Discovery of America in 1492

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Columbus lands on Guanahani (contemporary woodcut)

The discovery of America in 1492 is the landing Castilian sailors , led by the Genoese -born Christopher Columbus on an island in the Bahamas - in the belief that a transatlantic sea route to India to have found. According to the logbook of Christopher Columbus reproduced by Bartolomé de Las Casas , the island, called Guanahani by its Caribbean inhabitants , was reached in October 1492. With this first of four voyages by Columbus, the Spanish colonization of America began . In retrospect, it became one of the most significant events in recent history. The date of this key event in the so-called Age of Discovery is often seen as the boundary between the Middle Ages and the modern era .

Columbus intended to find the sea route to India on the west course. For this plan he found support from the Catholic kings Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon in times of the end of the Reconquista and the beginning of the Spanish Inquisition . According to the Julian calendar , he set sail with three ships from Huelva in Andalusia on August 3, 1492 and then reached the Bahamas on October 12, 1492 after a stopover on the Canary Island of Gomera . In total, Columbus undertook four voyages of discovery to the New World . But until his death he firmly refused not to have reached the east coast of India. The continent, unknown to the European cultural area, was named America after the explorer Amerigo Vespucci .


Sebastiano del Piombo : Christopher Columbus. Posthumous portrait from 1519
“500 Years of America 1492–1992”: Reverse side of a 50-dollar silver coin from the Cook Islands (1989). Portrait of Columbus to the right of the Santa Maria .

As part of the India trade, the Portuguese had been looking for a sea route to India around Africa since the beginning of the 15th century. In 1488 the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Diaz had circumnavigated the Cape of Good Hope . The Spanish crown hoped to make up for the Portuguese lead in the spice trade with India by taking a shorter route to the west.

Columbus set sail with his three ships Santa María , Pinta and Niña on August 3, 1492 from Palos de la Frontera ( Andalusia ) towards the Canary Islands to explore a short trade route to India . The basis for this attempt was the fact that the calculation of the circumference of the earth was too low, which made it possible to reach the Asian continent with the possibilities of seafaring at the time. When he arrived in the Canary Islands, Columbus had his ships overhauled and provisions taken. On September 6, the islands were left behind to supposedly reach India. The wind was ideal for seafaring and they were moving faster than anticipated. After about ten days seaweed and some flocks of birds were discovered and it was thought that the land could not be far away. But after a few days it became clear that the seafarers were wrong, and the wind was still turning, so that the desire to return increased in the companions of Columbus. Furthermore, the Pinta commander believed he was seeing land, but this was again a mistake; it was just a low cloud bank . The teams became more and more restless.

A mutiny could hardly be averted when Christopher Columbus made an unexpected change of course to the south-west on October 7th. This turned out to be a happy decision. A very critical day, on which the mutiny of the crew could hardly be prevented by Columbus, was October 10th. It had been more than a month since the departure from the Canary Islands and none of those present had ever made a long sea voyage with no land to be seen continuously. Columbus cheered up the crews and tried to convince the seafarers of the advantages that would await them on land. Besides, lawsuits are useless because it was decided to go to India to find a shorter trade route. Columbus called his authoritative companions together to get a final three-day period, which he succeeded in doing.

On October 11th, heavy seas broke out, and the flowering branches and a worked stick washed past the ships. Furthermore, the teams already saw reeds , and the desire to turn back gave way to expectant tension and joy in the country. Columbus gave a speech and ordered his people to take the night watch seriously. He promised a special bonus to whoever saw land first. At two o'clock on the morning of October 12, 1492, the sailor Rodrigo de Triana sighted land in front of the bow of the Pinta. A cannon was fired to wake up all the sailors and bring them the good news. The land sighted belonged to the group of Bahamas , which were populated by Tainos . Columbus gave the island named by the indigenous people of Guanahani the name San Salvador (in German: "Holy Redeemer") - possibly this corresponds to the island of San Salvador .

When Columbus and his companions went ashore, the Indians , as Columbus mistakenly called the island's inhabitants , watched the spectacle with a mixture of shyness and curiosity. Christopher Columbus had brass bells, colorful hats and glass beads carried as gifts because the Spaniards had already made experience in trading with tribes on the Guinea coast . The islanders willingly accepted the trade and in turn gave the newcomers gold, throwing games, cotton thread and tamed parrots .

Columbus decided to take six indigenous people on board for the Spanish king so that they could learn Spanish. In the log of Columbus , we read that the indigenous well as slaves could train as they would repeat quickly what they were told. They can also be easily converted to Christianity .

On October 14th, Columbus set sail with the six indigenous people to the southwest. They discovered other islands of the archipelago and named them, but the hoped-for treasure of gold and spices was not found.

World map by Giacomo Gastaldi from 1548, published in Pietro Andrea Mattiolo: La Geografia Di Claudio Tolomeo Alessandrino .... The map shows America and Asia as one continent


A discovery of America by Columbus cannot strictly be spoken of, since the continent was settled by Homo sapiens at least 15,000 years earlier (see settlement of America ). The Vikings Leif Eriksson and Bjarni Herjúlfsson had already come to the American continent from Europe around 500 years before Columbus . There is no reliable evidence for further discoveries of America .

In the 19th century, the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America was celebrated in Madrid and London in 1892, but also in Boston, Cleveland, St. Louis, Baltimore and many other American cities with ceremonies and parades. New York hosted a five-day Columbian Celebration and Chicago hosted the pompous World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 , which also celebrated Columbus and the discovery of America.

In the course of the 500th anniversary in 1992, however, the term “discovery” was criticized as politically incorrect, especially in the USA. Drew attention revisionist historians and Native American activists, social on the profound, economic, biological and ecological effects of the "discovery" of America, eventually meant that from the official page of "encounter" ( encounter ) instead of "discovery" ( discovery was spoken) .


Individual evidence

  1. Kathleen Loock: Columbus in the USA: From national hero to ethnic identification figure . Transcript, Bielefeld 2014, pp. 101-139.
  2. Kathleen Loock: Columbus in the USA: From national hero to ethnic identification figure . transcript, Bielefeld 2014, pp. 23–37.