Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus
Portrait of a Man, Said to be Christopher Columbus.jpg
Posthumous portrait of Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519. There are no known authentic portraits of Columbus.[1]
1st Governor of the Indies
In office
1492–1499
Appointed byIsabella I of Castile
Succeeded byFrancisco de Bobadilla
Personal details
BornBefore 31 October 1451
Genoa, Republic of Genoa
Died(1506-05-20)20 May 1506 (aged c. 54)
Valladolid, Crown of Castile
Resting placeSeville Cathedral, Seville, Spain
Spouse(s)Filipa Moniz Perestrelo
Domestic partnerBeatriz Enríquez de Arana
ChildrenDiego
Fernando
ParentsDomenico Colombo
Susanna Fontanarossa
RelativesBrothers:
Giovanni Pellegrino
Giacomo (also called Diego)[2]
Bartholomew
Sister:
Bianchinetta Columbus
OccupationMaritime explorer
Signature
Military service
RankAdmiral of the Ocean Sea

Christopher Columbus[a] (s/;[3] before 31 October 1451 – 20 May 1506) was an Italian explorer, navigator, and colonist who completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Castile and Aragon. He led the first European expeditions to the Caribbean, Central America, and South America, initiating the permanent European colonization of the Americas. Columbus discovered a viable sailing route to the Americas, a continent that was then unknown to the Old World. While what he thought he had discovered was a route to the Far East, he is credited with the opening of the Americas for conquest and settlement by Europeans.

Columbus's early life is somewhat obscure, but scholars generally agree that he was born in the Republic of Genoa and spoke a dialect of Ligurian as his first language. He went to sea at a young age and travelled widely, as far north as the British Isles (and possibly Iceland) and as far south as what is now Ghana. He married Portuguese noblewoman Filipa Moniz Perestrelo and was based in Lisbon for several years, but later took a Castilian mistress[citation needed]; he had one son with each woman. Though largely self-educated, Columbus was widely read in geography, astronomy, and history. He formulated a plan to seek a western sea passage to the East Indies, hoping to profit from the lucrative spice trade.

After years of lobbying, the Catholic Monarchs of Castile and Aragon agreed to sponsor a journey west, in the name of the Crown of Castile. Columbus left Castile in August 1492 with three ships, and after a stopover in the Canary Islands made landfall in the Americas on 12 October (now celebrated as Columbus Day). His landing place was an island in the Bahamas, known by its native inhabitants as Guanahani; its exact location is uncertain. Columbus subsequently visited Cuba and Hispaniola, establishing a colony in what is now Haiti—the first European settlement in the Americas since the Norse colonies almost 500 years earlier. He arrived back in Castile in early 1493, bringing a number of captive natives with him. Word of his discoveries soon spread throughout Europe.

Columbus made three further voyages to the New World, exploring the Lesser Antilles in 1493, Trinidad and the northern coast of South America in 1498, and the eastern coast of Central America in 1502. Many of the names he gave to geographical features—particularly islands—are still in use. He continued to seek a passage to the East Indies, and the extent to which he was aware that the Americas were a wholly separate landmass is uncertain; he gave the name indios ("Indians") to the indigenous peoples he encountered. Columbus's strained relationship with the Spanish crown and its appointed colonial administrators in America led to his arrest and removal from Hispaniola in 1500, and later to protracted litigation over the benefits that he and his heirs claimed were owed to them by the crown.

Columbus's expeditions inaugurated a period of exploration, conquest, and colonization that lasted for centuries, helping create the modern Western world. The transfers between the Old World and New World that followed his first voyage are known as the Columbian exchange, and the period of human habitation in the Americas prior to his arrival is known as the Pre-Columbian era. Columbus's legacy continues to be debated. He was widely venerated in the centuries after his death, but public perceptions have changed as recent scholars have given attention to negative aspects of his life, such as his role in the extinction of the Taíno people, his promotion of slavery, and allegations of tyranny towards Spanish colonists. Many landmarks and institutions in the Western Hemisphere bear his name, including the country of Colombia.

Early life

Christopher Columbus at the gates of the monastery of Santa María de la Rábida with his son Diego, by Benet Mercadé

The name Christopher Columbus is the Anglicisation of the Latin Christophorus Columbus. His name in Ligurian is Cristoffa Corombo, in Italian Cristoforo Colombo, in Spanish Cristóbal Colón, and in Portuguese, Cristóvão Colombo.[4] 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.[5][b] His father was Domenico Colombo,[4] a middle-class wool weaver who worked both in Genoa and Savona and who also owned a cheese stand at which young Christopher worked as a helper. His mother was Susanna Fontanarossa.[4] Bartolomeo, Giovanni Pellegrino, and Giacomo were his brothers. Bartolomeo worked in a cartography workshop in Lisbon for at least part of his adulthood.[6] He also had a sister named Bianchinetta.[7]

Columbus never wrote in his native language, which is presumed to have been a Genoese variety of Ligurian: his name in the 16th-century Genoese language would have been Cristoffa[8] Corombo[9] (Ligurian pronunciation: [kriˈʃtɔffa kuˈɹuŋbu]).[10][11] 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 Aragon region of Spain[12] or from Portugal.[13] These competing hypotheses have generally been discounted by mainstream scholars.[14][15]

Columbus's copy of The Travels of Marco Polo, with his handwritten notes in Latin written on the margins

In 1473, Columbus began his apprenticeship as business agent for the important Centurione, Di Negro and Spinola families of Genoa. Later, he allegedly made a trip to Chios, an Aegean island then ruled by Genoa.[16] In May 1476, he took part in an armed convoy sent by Genoa to carry valuable cargo to northern Europe. He docked in Bristol, England[17] and Galway, Ireland. In 1477, he was possibly in Iceland.[4] In the autumn of 1477, he sailed on a Portuguese ship from Galway to Lisbon, where he found his brother Bartolomeo, and they continued trading for the Centurione family. Columbus based himself in Lisbon from 1477 to 1485. He married Filipa Moniz Perestrelo, daughter of the Porto Santo governor and Portuguese nobleman of Lombard origin Bartolomeu Perestrello.[18]

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 (in present-day Ghana).[19] 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 son Diego with him.[20] 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.[21] 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, legitimate son Diego to take care of Beatriz and pay the pension set aside for her following his death, but Diego was negligent in his duties.[22]

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 wrong, ...[23]

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 light of Christian eschatology and of apocalypticism.[6]