Useful Notes / Christopher Columbus
Columbus probably looked nothing like this.

Columbus sailed the ocean blue
Back in Fourteen-Ninety-Two.
He sailed across and spotted land,
A beach, and people on the sand.

He called them Indians because
He had no idea where he was,
India was just a guess.
When in doubt, declare success.
Ramon Montaigne

Christopher Columbus (Italian: Cristoforo Colombo, circa 1451 – 20 May 1506) is a famous historical figure, known as the sailor who wanted to find an easier trade route from Europe to Asia (NOT to prove the Earth was round, contrary to popular belief) only to discover the Americas during his travels. As you probably know, he was not the first European to discover the Americas note , but it was his efforts that led directly to the the Colombian Exchange, through which European exploration colonization shaped the Western Hemisphere, and with it the entire world, into its current form. An inestimable boon for the nations of Europe, though considerably less advantageous for the American indigenous natives (albeit mostly for reasons not intended by anybody).

On his most famous voyage, the 1492 transatlantic trip in the ships Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria, he was searching for a route to "India", which at the time meant Asia—specifically, he was hoping to find Japan. When he finally reached land, all he could tell was that the natives were neither Japanese nor Chinese, and so he was at a loss to figure out where he really was. Figuring he'd landed on some previously-unknown part of Asia, he referred to the natives generically as "Indians," and the island chain as the "East Indies". (Today, we've corrected this second mistake, and refer to these islands as the West Indies.) On his third voyage, in 1498, he realized he'd found a hitherto-unknown continent (South America), but he never learned that he hadn't come close to reaching Asia.

Nobody today is sure what he looked like; the picture here, painted after his death by someone who never met him, shouldn't be taken as fact. For one, he had auburn hair in his youth which would have turned white by the time he was the age depicted.

Columbus was born in October 1451, before the 31st. He was born in Genoa, which was a maritime republic. His father was a middle class weaver who also sold cheese, but his brother worked in a cartography workshop. In 1473, he began his apprenticeship as a sailor for a merchant family. He sailed to the Genoese colony of Chios. After that in 1476, he was a sailor in an armed convoy sailing from Genoa to Bristol, England. After that, he might have even sailed to Iceland in 1477. In the fall of 1477 he sailed to Libson, Portugal. There, he met up with his brother and based himself there. He married and had children. Between 1482 and 1487, Columbus sailed along the west African coast to the Portuguese colony of Elmina. His wife died, and he started dating a twenty year old orphan. He taught himself Latin, Castilian, and Portuguese, and he read up on astronomy and on the travels of Marco Polo and John Manderville.

He and his brother Bartholomew together conceived of an "enterprise of the Indies," a way to sail directly to the Orient without having to go through the Turkish-controlled land route or the very long route beyond Africa. Columbus argued that the world was smaller than what common scholarship held, and that Japan was very, very far east of China, which was in turn very, very far east of where it actually was. He believed the world was smaller than it was because while he was sailing in the Portuguese Canary Islands, he would often hear rumors of driftwood floating over from west. So while he was right in assuming something was close by, he was wrong in thinking it was Asia. He was right on one more count though, that the "Easterly" winds off the coast of Africa could propel a sailing ship a great distance in relatively little time.

He went to Portugal in 1485 and presented his plan, along with a demand that he be made "Great Admiral of the Ocean," appointed governor of any lands he discovered, and received 10% of revenue derived from anything he found. The Portuguese flatly rejected his proposal, and the English simultaneously rejected a similar proposal made by his brother. Then Christopher went to the Spanish, who held a similar opinion but decided to keep him around by paying him not to go anywhere else. This was in 1489.

In 1492, hurting for cash after defeating Muslim Granada, Ferdinand and Isabella decided to give him what he wanted (although Isabella initially turned him down). Most likely, Ferdinand didn't think he'd come back. However, Columbus was an experienced sailor and was fully aware that the trade winds could carry across the Atlantic with ease. While many would say that Columbus just got lucky, in actuality his feat was impressive. He had to sail in open waters for over a month (longer than anyone else in history up to that point) and had to quell his mutinous sailors who knew less about geography and were afraid they were too far out from land. Eventually, against the odds, they reached land.

He landed first in the Bahamas, and the natives he met there were peaceful. However, not all natives were Noble Savages.

After returning to Spain, Columbus was given 1500 men and 14 ships, and sent back to set up a colony. After it was set up, he left his brother in charge to explore more. In his absence, the other Spaniards brutalized the natives and he was unfairly blamed for it. He was sent back to Spain in chains, but Queen Isabella soon had him released. Though his property was returned to him, he did not get his governorship back. He explored more, landing in Venezuela and sailing along the Panama coast in search of a strait from which he could dial to Asia, but found none.

Many historians have credited Columbus for the European colonization of the Americas, which involves many Europeans battling each other for colonies and land in the New World, looting and destroying many tribes for gold and valuable resources, massacres of populations to take their land, and forced destruction of native cultures. Most Indian victims however were claimed by the European diseases, which their immune systems could not handle. Although obviously, how many Europeans approached the New World and the Native American tribes varied. note  Many countries celebrate Columbus Day on October 12th as an official holiday since the early 20th Century, although considering the bloody events that followed the event, there are controversies about celebrating the anniversary.

Columbus's descendants hold the Spanish noble title Duke of Veragua, and the hereditary title of "Admiral of the Ocean Sea". Both the current Duke and his father were named Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus) and the father was actually a naval officer, which means he was an Admiral even when he was a Lieutenant.

As for his legacy, several things in the new world were named for him, including the Republic of Colombia, The District of Columbia (no relation to the Republic), the Territory of Columbia (no relation to the District) which later became the state of Washington (no relation to the city located in the District), the cities of Columbus in Ohio and Columbia in South Carolina (each the capital of their respective states), and Columbia, the Anthropomorphic Personification of the United States of America (before she was overshadowed by Uncle Sam).

Tropes related to Christopher Columbus:

  • The Captain: Columbus was this, obviously.
  • Contractual Obligation Project: Both his first and his second voyage was financed by people who invested in him, expecting to get their loans back with interest. This led to the first desperate attempt to pay the investers back, and is the primary reason Columbus took 500 native prisoners back to Spain, of whom 300 died from illness during the trip. His intent was to sell them as slaves to cover expences, when he discovered that gold was more sparse in the Carribean than he had thought.
  • Downer Ending: Columbus discovered two new continents, and yet he died in poverty. It wasn't all bad though, as his tomb in Seville is topped with a statue of four Spanish kings holding up his casket, indicating just how important they thought he was to them.
  • Father Neptune: Columbus was this in his later years.
  • Got the Call on Speed Dial: Columbus went on several voyages, each one lasting years.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Many re-tellings of his voyage tend to embellish details. He is also frequently (and incorrectly) credited for "discovering" that the earth is round, when this fact had been known since at least the time of Ancient Greece. He's seen more positively in english-speaking nations and tend to portray him as a visionary explorer while his more negative aspects are given to other figures, be fictional or real.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Other re-tellings of his voyage tend to condemn him and blame the entire plight of the Native Americans on him. In Latin America specifically, the early 90s saw a wave of progress in the recognition of amerindian rights (to a certain extent) and a sudden shift in the perception of America's "colonization" (now it's called "conquest") so rather than a demonization of the man personally, he is seen simply as the most prominent figurehead and instigator of a chain of events that destroyed many cultures that are now embraced, relegating the original inhabitants of the continent to a second class citizens status that still last to this day.
  • In Harm's Way: Colombus could have returned to Spain and retired peacefully after his first voyage. Instead, he went back on many more voyages.
  • The Missionary: Columbus mentions several times in his journal how he would like to convert the natives to Catholicism. He brought missionaries with him on his second voyage.
  • The Mutiny: On Columbus's first voyage, his crew thought they would die in the middle of the ocean and almost did this. But then he found land.
  • Rags to Riches: Colombus was born the son of a poor weaver. While the Crown refused to pay him what was promised, he still died with more money than he was born with.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Columbus's voyages opened up the Americas to the Old World, bringing over disease which wiped out 90% of the Native Americans. This probably wasn't what he planned for the New World.
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men: Columbus's sailors sailed across the open ocean without seeing land for a month. This is impressive because all European sailing at the time (late Middle Ages / early Renaissance) involved hugging the coast.

Columbus in fiction:

  • He was portrayed by Gérard Depardieu in the 1992 Ridley Scott film 1492: Conquest of Paradise.
  • George Corraface portrayed him in Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, which, like 1492 above, came out in 1992, for the 500th anniversary of Columbus' transatlantic voyage.
  • In Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, he turns out to have led a crusade against Muslims in an alternate timeline. A time traveler's attempt at preventing this resulting in him discovering the Americas and enabling the centuries of genocide to follow. A second time travel attempt seeks to redeem Columbus and lead the Old World and New World civilizations to meet peacefully.
  • In a case of Beethoven Was an Alien Spy, he appears in a short but crucial role in Assassin's Creed (2016), played by Gabriel Andreu.
  • In Fate/Grand Order, he appears as the Rider of the Resistance in the Agartha chapter. The game shows both the good and the bad side of him, as while he did do a lot of immoral things once he discovered America which still carries over to the modern day, he is still an excellent leader and a bold adventurer, albeit extremely self-centric beneath all that.