According to the history books, Christopher Columbus discovered the New World in 1492. Fact or fiction? Was his name even Christopher Columbus, or is that a figment of our collective imaginations? The accounts of this great historical figure’s life and times are up for grabs, as truth and fiction often intertwine, merge, and eventually become one in the annals of history. Here are ten interesting facts about Christopher Columbus that you’ve probably never heard.
Columbus did not discover the new world; the Vikings did
Years after Columbus rose to fame for his New World mission, it was discovered that around 500 years before Columbus’ voyage, the Vikings had come to the New World by sailing from Iceland. This implies that Columbus reached the New World subsequent to the Vikings and probably came up with the idea for his voyage from them.
He was a slave trader.
Columbus’ voyages were basically undergone for economic gain; hence, he always expected to come across some valuable thing or another during his travels. He was vastly disappointed once he realized that the places he was discovering did not possess any treasure like pearls, silver or gold. He came to the realization that the natives could be of immense use, and so during his first voyage, he brought with him a number of natives, the count increasing during the second voyage. When Queen Isabella declared that the natives of the new world should be treated as her subjects and would not be enslaved, Columbus was greatly distressed. However, during the colonial rule, the Spanish enslaved the natives.
Columbus was a cheapskate.
While embarking on his voyage in 1492, Columbus pledged an award of gold to the person who would be the first to see land. Rodrigo de Triana, a sailor, was the first one to view land on 12th October 1492. He actually sighted what is presently an island in the Bahamas named San Salvador by Columbus. Unfortunately, Rodrigo was never given the reward because Columbus cleverly kept the gold to himself, telling the others that the previous night, he could see some blurred light but had not revealed it because the light was hazy.
Columbus was an awful governor.
Columbus was made the governor of Santo Domingo, a newly formed settlement, by Spain’s King and Queen as a token of gratitude pertaining to the new lands that he had discovered. Although an outstanding explorer, Columbus failed drastically as a governor. He and his brother governed the settlement as kings do, seizing to maximize his profits and thereby causing unrest amongst the settlers. Things got so out of control that the Spanish Crown appointed another person as governor, and Columbus was detained and driven back to Spain as a prisoner.
Columbus was very religious.
Columbus was, in fact, an extremely religious man who earnestly believed that God had chosen him to embark on voyages to discover new land. A number of names he allocated to islands as well as the lands that he discovered, were of a religious nature. In the later phase of his life, he adopted a simple Franciscan habit wherever he went, appearing very much like a monk rather than the affluent admiral that he used to be. While on his third voyage, there was a time when he viewed the Orinoco River draining into the Atlantic Ocean near the northern part of South America. At the time, he was almost certain that he had discovered the Garden of Eden.
His real name was not Christopher Columbus.
The name Christopher Columbus is actually an Anglicized version of the actual name Cristoforo Colombo, which he acquired in Genoa, his birthplace. The name has also been translated into other languages; hence, we have instances like the Spanish version Cristóbal Colón and the Swedish version Kristoffer Kolumbus. Strikingly, even his name in Genoa is not definite, as supporting historical credentials are rare.
Nobody knows where Columbus’ remains are
Columbus’ death occurred in Spain in the year 1506, where his remains were placed until 1527 when they were moved to Santo Domingo. There his remains were kept until 1795, after which they were allegedly sent to Havana. In the year 1898, the remains were believed to have returned to Spain, but astonishingly, a box bearing the name of Columbus and filled with bones was uncovered in Santo Domingo. Ever since then, both Santo Domingo and Seville in Spain claim to possess Columbus’ remains. Interestingly, in each of the cities, the concerned bones have been kept in highly structured mausoleums.
Many of Columbus’ voyages were disasters.
Almost everyone knows about Columbus’ voyages across the ocean in 1492, in which three ships were involved, Santa Maria, Pinta and Nina. But few of us know that Santa Maria, his flagship, got stuck and sank near Hispaniola Island, and he was forced to leave behind 39 men at a particular settlement known as La Navidad. Columbus was expected to return to Spain with many valuable goods, including spices, along with significant information regarding new trade routes. But he returned with nothing and even managed to lose his best ship. Again, during the fourth voyage, Columbus lost his ship and was marooned for a year in Jamaica with his men.
When Columbus went on his second voyage to the New World, he took horses.
As Columbus embarked on his second voyage to the New World, horses were brought to Santo Domingo. The animals constituted a mixture of the Andalusian, the Jennet and the Berber. Some cattle also accompanied the horses.
Columbus drastically miscalculated the circumference of the Earth.
A common misconception is that during Columbus’ time, it was believed that the Earth was flat. This is, in fact, not true – European scholars believed that the oceans were too vast for any ship to cross. The theory at the time, formed by Ptolemy, was that Eurasia and Africa, which were the known lands at the time, were all situated on one side of the planet and that there was nothing further to explore.
Columbus disagreed and set about to calculate the circumference of the Earth in order to prove that there were, in fact, more land masses to discover. His estimates were wildly off, assessing that the Earth was around 25,255 kilometres in circumference, whereas the real number is almost double at 40,000 kilometres. Due to this miscalculation, Columbus ironically discovered what he believed to be a new route to Asia.
Do you know of any other facts about Christopher Columbus? Which of these facts did you not know? Do let us know in the comments below.