How significant were the voyages of Christopher Columbus?

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Why was this question important at the time?

The voyages of Christopher Columbus were significant because with these were discovered a new world, and new opportunities of commerce were developed. The frontiers of Spain were expanded and, definitively in that moment, the sun was not set in the empire of Spain.

Why is it still an important issue?

It is still important because Europeans and American natives already have an exchange in items since the discovery (e.g. potatoes, tobacco, Christianity,etc)

The Spanish language has evolved adding many words and uses from the “new world”, and today is the second language most spoken in the world.

Since the discovery, in 1492, continuous migratory movements have been produced; firstly from Europe to America, and now from America to Europe.
These migratory movements have caused new races like: “mestizo” between natives and white people; “mulattos” between African and white people and “bowlegged” between natives and African people. Actually, those races are mixed between them.

Who was Christopher Columbus?

Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus (c. 1451 – 1506) was a navigator, cartographer and explorer.
There is a controversy about where he was born, but generally agreed that Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa.

His objective was developed a plan to travel to the Indies by sailing directly west across the Atlantic Ocean. He had difficulty obtaining support for his plan because Europeans thought the Earth was flat.

Columbus presented his plans, in 1455, to King of Portugal. John II submitted the proposal to his experts, who rejected it. In 1488 Columbus appealed to the court of Portugal once again, but they declined their initiative because not long afterwards Bartholomeu Dias returned to Portugal following a successful rounding of the southern tip of Africa. So with an eastern sea route under its control, Portugal was not interested in trailblazing a western route to Asia.

Then, he travelled to both Genoa and Venice, but they refuse their initiative.
He had sought an audience from the monarchs of Spain, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. Columbus presented his plans to Queen Isabella, and after two years of negotiations, he finally had success in 1492.

Christopher Columbus with Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile

The voyages of Christopher Columbus

First voyage

On 3 August 1492, Columbus departed from “Palos de la Frontera”, Spain, with three ships; La Santa María, La Pinta and La Niña. They were property of Juan de la Cosa and the Pinzon brothers (Martín Alonso and Vicente Yáñez). Columbus first sailed to the Canary Islands where he restocked the provisions and made repairs. On 6 September he departed San Sebastián de la Gomera to begin a five-week voyage across the ocean.

Rodrigo de Triana was the sailor who sighted land at 2 a.m on 12 October 1492, aboard La Pinta. Columbus called the island San Salvador.

From one of his first contact with the American natives, Christopher Columbus wrote in his journal that: “Many of the men I have seen have scars on their bodies, and when I made signs to them to find out how this happened, they indicated that people from other nearby islands come to San Salvador to capture them; they defended themselves the best they can. I believe that people from the mainland come here to take them as slaves. They ought to make good and skilled servants, for they repeat very quickly whatever we say to them. I think they can very easily be made Christians, for they seem to have no religion.”

World map according with Christopher Columbus' ideas

Second voyage

Columbus left Cádiz, on 25 September 1493 to find new territories, with 17 ships carrying supplies, and about 1,200 men to colonize the region.
The Spanish Monarchy pretended initiates colonization. For that Castilian crown ordered Columbus that he helped the catholic conversion, the good treatment to the American natives, and promote the commerce of prime materials which it was going to be a monopoly between the Castilian crown and Columbus.
In the first voyage, Columbus already notice that the potential riches of America:

[…] Yo estava atento y trabajava de saber si avía oro y vide que algunos de ellos traían un pedaçuelo colgado en un agujero que tienen en la nariz. Y por señas pude entender que yendo al Sur o Bolviendo la isla por el Sur, que estava alli un rey que tenía grandes vasos de ello, y tenía muy mucho […]

[…]I was attentive and tried to know if there was gold and I saw some of them had a piece hanging in a hole they have in the nose. And I understood by signals that going to the south or coming back to the island to the south, there was a king who had great vessels of this and it was very much[…]

But there were evidence that during this voyage, natives were enslaved and murdered. Hundreds were rounded up and shipped to Europe to be sold.

Third voyage

The expedition was divided in two groups, one departed on February 1498, and the second one departed on 30 may 1498 from Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Columbus was accompanied by Bartolomé de las Casas, who would later provide transcripts of Columbus’ diaries.

The objective of this trip was to find solid ground, because in the previous they landed in islands. They firstly landed on the island of Trinidad on 31 July. But later on august he explored the Gulf of Paria which separates Trinidad from Venezuela. And after that, he explored the mainland of South America, including the Orinoco River.

Columbus has found uprisings and he was going to lose his power. Finally in 1499, the Castillian crown remove from him, the monopoly about the commerce and the discovery, authorizing other expeditions which were known as the minor voyages.

Fourth voyage

Christopher Columbus did not want to do this trip due to his health problems. Despite this, he eventually accepted to compete with Portugal and their new success, the discovery of Brazil.

Columbus departed from Seville, on 13 April 1502 and they landed at Santo Domingo on 29 June.

Last years

Chistopher Columbus' tomb in Seville.

In his later years, Columbus demanded to the Castillian Crown give him 10% of profits made in the “new world”. His request was rejected, but after his death, his family demanded in the pleitos colombinos for part of the profits from commerce with America.

Christopher Columbus died, on 20 May 1506, in Valladolid.


Biblioteca virtual miguel de cervantes

Christopher Columbus' Biography