The Early Life of Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa in 1451. At the time Genoa comprised its own city state. Historians believe that Christoforo Colombo (as he was called then) was well educated. He knew several languages including Latin, Portuguese, and Spanish, as well as the native language of Genoa, Ligurian. He is known to have read many classical works including Ptolemy, St. Augustine, the stoic Seneca, and most particularly a book by or about Marco Polo.1

Columbus came from a family of wool merchants and weavers. The young Columbus himself became a member of the weaver's guild, but decided on a more adventurous calling and went to sea. On a voyage in 1476, when he was about 25, his ship was wrecked, and he was cast ashore in Portugal. Fortunately, he had a brother (Bartolomeo) who was already there working as a map maker. Christopher Columbus established himself in Portugal. From there he went on many merchant voyages. He was probably master of the ships he sailed on, and may even have been part owner.

In the course of these years in Portugal he met and wed the daughter of a nobleman. Her name was Doņa Felipa Perestrello y Moniz2. In 1480 they had a son, whom they named Diego. Unfortunately, Doņa Felipa died five years later.

Columbus was a planner and an adventurer. He looked for opportunity wherever he could find it. Ever since Constantinople had fallen in 1453 the trade routes to the east had largely been shut down. The Portuguese, looking to take advantage of their position, jutting out into the Atlantic and just north of Africa, decided to look for a route around the huge continent. Although they had not reached China by the 1490s their voyages seemed promising and had already proved profitable. Columbus proposed that there was a faster way to reach the far East. Paradoxically, he suggested that explorers might find the rich cities of China and India by going west!

When Columbus made the suggestion that he lead an expedition across the "Ocean Sea" he was rejected by King John of Portugal. The Portuguese had calculated the size of the globe, and they believed that going west to reach China would require sailing across an expanse of water so large that the crew would starve or die of thirst before reaching their destination.

Having been rejected by the authorities in Portugal, Columbus decided he would try his luck with the Spanish monarchs.

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  1. Columbus's Early Years
  2. In Portugal people had two last names the first designating the name of the father's family, and the latter designating the name of the mother's family.

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