August 4, 2014

Four Christopher Columbus Myths Worth Debunking

The following is a guest post from Ronald A. Reis, author of Christopher Columbus and the Age of Exploration for Kids, with 21 Activities

Christopher Columbus is, by some accounts, the most researched and written about individual in world history. Yet, as much as we think we know about the Admiral of the Ocean Sea, major myths surrounding him persist. It has been said that Columbus sailed forth to prove the world was round. Queen Isabella pawned her jewels to sponsor the Admiral’s voyage. In landing in the Bahamas, Columbus was the first European to “discover” America. In the end, the explorer died penniless. All four myths are false.

  • The world is not flat. Today, everyone knows that. In Columbus’s day, more than 500 years ago, most educated people knew it, too. The idea that a ship could sail away only to fall over the earth’s edge and be carried down an endlessly wide waterfall to who knew where was absurd. Evidence of a spherical world was all about for anyone to see—all one had to do was look. It was possible for anyone in Columbus’s time, especially if he or she lived near the sea, to see that the world was a sphere. If one stands on the seashore and watches a ship sail off to the horizon, the ship will be seen to gradually disappear from view. It’s not just distance that makes the ship eventually fade from sight. A keen observer will notice that the hull of the ship vanishes first. The sails and the mast will disappear a bit later. The ship is dropping behind a hill so to speak, the hill being the curvature of the earth.
  • Queen Isabella of Spain did, indeed, offer to pawn her diamonds, sapphires, and other jewels to finance Columbus’s Enterprise of the Indies, as his first voyage, in 1492, was called. But earlier in that same year, the 700-year Reconquista (re-conquest) of Spain by Christians over the Moors (Muslims) was finally complete. Money to support a conquering army was no longer required. Royal funds were now available for exploration.
  • Up until the 1950s it was generally accepted that Christopher Columbus was the first European to sail far enough west to bump into the Western Hemisphere. Since then, conclusive research has shown that the Norsemen (Vikings) beat Columbus to the New World by about 500 years, the same time span now separating us from Columbus. The difference between what Columbus did and the Norsemen voyages, however, is that when the Admiral arrived, his countrymen stayed. By the time Columbus sailed home from his fourth voyage to the Caribbean, in 1504, there were already 10,000 Spaniards living on the islands.
  • When Christopher Columbus died in Spain, on May 20, 1506, he did not die a poor man. Indeed, in today’s dollars, the Admiral was probably worth more than $4 million. Yet, Columbus did die in obscurity. Centuries would pass before the full magnitude of his accomplishments was acknowledged.

For more on Christopher Columbus and other books I have written, please visit my website at

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Ron....You make some very important points about Columbus. Interesting activity, too!