Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus (Italian: Cristoforo Colombo) (1451 – May 20, 1506) was an Italian navigator, colonizer and explorer whose voyages across the Atlantic Ocean—funded by the Spanish crown—led to general European awareness of the American continents in the Western Hemisphere. Though not the first to reach the Americas from Afro-Eurasia — preceded some five hundred years by Leif Ericson, and perhaps by others — Columbus initiated widespread contact between Europeans and indigenous Americans. With his several hapless attempts at establishing a settlement on the island of Hispaniola, he personally initiated the process of Spanish colonization which foreshadowed general European colonization of the “New World.” (The term “pre-Columbian” is usually used to refer to the peoples and cultures of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus and his European successors.)

His initial 1492 voyage came at a critical time of growing national imperialism and economic competition between developing nation states seeking wealth from the establishment of trade routes and colonies. In this sociopolitical climate, Columbus’s far-fetched scheme won the attention of Queen Isabella of Spain. Severely underestimating the circumference of the Earth, he hypothesized that a westward route from Iberia to the Indies would be shorter and more direct than the overland trade route through Arabia. If true, this would allow Spain entry into the lucrative spice trade — heretofore commanded by the Arabs and Italians. Following his plotted course, he instead landed within the Bahamas Archipelago at a locale he named San Salvador. Mistaking the North-American island for the East-Asian mainland, he referred to its inhabitants as “Indians”.

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