Five Little Known “Facts” About Christopher Columbus
In October of 1492, as every child is taught in school, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue and discovered America. He was granted the ability to come to America by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. But is that how everything really happened? Most of us aren’t told about the real Christopher Columbus. Here are five things you might not have known about this famous explorer.
CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS: THE MAN
Columbus may have been born in Genoa. No one really knows, but the name we know him as is an English version of the name. The Genoese knew him as, Chrisoffa Corombo. He was born around 1451 and went to sea at the age of ten. Columbus worked for some wealthy businessmen and it is known that he traveled to the Aegean Sea, England, Ireland and Iceland – where he may have heard rumor of lands to the west.
THE MOMENT IN TIME
While we have often heard that people thought the earth was flat in Columbus’ day and that he convinced the royalty of Spain to let him prove his theories, this is simply not true. The Flat-Earth story actually comes from a biography on Columbus by Washington Irving in 1828, known as “The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus”. The round earth was widely known in Columbus’ day. The ancient Greeks knew about the curvature of the earth and the means to calculate it’s diameter through use of an astrolabe was used by Eratosthenes in the second century B.C. Columbus’ calculations were based on information from Arabic and Phoenician scientists, but miscalculated the information. Columbus was able to get the money to do his journey because the Spanish had just finished a conflict with the Moors in January, 1492 and the Spanish needed gold because the war was so costly.
THE NINA, THE PINTA, AND THE SANTA MARIA
Columbus left Spain on August 3, 1492 in three ships – the Niña (Spanish for ‘little girl’), the Pinta (Spanish for ‘the painted’), and the Santa Maria (Saint Mary). Right? Well, sort of. The real names of the ships were: The caravel, the Santa Clara, which was nicknamed the Niña, after its owner Juan Niño. The caravel, the Pinta and the huge carrack, the Santa Maria, which was known by its nickname, the Gallega. It took him five weeks to make the journey to the New World. While they were there, they lost the Santa Maria to a sand bar and Columbus came back with a skeleton crew after leaving 39 men to keep watch on what is now Haiti. They were killed by local natives. As for the rest – they brought a special treat back to Europe with them – syphilis.
PLAY IT AGAIN, CHRIS...
Columbus went back to the New World three more times in his lifetime trying to find China. He never realized that he was in the wrong place and always thought he could find the right passage to keep going. On his later journeys, Columbus proved his inability to be a great leader and was considered a scourge to the New World. He enslaved the natives with impunity, was a cruel leader to his own people, and got himself banished from Hispaniola by the Spanish crown because he was such a terrible person. In fact, Columbus had two goals while making his trips: Find gold at all costs and enslave the populace. He did both without remorse. He is sometimes described as a religious zealot. He brought Christianity to the New World – but not for the natives. The Catholic law stated that it was illegal to enslave other Christians – so Columbus refused to baptize any natives on the island.
THE DEATH OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS
The older Columbus got, the more religious and demanding he became. He tried forcing the Spanish crown to give him 10% of all gold found in the New World. They refused, claiming he had done such a lousy job running the place that he deserved nothing. Some stories claim that he died penniless, while there is some belief that he had a modest fortune at his death at the age of 55 in 1506. While today, Columbus is revered as a hero in the United States, Italy, and Spain, he was really not that well known during his life or even thereafter. His fame came about centuries later after America had been named after fellow explorer, Amerigo Vespucci. Today, he is considered the Father of Exploration.