Heroic tales have always been a subject of fascination and intrigue for me as they mostly act as a source of enlightenment and motivation — especially in times of dismay and despair. However, there is one particular story — the famous folklore of an Italian sailor with the name of Christopher Columbus — that has made me scratch my head.
Not only there is a number of discrepancies in this story, which we all have been told, but also the whole idea that Christopher Columbus discovered America is wrong — mainly based on skewed and biased accounts of history. I mean, how come an individual — who didn’t even set foot on the mainland US — got such an eminent place in American history? Interesting, to say the least.
Moreover, when one looks at this concocted story in the context of Columbus’ legacy in the United States, it makes one even more surprised that an individual — responsible for the death of millions — not only ended up being hailed as a hero and also secured a permanent place in American mythology.
So, I’ve been thinking about it — trying to solve this riddle — and I have found some intriguing things to share with you guys. Because I’m aware that I’m not alone in this regard as most of you also have the same questions vis-a-vis Christopher Columbus.
Did Christopher Columbus actually discover America?
No, he didn’t. I know that we all have been told in schools that on the 12th of October 1492, an Italian sailor/explorer with the name of Christopher Columbus set foot on the shores of a ‘new world’ — which was later came to be known as America — but only a part of this is true.
Let me explain!
By the end of the 15th century, Spain’s Reconquista had been completed and now Spanish monarchs were mainly focussed on exploring new trade routes and conquering new parts of the world.
With the purpose of finding better trade routes and wealthy-unoccupied lands, a number of explorers were given the green signal to make different expeditions.
Of all these explorers, an Italian sailor came up with quite a different idea to make a voyage across the Atlantic to reach India. He even convinced the Spanish Monarchs, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, that a journey across the Atlantic would lead them to East Indies or India as Earth wasn’t flat.
So, Christopher Columbus made the voyage across the Atlantic ocean — in the pursuit of finding a pathway to East Indies — but he ended up setting foot on one of the Bahamian islands in 1492.
Later, this story of Columbus reaching one of the Caribbean islands, most likely San Salvador, got propagated in a very different way — making people believe that Columbus was the one responsible for discovering the ‘new world’.
However, he didn’t discover the ‘new world’; it already had a population of millions and people had been living here long before Christopher Columbus found this piece of land — most likely since the last Ice Age.
Moreover, Christopher Columbus wasn’t even the first European to discover this new world. Almost 500 hundred years ago, Leif Eriksson of Norse — son of Erik the Red — had already visited this new world and the Vikings had even settled in the Newfoundland, way back in 1000 A.D. Even there are historic accounts of Chinese who had visited the new world even before Christopher Columbus.
Interestingly, Christopher Columbus made three more voyages in the next ten years but he never set foot on continental North America or mainland US. During all four voyages, Christopher Columbus explored the Caribbean Islands, South, and Central America but not North America. Not even once.
Although Columbus’s voyage paved way for the future European explorations, yet he shouldn’t be credited with the discovery of America. Because with the expansion and evolution of knowledge, we have reached only one reasonable conclusion that Columbus didn’t discover America.
Did Columbus prove that Earth wasn’t flat?
No, he didn’t. Yes, he argued that the Earth wasn’t flat but he wasn't the first one who came up with this idea because 2000 years before him — in the 6th Century B.C. — Pythagoras had already written about Earth as a sphere and the very likes of Aristotle and Euclid were also of the same view that Earth wasn’t flat.
It is also believed that during the 15th century when Christopher made the voyage across the Atlantic — it was already an established fact that Earth was a spheroid and most educated people knew it.
Moreover, when Christopher Columbus presented this idea to his Spanish monarchs, he thought of much smaller circumference of the Earth — which proved to be wrong — and that was one of the main reasons that he wanted to make a voyage across the Atlantic to find a smaller and easier undiscovered Northwest passage to India.
Thus, contrary to the popular belief, Columbus didn’t prove that the Earth wasn’t flat, rather it was already known to his contemporaries and even the people, who had lived thousands of years before him.
Was Columbus really a hero?
No, he wasn’t. During his first voyage, when Christopher reached the new world, he ended up establishing a settlement in Quisqueya, which he renamed as Hispaniola(Little Spain). The island was inhabited by Taíno people and had a population of around a million.
During his first visit, Columbus recorded the impressions of the native people and gave Spanish monarchs the idea of enslaving them. In his journal, he wrote,
“They willingly traded everything they owned … They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features …They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron …They would make fine servants … With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”
Columbus’s settlement in Hispaniola attracted more Spanish settlers and consequentially, these settlers exploited the gold mines of Taíno people and enslaved them. As a result, within twenty-five years of Columbus’ arrival in Hispaniola, most of the Taíno had died from war, enslavement, and disease.
Furthermore, Columbus was an ardent believer of enslaving humans as in 1495, during a slavery raid, his men captured a number of natives and loaded them onto ships for the purpose of selling them in Spain.
Being a brutal viceroy, Christopher Columbus committed atrocities against native peoples on the islands — decimating their population by over 3,000,000 from 1494 to 1508.
So, irrespective of what you’ve been told through propagandist biographies, Christopher Columbus wasn’t a hero. Being motivated by the gold and riches of the Caribbean Islands, he enslaved humans and was responsible for the mass killing of millions.
To summarize my thoughts, Christopher Columbus's story — both as an explorer and as a human — is arguably one of the most polarizing tales vis-a-vis American history. Some believed him to be the hero and even celebrated days in his name whereas, for native Americans, he was a brutal usurper, who confiscated their lands and gold — leading to the death of thousands, if not millions, of their brothers and sisters.