Christoph Columbus

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Christopher Columbus, posthumous portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo , 1519
Signature of Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus ( Italian Cristoforo Colombo , Spanish Cristóbal Colón , Portuguese Cristóvão Colombo , Latinized Christophorus Columbus ; * around 1451 in the Republic of Genoa ; †  May 20, 1506 in Valladolid , ( Kingdom of Castile )) was an Italian navigator in the Castilian service who lived in Discovered America in 1492 when he reached an island in the Bahamas . He became the first viceroy of theViceroyalty of New Spain .

In the race with Portugal for the sea ​​route to India as part of the India trade , Columbus wanted to open up the route in the west. The destination of his first voyage of discovery was a port city in China , which in the language of the time was counted as India.

On his voyages of discovery between 1492 and 1504, Columbus mainly headed for the Greater Antilles , including Hispaniola (today Haiti and Dominican Republic ), where he founded his first colonies on all four voyages . It was only on his fourth voyage that he set foot on the American mainland in what is now Honduras . Columbus hadn't noticed that it was a hitherto unknown continent . Amerigo Vespucci , after whom the New World was finally named America , took this viewpoint .

The first discoverers of America were the ancestors of the indigenous people of America who invaded the previously deserted continent from Asia a long time ago (see Settlement of America ). In addition, America was visited by Leif Eriksson or other Icelanders around 500 years before Columbus . If Columbus is still considered the most important European explorer of America to this day, this is due to the fact that it was only his travels that led to permanent colonization by people from other continents in historical times.


Career until 1480

Columbus writes that he was born in Genoa (" siendo yo nacido en Genoba ", testament 1498). Various chroniclers confirm this origin from the Republic of Genoa; a royal protocol from 1491 also mentions Savona as the place of origin . In the course of time, however, there were always long and controversial debates, also in connection with the date of birth. Today research tends to suggest that Columbus was born in Genoa in 1451; she also cites a document found in Genoa in 1904 that describes a legal dispute from 1479. However, the content of this document contradicts various other sources. Therefore, the time of his birth and his life before the great voyages of discovery are still controversial (see section The discussion about his origin ).

Columbus' father was the Genoese woolen weaver Domenico Colombo († 1498), who, together with his brother Antonio, took over the lucrative administration of two city towers in 1447 after a successful overthrow of the supporters of France and Provence . Columbus' mother was named Suzanna Fontanarossa. Columbus had three brothers - Bartolomeo , Giacomo (Spanish: Diego), the little-known Giovanni Pellegrino - and a sister named Bianchinetta.

According to his own statements, Columbus went to sea at the age of 14. A basic course at the University of Pavia , which his son talks about, is conceivable, because Columbus was very familiar with Latin and mathematics - important prerequisites for his later knowledge of cosmography and cartography . In 1461 the Colombo family had to move to Savona; After a defeat at Naples by Ferdinand of Aragon , the Fregoso doges loyal to France and their followers, including the Colombo, were driven out of Genoa.

As a result, Columbus acted as a corsair in the war of succession around southern Italy. He himself is said to have had the order to attack a galeas of Ferdinand of Aragon for the Count of Provence, René von Anjou (letter fragment from Columbus 1495). In the first half of the 1970s, Columbus traveled to the eastern Mediterranean as far as Chios , which was a Genoese colony.

In 1476 he reached the Atlantic Ocean . The ships were involved in a sea battle off Cape St. Vincent / Portugal on August 13th . Columbus was able to swim to the Portuguese coast. From 1477 he lived in Lisbon . Portugal was then a center of European shipping. His brother Bartolomeo lived in Lisbon as a cartographer; the brothers worked together as draftsmen for a while. In February 1477, Columbus took part in a voyage to the North Atlantic, which allegedly took him up to 100 nautical miles beyond Thule . He also took part in other trips: 1482-1483 he accompanied an expedition along the West African coast, which extended to the Portuguese trading post of São Jorge da Mina (today Elmina in Ghana ).

In Portugal he married Filipa de Perestrelo e Moniz . Their son Diego was born around 1480 on the island of Porto Santo near Madeira . Filipa came from a noble Portuguese family with French and Italian ancestors, her father Bartolomeu Perestrelo was involved in the settlement of Madeira and was governor of Porto Santo. Columbus then lived for some time on Porto Santo, where he studied the nautical charts , logbooks and papers from the estate of his late father-in-law. Around this time he must have started to work intensively on a sea route to South and East Asia .

Columbus served various masters in the course of his life. According to his son Fernando , he only became active again in the south of Portugal in the winter of 1484–1485, as a corsair in French services. It was then that the nine-year Peace of Picquigny came to an end, which seems to support this statement. The Genoese historiography (Genoese school), on the other hand, takes the view that Columbus was never in any service other than Genoese; he was active in Portugal as a representative of a Genoese trading house importing sugar from Madeira to Genoa. The thesis is based on a notarial record which was found in Genoa in 1904 and which was subsequently interpreted extensively in the sense of a close homeland ( Genovesità ) of Columbus.

Plan of the Atlantic voyage

India and the Empire of China were important for Europe because valuable goods such as silk and spices came from there . But from around the middle of the 14th century, the Ottoman Empire squeezed itself between Europe and the East. The overland routes were no longer open and high tariffs had to be paid for luxury goods. The Portuguese tried to circumvent the problem by finding a sea route to India, south-east around Africa; they explored large parts of the African coast. Vasco da Gama actually came to India this way in 1498.

Map by Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli

However, Columbus rediscovered the idea of ​​a western route to East Asia, which went back to Aristotle . He had claimed that one could cross the ocean between the pillars of Heracles ( Gibraltar ) and Asia within a few days. Other scholars shared the theory, including Pierre d'Ailly (1350-1420). Even Roger Bacon had assumed in the 13th century, citing Seneca, Pliny and Aristotle, that India could be reached from Spain by western sea route. Columbus owned a copy of the Imago Mundi , an astronomical and geographical book (1410) by d'Ailly, which he annotated. In 1474 he had corresponded in two letters with Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli about his plan and received from him approval and a copy of Toscanelli's map. Quotation from the second letter of Toscanelli on the west course to Quinsay in China: “The path mentioned is not only possible, but also true and safe.” Furthermore, Columbus had a copy of Marco Polo's travel report Il Milione , which he annotated is now kept in a museum in Seville. Columbus had on his travels to the north, such as B. to England (cf. entry of August 25, 1492 in the logbook), possibly heard about the voyages of the Vikings to North America; he hadn't got as far as Iceland, however. It can be assumed that Columbus also knew the mythical travelogue Navigatio Sancti Brendani , which has been popular since the Middle Ages, about a trip to the west by the Irish monk Brendan .

There were some indications of the existence of a land mass west of Europe. Driven away after a storm, a Portuguese captain found a strange, very red piece of wood ( brazil wood ) far to the west , which had apparently been worked. More woods and foreign plants were washed up on the coasts of Madeira and Porto Santos. Finally there were rumors that on Flores (Azores) two bodies of strange appearance had washed up from the west. Columbus learned of these clues during his stay on Porto Santo when he was talking to seafarers and reading the papers of his father-in-law Bartolomeu Perestrelo , among which were so-called Roteiros (secret logbooks of Portuguese seafarers), which gave him information about the currents and winds of the Atlantic and so were helpful in drawing up his plan. Columbus realized that one could take advantage of the trade winds for a fast journey to the west by first heading south for the Canary Islands and only then sailing west. Columbus also knew since his trip to England “that the westerly winds [which were necessary for a return journey with sailing ships of that time] blow in the higher latitudes all year round and are just as reliable as the easterly winds [on the latitude of the Canary Islands] only that they blow from the opposite direction ”(entry in the logbook of August 25, 1492). Even today, sailing ships leave the Canaries in the footsteps of Columbus to America and return to northern latitudes.

The spherical shape of the earth, like the availability of the astrolabe and Jacob's staff, a prerequisite for Columbus' plan, had been known to scholars since antiquity and also in the Middle Ages and was hardly contested, not even by the Catholic Church. There are also ideas of a disc-shaped earth in some texts, but they probably had no influence on the acceptance of the idea of ​​a western route to East Asia. The problem for Columbus' plan lay in the great distance: Since the ancient scholar Ptolemy it was generally assumed that the inhabited world was 180 ° of the earth's latitude, so the remaining 180 ° were still unknown. D'Ailly, on the other hand, calculated the Eurasian land mass to be 225 degrees , and Columbus adopted this view; however, the latitude is actually about 130 °. Since he also assumed too small a number for the distance between the longitudes, he obtained a distance of less than 4,500 km between the Canary Islands and Japan . The real distance is almost 20,000 km, but due to his incorrect numbers Columbus took the islands he later discovered in the Caribbean to be islands southeast of Cipango (Japan) off the Chinese mainland . The islands were roughly where the Toscanelli map of 1474, known to him, recorded numerous islands southeast of Cipango .

Solicit support

Juan de Flandes : Queen Isabella I of Castile, Museo de Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid
Michel Sittow : King Ferdinand II of Aragón, Kunsthistorisches Museum , Vienna

To carry out his plan, Columbus needed the support of a state or head of state. Around 1484 he presented the Portuguese King John II with detailed plans for an expedition. However, the king's experts rejected the plans because they correctly considered the distance to be far longer and thus the plan to be unfeasible. After the death of his wife Filipa, Columbus and his son Diego left Lisbon for Spain in 1485. He hoped to win the royal couple Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile for his plans. They had united both kingdoms in a personal union through their marriage and were at war with the emirate of Granada .

In 1486, at the request of Queen Isabella , Columbus came to the court in Córdoba for the first time , where he was warmly received and entrusted to the administrator of the crown property and treasurer of Santa Hermandad Alonso de Quintanilla . Alonso quickly became an enthusiastic supporter of the plans of Columbus, who made even more friends. He soon met Beatriz Enríquez de Arana , who became the mother of his second son Fernando . Beatriz remained Columbus' partner during his stay in Córdoba and was also mentioned by him in the will, but the two did not get married.

A committee set up to examine his plans rejected the idea as impractical, but Columbus continued to follow the court from place to place and was occasionally supported with royal money so that his plan would not move to another European head of state. The influential Cardinal Pedro González de Mendoza , whose acquaintance Columbus had made, got him a first audience with Queen Isabella, which was not yet successful. The Spanish royal couple was busy with the war against the emirate of Granada and at that time could not do much with Columbus' plans.

After a long and unproductive wait in the wake of the royal court, Columbus received an invitation from the Portuguese King John II on March 20, 1488 , which Columbus had probably asked for himself. In autumn of the same year at the latest, he was in Lisbon with his brother Bartolomeo. An agreement with Portugal could obviously not be reached. Before Columbus returned to Spain, he saw the return of Bartolomeu Diaz to Lisbon, who was returning from circumnavigating the southern tip of Africa at the end of December 1488 (another step on the way to a sea route to India). His brother left Lisbon at the same time to seek assistance in England and France.

The Columbus Map (now in the National Library in Paris )

Around 1490 the so-called Columbus Map was created, which Columbus is said to have drawn up together with his brother Bartolomeo. In the east it consists of Western Europe and West Africa - a map of the world in Ptolemaic tradition.

In 1491 Columbus' ideas were again rejected by a Spanish commission. He received the promise from the royal couple that after the war against Granada they would return to his plans. Columbus desperately decided to go to France. On the way to Huelva , where he wanted to embark, he stopped at La Rábida monastery . The Franciscan Fray Juan Pérez and the doctor García Hernández held him back there. Pérez wrote the queen a haunting letter and managed to have Columbus recalled to court. Columbus arrived in Granada just in time to see the surrender of the Moorish prince Muhammad XII. (also Boabdil ) on January 2nd, 1492.

Now that the war against the emirate of Granada was over, the negotiations continued, but failed because of exceptionally high demands from Columbus: He claimed the hereditary title of Admiral of the Ocean and Viceroy over the areas he had discovered. He also demanded that a tenth of the expected income from valuable metals be given. After his terms were rejected, he set out again for France, which he claims had made him a better offer. At the urging of various people at court, including the treasurer Luis de Santángel , the queen decided to accept the demands after all. A courier sent out caught up with Columbus about 10 kilometers from Granada.

Finally, on April 17, 1492, the Santa Fe surrender was signed, a treaty between the monarchs and Columbus over an expedition. The treaty assured Columbus, in return for bringing gold and spices, ten percent of the profits from the sale of the goods, stewardship over the lands found and the title of Admiral of the Oceans , and determined that Columbus would use a western sea route for the Crown of Castile should look to East Asia.

Voyages of discovery

The four journeys of Columbus

In the following years, Columbus undertook four voyages of discovery on behalf of the Castilian crown. He recorded his experiences in a logbook ( logbook of Christopher Columbus ) , of which today only excerpts exist in the copy by Bartolomé de las Casas . The map material that Christopher Columbus used on his voyages of discovery is considered lost.

First voyage (August 1492 to March 1493)

First journey

The first trip was financed with around 2 million maravedís (almost 2500 ducats ), a small amount compared to later expeditions. Most of the money (1.4 million maravedís) came from the Santa Hermandad , an organization that was responsible for public safety outside the cities. The treasurer Luis de Santángel and the Italian-born businessman Francisco Pinelo were the administrators of the treasury to finance the trip . The Pinelos connections secured another 250,000 Maravedís for the expedition, who were registered by Genoese merchants under the name of Columbus. The financiers of the expedition were therefore friends, supporters and former employers of Columbus.

Columbus set sail on August 3, 1492 with his flagship , the carrack Santa Maria , as well as the two caravels Niña and Pinta from Palos de la Frontera near Huelva . The caravels were provided and commanded by the brothers Martín Alonso ( Pinta ) and Vicente Yáñez Pinzón ( Niña ) from Palos .

A break in the rudder on the Pinta and an improvement in the main sail of the previously slowest of the three ships, the Niña , forced a month-long stay on the Canary Island of Gomera. The Latin sail (triangular sail) of the Niña , which is less suitable for winds from behind , was replaced by a bulbous, square square sail , which is more suitable for aft winds. Columbus knew the trade winds west of the Canaries. He was rightly convinced that this change of sail would also be advantageous for the return voyage, because according to his previous experience he expected westerly winds at more northerly latitudes (detailed entry of August 25, 1492 in the logbook of the first voyage).

After the repair of the Pinta and the change of sails on the Niña , which increased the speed of the formation of the three ships, the ships sailed on on September 6th. The trip is described by Columbus, who wrote a logbook for the first trip that has been preserved for posterity , as extremely difficult. Several times during the voyage there was a risk of mutiny from sailors, but also from skeptical officers to the scheming captain of the Pinta . The journey into the unknown stirred up great fear. Almost every unusual natural spectacle was interpreted by the team as a bad omen (e.g. the clouds of smoke from the 1492 active volcano Teide , Tenerife ). Day by day, the lack of a coast on the horizon became more sinister.

Replica of the Santa Maria off Madeira

September 13th seems to have been particularly critical when the compass needle drifted further and further from the north. Since the magnetism of the two poles of the earth and the declination were not known to science at the time , the team took the deviation of the needle as evidence that one was penetrating an area in which the fundamental laws of nature no longer apply. The seafarers were worried that even the compass could no longer help them to orientate themselves precisely. As the crew was about to force a return to Europe, a bird appeared over the ship, according to Columbus. Columbus then implored the crew to hold on to the continuation of the voyage, as a bird never moved more than 100 miles from a bank, which the sailors were finally convinced of. In addition, in the days that followed, more and more signs of being close to the coast were seen, for example branches of trees and plants. Still, it was a whole month before a sailor could announce land in the lookout .

On October 12, 1492, the ships reached the New World . Columbus went ashore on an island in the Bahamas that was called Guanahani by the locals . He gave her the name San Salvador (Spanish for 'Holy Savior'). The question of whether today's island of San Salvador , which was given this name in 1926, is identical to the one discovered by Columbus is controversial among scientists . In 1986 the route was recalculated by National Geographic magazine based on the logbooks. This led to the thesis that Columbus first landed on the island of Samana Cay . However, this thesis was soon rejected after computer-aided models, taking into account the ocean currents, resulted in a landing position 24 km south of San Salvador.

As you can read in the log book of his first trip in the entry for October 21, Columbus believed he was south of Cipango (Japan) and wanted to reach the city of Quinsay on the east coast of China by direct route west . He wrote: "There I will hand over your Majesty's letters to the great Khan, ask for an answer and return with them."

On the onward journey, Columbus discovered Cuba and Hispaniola , the largest islands in the Antilles . In front of Hispaniola, where Columbus was received by King Guacanagari , the Santa Maria hit a shoal on December 25th . Columbus built the first Spanish fortress in the New World from the remains of the ship and named it La Navidad (Spanish for 'Christmas'). La Isla Española , Latinized to Hispaniola , became the kingdom's first colony in the New World and Columbus became its governor and viceroy.

First encounters with the indigenous people of Arawak were peaceful. According to the logbook, the Arawaks offered the seafarers, among other things, cotton, for which the seafarers exchanged, among other things, the glass beads they had brought with them. Columbus described them as naive and generous: "They offer everyone [their goods] to share." He always viewed them as future subjects.

On January 16, 1493, Columbus set off for Europe with the two remaining ships. He left part of his crew as residents of the La Navidad colony because of the shipwreck. Those who stayed behind soon got into an argument among themselves. They spread over the island, enslaved and killed numerous Indians and were ultimately all killed, probably through resistance by the Indians and their own quarrels. Columbus got into terrible storms in the area of ​​the Azores, during which he lost contact with the second ship Pinta . He reached Lisbon with the Niña on March 4th and continued the journey from there to Palos, where he docked on March 15th. The Pinta happened to reach Palos on the same day.

Columbus was then celebrated on a triumphal procession through Spain. His privileges were confirmed, and Pope Alexander VI. confirmed in the Bull Inter caetera the right of Castile to discovered and to be discovered areas west of the longitude of 100 Spanish miles west of Cape Verde (a year later this division was modified in the Treaty of Tordesillas and recognized by Portugal). Shortly after his arrival, Columbus began preparations for a second expedition that was to secure areas that had been discovered and to conquer others for Castile. In particular, he wanted to continue looking for the hoped-for gold land, the actual goal of the expedition.

Second voyage (September 1493 to June 1496)

Second trip

In his report to the Spanish rulers, Columbus erroneously stated that he had discovered Asia (actually: Cuba) and an island on the coast of China (actually: Hispaniola). He promised in the report that he could bring the Majesties "as much gold as they need" and "as many slaves as they ask" from these areas.

Columbus's fleet was then equipped with 17 ships and around 1500 people. On September 25, 1493, Columbus set out from Cádiz on the second journey to colonize the areas he had discovered and to transport the goods and slaves announced to his majesties. First, the fleet discovered the island of Dominica , but Columbus did not land on it. In the course of the onward journey, he landed on Guadeloupe , Montserrat , Antigua and Nevis . He took possession of these islands of the Lesser Antilles for the Castilian Kingdom and gave them names.

In November he sailed for La Navidad, Hispaniola. The fort founded on the first voyage had been destroyed in fighting with the Arawak and all Spaniards were killed, so that in December Columbus founded the colony of La Isabela elsewhere on the island . The fleet stayed there until April 1494 while Columbus explored the hinterland in search of gold.

In April 1494 he set out to sea to look to the west for mainland China, which he suspected to be near the offshore islands. He explored the southern coast of the island of Cuba , discovered on the first trip , which he included in mainland China, and discovered Jamaica and Puerto Rico , but did not reach mainland Central America .

Replica of the Santa Maria off Madeira

On his return to La Isabela on September 25, 1494, Columbus found chaotic conditions because the settlers had fallen out. In addition, the indigenous population, who were initially friendly to the settlers, had become enemies because of bad treatment. This prompted Columbus to campaign against the local population, during which he enslaved Taíno in 1600 . This enslavement was against the will and orders of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. They told Columbus to treat the natives kindly because they saw future Christians in them. Nevertheless, Columbus shipped 550 slaves to Spain. Almost half of the prisoners died on the crossing. Upon arrival in Spain, the survivors were released at the instigation of Queen Isabellas and returned to their homeland.

After a royal commission of inquiry arrived in La Isabela in October 1495 and began work, Columbus left the colony. He left his brother Bartolomeo as commanding officer and set out on March 10, 1496 for Spain to report to the royal couple. On June 11, he reached Spain and was able to win back the support of Ferdinand II and Isabella I. Contrary to Columbus' announcement, the expedition failed to find large gold deposits. And this remained so despite the use of slaves, whose hands were chopped off as punishment if they could not find gold.

Until Columbus' third trip to America, almost two years passed due to the lack of economic success of his previous expeditions.

Third trip (May 1498 to November 1500)

Third trip

On his third voyage, on which he set out on May 30, 1498, Columbus took a route that was more southerly than on previous voyages. He sailed past the Cape Verde Islands and then west across the Atlantic.

On July 31, he discovered the island of Trinidad , and later on the neighboring island of Tobago , which he named Bella Forma (see also Trinidad and Tobago ). On the way, the expedition sighted the South American continent with a northern branch of the mouth of the Orinoco and explored the coast at this point from the ship. First Columbus wrote in his logbook that this country was a New World unknown in Europe . But later he was of the opinion again that the area belonged to Asia.

After sailing past several islands to the north, he reached the city of Santo Domingo on the south coast of Hispaniola , which his brother had meanwhile founded at his behest, on August 31 . The settlers there were dissatisfied and rebelled against his brother Bartolomeo. Columbus tried to settle the disputes and also tried to convert the Arawak to Christianity. At the same time he intensified the search for gold. He also began distributing planting land and allocating Indians to individual Spanish settlers. Such land distributions led from 1503 to the system of encomiendas , which in practice degenerated into a form of slavery .

Returning settlers accused him at the royal court in Spain of not having a grip on the administration of the colony. Therefore, the court removed Columbus as governor in May 1499 and instead appointed Francisco de Bobadilla , who reached the colony on August 23, 1500.

The new governor had Columbus and his brother brought to Spain in chains. Columbus refused to take off the chains before stepping before the queen. Both were again pardoned by the royal couple, but Columbus did not get his office again and had lost his good reputation. In addition, Vasco da Gama discovered the longed-for sea route to India on a southern route around Africa in 1498, with which the Portuguese had won the race.

Fourth trip (May 1502 to November 1504)

Fourth trip

On February 26, 1502, Columbus asked Ferdinand of Aragón and Isabella of Castile for a fleet, and on March 14, the expedition was approved by the royal family.

On May 9, or according to other sources on May 11, 1502, Columbus and his son Fernando set off from Spain on his last journey, which he called El Alto Viaje ("the high journey"). His fleet consisted of four caravels with a transverse mainsail :

  • the Capitana , the 70-ton flagship (on board: Captain Diego Tristán with 2 officers, 14 sailors, 20 cabin boys and 7 ship craftsmen and a trumpeter),
  • La Gallega , the "Galician" (Commander Pedro de Terreros with a crew of 26, including 14 cabin boys),
  • the Santiago de Palos , called Bermuda by Columbus (Captain Francisco de Porras with his brother and 31 men, including the scribe and notary of the crown, Diego de Porras and Christoph's brother Bartolomeo),
  • the Vizcaína (25 men: Captain Fiesci, boatman Juan Pérez, boatswain Martín de Fuenterrabía, eight sailors, ten cabin boys, the chaplain Fray Alejandro and three private individuals).

Columbus explored the Central American mainland coast between Honduras and Panama . On August 14, 1502, he set foot on the American mainland for the first time near Cape Honduras . He wanted to prove that there was a passage to China there.

The Vizcaína caravel had to be abandoned due to destruction by the shipworm . The wreck that was found in 2001 in the bay of Nombre de Dios near Portobelo is probably this caravel.

When Columbus and his crew were stranded in Jamaica, they survived mainly through trade with the natives. When the Spaniards took advantage of some of the locals in trading, the islanders stopped trading. As an experienced astronomer, Columbus knew that there would be a complete lunar eclipse on February 29, 1504 . He told the tribal chiefs of the island that the gods angered their behavior and that he would therefore rob them of the moon. When the eclipse actually began, the excited natives promised to resume trading if only the moon was returned to them, thereby benefiting Columbus from the subsequent end of the eclipse.

After fighting with indigenous people and a mutiny, Columbus spent around a year in the fortress of Jamaica because of the leaky ships before he returned to Spain, sick from the exertion.

The Waldseemüller map from 1507. On it the name America for the new continent is given for the first time . In addition, four parts of India are named: India intra Gangem flu (men) 'India within the Ganges River',
e.g. the Indian subcontinent , India extra Gangem 'India outside the Ganges', about Myanmar , India Meridionalis 'Southern India', for example the Indochinese Peninsula and India Superior 'Upper India', the south-east of China.

Last years

Columbus lost a total of nine ships on his four voyages. It was not least because of this fact that Columbus lost his myth as a hero and conqueror. He spent the last years of his life withdrawn and unnoticed by the public.

Although Columbus was relatively wealthy, he tried doggedly with King Ferdinand II (Queen Isabella I - his supporter - had died on November 26, 1504, shortly after Columbus' return) to restore him in the surrender of Santa Fe guaranteed privileges and to enforce his financial claims. However, he did not succeed.

Columbus died on May 20, 1506 in Valladolid at the age of about 55. The cause of his death is not clear.

His body was buried in Seville , but transferred to the cathedral in Santo Domingo in 1542 at the request of his son Diego . The bones remained there until 1795, when the French made this island their colony. This led to the alleged bones of Columbus being brought to Cuba and buried in Havana Cathedral. In 1898 his remains were again lifted from the grave and brought back to Seville. They were reburied there the following year. A small part of the body rests in Seville Cathedral today .

Until the end of his life, Columbus believed that he had found a route by sea to the Chinese part of the Indian mainland ( las Indias ).

Discussion about its origin

Portrait of Christopher Columbus by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio (1483–1561)

For a long time there was no doubt that Columbus was Genoese. On the 400th anniversary of Columbus' (re-) discovery of America - that is, in 1892 - more and more cities, first in Italy, later also in Spain and even in Portugal, began demanding the privilege of being the birthplace of the discoverer, which is why this is Question also became the subject of research.

Origin from Genoa

The birthplace of Genoa is documented by Columbus' statements as well as various files, such as two promissory notes from Domenico, on which his son Cristoforo is also registered as a surety, and an unanswered letter from Columbus to the Genoese bank Banco di San Giorgio ; In it the explorer affirms his love for his hometown. Son Fernando wrote that Columbus preferred to leave him and others in the dark about his ancestry and family. Origin and origin of his gender, like many other things in his father's life , should be described as misterio (riddle). Fernando relates this mysteriousness less to the place of birth Genoa, but rather by “riddle” he meant the original origin of the sex from which he assumed that it was derived from “the holy blood of Jerusalem”. There was no aristocratic Colombo family in Genoa, and the files show that the family did immigrate once. The son of Columbus had at the beginning of the 16th century on site, i. H. in the Republic of Genoa, looking for possible family members and according to their own information they did not find anything.

One argument against Genoa as the city of birth and origin is the fact that Columbus wrote mostly in the Castilian language , interspersed with French words, and only two marginal notes were found in books in which he used Italian . Even in letters to Genoa, he did not write in his presumed mother tongue. Some biographers state that Italian was not a written language at that time, others claim that the Ligurian or Genoese dialect of that time differed too much from contemporary Italian, and still others see it as an argument for a possible Spanish ancestry.

Memorial plaque in the La Rábida monastery

His high social position and his marriage in Portugal also give rise to doubts as to whether Columbus really came from Genoa. But he may have acquired the social position by marrying his wife, who comes from Portuguese aristocracy.

Various hypotheses about the origin

The emphasis on mysteriousness and the concealment of the reasons for which the Colombo were no longer welcome in Genoa repeatedly raised doubts about the birthplace of Genoa. Under the impression of Napoleon , who came from Corsica , the Corsican city of Calvi, as a former colony of the Republic of Genoa, claimed to have produced Columbus for the first time. This thesis was subsequently refuted in detail and not without emotion.

With the strengthening of Catalan national consciousness in the 20th century, a village on Mallorca with the allegedly original name Genova (now part of Palma ) aroused the interest of local historians. The Mallorcan town of Felanitx or its port Portocolom also claims to be Columbus' birthplace with reference to the place name.

As an alternative to Genoa as the place of birth, there are various speculations, which extend as far as Armenia , but which to a large extent only refer to contradictions in the evidence and cannot present their own documents.

Scottish Hypothesis - Pedro Scotto

From the histographic work of Alfonso Enseñat de Villalonga , based on archive material , the following development of the name of Christopher Columbus results. Accordingly, Columbus came from the Genoese merchant family Scotto and was baptized as Pedro. Christopher Columbus was therefore called Pedro Scotto at his birth. The Scottos are descendants of the Scottish Douglas dynasty . In the Genoese branch, the epithet Colonne (Italian for 'pillars') can be taken as a reference to a hostel run by the family. The postulated Scottish immigration background of a Genoese breaks through the national claims of other theories of origin in which Columbus is made into a Portuguese, Gallic or Catalan compatriot. The change of the first name to Christoph took place at a ceremony to receive a minor consecration . Columbus adopted the new surname when he was in the service of the pirate Vincenzo Colombo so as not to encumber his original family name.

The reconstruction of the origin of Alfonso Enseñat de Villalonga continues to assume that he was descended from Genoa, but is not fixed on the fact that Colombo was already the surname at birth. The origin from the wool weaver family and thus also the origin from Genoa is doubted, since the brothers Diego and Bartolomeo cannot be proven there.

Assertion of Jewish origin

One hypothesis raised by Simon Wiesenthal , among others , is that Columbus was of Jewish origin. But he deliberately kept this a secret, otherwise he would never have found support for his expeditions from the Catholic royal couple Isabella and Ferdinand, who wanted to drive the Jews out of Spain. The deadline they set in the Alhambra decree of March 31, 1492, by which all non-converted Jews had to leave their country, was July 31. This coincides closely with the day on which Columbus set out on his first voyage of discovery on August 3rd. However, Columbus should have gathered the Jews concerned on his ship to leave, but this is not documented. In this respect, Wiesenthal's allegations are more likely to be classified in the realm of a conspiracy theory .

This - rather coincidental - temporal proximity to an ultimatum is added as an indication that the discoverer apparently had in-depth knowledge of the Jewish world of thought. What exactly these should consist of is unclear. In addition, the converso (i.e. a Jew who converted to Christianity) Luis de Santángel , the king's private treasurer , advocated Columbus' plans at court. With great personal commitment and risk, he managed to change Queen Isabella, who had already rejected Columbus' demands; after all, it was he who offered Columbus to finance a large part of the expedition.

Also the surname Colombo, which is often carried by Jewish families in northern Italy (but not exclusively, Colombo is the seventh most common surname in Italy with a share of about 0.16% of the total population), and the Jewish first names of his mother Susanna and her father Jacobo could be a clue. This is also supported by the fact that he married a Jewish woman and did not marry his second wife, who was not Jewish. His probable place of birth Genoa, however, speaks against this thesis, as Jews were denied entry there. Wiesenthal mentions the supporters of Columbus who converted from Judaism, the so-called Cristianos Nuevos .

DNA analysis

The tomb in Seville Cathedral

Two questions have recently been investigated using DNA analyzes : on the one hand, the dispute over the real Columbus tomb, which the cities of Seville and Santo Domingo are fighting over, and on the other hand, the question of the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.

For the first question, it was necessary to compare the DNA of the disputed bones with the DNA of reliably identified remains of relatives of Christopher Columbus. Christopher Columbus had two brothers ( Bartholomeo and Diego ) and two sons (one legitimate, Diego Columbus , and one illegitimate son, Fernando Columbus ). First, the bones of Christoph, his brother Diego and his son Fernando were examined by the Spanish geneticist Jose Antonio Lorente.

Only after years of hesitation did the Catholic Church agree to the exhumation of the bones from the Gothic cathedral Santa María de la Sede in Seville. A superficial analysis initially showed that these are not from Christopher Columbus. The DNA comparison confirmed in May 2006 that the bones in Seville are from Christopher Columbus. Since there are only a few skeletal remains in Seville (150 g), the researcher Lorente leaves open the possibility that the greater part of the skeleton is still elsewhere, possibly in Santo Domingo.

The DNA of the bones in Santo Domingo has not yet been examined. Several times, most recently on February 15, 2005, the researchers were given permission to open the coffin and examine the bones in order to establish final certainty about the authenticity. Each time these permits were withdrawn shortly beforehand.

The second question to be answered by DNA analysis is that of the place of birth. In 2006, under the direction of molecular anthropologist Olga Rickards at the University of Tor Vergata in Rome , the DNA of Christoph's son Fernando , which had been secured in the investigations by José Antonio Lorente, was compared with the DNA of various living people who were named Colombo, Colon, Colom and wear coulomb. The study includes people from the areas around Genoa , Castile , Catalonia and the Balearic Islands .


In the United States, Columbus' arrival in America was celebrated on the anniversary in 1892; For a long time he was considered to be the first real American who laid the foundations for colonization with courage and zest for action.

How the Spaniards dealt with the indigenous population in the decades after Columbus is described in the records of the Dominican Bartolomé de Las Casas , who lived in Spanish America from 1512 to 1547. Las Casas reports in his pamphlet Brief Report on the Devastation of West India (1542) from mass murders, burns, rape and dismemberments, whereby children, pregnant women and the elderly were not spared. It is unclear whether Columbus himself was directly responsible for such acts.

Modern debate about the evaluation of Columbus' work

The evaluation of Christopher Columbus' achievements is the subject of controversial debate. The urge to explore and the courage to venture into unknown waters is contrasted by the fact that the Spaniards enslaved the indigenous population and committed atrocities on his orders.

Along with other causes, especially introduced diseases, the colonization of the Caribbean islands begun by Columbus triggered a demographic catastrophe. Hispaniola's population fell from an estimated 400,000 to 1 million at the time of the first voyage of discovery to around 100,000 in 1504. By 1514, their number had dropped to 22,000, and in 1542, according to Las Casas, "barely 200" were still alive. Before the arrival of Columbus, the population of the Caribbean was up to 15 million.

Columbus' notes arouse considerable doubts about a motivation determined solely by the urge to discover. From his logbooks and letters it can be seen that he was primarily looking for precious metal deposits and that in the course of the trip his view of people and nature was increasingly influenced by the aspect of potential usability, the less evidence there were of gold to be found . In order to finance the enormous travel costs, it was necessary to make the intended goals appear so interesting for the donors that they had the prospect of material gain.

According to today's view, Columbus' motives were closely related to the interests of the subsequent Iberian Catholic conquistadors : It was about power and gold, accompanied by the idea of ​​proselytizing the indigenous people. Columbus was essentially loyal and order-related. In spite of this, or precisely because of this, Columbus was and is viewed as a hero or at least as an important personality.

In the last few years a discussion has started about whether Columbus should be seen as the pioneer of a genocide against the Indians. This position, mainly represented by indigenous politicians, is also shared by the British author Roger Crowley , but it is shared by the Spanish historians Borja de Riquer , Carlos Martínez Shaw and Pablo Emilio Pérez-Mallaína , who see Columbus as an unscrupulous slave hunter, as well as the US historian Steve Hackel considered incorrect or excessive because he had no intention of exterminating an entire race or ethnic group.

Some examples of the ongoing interest in the person of Columbus:

Christopher Columbus on the Italian 5000 lire banknote issued between 1964 and 1970

Columbus in art

The theme of Christopher Columbus is the subject of many novels and musical works, including:


In addition, Columbus is a popular motif in popular culture, especially in film:


In the recent past, various Columbus monuments were dismantled because Columbus is guilty of exploitation and slavery, even genocide , from today's perspective, especially from an indigenous perspective . In November 2018, for example, an indigenous movement achieved the removal of the Columbus statue erected 45 years ago by Italian-Americans in the Grand Park of Los Angeles . In the wake of the wave of protests against the violent death of Georg Floyd , a statue was plunged into a river in Virginia, USA on June 10, 2020. One statue was beheaded in Boston and another overturned in Richmond, Virginia.


Web links

Commons : Christopher Columbus  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Corina Bucher: Christopher Columbus, Corsair and Crusader. Primus Verlag and WBG 2006, ISBN 3-89678-274-6 , p. 13 ff.
  2. ^ Corina Bucher: Christopher Columbus, Corsair and Crusader. Primus Verlag and WBG 2006, ISBN 3-89678-274-6 , p. 23ff.
  3. ^ Corina Bucher: Christopher Columbus, Corsair and Crusader. Primus Verlag and WBG 2006, ISBN 3-89678-274-6 .
  4. ^ Marginalia on Christopher Columbus, Corsair and Crusader 2006. Essay: Was Christopher Columbus in Greenland 15 years before he discovered America?
  5. ^ Corina Bucher: Christopher Columbus, Corsair and Crusader. Primus Verlag and WBG 2006, ISBN 3-89678-274-6 , p. 252 f.
  6. Andrew G. Little (ed.): Roger Bacon Essays, contributed by various writers on the occasion of the seventh centenary of his birth. Oxford 1914, p. 180
  7. ^ Klaus Bergdolt : Scholastic medicine and natural science at the papal curia in the late 13th century. In: Würzburg medical history reports. Volume 7, 1989, pp. 155-168, here: p. 158.
  8. Gerhard Prause : Nobody laughed at Columbus. Econ Verlag, 3rd edition of the completely revised and expanded new edition, Düsseldorf / Vienna 1986, p. 66.
  9. a b c d Robert H. Fuson (Ed.): The log book of Christopher Columbus. The authentic notes of the great explorer. Gustav Lübbe Verlag, Bergisch Gladbach 1989, ISBN 3-404-64089-6 , p. 103.
  10. Gerhard Prause : Nobody laughed at Columbus. Econ Verlag, 3rd ed. D. completely overworked. u. supplementary new edition, Düsseldorf, Vienna 1986, p. 63.
  11. a b Robert H. Fuson (ed.): The log book of Christopher Columbus. The authentic notes of the great explorer. Gustav Lübbe Verlag, Bergisch Gladbach 1989, ISBN 3-404-64089-6 , p. 156.
  12. ^ Heinrich Pleticha: Christopher Columbus. The beginning of the modern age. Manfred Pawlak Verlagsgesellschaft, Herrsching 1987, p. 130.
  13. ^ Howard Zinn: A People's History of the United States . Harper Perennial, 2005, p. 2.
  14. ^ Peter Mesenburg: Cartometric investigation and reconstruction of the world map of the Piri Re'is (1513). In: Cartographica Helvetica. 24 (2001) pp. 3-7.
  15. ^ Hermann Kellenbenz: The financing of the Spanish discoveries. In: Vierteljahrschrift der Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte 69 (1982), p. 155 ff.
  16. Christopher Columbus. Log of the first trip ( Memento from June 16, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF) 2002, p. 8.
  17. Nadja Podbregar, Dieter Lohmann: In focus. Marine worlds. Travel to the unknown depths of the oceans. Springer, Berlin / Heidelberg 2013, ISBN 978-3-642-37720-4 , p. 171.
    Franz Jacobs, Helmut Meyer: Geophysics - Signals from the Earth. Insights into science. Teubner, Stuttgart 1992, ISBN 3-8154-2501-8 , p. 39f.
  18. Diario de a bordo del primer viaje de Cristóbal Colón: texto completo
  19. ^ Heinrich Pleticha: Christopher Columbus. The beginning of the modern age. Manfred Pawlak Verlagsgesellschaft, Herrsching 1987, ISBN 3-88199-360-6 , p. 14.
  20. a b The Voyage of Christopher Columbus.  - Internet Archive In: The Journal Saturday
  21. ^ Howard Zinn: A People's History of the United States. Harper Perennial, 2005, p. 3.
  22. ^ Howard Zinn: A People's History of the United States. Harper Perennial, 2005, pp. 3-4.
  23. Carta a Santangel Letter from Columbus to Luis de Santángel , the king's treasurer, probably sent immediately after arriving in Lisbon. Quote: pueden ver Sus Altezas que yo les dare oro quanto ovieren menester […] y esclauos quantos mandaran cargar , literally: “Your Majesties can see that I will give you gold as much as you need […] and slaves, like that many order them to be loaded [onto the ships] ”.
  24. ^ A b Troy Floyd: The Columbus Dynasty in the Caribbean 1492-1526 University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque 1973; Stuart B. Schwartz: The Iberian Mediterranean and Atlantic Traditions in the Formation of Columbus as a Colonizer University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis 1986.
  25. ^ A b Howard Zinn: A People's History of the United States. Harper Perennial, 2005, p. 4.
  26. The Columbus case: How America's explorers sailed into disaster on
  27. DLF lunar eclipse Jamaica
  28. ^ Tomb of Christopher Columbus in Seville
  29. Robert H. Fuson (ed.): The log book of Christopher Columbus. The authentic notes of the great explorer. Gustav Lübbe Verlag, Bergisch Gladbach 1989, ISBN 3-404-64089-6 , p. 56.
  30. History , chap. 1
  31. History, chap. 1
  32. Where was Columbus born? DNA test is supposed to solve puzzles . Online at from February 5, 2006.
  33. ^ Sherburn F. Cook, Borah Woodrow: Essays in Population History. Volume 1. University of California Press, Berkeley 1971, Chapter VI; JB Thatcher: Christopher Columbus. Volume 2, Putnam's Sons Publishers, New York 1903-1904, pp. 348 ff.
  34. ^ Salvador de Madariaga: The Rise of the Spanish American Empire Hollis and Carter Publishers, London 1947; William Denevan: The Native Population of the Americas in 1492 University of Wisconsin Press, Madison 1976.
  35. ^ Henry Dobyns: Their Numbers Become Thinned: Native American Population Dynamics in Eastern North America University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville 1983; Russell Thornton: American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492 University of Oklahoma Press, Norman 1987.
  36. Kirkpatrick Sale: The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy. Alfred A. Knopf Publishers, New York 1990, p. 155; Bartolomé de las Casas: The Spanish Colonie (Brevísima revacíon). University Microfilms reprint, 1966; Bartolomé de las Casas: Historia de las Indias. Volume 3.Augustin Millares Carlo and Lewis Hanke, Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico City 1951, chapter 29.
  37. ^ Samuel Eliot Morison : Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. Heritage Publishers, New York 1963.
  38. Joachim Moebus: About the determination of the wild and the development of the exploitation standpoint at Columbus. In: Karl-Heinz Kohl : Myths of the New World. Berlin 1982, p. 49 ff.
  39. Manuel Morales: Fue Colon un genocida? In: El País , November 13, 2018, p. 27.
  40. Lotte Burkhardt: Directory of eponymous plant names . Extended Edition. Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin, Free University Berlin Berlin 2018. [1]
  41. Pascale Davies: Los Angeles topples its Christopher Columbus statue. In:, November 12, 2018.
  42. ^ WORLD: Richmond, USA: Statue of Christopher Columbus violently overturned . In: THE WORLD . June 10, 2020 ( [accessed June 11, 2020]).