The greatest happiness is to scatter your enemy, to drive him before you, to see his cities reduced to ashes, to see those who love him shrouded in tears, and to gather into your bosom his wives and daughters. — Ghengis Khan

Christopher Columbus

1451–1506
Civilization: Hispanic — Genoa
   Field of Renown:  explorer — Americas
Era:  Exploration

Columbus
CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS
Few individuals can be said to have "changed the course of history" in as dramatic a manner as Christopher Columbus. Intrepid sailors had explored every facet of the Mediterranean for thousands of years. Sea-farers had sailed north of Europe and even along both coasts of Africa, but the idea that one could travel east by sailing west was utterly outlandish. Even more unthinkable was the idea of unexplored continents to the west, larger than all of Europe. His discoveries drastically changed the way men thought about their world, and utterly upset the balance of powers and economics in all of Europe.

Columbus was not a native Spaniard, but was born in the sea-faring city of Genoa. By age thirty he had distinguished himself as a successful trader and navigator, and at that time began contemplating an idea that came to obsess him. He was certain that Asia could be reached by sailing West, and was more than willing to risk his life in the endeavor, but he did not have the resources to finance the project himself. At that time, Portugal was had the best resources for major exploration, so Columbus first presented his idea to John II. The Portuguese monarch denied his request, but then secretly put together an expedition to test Columbus's theory. The expedition failed, and when Columbus discovered the treachery he furiously decamped for Spain, then a rival of Portugal.

It took Columbus many months to get an audience with Isabel and Ferdinand, and many more months to get a non-commital answer. In all, Columbus remained in Spain for five years before deciding to give up and approach the French king. Just as he was preparing to leave, however, Isabel summoned him one more time, and this time committed resources for his voyage.

The first voyage of Columbus departed on the 3rd of August and sighted land—probably an island in the Bahamas—on October 12, 1492. After building a small settlement on Hispaniola, and gathering gold, fruit, and other goods (including natives), he returned to Spain and a hero's welcome.

From the moment Columbus returned in triumph, however, he was the object of much jealousy, and intrigue. On his second voyage he led 17 ships to the new world, but most were filled with miscreants and adventurers who sought their own gain and were nearly ungovernable. Columbus himself, was a great navigator and explorer, but a poor leader of such men. The fact that he was a foreigner contributed greatly to his problems. To make matters worse, his entire crew was obsessed with wresting gold from the natives and as a result, nearly the whole indigenous population of Hispaniola was wiped out.

Columbus made a total of four voyages to the New World; the third in 1498, and the fourth and final voyage in 1502. Both of these voyages resulted in further discoveries, but ended in disaster. His authority was challenged at every turn by both ambitious nobles and unruly ruffians. The natives preferred to commit suicide than to submit to the abuse of the Spaniards. On his third voyage Columbus was arrested by the Governor who had been left in charge of the Spanish colony on Hispaniola and returned to Spain in chains. On the fourth voyage he was ship-wrecked, and the local Spanish governor delayed sending a rescue party until he was fairly sure that Columbus was dead. Greedy nobles actively sought to remove him from power, so they could lay claim to the wealth and power that had been promised him.

Columbus returned to Spain, indignant at his poor treatment, but was powerless to restore his rightful honor. Queen Isabella, his faithful sponsor had died during the year he spent shipwrecked, and Ferdinand refused to stand up for his interests. Columbus spent the final years of his life in relative poverty. His reputation was not restored for another generation, when his son married into one of the finest families of Spain and was able to reclaim his inheritance.


Key events during the life of Christopher Columbus:


Year
Event
1451
Columbus born in Genoa
1453
Fall of Constantinople closes many trade opportunites for Christian vessels in the East.
1470
Sailed in a military expedition against Naples.
1473
Began his career as a Genoese merchant.
1480
Began to formulate a plan for reaching the east by sailing west.
1485
Columbus presents his plans to John II of Portugal, but is rejected.
1486
Columbus presents his plans to Isabel and Ferdinand. They delay giving a definite answer.
1492
After five years of waiting Columbus prepares to leave Spain for France.
1492
Isabella relents and funds an expedition with three small ships.
1492
First voyage departed Aug 3, 1492 with three ships, returned March 1493.
1493
Second voyage departed Sept 24, 1493, with seventeen ships, returned Sept 1494.
1498
Third voyage departed May 30, 1498 with six ships. Returned, 1499 in chains.
1502
Fourth voyage departed May 11, 1502 with four ships to search for the straight of Malacca.
1503
Columbus ship-wrecked on Jamaica for a year.
1504
Returned to Spain for the last time. His sponsor Isabella was dead.
1506
Death of Columbus.

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Other Resources


Story Links
Book Links
Christopher Columbus  in  The Romance of Spanish History  by  John S.C. Abbott
Subsequent Voyages of Columbus  in  The Romance of Spanish History  by  John S.C. Abbott
Columbus and the Egg  in  Thirty More Famous Stories Retold  by  James Baldwin
Columbus  in  A Child's History of Spain  by  John Bonner
How a Man Sailed West  in  The Story of Liberty  by  Charles C. Coffin
The Early Life of Columbus  in  A First Book in American History  by  Edward Eggleston
Youth of Columbus  in  Story of the Thirteen Colonies  by  H. A. Guerber
Christopher Columbus  in  Famous Men of Modern Times  by  John H. Haaren
Ferdinand and Isabella  in  Story of the Greatest Nations: Spain  by  Charles F. Horne
Isabella and Columbus  in  Isabella of Castile  by  Oliver Otis Howard
Man Who Found America  in  The Men Who Found America  by  Frederick Winthrop Hutchinson
Sea of Darkness and the Faith of Columbus  in  This Country of Ours  by  H. E. Marshall
Changes Caused by the Discovery of the New World  in  The Story of Europe  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Isles of Beauty Beyond the Sea  in  Historical Tales: Spanish American  by  Charles Morris
Return of Columbus  in  Historical Tales: Spanish  by  Charles Morris
Conversations with Columbus  in  Amerigo Vespucci  by  Frederick A. Ober
Christopher Columbus  in  American History Stories, Volume I  by  Mara L. Pratt
Christopher Columbus  in  The Discovery of New Worlds  by  M. B. Synge
Discovery of the New World  in  The Discovery of New Worlds  by  M. B. Synge
Christopher Columbus  in  A Book of Discovery  by  M. B. Synge
Henry VII, Columbus, and Cabot  in  The Tudors and the Stuarts  by  M. B. Synge
Columbus Discovers America  in  European Hero Stories  by  Eva March Tappan

Book Links
Story of Columbus  by  G. M. Imlach
Columbus the Discoveror  by  Frederick Ober

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Image Links


Columbus in his study
 in The Romance of Spanish History

Columbus at the door of the convent
 in The Romance of Spanish History

Columbus before the commisioners
 in The Romance of Spanish History

The Landing of Columbus
 in The Romance of Spanish History

Erecting the Cross
 in The Romance of Spanish History

Columbus before Ferdinand and Isabella
 in The Romance of Spanish History

Columbus and the Egg
 in The Romance of Spanish History

The colony destroyed
 in The Romance of Spanish History

Columbus in chains
 in The Romance of Spanish History

The Eclipse
 in The Romance of Spanish History

The Rescue
 in The Romance of Spanish History

Columbus and the Egg
 in Thirty More Famous Stories Retold

Columbus as a Youth
 in A Child's History of Spain

The landing of Columbus
 in A Child's History of Spain

The Bradley Portrait of Columbus
 in A Child's History of Spain

Columbus sailing westward
 in Panama: Peeps at Many Lands

Hoisting the Spanish flag in Central America
 in Panama: Peeps at Many Lands

Christopher Columbus
 in Indian History for Young Folks

Columbus Reading Polo's Book
 in A First Book in American History
Columbus plants flag of Spain in the New World
Columbus plants flag of Spain in the New World
 in A First Book in American History
Columbus Returns in Triumph
Columbus Returns in Triumph
 in A First Book in American History

Columbus in Chains
 in A First Book in American History

Columbus before Isabella
 in A First Book in American History

Columbus at the court of Isabella and Ferdinand
 in Story of the Thirteen Colonies

Landing of Columbus
 in Story of the Thirteen Colonies

Columbus at the court of Ferdinand and Isabella
 in Famous Men of Modern Times

Columbus landing at San Salvador
 in Famous Men of Modern Times

The reception of Columbus at Barcelona
 in Famous Men of Modern Times

Columbus in chains
 in Famous Men of Modern Times

Death of Columbus
 in Story of the Greatest Nations: Spain

Columbus ridiculed at Salamanca
 in Story of the Greatest Nations: Spain

Columbus before Isabella
 in Story of the Greatest Nations: Spain

Isabella offering her Crown Jewels to Columbus
 in Isabella of Castile

Reception of Columbus by Isabella at Burgos
 in Isabella of Castile

Columbus was dressed in shining steel, with a beautiful red cloak, and he carried the red and yellow flag of Spain.
 in The Men Who Found America

Columbus and his crew confess and take communion before sailing
 in The Story of Columbus

Columbus and his son Diego at the Gate of the Convent
 in The Story of Columbus

Columbus addressing the mutineers
 in The Story of Columbus

Columbus naming the Island of San Salvador
 in The Story of Columbus

We could have done that', said the Courtiers
 in The Story of Columbus

Columbus sent to Spain in chains
 in The Story of Columbus

The voyage of Columbus
 in This Country of Ours

The Landing of Columbus
 in This Country of Ours

Columbus at Barcelona
 in This Country of Ours
Departure of Columbus
Departure of Columbus
 in Historical Tales: Spanish American

Reception of Columbus by Ferdinand and Isabella
 in Historical Tales: Spanish

Bust of Columbus
 in Columbus the Discoveror

Columbus demonstrating his theory of the earth's rotundity
 in Columbus the Discoveror

The landing at Guanahani
 in Columbus the Discoveror

Return of Columbus from his first voyage
 in Columbus the Discoveror

Columbus negotiates a peace with Roldan
 in Columbus the Discoveror

The Death of Columbus
 in Columbus the Discoveror

Christopher Columbus
 in History of the Church: Early Modern Times

The Earliest Engraved Portrait of Christopher
 in Builders of Our Country: Book I

Columbus Describing his Plan for Reaching China
 in Builders of Our Country: Book I

Columbus Claiming the New Country in the Name of Spain
 in Builders of Our Country: Book I

Columbus and Diego.
 in The Discovery of New Worlds

The parting of Columbus with Ferdinand and Isabella, 3rd August 1492
 in A Book of Discovery

The Best Portrait of Columbus
 in A Book of Discovery

Columbus landing on Hispaniola
 in A Book of Discovery

The first representation of the people of the new world
 in A Book of Discovery

Columbus at the Court of Spain.
 in European Hero Stories

Columbus Before the Learned Men of Salamanca
 in European Hero Stories

Columbus's First View of the New World
 in European Hero Stories

Columbus at the Court of Spain.
 in Old World Hero Stories


Contemporary
Short Biography
Isabel Pious and stalwart queen of Spain, unified diverse kingdoms, reformed finances, conquered Granada, financed Columbus.
Ferdinand the Catholic King of Aragon who ruled united Spain with Queen Isabel. Drove the Moors out of Granada.
Martin Alonzo Pinzon Spanish navigator who sailed with Columbus on first voyage, but later feuded with him.
Nicholas Ovando Governor of Hispaniola. Responsible for great massacres of the natives.
Bartholomew de las Casas Priest who accompanied the Spanish conquistadors to the New World and tried to protect the native inhabitants from abuses and maltreatment.
Francisco Bobadilla Rival of Columbus who was appointed governor of the West Indies.
Bartholomew Columbus Brother of Columbus who accompanied him on his third voyage.
Diego Columbus Son of Columbus; his heir and biographer.