestyles, society or customs in much detail. Rather, Columbus's letter is primarily focused on the natives' interaction with the Spaniards, underlining their docility and amenability and other points relevant for the prospects of successful future colonization religion, exchange, notions of property, work capacity.
In emphasizing their timidity and lack of weapons, Columbus may have had in mind the long and painful Spanish conquest of the Canary Islands, which had been fiercely resisted by the aboriginal Guanches , and perhaps sought to underline that such difficulties would not likely be encountered in the Indies islands. The existence of the Caribs—the prospect of warlike cannibals would surely be discouraging to colonization—is promptly dismissed by Columbus as myth.
The religious angle, the repeated emphasis on the masses of new souls available and inclined for conversion to Catholic Christianity , and even the crusade theory of the Copiador letter, was written more for an ecclesiastical-legal audience rather than investors. The decision on the future of the islands belonged to the pious Queen of Castile and the Pope, the ultimate arbitrator of the legal claims.
Here too, Columbus seemed to be aware of history. The discovery of the Canary Islands in the s had launched a wave of slaving expeditions that had shocked the Church and prompted the intervention of the pope, who overrode the claims of the Iberian monarchs and wrote the islands over to a private entrepreneur Luis de la Cerda who promised to convert the natives instead. The Portuguese prince Henry the Navigator had deftly connected the concepts of enslavement and religious conversion to secure a papal grant for the exclusive commercial exploitation of Guinea.
Whether such a gambit would work in Columbus's case was as yet unclear, but the letter was not leaving things up to chance. The queen had already made some significant promises Capitulations of Santa Fe , which Columbus reminded her of in the Copiador letter. Should the monarchs not follow through, his religious arguments might find a sympathetic ear in the Church and perhaps persuade the pope to defend his privileges, and maybe even although this is a stretch decide to turn Columbus into a modern De la Cerda or Prince Henry, and enthrone him personally as the "Prince of the Indian Isles".
The practical intentions of the Columbus letter affected its tone and focus, and perhaps limited his audience, especially when compared to the more popular letters of Amerigo Vespucci. Matters of the Asian trade, economic exploitation and legal claims, might be interesting to overseas merchants, royal officials and Church lawyers, but less so to common European readers who were not likely to be involved at that high level.
Vespucci's letters, by comparison, spoke to a more common imagination— new worlds , paradises on earth, noble savages , societies without masters and the folly of the ancients , appealed to common curiosity and intrigued the scientific interests of the Renaissance humanists of the day. Vespucci's rawer tales of cannibalism and free sexuality added a touch of titillation to the wonder. Columbus's letter, which passes over these details too quickly, and focuses on promising riches to merchants and converts to the Church, seemed relatively dull and grasping by comparison. The few points of marvel in Columbus's letter—cannibals, men with tails, and the island of the Amazons—are brief and only hearsay, dismissible as usual travel myths, unlikely to draw serious attention or set tongues talking in humanist circles.
Columbus's letter introduced his name to European audiences, but did not quite immortalize it. In years to come, it was Amerigo Vespucci's name that became associated with the new continent. No original manuscript copy of Columbus's letter is known to exist. Historians have had to rely on clues in the printed editions, many of them published without date or location, to reconstruct the history of the letter. It is assumed that Columbus wrote the original letter in Spanish. As a result, historians tend to agree that the Barcelona edition which has no date or publisher name, and the appearance of being hurriedly printed was probably the first to be published, and was the closest to the original manuscript.
At the end of the Barcelona edition there is a codicil stating:. In the printed version of the Spanish letter, the post-script is dated March 14, rather than March 4; this could be just a printer's error; the letter to the monarchs in the Libro Copiador gives the correct post-script date, March 4, It should be noted it is also unlikely Columbus initiated the long letter in the middle of the storm—he surely had more urgent matters to attend to; he probably wrote the main body of the letter in the calm period before the storm began on February 12, and hurried to finish them when the storm hit.
There is some uncertainty over whether Christopher Columbus sent the letters directly from Lisbon , after docking there on March 4, , or held on to them until he reached Spain, dispatching the letters only after his arrival at Palos de la Frontera on March 15, It is highly probable, albeit uncertain, that Columbus sent the letter from Lisbon to the Spanish court, probably by courier.
It was common for royal and commercial agents to accost and interview returning sailors in the docks, so the Portuguese king would likely have the information he sought soon enough. So Columbus realized the Spanish court needed to be informed of the results of his voyage as soon as possible. Had Columbus decided to wait until he reached Palos to dispatch his letter, it might have been received too late for the Spanish monarchs to react and forestall any Portuguese actions. The earliest Spanish record of the news, reporting that Columbus "had arrived in Lisbon and found all that he went to seek", is contained in a letter by Luis de la Cerda y de la Vega , Duke of Medinaceli , in Madrid, dated March 19, , .
It was possibly fear of the interception of the courier from Lisbon by Portuguese agents that prompted Columbus to introduce some disinformation in his letter. For instance, Columbus claims he wrote the letter on a caravel while he was around the Canary Islands rather than the Azores probably in order to conceal that he had been sailing in Portuguese territorial waters.
He gives no details of his bearing, no mention of whether he sailed west, north or south, or whether the waters were shallow or deep—Columbus's letters "say much and reveal nothing". Finally, his emphatic statement that he formally "took possession" of the islands for the Catholic monarchs, and left men and a ship at La Navidad, may have been emphasized to forestall any Portuguese claim. It is unsurprising that Columbus singled Santangel out as the first recipient of the news. Santangel had been the person who made the case to, and persuaded, Queen Isabella to sponsor Columbus's voyage eight months earlier.
Indeed, Santangel arranged for much of the financing to the Castilian crown much of it from his own pocket to enable the monarchs to sponsor it. Moreover, as the letter indicates, Columbus sought more financing to return with an even larger fleet to the Indies as soon as possible, so it would be useful to contact Santangel immediately, so he could set the wheels in motion for a second voyage.
The story of the second copy of the letter, the one ostensibly sent to the Catholic Monarchs, has been more complicated. The "contain" verb in the codicil of the Spanish Letter to Santangel leaves ambiguous which one was contained in which. Some believe the letters to the Monarchs and to Santangel were sent separately, perhaps even on different days March 4 and March 14 respectively  others suggest Santangel was supposed to personally deliver the letter to the monarchs even though handling royal correspondence was outside his formal functions, Santangel's proximity to Isabella may have been a security consideration  ; still others believe it the other way around, that the letter to Santangel was submitted first to the monarchs to get royal approval before being forwarded to Santangel for ultimate publication it would have been consistent with Santangel's office as Escribano , to oversee and pay the printers.
The printed Spanish and Latin editions are practically identical, with only some very minor differences, most of them attributable to the printers. In particular, the Latin edition omits the postscript and codicil pertaining to the Escribano , and adds a prologue and epilogue not present in the Spanish editions, which give some clues as to its assumed provenance. The earliest Latin version although bearing no date or printer name states the letter was addressed to "Raphael Sanxis" assumed to mean Gabriel Sanchez , the treasurer of the Crown of Aragon  , and has an opening salutation hailing the Catholic king Ferdinand II of Aragon later Latin editions correct the addressee's name to "Gabriel Sanchez" and add Isabella I of Castile to the salutation.
For much of the past century, many historians have interpreted these notes to indicate that the Latin edition was a translated copy of the letter Columbus sent to the Catholic monarchs, who were holding court in Barcelona at the time. The story commonly related is that after Columbus's original Spanish letter was read out loud at court, the notary Leander de Cosco was commissioned by Ferdinand II or his treasurer, Gabriel Sanchez to translate it into Latin. A copy was subsequently forwarded to Naples then part of the crown of Aragon , where Bishop Leonardus got a hold of it.
At the time, the pope was then deep in the midst of arbitrating between the claims of the crowns of Portugal and Spain over Columbus's discoveries. The papal bull Inter caetera , delivering the pope's initial opinion, was issued on May 3, , albeit there remained disputed details to work out a second and third bull followed soon after.
While in Rome, Bishop Leonardus arranged for the publication of the letter by the Roman printer Stephanus Plannck, possibly with an eye to help popularize and advance the Spanish case. The discovery of a manuscript copybook, known as the Libro Copiador , containing a copy of Columbus's letter addressed to the Catholic Monarchs, has led to a revision of this history. It is now increasingly believed that the Latin edition printed in Rome is actually a translation of the letter to Santangel, and that the letter to the Monarchs was never translated nor printed.
In other words, all the printed editions, Spanish and Latin, derive from the same Spanish letter to Luis de Santangel,. But another possibility is that the Aragonese bureaucracy made a copy of Santangel's letter, and forwarded a copy to Sanchez for his information, and that this letter found its way to Italy by some channel, with or without royal permission a fragment of an Italian translation suggests the treasurer sent a copy to his brother, Juan Sanchez, then a merchant in Florence.
Nonetheless, some historians believe that Columbus sent three distinct letters: one the Catholic Monarchs the manuscript copy , another to Luis de Santangel origin of the printed Spanish editions , and a third to Gabriel Sanchez origin of the Latin editions. In other words, that the Santangel and Sanchez letters, although practically identical, are nonetheless distinct.
The choice of Gabriel Sanchez may, however, have been at Luis de Santangel's recommendation or initiative. Gabriel Sanchez was of a family of conversos who traced their origins back to a Jew named Alazar Goluff of Saragossa ,  and Sanchez was married to the daughter of Santangel's cousin also named Luis de Santangel. Juan and Alfonso escaped abroad, Guillen was tried but given the chance to repent. The Santangel brother-in-law, however, was found guilty of Judaizing and sentenced to death. Gabriel Sanchez himself was also accused, but he was soon extricated by his employer, King Ferdinand II.
One of Gabriel's nephews, also named Juan Sanchez, would later become the agent of the Aragon treasury in Seville and a contractor of supplies for the Hispaniola colonies. It been suggested in recent years that the printed letter may not have been written in its entirety by the hand of Columbus, but rather was edited by a court official, probably Luis de Santangel. The text in the printed Spanish and Latin editions is much cleaner and streamlined than the roaming prose of Columbus's letter to the monarchs found in the Libro Copiador.
The omission of these "distracting" points strongly suggests that there was another hand in the editing of the printed editions. And that this hand was probably a royal official, as these points could be construed as undignified or embarrassing to the crown. This suggests that the printing of the Columbus letter, if not directly undertaken by royal command, probably had royal knowledge and approval. As noted before, these were being intensively negotiated in the papal court throughout — If so, it is quite possible that Luis de Santangel was precisely that royal official, that he edited the content and oversaw the printing in Spain, and it was Santangel who sent a copy of the edited letter to Gabriel Sanchez who proceeded to disseminate it to his contacts in Italy to be translated into Latin and Italian and printed there.
The peculiarities of the printed editions "Catalanisms" in the spelling, the omission of Isabella suggest this entire editing, printing and dissemination process was handled from the outset by Aragonese officials—like Santangel and Sanchez—rather than Castilians. The small Spanish editions and its subsequent disappearance would be consistent with this thesis. To influence public opinion in Europe, and particularly the Church and the Pope, a Spanish version was not nearly as useful as a Latin one, so there was no purpose of continuing to print the Spanish edition once the Latin one became available.
Indeed, there was no point in reprinting the Latin editions either, once the Treaty of Tordesillas was signed in June Thus, Columbus's letter serves as an early example of the harnessing of the new printing press by the State for propaganda purposes. Christopher Columbus was probably correct to send the letter from Lisbon, for shortly after, King John II of Portugal indeed began to outfit a fleet to seize the discovered islands for the Kingdom of Portugal.
The Portuguese king suspected rightly, as it turns out that the islands discovered by Columbus lay below the latitude line of the Canary Islands approx. Urgent reports on the Portuguese preparations were dispatched to the Spanish court by the Duke of Medina-Sidonia. Even before Herrera arrived John II had sent his own emissary, Ruy de Sande, to the Spanish court, reminding the Spanish monarchs that their sailors were not allowed to sail below Canaries latitude, and suggesting all expeditions to the west be suspended.
Columbus, of course, was in the middle of preparing for his second journey. Pope Alexander VI an Aragonese national and friend of Ferdinand II was brought into the fray to settle the rights to the islands and determine the limits of the competing claims. His first bull on the matter, Inter caetera , dated May 3, , was indecisive. The pope assigned the Crown of Castile "all lands discovered by their envoys" i.
Columbus , so long as they are not possessed by any Christian owner which Columbus's letter confirmed. On the other hand, the Pope also safeguarded the Portuguese claims by confirming their prior treaties and bulls "no right conferred on any Christian prince is hereby understood as withdrawn or to be withdrawn". Thus, on his first shot, the pope effectively left the matter unsettled until the determination of the islands' actual geographic location.
The rights, treaties and bulls pertain only to the Crown of Castile and Castilian subjects, and not to the Crown of Aragon or Aragonese subjects. It was apparently soon realized that the islands probably lay below the latitude boundary, as only a little while later, Pope Alexander VI issued a second bull Eximiae devotionis officially dated also May 3, but written c. July , that tried to fix this problem by stealthily suggesting the Portuguese treaty applied to "Africa", and conspicuously omitting mention of the Indies.
On his third attempt, in another bull also called Inter caetara , written in the summer and backdated to May 4, , the Pope once again confirmed the Spanish claim on the Indies more explicitly with a longitude line of demarcation granting all lands leagues west of Cape Verde not merely those discovered by "her envoys" as the exclusive dominion of the Crown of Castile with no explicit safeguards for prior Portuguese treaties or grants. In official time, Eximiae precedes the second Inter caetara , but in actual time may have actually followed it.
It is uncertain exactly how the printed editions of the Columbus letter influenced this process. However, the increasing strength of the bulls over the summer, when the letter's circulation was at its height, suggests the Spanish case was ultimately helped rather than hurt by the letter. Minutiae over latitude degrees paled in insignificance with the excitement of the new discoveries revealed in the letters. While the Portuguese tried to paint Columbus as merely just another Spanish interloper, little more than a smuggler, illegally trying to trade in their waters, the letters presented him as a great discoverer of new lands and new peoples.
The prospect of new souls ready to be converted, emphasized in the letters, and a Spanish crown eager to undertake the expense of that effort, must have swayed more than a few opinions. Frustrated by the pope, John II decided to deal with the Spanish directly. The Portuguese envoys Pero Diaz and Ruy de Pina arrived in Barcelona in August, and requested that all expeditions be suspended until the geographical location of the islands was determined.
Eager for a fait acompli , Ferdinand II played for time, hoping he could get Columbus out on his second voyage to the Indies before any suspensions were agreed to. As the king wrote Columbus September 5, , the Portuguese envoys had no clue where the islands were actually located "no vienen informados de lo que es nuestro" . On September 24, , Christopher Columbus departed on his second voyage to the west Indies, with a massive new fleet.
The Life of Columbus: From His Own Letters and Journals and Other Documents of His Time
The Pope chimed in with yet another bull on the matter, Dudum siquidum , written in December but officially backdated September 26, , where he went further than before, and gave Spain claim over any and all lands discovered by her envoys sailing west, in whatever hemisphere those lands happened to be. Subsequent negotiations between the crowns of Portugal and Spain proceeded in Columbus's absence.
On June 12, Columbus famously gathered his crew on Evangelista island what is now Isla de la Juventud , and had them all swear an oath, before a notary, that Cuba was not an island but indeed the mainland of Asia and that China could be reached overland from there. There are two known editions of the Spanish Letter to Santangel, and at least six editions of the Latin Letter to Gabriel Sanchez published in the first year , plus an additional rendering of the narrative into Italian verse by Giuliano Dati which went through five editions.
Other than the Italian verse, the first foreign language translation was into German in In all, seventeen editions of the letter were published between and Neither of these editions are mentioned by any writers before the 19th century, nor have any other copies been found, which suggests they were very small printings, and that the publication of Columbus's letter may have been suppressed in Spain by royal command. The existence of the Latin letter to Gabriel Sanchez was known long before the existence of the Spanish letter to Santangel.
The Latin editions do not contain the codicil about the letter being sent to the "Escribano de Racion", so there was hardly a trace of its existence before the first copy the Ambrosian edition was found in In retrospect, however, some hints are given earlier. Columbus's son, Ferdinand Columbus , in making an account of his own library, listed a tract with the title Lettera Enviada al Escribano de Racion a en Catalan. This may have been a reference to the Barcelona edition of Columbus's letter to Santangel.