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.
Christopher Columbus (Italian: Cristoforo Colombo, Spanish: Cristóbal Colón, Portuguese: Cristóvão Colombo, French: Christophe Colomb), born circa 1451 and died 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 note .
On his most famous voyage, the 1492 transatlantic trip in the ships Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria,note 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.
It's easy to laugh at him for being such an idiot that he thought he was in "India", but the maps of Asia Europeans had at the time where laughably inaccurate, so the man had to work with what he could get.
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 Columbus 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, The Catholic Monarchs of Spain, 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.
After returning to Spain, Columbus was given 1500 men and 14 ships, and sent back to set up a colony. However, not all natives were Noble Savages, and the measures Columbus and his brother Bartholomew had to take to survive against hostile tribes soon extended to a regime where enslaving and brutalizing natives became too usual, even although Queen Isabella had explicitly forbidden this and ordered to treat the indigenous as full-fledged vassals. Even Spaniards started complaining that the Columbus brothers were acting like tyrants, and when Isabella got tired of being disobeyed, she had Columbus and his entourage brought back to Spain in chains. Though he was released and his property was returned to him, he did not get his governorship back and basically fell out of grace in Spain.
Over time, through money and favors, Columbus managed to restore a bit of his reputation and got funds to explore a bit 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.note This would be the fourth and last of his travels.
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 the Europeans approached the New World and the Native American tribes varied.note For much of the 20th century, Columbus Day was a popular holiday celebrated in many New World countries on October 12th, though as modern sensibilities bring more light to Columbus' true nature, the tradition has begun to be downplayed (in some parts the United States, it's taken on the new name of Indigenous People's Day, for obvious reasons).
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), British Columbia (the westernmost province of Canada, situated between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains), 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). Pre-Columbian Civilizations refers to American indigenous cultures before the European conquests starting at the tail end of the fifteenth century with him, as he was the first of that era to venture westwards. Ironically, he did not get to name the whole America, this honor belonging, possibly unknowingly so, to his associate Amerigo Vespucci.
Columbus in fiction:
- A sketch in Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America depicts Columbus's discovery of America, played purely for Rule of Funny. Turns out, the reason he didn't discover any gold in the New World was that the banks were all closed for Columbus Day.
- 1492: Conquest of Paradise, 1992 Ridley Scott film released for the 500th anniversary of Columbus' transatlantic voyage. He was portrayed by Gérard Depardieu.
- George Corraface portrayed him in Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, which, like 1492 above, came out in 1992, also for the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage.
- In a case of Beethoven Was an Alien Spy, he appears in a short but crucial role in the 2016 Assassin's Creed film, played by Gabriel Andreu.
- 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 results 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.
- The Ministry of Time: In Tiempo de lo oculto, he shows up in 1485, just as he begins his plans to convince the Monarchs of Castile to fund his enterprise.
- The Wacky Musical Adventures of Ronald McDonald: Intergalactical Magical Radio, an Audio Adaptation of The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald that only saw distribution through United Airlines' in-flight radio, has a bit where one of the historical events picked up by the gang's radio during the track "We'll Be Listening for the Signal" is of Christopher Columbus preparing to sail to the Americas, which perpetuates the misconception that no one knew the Earth was spherical before Columbus sailed.
- In a Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? level, one of Carmen's time-traveling thieves leaves Columbus and his crew marooned in the Caribbean. You, the player, have to cross the Atlantic in order to find and rescue them. This is often regarded as That One Level, due to the tedious nature of the ocean-crossing Mini-Game. And you have to play it twice, first to reach the Caribbean and then to return to Spain afterwards.
- 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-centered beneath all that. In practice, he's mostly portrayed as a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing who used his aforementioned positive qualities as a mask to cover his more selfish desires and revels in being called a villain and going down in history as a mass murderer as long as he can keep up with promoting slavery, something he refused to let go of, despite the fact that other Heroic Spirits used to utilize slavery but eventually let it go to 'keep up with the times', because, as far as Columbus is concerned, slavery is still one of the best ways to accumulate profit. His playable/summonable incarnation is a bit less wicked, but still somewhat self-centered and focuses on whatever he can do to make the most profit, which majorly includes conning (apparently it generates more profit than slavery in Chaldea), and still wears the 'villain' badge proudly that even others think he's untrustworthy.
- Looney Tunes
- The French edutainment series Il était une fois...:
- 1978's Il était une fois... l'Homme (Once Upon a Time... Man) about human history has an episode about the Spanish Golden Age where he appears.
- 1996's Il était une fois... les Explorateurs (Once Upon a Time... the Explorers) about Bold Explorers naturally has an entire episode dedicated to him.
- Portrayed in The Magic Voyage, a strange very-loose adaptation, where he's voiced by Dom De Luise.
- His clone is a main character in the revival of Clone High. In an effort to distance himself from the original Columbus' misdeeds, he's reinvented himself as "Topher Bus", presenting himself as a social progressive as a facade for his jerkass behavior.
- Toonsylvania has a Melissa Screetch segment titled "Here There Be Monsters" where Melissa is assigned to do a report on Columbus' voyage and decides to write her own interpretation of events where she is a crew member of Columbus who organizes a mutiny against him.
- Animaniacs (2020) has a segment titled "Christopher Columbused" where the Warner Siblings sing a "The Villain Sucks" Song about Columbus that sheds light on his atrocities and questions whether he deserves to have a holiday named after him.