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The Life of Christopher Columbus Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 22nd, 2021

Historians often argue about the personal history of Christopher Columbus and several misconceptions are surrounding him and his voyages. His exact routes across different places and the places where he made his landings are a matter of hectic debates in coming to concrete conclusions about the specific details of his expeditions. Most historians are however in consensus about his landmark achievements and the pivotal role he played in connecting the old worlds of Africa, Asia, and Europe and the new world comprising of the Americas and its peripheral islands. Columbus is most revered for having found the routes that enabled connectivity between the new and old worlds that had till then hardly known about each other. The new routes discovered by him later became infamous on account of the destructive impacts they had on the explorers who ventured out in later years as also on millions of people who were inhabitants of the Americas. He is also held responsible for the proliferation and expansion of the slave trade in later years.

Most historians agree that Columbus was born in 1451 in Genoa, a city in Italy. Since his young days he had an earnest desire in sailing and was forever on the lookout to know of the adventurous explorations of the likes of Marco Polo who had traveled to faraway places such as Asia and returned with gold, silk and spices in expanding the potential for business amongst European traders. He was much fascinated with Marco Polo who had managed to travel across Europe to India in reaching the far East, and it was in this context that the idea was born in him to discover a shorter and faster route to Asia by traveling towards the west, so as to gain popularity and to be in the good books of the monarchs in Europe. It was believed during the period that the world was flat and Columbus took on himself the task of proving this belief to be wrong. However, most sailors of that period had the experience of concluding that the world was not flat but round. During the time, makers of maps and navigators would argue about the actual size of Earth, and it was in this context that Columbus was proved to be wrong since he was always trying to portray the world as being much smaller than what other navigators believed it to be. Because of such unreasonable logic being given by Columbus, most of his contemporaries had valid doubts about his ability to make his journey to Asia by traveling towards the west. They had the idea that such a journey would just be too long and very difficult to travel across the massive span of the ocean that is now called the Atlantic Ocean. Moreover, most people did not incline that it was the Americas that existed between Europe and Asia if one traveled westwards.

It was Ferdinand and Isabella, the King and Queen of Spain respectively, who consented to provide finance to Columbus for his travels to the faraway places. This was primarily because the trade and business in Spain had started to suffer severe setbacks and there was hope in the event of Columbus discovering new routes and new lands, which would imply that Spain would get the power to control such new trade routes to the Far East in exploiting the immense gains to be achieved from such ventures. Columbus made his preparations and started his voyage in the year 1492. After having sailed across the sea for about ten weeks, he made his landfall in the islands of the Bahamas. Some historians believe that he first landed in San Salvador, but this aspect has been disputed because of the doubt over the authenticity of such claims. After having landed in Sal Salvador, Columbus went on to meet the locals, most probably the Tainos, and believed the place to be India and started to call the natives Indians. Upon traveling to the other islands that included Cuba and Hispaniola, he wrongly thought he had landed in China and Japan.

Columbus is known to have undertaken four major voyages and during such expeditions, he and his crew are known to have ill-treated the natives they encountered in the places where they landed and reconnoitered for trade purposes. Such natives were often forced into slavery; their valuables and food were taken away and rampant incidents of rape and killings were the order by his people. This was unfortunately the usual practice amongst explorers and their teams during that period. To gain physical and political control and to establish supremacy over such lands on behalf of another country at a distance of thousands of miles away, it was a normal practice during those days to enslave the local inhabitants as also to convert them. This practice was prevalent during the time of Columbus and continued for quite some time after him. But it is well known that the discovery by Columbus of the Caribbean islands was more like an unintentional discovery and by accident than by design since he was seeking to find the Indies with East Asia mainland in his mind in pursuance of his prime objective of finding avenues for lucrative trading in spices and other items from there, for the benefit of the Spanish rulers. He had equally mistaken the Caribbean islands for the East Indies and started to call the inhabitants Indians. In that context, this was the start of a phase that signaled the Spanish colonization in the region since these small settlements would later form the basis in marking the initial phase of the Spanish Empire. Because of such achievements, Columbus can claim credit for making important landmarks for the Spanish Empire.

Having sailed past Cuba during his trip, Columbus had a very difficult time in the open seas till the time he reached the Central Americas. Extreme adversities in the form of violent storms alongside the coasts took their toll on his men and him. He was extremely sick and down with rheumatism fever, had reduced eyesight, and was forced to be in bed for most of the time. Having failed to find a route to mainland Asia, Columbus was in the thought process of taking his next steps. While in Panama, Columbus called off the trip and started to sail back for Spain in December 1502. All his ships were not worthy enough to travel the entire distance and all his 130 men had to be accommodated in one ship, but that too did not prove to be seaworthy to travel the entire distance and he had to stop short at Jamaica. Columbus and his men were marooned there for a full year and he had a difficult time controlling his men who had by this time mutinied. Another problem faced by him was that the locals got tired of him and stopped supplying food which proved very dangerous in continuing the stay in Jamaica. But Columbus used a very ingenious trick against the locals by making use of his astrological knowledge. He knew that the lunar eclipse was due and he threatened them that he would make the moon disappear if they did not mend their ways. With the coming of the lunar eclipse and the disappearance of the moon, the islanders were alarmed and agreed to start their trade with the Spaniards again. In due course, Columbus managed to get another ship and they reached Spain on November 7, 1504.

When Columbus reached Spain, Queen Isabella was very ill and died within a few days of his arrival. Columbus too was very weak by now after having suffered from many diseases during his voyages. He spent several months trying to recover from the illness and during the one and a half years that he survived after he arrived in Spain, Columbus tried to regain his lost titles of viceroy and governor that he had lost consequent to his failure in finding a profitable route to mainland Asia. He petitioned the royalty and wrote several letters and requested influential associates to canvass on his behalf. Ultimately the then King Ferdinand granted him an audience in May 1505 and did not return his titles, but permission was given for arbitration into his financial claims over his share from the gains arising due to his voyages to the Indies. Finally, he did get a 2% share from the financial gains accrued from the Indies which was considered to be a sizable financial amount. Columbus already had a noble status and a coat of arms which gave him and his family a status befitting the richest of nobilities in Spain. Hence although Columbus did not make it to Asia in the end he got some justice and a suitable reward befitting the far-reaching achievements by way of his voyages to the Americas.

In due course, Columbus became very ill and shifted to the city of Valladolid where he breathed his last on May 20, 1506. His body was first buried at Valladolid, but in 1509 his son Diego shifted his remains in the Las Cuevas Monastry in Sevilla. There is a raging controversy to this day about the exact location of the place where his remains are. They are said to have been shifted to the Americas sometime in the middle of the 16th century. After being shifted to Santo Domingo and then to Havana in Cuba, his remains are said to have again been transferred to Spain where they are claimed to be interred in Sevilla. There is no doubt that there were very significant changes that happened due to the voyages of Columbus. He did fail to find a new route to mainland Asia, but he enabled the knowledge of the Americas and the Western Hemisphere for the Europeans, which in turn during history, set the trend for a host of developments that altered world history for the betterment of mankind on a global scale.

References

  1. Christopher Columbus Biography.
  2. Columbus Day.
  3. Peter Roop, Christopher Columbus, 2001, Scholastic Paperbacks
  4. Peter Sis, Follow the Dream: The story of Christopher Columbus, 2003, Knopf Books for Young Readers
  5. William D Philips, The Worlds of Christopher Columbus, 1993, Cambridge University Press
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