The story

Columbus' Quest for Gold


Christopher Columbus, a Genoese captain in the service of the Crown of Castile, set out on his first voyage in August 1492 with the objective of reaching the East Indies by sailing west across the Atlantic Ocean. As is well known, instead of reaching Asia, Columbus stumbled upon the Caribbean islands of the Americas. Convinced nonetheless he had discovered the edges of Asia, Columbus set sail back to Spain on January 15, 1493, aboard the caravel Niña. According to the journal of his voyage, on February 14, Columbus was caught in a storm off the Azores islands. The resulting poor condition of his ship forced him to put in at Lisbon (Portugal) on March 4, 1493. Columbus finally arrived at Palos de la Frontera in Spain eleven days later, on March 15, 1493. [4]

During the return journey, while aboard the ship, Columbus wrote a letter reporting the results of his voyage and announcing his discovery of the "islands of the Indies". In a postscript added while he was idling in Lisbon, Columbus reports sending at least two copies of the letter to the Spanish court—one copy to the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, and a second copy to the Aragonese official Luis de Santángel, the principal supporter and financial backer of Columbus's expedition.

Copies of Columbus's letter were somehow picked up by publishers, and printed editions of his letter began to appear throughout Europe within weeks of Columbus's return to Spain. [5] A Spanish version of the letter (based on the letter he sent to Luis de Santángel) was printed in Barcelona probably in late March or early April 1493. A Latin translation of the letter (addressed to Gabriel Sanchez) was printed in Rome about a month later. Within the first year of his arrival, eight more editions of the Latin version were printed in various European cities—two in Basel, three in Paris, another two in Rome and another in Antwerp. Already by June 1493, the letter had been translated by a poet into Italian verse, and that version went through multiple editions in the next couple of years. A German translation appeared in 1497. The rapid dissemination of Columbus's letter was enabled by the printing press, a new invention that had established itself only recently.

Columbus's letter (particularly the Latin edition) forged the initial public perception of the newly discovered lands. Indeed, until the discovery of Columbus's on-board journal, first published in the 19th century, this letter was the only known direct testimony by Columbus of his experiences on the first voyage of 1492. [6] It is estimated that, on the whole, between 1493 and 1500, some 3,000 copies of the Columbus letter were published, half of them in Italy, making it something of a best-seller for the times. [7] By contrast, Columbus's 1495 letter of his second voyage and his 1505 letter of his fourth voyage had only one printing each, probably not exceeding 200 copies.

Original versions of Columbus's letter, written by his hand, have never been found. Only the printed editions—Spanish and Latin—are known. However, a third version of the letter, contained in a 16th-century manuscript collection known as the Libro Copiador, was discovered in 1985. This manuscript version differs in several significant ways from the printed editions and, although its authenticity is still tentative, many believe the Copiador version to be a closer rendition of Columbus's original missive.

The published Latin versions of the letter are almost all titled "Letter of Columbus, on the islands of India beyond the Ganges recently discovered". The term "India beyond the Ganges" (India extra Gangem) was the archaic term frequently used by earlier geographers (e.g., Ptolemy) to refer vaguely to Southeast Asia (roughly from Burma down to the Malay peninsula) the Indian subcontinent proper was referred to as "India within the Ganges" (India intra Gangem). [8] Thus the islands of "India beyond the Ganges" claimed to have been reached would roughly correspond to modern Indonesia or thereabouts. The earlier printed Spanish edition bears no title, nor does the manuscript copy of the letter to the Catholic monarchs (Libro Copiador). [9]

In the letter, Christopher Columbus does not describe the journey itself, saying only that he traveled thirty-three days and arrived at the islands of "the Indies" (las Indias), "all of which I took possession for our Highnesses, with proclaiming heralds and flying royal standards, and no one objecting". He describes the islands as being inhabited by "Indians" (Indios).

In the printed letters, Columbus relates how he bestowed new names on six of the islands. Four are in the modern Bahamas: (1) Sant Salvador (for which he also gives the local name, Guanaham in the Spanish edition and Guanahanin in the Latin letter modern English texts normally render it as Guanahani), (2) Santa Maria de Concepcion, (3) Ferrandina (Fernandinam in the Latin version, in modern texts Fernandina), and (4) la isla Bella (given as Hysabellam in the Latin version, and La Isabela in modern texts). [10] He also names (5) La Isla Juana (Joanam in Latin, modern Cuba) and (6) the island of La Spañola (Hispana in the Latin letter, modern Hispaniola). In the letter, Columbus says that he believes Juana is actually part of the continental mainland (terra firme) of Cathay (Catayo, archaic for China), even though he also admits some of the Indians he encountered informed him that Juana was an island. Later in the letter, Columbus locates the islands at the latitude of 26°N, a fair bit north of their actual location ("es distinta de la linea equinocial veinte e seis grados"). (Note: in the Copiador version, Columbus makes no mention of the latitudes nor the native name Guanahanin.)

In his letter, Columbus describes how he sailed along the northern coast of Juana (Cuba) for a spell, searching for cities and rulers, but found only small villages "without any sort of government" ("no cosa de regimiento"). He notes that the natives usually fled when approached. Finding this track fruitless, he decided to double-back and head southeast, eventually sighting the large island of Hispaniola, and explored along its northern coast. Columbus exaggerates the size of these lands, claiming Juana is greater in size than Great Britain ("maior que Inglaterra y Escocia juntas") and Hispaniola larger than the Iberian peninsula ("en cierco tiene mas que la Espana toda").

In his letter, Columbus seems to attempt to present the islands of the Indies as suitable for future colonization. Columbus's descriptions of the natural habitat in his letters emphasize the rivers, woodlands, pastures, and fields "very suitable for planting and cultivating, for raising all sorts of livestock herds and erecting towns and farms" ("gruesas para plantar y senbrar, para criar ganados de todas suertes, para hedificios de villas e lugares"). He also proclaims that Hispaniola "abounds in many spices, and great mines of gold, and other metals" ("ay mucha especiarias y grandes minas de oros y otros metales"). He compares lush and well-watered Hispaniola as more favorable to settlement than mountainous Cuba.

Columbus characterizes the native inhabitants of the Indies islands as primitive, innocent, without reason ("like beasts", "como bestias"), and unthreatening. He describes how they go about largely naked, that they lack iron and weapons, and are by nature fearful and timid ("son asi temerosos sin remedio"), even "excessively cowardly" ("en demasiado grado cobardes").

According to Columbus, when persuaded to interact, the natives are quite generous and naïve, willing to exchange significant amounts of valuable gold and cotton for useless glass trinkets, broken crockery, and even shoelace tips ("cabos de agugetas"). In the printed editions (albeit not in the Copiador version) Columbus notes that he tried to prevent his own sailors from exploiting the Indians' naïveté, and that he even gave away things of value, like cloth, to the natives as gifts, in order to make them well-disposed "so that they might be made Christians and incline full of love and service towards Our Highnesses and all the Castilian nation".

Columbus makes particular note that the natives lack organized religion, not even idolatry ("no conocian ninguna seta nin idolatria"). He claims the natives believed the Spaniards and their ships had "come down from heaven" ("que yo. venia del cielo"). Columbus notes that the natives of different islands seem to all speak the same language (the Arawaks of the region all spoke Taíno), which he conjectures will facilitate "conversion to the holy religion of Christ, to which in truth, as far as I can perceive, they are very ready and favorably inclined".

Possibly worried that his characterization might make it appear that the natives are unsuitable for useful labor, Columbus notes that the Indians are "not slow or unskilled, but of excellent and acute understanding". He also notes that the "women appear to work more than the men".

Columbus's physical descriptions are brief, noting only that the natives have straight hair and "nor are they black like those in Guinea". They go around usually naked, although sometimes they wear a small cotton loincloth. They often carry a hollow cane, which they use to both till and fight. They eat their food "with many spices which are far too hot" ("comen con especias muchas y muy calientes en demasía" in the Copiador version Columbus refers to a red hot chili pepper by its Taíno name, agís). Columbus claims the Indians practice monogamy ("each man is content with only one wife"), "except for the rulers and kings" (who can have as many as twenty wives). He confesses he is uncertain if they have a notion of private property ("Ni he podido entender si tenian bienes proprios"). In a more detailed passage, Columbus describes the Indian oar-driven canoe (canoa, the first known written appearance of this word, originally from the Taíno language). Columbus compares the Indian canoe to the European fusta (small galley).

Towards the end of the letter, Columbus reveals that local Indians told him about the possible existence of cannibals, which he refers to as "monsters" ("monstruos"). This is a probable reference to the Caribs from the Leeward Islands, although neither the word "cannibal" nor "Carib" appears in the printed editions (however, in the Copiador letter, he claims the "monsters" come from an island called "Caribo", possibly Dominica). Columbus says the monsters are reported to be long-haired, very ferocious, and "eat human flesh" ("los quales comen carne humana"). Columbus has not seen them himself, but says that local Indians claim the monsters have many canoes, and that they sail from island to island, raiding everywhere. However, Columbus proclaims disbelief in the existence of these "monsters", or rather suggests this is likely just a local Indian myth pertaining to some distant Indian seafaring tribe who are probably not unlike themselves ("I regard them as of no more account than the others", "yo no los tengo en nada mas que a los otros").

Columbus connects the monsters story to another local legend about a tribe of female warriors, who are said to inhabit the island of "Matinino" east of Hispaniola ("first island of the Indies, closest to Spain", possibly referring to Guadeloupe). Columbus speculates that the aforesaid canoe-borne monsters are merely the "husbands" of these warrior women, who visit the island intermittently for mating. [12] The island of women reportedly abounds in copper, which the warrior-women forge into weapons and shields.

Lest his readers begin to get wary, Columbus rounds off with a more optimistic report, saying the local Indians of Hispaniola also told him about a very large island nearby which "abounds in countless gold" ("en esta ay oro sin cuenta"). (He doesn't give this gold island a name in the printed letters, but in the Copiador version, this island is identified and named as "Jamaica".) In the printed letters, Columbus claims to be bringing back some of the gold island's "bald-headed" inhabitants with him. Earlier in the letter, Columbus had spoken also of the land of "Avan" ("Faba" in the Copiador letter), in the western parts of Juana, where men are said to be "born with tails" ("donde nacan la gente con cola")—probably a reference to the Guanajatabey of western Cuba.

The Libro Copiador version of the letter contains more native names of islands than the printed editions. [13] For instance, in the Copiador letter, Columbus notes that island of "monsters" is called "Caribo", and explains how the warrior-women of Matinino send away their male children to be raised there. [14] It also refers to an island called "Borinque" (Puerto Rico), unmentioned in the printed editions, that the natives report to lie between Hispaniola and Caribo. The Copiador letter notes Juana is called "Cuba" by the natives ("aquéllos llaman de Cuba"). He also gives more details about the gold island, saying it is "larger than Juana", and lying on the other side of it, "which they call Jamaica", where "all the people have no hair and there is gold without measure" ("que llaman Jamaica adonde toda la gente della son si cabellos, en ésta ay oro sin medida"). [15] In the Copiador letter, Columbus suggests that he is bringing normal (full-haired) Indians back to Spain who have been to Jamaica, who will report more about it (rather than bringing the island's own bald-headed inhabitants, as claimed in the printed letters).

Columbus also gives an account of some of his own activities in the letters. In the letter, he notes that he ordered the erection of the fort of La Navidad on the island of Hispaniola, leaving behind some Spanish colonists and traders. Columbus reports he also left behind a caravel—evidently covering up the loss of his flagship, the Santa María. He reports that La Navidad is located near reported gold mines, and is a well-placed entrepot for the commerce that will doubtlessly soon be opened with the Great Khan ("gran Can") on the mainland. He speaks of a local king near Navidad whom he befriended and treated him as a brother ("y grand amistad con el Rey de aquella tierra en tanto grado que se preciava de me lhamar e tener por hermano")—almost certainly a reference to Guacanagaríx, cacique of Marién. [16]

In the Copiador version (but not the printed editions), Columbus alludes to the treachery of "one from Palos" ("uno de Palos"), who made off with one of the ships, evidently a complaint about Martín Alonso Pinzón, the captain of the Pinta (although this portion of the Copiador manuscript is damaged and hard to read). [17] The Copiador version also mentions other points of personal friction not contained in the printed editions, e.g. references to the ridicule Columbus suffered in the Spanish court prior to his departure, his bowing to pressure to use large ships for ocean navigation, rather than the small caravels he preferred, which would have been more convenient for exploring.

At the end of his printed letter, Columbus promises that if the Catholic Monarchs back his bid to return with a larger fleet, he will bring back a lot of gold, spices, cotton (repeatedly referenced in the letter), mastic gum, aloe, slaves, and possibly rhubarb and cinnamon ("of which I heard about here").

Columbus ends the letter urging their Majesties, the Church, and the people of Spain to give thanks to God for allowing him to find so many souls, hitherto lost, ready for conversion to Christianity and eternal salvation. He also urges them to give thanks in advance for all the temporal goods found in abundance in the Indies that shall soon be made available to Castile and the rest of Christendom.

The Copiador version (but not the printed Spanish or Latin editions) also contains a somewhat bizarre detour into messianic fantasy, where Columbus suggests the monarchs should use the wealth of the Indies to finance a new crusade to conquer Jerusalem, Columbus himself offering to underwrite a large army of ten thousand cavalry and hundred thousand infantry to that end.

The sign off varies between editions. The printed Spanish letter is dated aboard the caravel "on the Canary Islands" on February 15, 1493. ("Fecha en la caravela sobra las yslas de Canaria a xv de Febrero, ano Mil.cccclxxxxiii"), and signed merely "El Almirante", while the printed Latin editions are signed "Cristoforus Colom, oceanee classis prefectus" ("Prefect of the Ocean fleet"). However, it is doubtful Columbus actually signed the original letter that way. According to the Capitulations of Santa Fe negotiated prior to his departure (April 1492), Christopher Columbus was not entitled to use the title of "Admiral of the Ocean Sea" unless his voyage was successful. It would be highly presumptuous for Columbus to sign his name that way in February or March, when the original letter was drafted, before that success was confirmed by the royal court. Columbus only obtained confirmation of his title on March 30, 1493, when the Catholic monarchs, acknowledging the receipt of his letter, address Columbus for the first time as "our Admiral of the Ocean Sea and Vice-Roy and Governor of the islands which have been discovered in the Indies" ("nuestro Almirante del mar Océano e Visorrey y Gobernador de las Islas que se han descubierto en las Indias"). [18] This suggests the signature in the printed editions was not in the original letter, but was an editorial choice by the copyists or printers. [19]

In the Copiador version there are passages (omitted from the printed editions) petitioning the monarchs for the honors promised him at Santa Fe, and additionally asking for a cardinalate for his son and the appointment of his friend, Pedro de Villacorta, as paymaster of the Indies. The Copiador letter signs off as "made in the sea of Spain on March 4, 1493" ("Fecha en la mar de España, a quatro días de março"), a stark contrast to the February 15 given in the printed versions. There is no name or signature at the end of the Copiador letter it ends abruptly "En la mar" ("At sea").

In the printed Spanish editions (albeit not in the Latin editions nor the Copiador), there is a small postscript dated March 14, written in Lisbon, noting that the return journey took only 28 days (in contrast with the 33 days outward), but that unusual winter storms had kept him delayed for an additional 23 days. A codicil in the printed Spanish edition indicates that Columbus sent this letter to the "Escribano de Racion", and another to their Highnesses. The Latin editions contain no postscript, but end with a verse epigram added by Leonardus de Cobraria, Bishop of Monte Peloso.

No original manuscript copy of Columbus's letter is known to exist. Historians have had to rely on clues in the printed editions, many of them published without date or location, to reconstruct the history of the letter.

It is assumed that Columbus wrote the original letter in Spanish. As a result, historians tend to agree that the Barcelona edition (which has no date or publisher name, and the appearance of being hurriedly printed) was probably the first to be published, and was the closest to the original manuscript. At the end of the Barcelona edition there is a codicil stating:

"Esta carta enbió Colom al Escrivano de Ración, de las Islas halladas en las Indias, contenida á otra de sus Altezas." (Trans: "This letter was sent by Columbus to the Escrivano de Racion. Of the islands found in the Indies. it contains (was contained in?) another (letter) for their Highnesses")

This suggests that Columbus dispatched two letters—one to the Escrivano de Ración, Luis de Santángel, and another to the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile.

In the printed version of the Spanish letter, the post-script is dated March 14, rather than March 4 this could be just a printer's error the letter to the monarchs in the Libro Copiador gives the correct post-script date, March 4, 1493. [20]

Dispatch Edit

In his summary of the on-board journal, Columbus's son, Ferdinand Columbus (corroborated by Bartolomé de las Casas), reports that his father wrote two letters to the Catholic monarchs in the middle of a storm around the Azores on February 14, and sealed them in watertight casks, one thrown overboard, another tied to the stern, so that if the ships foundered, the letters would drift on their own to land. [21] It is nearly impossible to suppose the letters were dispatched in this manner the casks were probably fished back when the storm subsided, and the post-script confirms they were sent later. (It is also unlikely Columbus initiated the long letter in the middle of the storm—he surely had more urgent matters to attend to he probably wrote the main body of the letter in the calm period before the storm began on February 12, and hurried to finish them when the storm hit.) [22]

There is some uncertainty over whether Christopher Columbus sent the letters directly from Lisbon, after docking there on March 4, 1493, or held on to them until he reached Spain, dispatching the letters only after his arrival at Palos de la Frontera on March 15, 1493.

It is highly probable, albeit uncertain, that Columbus sent the letter from Lisbon to the Spanish court, probably by courier. [23] Columbus's journal says that upon docking in Lisbon, Bartholomew Dias (on behalf of King John II of Portugal) demanded that Columbus deliver his report to him, which Columbus strenuously refused, saying his report was for the monarchs of Spain alone. [24] Columbus probably realized time was of the essence. It was common for royal and commercial agents to accost and interview returning sailors in the docks, so the Portuguese king would likely have the information he sought soon enough. [25] Once he determined the location of the islands discovered by Columbus, John II might initiate a legal offensive or dispatch his own ships, to claim them for Portugal. So Columbus realized the Spanish court needed to be informed of the results of his voyage as soon as possible. Had Columbus decided to wait until he reached Palos to dispatch his letter, it might have been received too late for the Spanish monarchs to react and forestall any Portuguese actions. The earliest Spanish record of the news, reporting that Columbus "had arrived in Lisbon and found all that he went to seek", is contained in a letter by Luis de la Cerda y de la Vega, Duke of Medinaceli, in Madrid, dated March 19, 1493, [26]

It was possibly fear of the interception of the courier from Lisbon by Portuguese agents that prompted Columbus to introduce some disinformation in his letter. For instance, Columbus claims he wrote the letter on a caravel while he was around the Canary Islands (rather than the Azores) probably in order to conceal that he had been sailing in Portuguese territorial waters. [2] (The manuscript letter to the Monarchs writes the location as "Mar de España". [27] ) In the letter, Columbus also locates the islands at 26°N, quite north of their actual location, probably trying to set them above the latitude line designated by the Treaty of Alcáçovas of 1479 as the boundary of the exclusive dominions of the Portuguese crown (he fell a little short—the treaty latitude was set at the Canary islands latitude, approximately 27°50', which cuts around the middle of the Florida peninsula). He gives no details of his bearing, no mention of whether he sailed west, north or south, or whether the waters were shallow or deep—Columbus's letters "say much and reveal nothing". [28] Moreover, he is unclear about the length of the trip, claiming it took "thirty-three days" (which is roughly correct if measured from the Canaries, but it was seventy-one days since he left Spain itself Columbus's letter leaves it ambiguous). Finally, his emphatic statement that he formally "took possession" of the islands for the Catholic monarchs, and left men (and a ship) at La Navidad, may have been emphasized to forestall any Portuguese claim.

Recipients Edit

The explicit recipient of Columbus's Spanish letter was the Escribano de Ración—at that time, Luis de Santángel. An official position of the Crown of Aragon, the Escribano de Ración was the high accountant or comptroller of the king's household expenditures, and can be thought of as a finance minister to Ferdinand II of Aragon. [29] [30]

It is unsurprising that Columbus singled Santangel out as the first recipient of the news. Santangel had been the person who made the case to, and persuaded, Queen Isabella to sponsor Columbus's voyage eight months earlier. Indeed, Santangel arranged for much of the financing to the Castilian crown (much of it from his own pocket) to enable the monarchs to sponsor it. [30] [31] As Santangel had a lot riding on the results of this expedition, perhaps more than anybody else, it was perhaps natural for Columbus to address his first letter to him. Moreover, as the letter indicates, Columbus sought more financing to return with an even larger fleet to the Indies as soon as possible, so it would be useful to contact Santangel immediately, so he could set the wheels in motion for a second voyage.

The story of the second copy of the letter, the one ostensibly sent to the Catholic Monarchs, has been more complicated. The "contain" verb in the codicil of the Spanish Letter to Santangel leaves ambiguous which one was contained in which. Some believe the letters to the Monarchs and to Santangel were sent separately, perhaps even on different days (March 4 and March 14 respectively) [32] others suggest Santangel was supposed to personally deliver the letter to the monarchs (even though handling royal correspondence was outside his formal functions, Santangel's proximity to Isabella may have been a security consideration [33] ) still others believe it the other way around, that the letter to Santangel was submitted first to the monarchs to get royal approval before being forwarded to Santangel for ultimate publication (it would have been consistent with Santangel's office as Escribano, to oversee and pay the printers). [34] The reply of the Catholic monarchs to Columbus, dated March 30, 1493, acknowledges receipt of the letter, but clarifies nothing about how it was delivered. [35]

It was long believed by historians that the printed Spanish editions, although bearing no addressee except "Señor", was based on the copy of the letter sent by Columbus to Luis de Santangel, [36] but that the Latin edition printed in Rome (and subsequently Basel, Paris, etc.) was a translated version of the copy of the letter sent by Columbus to the Catholic Monarchs.

The printed Spanish and Latin editions are practically identical, with only some very minor differences, most of them attributable to the printers. In particular, the Latin edition omits the postscript and codicil pertaining to the Escribano, and adds a prologue and epilogue not present in the Spanish editions, which give some clues as to its assumed provenance. The earliest Latin version (although bearing no date or printer name) states the letter was addressed to "Raphael Sanxis" (assumed to mean Gabriel Sanchez, the treasurer of the Crown of Aragon [37] ), and has an opening salutation hailing the Catholic king Ferdinand II of Aragon (later Latin editions correct the addressee's name to "Gabriel Sanchez" and add Isabella I of Castile to the salutation). [38] The prologue notes that the translation into Latin was undertaken by the notary Leander de Cosco and completed on April 29, 1493 ("third of the calends of May"). The Latin editions also have an epilogue with an epigram lauding Ferdinand II by the Neapolitan prelate Leonardus de Corbaria, Bishop of Monte Peloso.

For much of the past century, many historians have interpreted these notes to indicate that the Latin edition was a translated copy of the letter Columbus sent to the Catholic monarchs, who were holding court in Barcelona at the time. The story commonly related is that after Columbus's original Spanish letter was read out loud at court, the notary Leander de Cosco was commissioned by Ferdinand II (or his treasurer, Gabriel Sanchez) to translate it into Latin. A copy was subsequently forwarded to Naples (then part of the crown of Aragon), where Bishop Leonardus got a hold of it. The bishop subsequently carried it to Rome, probably to report its contents to Pope Alexander VI. At the time, the pope was then deep in the midst of arbitrating between the claims of the crowns of Portugal and Spain over Columbus's discoveries. The papal bull Inter caetera, delivering the pope's initial opinion, was issued on May 3, 1493, albeit there remained disputed details to work out (a second and third bull followed soon after). [39] It is possible Bishop Leander sought to use Columbus's letter to influence that process. While in Rome, Bishop Leonardus arranged for the publication of the letter by the Roman printer Stephanus Plannck, possibly with an eye to help popularize and advance the Spanish case. [40] The letter's subsequent reprinting in Basel, Paris and Antwerp within a few months, seems to suggest that copies of the Roman edition went along the usual trade routes into Central Europe, probably carried by merchants interested in this news.

The 1985 discovery of a manuscript copybook, known as the Libro Copiador, containing a copy of Columbus's letter addressed to the Catholic Monarchs, has led to a revision of this history. [41] The Copiador version has some very distinctive differences from the printed editions. It is now increasingly believed that the Latin edition printed in Rome is actually a translation of the letter to Santangel, and that the letter to the Monarchs was never translated nor printed. In other words, all the printed editions, Spanish and Latin, derive from the same Spanish letter to Luis de Santangel,. [5] In this view, the reference to "Raphael Sanxis" added by the Roman printer is regarded as a simple error, probably arising from confusion or uncertainty in Italy about whom exactly was holding the office of "Escribano de Racion" of Aragon at the time, the bishop or the printer mistakenly assuming it was Gabrel Sanchez and not Luis de Santangel. But another possibility is that the Aragonese bureaucracy made a copy of Santangel's letter, and forwarded a copy to Sanchez for his information, and that this letter found its way to Italy by some channel, with or without royal permission (a fragment of an Italian translation suggests the treasurer sent a copy to his brother, Juan Sanchez, then a merchant in Florence.) [42]

Nonetheless, some historians believe that Columbus sent three distinct letters: one the Catholic Monarchs (the manuscript copy), another to Luis de Santangel (origin of the printed Spanish editions), and a third to Gabriel Sanchez (origin of the Latin editions). In other words, that the Santangel and Sanchez letters, although practically identical, are nonetheless distinct. [43] However, this leave open the question of why Columbus would have sent a separate letter to Gabriel Sanchez, treasurer of Aragon, with whom he was not intimate, nor was particularly involved in the Indies enterprise, nor any more influential in court than Santangel or some other people Columbus might have addressed. [44]

The choice of Gabriel Sanchez may, however, have been at Luis de Santangel's recommendation or initiative. Gabriel Sanchez was of a family of conversos who traced their origins back to a Jew named Alazar Goluff of Saragossa, [30] and Sanchez was married to the daughter of Santangel's cousin (also named Luis de Santangel). [45] Although there is no record of Sanchez's direct involvement in the organization or financing of the fleet, his nephew, Rodrigo Sanchez, was aboard Columbus's ship as either a surgeon [46] or a veedor (or fiscal inspector). [45] Years earlier, Gabriel Sanchez's three brothers—Juan, Alfonso and Guillen—as well as his brother-in-law, the son of Santangel's cousin (also, confusingly, named Luis de Santangel, like his father) were accused of conspiracy in the murder of the Spanish inquisitor Pedro de Arbués in 1485. Juan and Alfonso escaped abroad, Guillen was tried but given the chance to repent. The Santangel brother-in-law, however, was found guilty of Judaizing and sentenced to death. Gabriel Sanchez himself was also accused, but he was soon extricated by his employer, King Ferdinand II. [45] Perhaps not coincidentally, another of the persons implicated in the conspiracy was the uncle of Leander Cosco, the Latin translator of Columbus's letter to Sanchez, who may himself have been a relative to the Sanchez clan. [45] Gabriel's brother Juan Sanchez set himself up in Florence as a merchant, and is known to have received a copy of Columbus's letter from Gabriel Sanchez, which commissioned to be translated into Italian (only a partial fragment survives, see below). One of Gabriel's nephews, also named Juan Sanchez, would later (1502) become the agent of the Aragon treasury in Seville and a contractor of supplies for the Hispaniola colonies. [47] These intricate familial connections between Luis de Santangel, Gabriel Sanchez, Juan Sanchez and Leander Cosco, could be a mere coincidence, but it also suggests that the dissemination process may have been centrally organized by Luis de Santangel through channels he trusted.

It been suggested in recent years that the printed letter may not have been written in its entirety by the hand of Columbus, but rather was edited by a court official, probably Luis de Santangel. [48] This is reinforced by the discovery of the Libro Copiador. The text in the printed Spanish and Latin editions is much cleaner and streamlined than the roaming prose of Columbus's letter to the monarchs found in the Libro Copiador. In particular, the printed editions omit practically all of Columbus's allusions to personal friction found in the manuscript—over the choice of ships, past treatment in the royal court, or the insubordination of the "one from Palos" (Martín Alonso Pinzón)—as well as Columbus's bizarre call for crusade in the Holy Land. The omission of these "distracting" points strongly suggests that there was another hand in the editing of the printed editions. And that this hand was probably a royal official, as these points could be construed as undignified or embarrassing to the crown.

This suggests that the printing of the Columbus letter, if not directly undertaken by royal command, probably had royal knowledge and approval. [49] Its intent may have been to popularize and advance the Spanish case against the Portuguese claims. As noted before, these were being intensively negotiated in the papal court throughout 1493–94. If so, it is quite possible that Luis de Santangel was precisely that royal official, that he edited the content and oversaw the printing in Spain, and it was Santangel who sent a copy of the edited letter to Gabriel Sanchez who proceeded to disseminate it to his contacts in Italy to be translated into Latin and Italian and printed there. The peculiarities of the printed editions ("Catalanisms" in the spelling, the omission of Isabella) suggest this entire editing, printing and dissemination process was handled from the outset by Aragonese officials—like Santangel and Sanchez—rather than Castilians.

The small Spanish editions (and its subsequent disappearance) would be consistent with this thesis. To influence public opinion in Europe, and particularly the Church and the Pope, a Spanish version was not nearly as useful as a Latin one, so there was no purpose of continuing to print the Spanish edition once the Latin one became available. Indeed, there was no point in reprinting the Latin editions either, once the Treaty of Tordesillas was signed in June 1494. Thus, Columbus's letter serves as an early example of the harnessing of the new printing press by the State for propaganda purposes.

Settling the claims Edit

Christopher Columbus was probably correct to send the letter from Lisbon, for shortly after, King John II of Portugal indeed began to outfit a fleet to seize the discovered islands for the Kingdom of Portugal. The Portuguese king suspected (rightly, as it turns out) that the islands discovered by Columbus lay below the latitude line of the Canary Islands (approx. 27°50'), the boundary set by the 1479 Treaty of Alcáçovas as the area of Portuguese exclusivity (confirmed by the papal bull Aeterni regis of 1481). [50]

Urgent reports on the Portuguese preparations were dispatched to the Spanish court by the Duke of Medina-Sidonia. [51] Ferdinand II dispatched his own emissary, Lope de Herrera, to Lisbon to request the Portuguese to immediately suspend any expeditions to the west Indies until the determination of the location of those islands was settled (and if polite words failed, to threaten). Even before Herrera arrived John II had sent his own emissary, Ruy de Sande, to the Spanish court, reminding the Spanish monarchs that their sailors were not allowed to sail below Canaries latitude, and suggesting all expeditions to the west be suspended. Columbus, of course, was in the middle of preparing for his second journey.

Pope Alexander VI (an Aragonese national and friend of Ferdinand II) was brought into the fray to settle the rights to the islands and determine the limits of the competing claims. His first bull on the matter, Inter caetera, dated May 3, 1493, was indecisive. The pope assigned the Crown of Castile "all lands discovered by their envoys" (i.e. Columbus), so long as they are not possessed by any Christian owner (which Columbus's letter confirmed). On the other hand, the Pope also safeguarded the Portuguese claims by confirming their prior treaties and bulls ("no right conferred on any Christian prince is hereby understood as withdrawn or to be withdrawn"). Thus, on his first shot, the pope effectively left the matter unsettled until the determination of the islands' actual geographic location. [52] (Note: although most of the negotiations were masterminded by Ferdinand II of Aragon, who took a personal interest in the second voyage, the actual official claim of title on the islands belonged to his wife, Queen Isabella I of Castile. The rights, treaties and bulls pertain only to the Crown of Castile and Castilian subjects, and not to the Crown of Aragon or Aragonese subjects)

It was apparently soon realized that the islands probably lay below the latitude boundary, as only a little while later, Pope Alexander VI issued a second bull Eximiae devotionis (officially dated also May 3, but written c. July 1493), that tried to fix this problem by stealthily suggesting the Portuguese treaty applied to "Africa", and conspicuously omitting mention of the Indies. On his third attempt, in another bull also called Inter caetera, written in the summer and backdated to May 4, 1493, the Pope once again confirmed the Spanish claim on the Indies more explicitly with a longitude line of demarcation granting all lands 100 leagues west of Cape Verde (not merely those discovered by "her envoys") as the exclusive dominion of the Crown of Castile (with no explicit safeguards for prior Portuguese treaties or grants). [53] (There is some confusion whether Eximiae devotionis preceded or followed the second Inter caetera it is commonly supposed that the first Inter caetera ("May 3") was drafted in April and received in Spain on May 17, the second Inter caetera ("May 4") drafted in June, and received in Spain by July 19 (a copy was forwarded to Columbus in early August) [54] while Eximiae diviones ("May 3") is normally assumed written sometime in July. In official time, Eximiae precedes the second Inter caetera, but in actual time may have actually followed it.)

It is uncertain exactly how the printed editions of the Columbus letter influenced this process. The letter reports the islands are located at 26°N which falls just below the Canary latitude, so the letter worked almost in Portugal's favor, and forced the pope into the geographical contortions of confirming Spanish possession without violating prior treaties. However, the increasing strength of the bulls over the summer, when the letter's circulation was at its height, suggests the Spanish case was ultimately helped rather than hurt by the letter. Minutiae over latitude degrees paled in insignificance with the excitement of the new discoveries revealed in the letters. While the Portuguese tried to paint Columbus as merely just another Spanish interloper, little more than a smuggler, illegally trying to trade in their waters, the letters presented him as a great discoverer of new lands and new peoples. The prospect of new souls ready to be converted, emphasized in the letters, and a Spanish crown eager to undertake the expense of that effort, must have swayed more than a few opinions.

Frustrated by the pope, John II decided to deal with the Spanish directly. The Portuguese envoys Pero Diaz and Ruy de Pina arrived in Barcelona in August, and requested that all expeditions be suspended until the geographical location of the islands was determined. Eager for a fait acompli, Ferdinand II played for time, hoping he could get Columbus out on his second voyage to the Indies before any suspensions were agreed to. As the king wrote Columbus (September 5, 1493), the Portuguese envoys had no clue where the islands were actually located ("no vienen informados de lo que es nuestro" [55] ).

On September 24, 1493, Christopher Columbus departed on his second voyage to the west Indies, with a massive new fleet. The Pope chimed in with yet another bull on the matter, Dudum siquidum, written in December but officially backdated September 26, 1493, where he went further than before, and gave Spain claim over any and all lands discovered by her envoys sailing west, in whatever hemisphere those lands happened to be. [56] Dudum Siquidum had been issued with a second voyage in mind—should Columbus indeed reach China or India or even Africa on this trip, the lands discovered would come under the Spanish exclusive sphere.

Subsequent negotiations between the crowns of Portugal and Spain proceeded in Columbus's absence. They culminated in the Treaty of Tordesillas partitioning the globe between Spanish and Portuguese spheres of exclusivity at a longitude line 370 leagues west of Cape Verde (about 46°30' W). [57] On the day the treaty was signed, June 7, 1494, Columbus was sailing along the southern shore of Cuba, prodding fruitlessly at that lengthy coast. On June 12, Columbus gathered his crew on Evangelista island (what is now Isla de la Juventud), and had them all swear an oath, before a notary, that Cuba was not an island but indeed the mainland of Asia and that China could be reached overland from there. [58]

There are two known editions of the (Spanish) Letter to Santangel, and at least six editions of the (Latin) Letter to Gabriel Sanchez published in the first year (1493), plus an additional rendering of the narrative into Italian verse by Giuliano Dati (which went through five editions). Other than the Italian verse, the first foreign language translation was into German in 1497. In all, seventeen editions of the letter were published between 1493 and 1497. [5] A manuscript copy of the letter to the Catholic monarchs, found in 1985, remained unprinted until recently.

Letter to Luis de Santangel (Spanish) Edit

Written and printed in Spanish, usually assumed to be from the copy of the letter sent by Columbus to Luis de Santángel, the Escribano de Racion of the Crown of Aragon, although there is no addressee named (the letter is addressed merely to "Señor").

  • 1. Barcelona edition, untitled, in folio, undated and printer unnamed. The existence of certain Catalan-influenced spellings it was from the outset presumed to be probably published in Barcelona. Some early historians assumed the printer to be Johan Rosenbach, but he has been more recently identified as probably Pere Posa of Barcelona on the basis of typographic similarity. [59] The date of the edition is estimated to be late March or early April, 1493. Only one copy from this edition has ever been found. It was discovered in 1889, in the catalog of the antiquarian dealer J. Maisonneuve in Paris, and was sold for the exorbitant price of 65,000 francs to the British collector Bernard Quaritch. [60] After publishing a facsimile edition and translation in 1893, Quaritch sold the original copy to the Lenox Library, which is now part of the New York Public Library, where it remains. [61]
  • 2. Ambrosian edition, in quarto, date, printer name and location are unspecified. It is sometimes assumed that it was printed sometime after 1493 in Naples or somewhere in Italy, because of the frequent interpolation of the letters i and j (common in Italian, but not in Spanish) but others insisted it was printed in Spain [62] a more recent analysis has suggested it was printed in Valladolid around 1497 by Pedro Giraldi and Miguel de Planes (the first Italian, the second Catalan, which may explain the interpolation). [63] Only one copy is known, discovered in 1856 at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan. The Ambrosian letter was originally in the possession of Baron Pietro Custodi until it was deposited, along with the rest of his papers, at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in 1852 after his death. [64] After its discovery, a transcription was published in 1863, and a facsimile in 1866. [65]

Neither of these editions are mentioned by any writers before the 19th century, nor have any other copies been found, which suggests they were very small printings, and that the publication of Columbus's letter may have been suppressed in Spain by royal command.

The existence of the Latin letter to Gabriel Sanchez was known long before the existence of the Spanish letter to Santangel. The Latin editions do not contain the codicil about the letter being sent to the "Escribano de Racion", so there was hardly a trace of its existence before the first copy (the Ambrosian edition) was found in 1856.

In retrospect, however, some hints are given earlier. Columbus's son, Ferdinand Columbus, in making an account of his own library, listed a tract with the title Lettera Enviada al Escribano de Racion a 1493: en Catalan. This may have been a reference to the Barcelona edition of Columbus's letter to Santangel. [66] It is likely that Andrés Bernáldez, chaplain of Seville, may have had or seen a copy (manuscript or printed) of the Spanish letter to Santangel, and paraphrased it in his own Historia de los Reyes Católicos (written at the end of the 15th century). [67]

The Spanish historian Martín Fernández de Navarrete was the first to definitively find a copy of the Spanish letter in the royal archives of Simancas and to identify Luis de Santangel as the recipient. Navarrete published a transcription of the Spanish letter in his famous 1825 Colección,. [68] However, Navarrete's transcription is not based on an original 15th-century edition (which he never claimed to have seen) but rather on a hand-written copy made in 1818 by Tomás González, an archivist at Simancas. [69] Gonzalez's copy has since been lost, and exists now only in the Navarrete transcription. It is uncertain exactly what edition or manuscript González copied (although some of the tell-tale mistakes of the Barcelona edition are repeated).

The Brazilian historian Francisco Adolfo de Varnhagen found another hand-written copy of the Spanish letter to Santangel among the papers of the Colegio Mayor de Cuenca in Salamanca. This copy contains a significantly different ending, "Fecha en la carabela, sobre la Isla de S.a Maria, 18 de Febrero de 93." ("written on the caravel, on the island of Santa Maria, 18 February 1493"). The date (February 18) and the identification of the Azores island of Santa Maria (rather than the Canaries) are anomalies not normally found in other editions of the Letter to Santangel. It also lacks the Lisbon post-script and the note about it being sent to the Escriban de la Racion. The Cuenca copy also had a cover title "Carta del Almirante á D. Gabriel Sanches". As a result, Varnhagen originally conjectured this may very well have been the original Spanish copy that was translated by Leander de Cosco into Latin, and found its way to Rome. [70] However, modern historians believe this is in fact a later copy of the Barcelona or Ambrosian editions, and that the anomalies exist because the copyist endeavored to correct mistakes and errors in the Spanish letter in light of the later editions and published histories of the Indies by Peter Martyr, Ferdinand Columbus, etc. [71] The original Cuenca manuscript used by Varnhagen has since disappeared.

It is generally accepted that the Barcelona edition is prior to the Ambrosian one. The Barcelona edition is replete with small errors (e.g., "veinte" instead of "xxxiii" days) and Catalan-style spellings (which Columbus would not have used), suggesting it was carelessly copied and hurriedly printed. The Ambrosian edition seems to correct most of these mistakes, although it also makes a few new mistakes of its own. Navarrete's transcription makes some of the same mistakes as the Barcelona edition (e.g. veinte instead of xxxiii), but most of the spellings are in proper Castilian, although it is uncertain how much of this was in the original, and how much was massaged by Gonzalez or Navarrete in their transcriptions. While all the Spanish editions are very close to each other, historians believe they are not merely corrected reprints of each other, but that all derive independently (or at least in consultation with) an unknown prior edition or manuscript. Because of the "Almirante" signature and other clues, it is believed that all the Spanish editions are probably indirect, that is, that they were probably not directly copied from Columbus's original manuscript letter, but are themselves copies of earlier unknown copies or editions. [72]

The simplicity and rarity of the original printed editions of the Letter to Santangel (only two copies are known to exist) has made it appealing to forgers, and there have been repeated attempts to sell fake copies of the letter to libraries and collectors. In one famous case, an Italian forger attempted to sell a copy to the New York Public Library. When the librarians refused to buy it, the forger angrily tore up the volume in front of them and stormed out. The librarians fished the pieces out of the wastepaper basket and put it back together it is currently held as a curiosity by the New York Public Library. [73]

Letter to Gabriel Sanchez (Latin) Edit

The first printed edition of the Latin translation of Columbus's letter was probably printed in Rome by the printer Stephen Plannck, ca. May 1493. Most other early Latin editions are reprints of that edition. The title is given as De Insulis Indiae supra Gangem nuper inventis ("Of the islands of India beyond the Ganges, recently discovered"), and contains a prologue noting that it was sent by Christopher Columbus to "Raphael Sanxis" (later editions correct it to "Gabriel Sanchez"), the treasurer of the Crown of Aragon. [74] Its opening salutation hails the Catholic monarch Ferdinand II of Aragon (later editions also add mention of Isabella I of Castile) and identifies the translator as the notary "Aliander de Cosco" (later editions correct it to "Leander de Cosco"), noting that he finished translating it on April 29, 1493 ("third calends of May"). In full, the opening of the first Roman edition reads: [75]

The corrections (Ferdinand & Isabella, Gabriel Sanchez, Leander de Cosco) were undertaken in the Second and Third Roman editions later that same year, possibly as a result of complaints by Castilian emissaries in Rome who felt their Queen (and spellings) were given short-shrift by the Aragonese. [76]

All the Latin editions omit the endings found in the Spanish edition to Santangel—i.e., they omit the sign-off of being written on board ship in the Canaries, the postscript about the storm and days it took to return and the codicil about the letter being sent to the Escribano de Racion and the Catholic monarchs. Instead, it simply signs off "Lisbon, the day before the Ides of March" ("Ulisbone, pridie Idus Martii", that is, on May 14). Columbus's signature is given as "Christoforus Colom Oceanice classis Præfectus" ("Christopher Columbus, Prefect (or Admiral) of the Ocean fleet"). [77] At the end, there is a verse epigram in honor of Ferdinand II written by Leonardus de Corbaria, Bishop of Monte Peloso. [78]

For a long time, historians believed the Latin edition was based on the copy of the letter sent by Columbus to the Catholic monarchs (as mentioned at the end of the Spanish letter to Santangel), and that Columbus's address to the treasurer Gabriel Sanchez was merely a courtly formality. According to this account, Columbus's original letter was read (in Spanish) before the monarchs then holding court in Barcelona, and then Ferdinand II of Aragon (or his treasurer Gabriel Sanchez) ordered it translated into Latin by the notary Leander de Cosco, who completed the translation by April 29, 1493 (as noted in the prologue). The manuscript was subsequently carried (or received) by the Neapolitan prelate Leonardus de Corbaria, Bishop of Monte Peloso, who took it to Rome and arranged for its printing there with Stephanus Plannck, ca. May 1493. The Roman edition was subsequently carried into Central Europe and reprinted in Basel (twice, 1493 and 1494), Paris (three times in 1493) and Antwerp (once, 1493). A corrected Roman edition was printed by two different publishers in late 1493—one by Stephen Plannck again, the other by Frank Silber (known as Argenteus). [79]

  • 3. First Roman edition, De insulis indiae supra Gangem nuper inventis, undated and unnamed, but assumed printed by Stephanus Plannck in Rome (on basis of typographical similarity) probably May 1493. Plain text, bereft of the ornaments or stamps typical of the time, it has the appearance of being hurriedly printed, and was probably the first of the Latin editions. [80] Opening salutation hails only Ferdinand II of Aragon ("invitissimi Fernandi Hispaniarum Regis"), conspicuously neglecting Isabella I of Castile it refers to addressee as "Raphael Sanxis" (wrong first name, surname spelled in Catalan), and to the translator as "Aliander de Cosco". It was published in quarto, four leaves (34 lines per page).
  • 4. First Basel edition, De Insulis inventis. It is the only early edition missing the phrase "Indie supra Gangem" in the title, substituting instead "Insulis in mari Indico" ("islands in the Indian Sea"). Otherwise, it seems to be a reprint of the first Roman edition (hails only Ferdinand II, spells Raphael Sanxis, Aliander de Cosco). It is the first edition with illustrative woodcuts – eight of them. [81] Two of the woodcuts ("Oceana Classis" and the Indian canoe/galley) were plagiarized from earlier woodcuts for a different book. [82] This edition is undated, without printer name nor location given, but it is often assumed to have been printed in Basel largely because a later edition (1494) printed in that city used the same woodcuts. Some have speculated the printer of this edition to have been Johannes Besicken [83] or Bergmann de Olpe. [84] It was published in octavo, ten leaves (27 lines per page).
  • 5. First Paris edition, Epistola de insulis repertis de novo, directly from the first Roman edition (hails only Ferdinand II, Raphael Sanxis, Aliander de Cosco). Title page has woodcut of angel appearing unto shepherds. Undated and printer unnamed, but location given as "Impressa parisius in campo gaillardi" (Champ-Gaillard in Paris, France). The printer is unnamed, but a later reprint that same year identifies him as Guyot Marchant. In quarto, four leaves (39 lines per page).
  • 6. Second Paris edition, Epistola de insulis de novo repertis probably by Guyot Marchant of Paris. Straight reprint of first Paris edition.
  • 7. Third Paris edition, Epistola de insulis noviter repertis. Reprint of prior Paris edition, but this one has large printer's device on the back of the title page, identifying Guyot Marchant as the printer (ergo the deduction that the two prior editions were also by him). [85]
  • 8. Antwerp edition, De insulis indi(a)e supra Gangem nuper inve(n)tis by Thierry Martins in Antwerp, 1493, directly from first Roman edition.
  • 9. Second Roman edition, De insulis indi(a)e supra Gangem nuper inve(n)tis, undated and printer unnamed, assumed to be again by Stephen Plannck in Rome because of typographic similarity (identical to first edition). This is a corrected edition, presumably put out in late 1493 the salutation now refers to both Ferdinand and Isabella ("invictissimorum Fernandi et Helisabet Hispaniarum Regum"), addressee's name given as "Gabriel Sanchis" (correct first name, surname now in half-Catalan, half-Castilian spelling) and the translator as "Leander de Cosco" (rather than Aliander). It is published in quarto, four leaves (33 lines per page). [86]
  • 10. Third Roman edition, De insulis indi(a)e supra Gangem nuper inve(n)tis by the Roman printer Franck Silber (who was known as "Eucharius Argenteus"). It is the first edition to be explicitly dated and inscribed with the printer's name: the colophon reads "Impressit Rome Eucharius Argenteus Anno dni M.cccc.xciij". It is also a corrected edition: it refers to addressee as "Gabriel Sanches" (Castilian name), the translator as "Leander de Cosco" and salutes both Ferdinand & Isabella. It is uncertain whether this Silber edition precedes or follows Plannck's second edition. [87] It is published in three unnumbered leaves, one blank (40 lines to the page). [88]
  • 11. Second Basel edition, De insulis nuper in mar Indico repertis, dated and named, printed by Johann Bergmann in Basel, 21 April 1494. This is a reprint of the first Basel edition (uses four of the six woodcuts). This edition was published as an appendix to a prose drama, Historia Baetica by Carolus Verardus, a play about the 1492 conquest of Granada. [89]

Italian verse and German translations Edit

The Latin letter to Gabriel Sanchez, either the first or second Roman editions, was translated into Italian ottava rima by Giuliano Dati, a popular poet of the time, at the request of Giovanni Filippo dal Legname, secretary to Ferdinand II. [90] The first edition of the Italian verse edition was published in June 1493, and went quickly through an additional four editions, suggesting this was probably the most popular form of the Columbus letter known at least to the Italian public. A translation of the Latin letter into German prose was undertaken in 1497.

  • 12. First Italian verse edition, La lettera delle isole novamente trovata, First edition of the Italian verse version by Giuliano Dati, published by Eucharius Silber in Rome, and explicitly dated 15 June 1493.
  • 13. Second Italian verse edition, La lettera dell'isole che ha trovate novamente il re dispagna, revised verse translation by Giuliano Dati, printed in Florence by Laurentius de Morganius and Johann Petri, dated 26 October 1493. [91] It has a famous woodcut on its title page, which was later re-used for a 1505 edition of Amerigo Vespucci's Letter to Soderini. [92]
  • 14. Third Italian verse edition, Questa e la hystoria delle inventioe delle diese isole Cannaria in Indiane, reprint of Dati verse edition. Undated and printing location unknown.
  • 15. Fourth Italian verse edition, La lettera dell'isole che ha trovata novamente, reprint of Dati verse, by Morganius and Petri in Florence, dated 26 October 1495.
  • 16. Fifth Italian verse edition, Isole trovate novamente per el Re di Spagna, reprint of Dati verse, undated and unnamed (post-1495), lacks title woodcut.
  • 17. German translation, Ein schön hübsch lesen von etlichen Inslen, translated into German in Strassburg, printed by Bartholomeus Kistler, dated 30 September 1497.

Italian translation fragments Edit

There are three manuscripts of incomplete attempts by Italian authors to translate the narrative Spanish (or perhaps Latin) letter into Italian prose, probably within 1493. The three fragments were first published by Cesare de Lollis in the Raccolta Colombiana of 1894. [93]

  • 18. First Italian fragment manuscript translation into Italian, held at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan. The Italian translator's note claims this to be a copy of a letter written by Columbus "to certain counsellors" ("ad certi consieri") in Spain, and forwarded by "the treasurer" (i.e. Gabriel Sanchez) to his brother, "Juan Sanchez" (named in the text), a merchant in Florence.
  • 19. Second Italian fragment manuscript fragment held at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence. The Italian translator simply notes that it is a copy of the "letter that came from Spain" ("copia della letera venuta di Spagna"). There is a close connection between this Florentine fragment and the first Latin edition, suggesting one is derived from the other, or they were both using the same Spanish document. [94]
  • 20. Third Italian fragment manuscript fragment held also by the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence. It contains no translator's notes about its origin or provenance.

It might be worth noting here that the first known French translation appeared in Lyon in 1559, in a volume by Charles Fontaine. [95] The first known English translation appeared in the Edinburgh Review in 1816. [96]

Letter to the Catholic monarchs (Libro Copiador) Edit

The existence of this manuscript letter was unknown until it was discovered in 1985. The manuscript letter was found as part of a collection known as the Libro Copiador, a book containing manuscript copies of nine letters written by Columbus to the Catholic monarchs, with dates ranging from March 4, 1493 to October 15, 1495, copied by the hand of a writer in the late 16th century. Seven of these nine letters were previously unknown. Its discovery was announced in 1985 by an antiquarian book dealer in Tarragona. It was acquired in 1987 by the Spanish government and is currently deposited at the Archivo General de Indias in Seville. [97] A facsimile edition was published in Rumeu de Armas (1989). A transcription and English translation can be found in Zamora (1993). [98]

Although scholars have tentatively embraced the Libro Copiador as probably authentic, it is still in the early stages of careful and critical scrutiny, and should be treated a bit cautiously. [99] The first letter in the copybook purports to be a copy of the original letter sent by Christopher Columbus to the Catholic Monarchs from Lisbon announcing the discovery. If authentic, it is prior to the Barcelona edition, indeed it precedes all known versions of the letter. [100] It contains significant differences from both the Spanish letter to Santangel and the Latin letter to Sanchez—notably more details about Indian reports, including previously-unmentioned native names of islands (specifically: "Cuba", "Jamaica", "Boriquen" and "Caribo"), and a strange proposal to use the revenues from the Indies to launch a crusade to conquer Jerusalem. It omits some of the more economic-oriented details of the printed editions. If authentic, this letter practically solves the "Sanchez problem": it confirms that the Latin letter to Gabriel Sanchez is not a translation of the letter that the Spanish codicil said Columbus sent to the Monarchs, and strongly suggests that the Sanchez letter is just a Latin translation of the letter Columbus sent to Luis de Santangel.

Many of the copies were cloned via forgery from stolen copies from various libraries, including the Vatican Library. These were sold to collectors and other libraries, who were innocently duped by the fraud. The Vatican’s copy was returned in January 2020. The forgeries and thefts were the subject of intense international investigations and forensic reports. Other suspected thefts, forgeries and sales are still being examined. [101] [102]

Columbus' Quest for Gold - HISTORY


Whereas, Most Christian, High, Excellent, and Powerful Princes, King and Queen of Spain and of the Islands of the Sea, our Sovereigns, this present year 1492, after your Highnesses had terminated the war with the Moors reigning in Europe, the same having been brought to an end in the great city of Granada, where on the second day of January, this present year, I saw the royal banners of your Highnesses planted by force of arms upon the towers of the Alhambra, which is the fortress of that city, and saw the Moorish king come out at the gate of the city and kiss the hands of your Highnesses, and of the Prince my Sovereign and in the present month, in consequence of the information which I had given your Highnesses respecting the countries of India and of a Prince, called Great Can [Khan], which in our language signifies King of Kings, how, at many times he, and his predecessors had sent to Rome soliciting instructors who might teach him our holy faith, and the holy Father had never granted his request, whereby great numbers of people were lost, believing in idolatry and doctrines of perdition. Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians, and princes who love and promote the holy Christian faith, and are enemies of the doctrine of Mahomet, and of all idolatry and heresy, determined to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the above-mentioned countries of India, to see the said princes, people, and territories, and to learn their disposition and the proper method of converting them to our holy faith and furthermore directed that I should not proceed by land to the East, as is customary, but by a Westerly route, in which direction we have hitherto no certain evidence that any one has gone. So after having expelled the Jews from your dominions, your Highnesses, in the same month of January, ordered me to proceed with a sufficient armament to the said regions of India, and for that purpose granted me great favors, and ennobled me that thenceforth I might call myself Don, and be High Admiral of the Sea, and perpetual Viceroy and Governor in all the islands and continents which I might discover and acquire, or which may hereafter he discovered and acquired in the ocean and that this dignity should be inherited by my eldest son, and thus descend from degree to degree forever. Hereupon I left the city of Granada, on Saturday, the twelfth day of May, 1492, and proceeded to Palos, a seaport, where I armed three vessels, very fit for such an enterprise, and having provided myself with abundance of stores and seamen, I set sail from the port, on Friday, the third of August, half an hour before sunrise, and steered for the Canary Islands of your Highnesses which are in the said ocean, thence to take my departure and proceed till I arrived at the Indies, and perform the embassy of your Highnesses to the Princes there, and discharge the orders given me. For this purpose I determined to keep an account of the voyage, and to write down punctually every thing we performed or saw from day to day, as will hereafter appear. Moreover, Sovereign Princes, besides describing every night the occurrences of the day, and every day those of the preceding night, I intend to draw up a nautical chart, which shall contain the several parts of the ocean and land in their proper situations and also to compose a book to represent the whole by picture with latitudes and longitudes, on all which accounts it behooves me to abstain from my sleep, and make many trials in navigation, which things will demand much labor. . . .

Wednesday, 10 October. Steered west-southwest and sailed at times ten miles an hour, at others twelve, and at others, seven day and night made fifty-nine leagues' progress reckoned to the crew but forty-four. Here the men lost all patience, and complained of the length of the voyage, but the Admiral encouraged them in the best manner he could, representing the profits they were about to acquire, and adding that it was to no purpose to complain, having come so far, they had nothing to do but continue on to the Indies, till with the help of our Lord, they should arrive there.

Thursday, 11 October . . . . At two o'clock in the morning the land was discovered, at two leagues' distance they took in sail and remained under the square-sail lying to till day, which was Friday, when they found themselves near a small island, one of the Lucayos, called in the Indian language Guanahani. Presently they descried people, naked, and the Admiral landed in the boat, which was armed, along with Martin Alonzo Pinzon, and Vincent Yanez his brother, captain of the Nina. The Admiral bore the royal standard, and the two captains each a banner of the Green Cross, which all the ships had carried this contained the initials of the names of the King and Queen each side of the cross, and a crown over each letter Arrived on shore, they saw trees very green many streams of water, and diverse sorts of fruits. The Admiral called upon the two Captains, and the rest of the crew who landed, as also to Rodrigo de Escovedo notary of the fleet, and Rodrigo Sanchez, of Segovia, to bear witness that he before all others took possession (as in fact he did) of that island for the King and Queen his sovereigns, making the requisite declarations, which are more at large set down here in writing. Numbers of the people of the island straightway collected together. Here follow the precise words of the Admiral: "As I saw that they were very friendly to us, and perceived that they could be much more easily converted to our holy faith by gentle means than by force, I presented them with some red caps, and strings of beads to wear upon the neck, and many other trifles of small value, wherewith they were much delighted, and became wonderfully attached to us. Afterwards they came swimming to the boats, bringing parrots, balls of cotton thread, javelins, and many other things which they exchanged for articles we gave them, such as glass beads, and hawk's bells which trade was carried on with the utmost good will. But they seemed on the whole to me, to be a very poor people. They all go completely naked, even the women, though I saw but one girl. All whom I saw were young, not above thirty years of age, well made, with fine shapes and faces. . . . Weapons they have none, nor are acquainted with them, for I showed them swords which they grasped by the blades, and cut themselves through ignorance. They have no iron, their javelins being without it, and nothing more than sticks, though some have fish-bones or other things at the ends. They are all of a good size and stature, and handsomely formed. I saw some with scars of wounds upon their bodies, and demanded by signs the of them they answered me in the same way, that there came people from the other islands in the neighborhood who endeavored to make prisoners of them, and they defended themselves. I thought then, and still believe, that these were from the continent. It appears to me, that the people are ingenious, and would be good servants and I am of opinion that they would very readily become Christians, as they appear to have no religion. They very quickly learn such words as are spoken to them. If it please our Lord, I intend at my return to carry home six of them to your Highnesses, that they may learn our language. I saw no beasts in the island, nor any sort of animals except parrots." These are the words of the Admiral.

Saturday, 13 October. "At daybreak great multitudes of men came to the shore, all young and of fine shapes, very handsome. . . . They came loaded with balls of cotton, parrots, javelins, and other things too numerous to mention these they exchanged for whatever we chose to give them. I was very attentive to them, and strove to learn if they had any gold. Seeing some of them with little bits of this metal hanging at their noses, I gathered from them by signs that by going southward or steering round the island in that direction, there would be found a king who possessed large vessels of gold, and in great quantities. I endeavored to procure them to lead the way thither, but found they were unacquainted with the route. I determined to stay here till the evening of the next day, and then sail for the southwest for according to what I could learn from them, there was land at the south as well as at the southwest and northwest and those from the northwest came many times and fought with them and proceeded on to the southwest in search of gold and precious stones. . . .

Sunday, 14 October. . . . I do not, however, see the necessity of fortifying the place, as the people here are simple in war-like matters, as your Highnesses will see by those seven which I have ordered to be taken and carried to Spain in order to learn our language and return, unless your Highnesses should choose to have them all transported to Castile, or held captive in the island. I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men, and govern them as I pleased. . . .

Tuesday, 16 October. . . . I saw many trees, very dissimilar to those of our country, and many of them had branches of different sorts upon the same trunk and such a diversity was among them that it was the greatest wonder in the world to behold. Thus, for instance, one branch of a tree bore leaves like those of a cane, another branch of the same tree, leaves similar to those of the lentisk. In this manner a single tree bears five or six different kinds. Nor is this done by grafting, for that is a work of art, whereas these trees grow wild, and the natives take no care about them. They have no religion, and I believe that they would very readily become Christians, as they have a good understanding.

Friday, 19 October. . . . I am not solicitous to examine particularly everything here, which indeed could not be done in fifty years, because my desire is to make all possible discoveries, and return to your Highnesses, if it please our Lord, in April. But in truth, should I meet with gold or spices in great quantity, I shall remain till I collect as much as possible, and for this purpose I am proceeding solely in quest of them.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

Gold Price History

Gold Price History in Ounces USD

Gold History Charts in Ounces

Economic History Resources - What was the price of gold then?

This page features a wealth of information on historical gold prices as well as gold price charts. If you are considering an investment in gold, you may want to take a look at the metal’s price history. The chart at the top of the page allows you to view historical gold prices going back over 40 years. You can view these gold prices in varying currencies as well, seeing how it has performed over a long period of time. Depending on the currencies being used, you may find a better long term value. For example, because gold is typically denominated in U.S. Dollars, if the dollar is weaker then someone buying gold in yen or euros may find gold to be relatively less expensive. On the other hand, a stronger dollar may make gold relatively more expensive in other currencies due to exchange rates.

You can also easily examine historical gold prices on a much smaller time horizon from 10 minutes to three days to 30 days to 60 days and up. The timeframe you decide to look at may depend on your investment objectives. If you are simply looking to buy and sell gold as a swing trader, you may focus on the hourly or six hour charts. If you are looking to invest in gold for the long-term, you may be better off using longer timeframes such as weekly, monthly or yearly.

Why Look at Historical Gold Prices?

Looking at historical gold prices may potentially provide information that may assist in buying or selling decisions. Looking at the big picture, gold trended higher for many years before making all-time highs in 2011 of nearly $2000 per ounce. Gold has since been moving lower, but could have possibly found a bottom in 2016. Although it remains to be seen, gold’s declines from the 2011 highs could simply prove to be a pullback within an even longer-term uptrend.

Examining historical gold prices can potentially be useful in trying to identify potential areas of price support to buy at. For example, if gold has pulled back to $1200 per ounce on numerous occasions but is met with heavy buying interest each time, then the $1200 area could be considered a level of support and could potentially be a good area to try to buy at.

In addition to viewing historical gold price charts in U.S. Dollars, you can also view historical gold prices in numerous alternative currencies such as British Pounds, Euros or Swiss Francs. You can even view a historical inflation-adjusted gold price chart using the 1980 CPI formula.

For easy reference, this page also contains a simple table that provides gold’s price change and percentage change using a single day, 30 day, six month, one year, five year and 16 year timeframes.

What has Driven Changes in the Gold Price?

Over the past several decades, the price of gold has been influenced by many different factors. Gold’s price history has seen some significant ups and downs, and dramatic changes in price may be fueled by such issues as central bank buying, inflation, geopolitics, monetary policy equity markets and more.

One of the biggest drivers of gold is currency values. Because gold is denominated in dollars, the greenback can have a significant impact on the price of gold. A weaker dollar makes gold relatively less expensive for foreign buyers, and thus may lift prices. On the other hand, a stronger dollar makes gold relatively more expensive for foreign buyers, thus possibly depressing prices. Fiat, or paper currencies, have a tendency to lose value over time. If this continues to be the case, gold could potentially continue in an uptrend as investors look to it for its perceived safety and its potential as a hedge against declining currency values. Gold has long been considered a reliable store of wealth and value, and that reputation is not likely to change any time soon.

Although past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results, gold’s price history can potentially provide clues as to where it could be headed. Looking at past price data, for example, may help with spotting uptrends or downtrends. Investors may also potentially spot tradable patterns within the price data that can potentially lead to solid buying or selling opportunities.

A Brief History of Christopher Columbus and the Spice Trade

"Men are obsessed with sex. They will do nearly anything to get it." This cliché about men resonates with women around the world, unfortunately. The more men you meet, the more convinced you will become that they have one thing on their minds, and one thing only. But it wasn't always this way.

Approximately five hundred years ago, in the days of Christopher Columbus, men were much more interested in spice. Men yearned for spice. They burned for spice. They travelled around the entire world for spice. Sex barely registered as an afterthought.

No, it was not the ecstasy of intercourse that enchanted men. It was the prurient lure of nutmeg that beguiled them. The forbidden tang of pepper that bedevilled them. The bedroom eyes of mustard seed that bewitched them. To clarify, spices turned men on.

Of all the men seduced by sensuous spice, none was as obsessed as Christopher Columbus. If ever there were a man who thought with his taste buds, it was young Chris. His ravenous libido propelled him across the ocean at all hours of the night, even when he knew he had work the next day. What was he searching for? Ginger. Turmeric. Cinnamon. The list is as long as a very large spice rack.

After many lonesome months on the ocean, however, Columbus’s discovery proved a dud. Native American oral histories have taught us that, when Columbus arrived, believing he was in India, the explorer kept asking everyone "where the local spices hang out." But the New World that Columbus encountered was a wasteland devoid of any spice.

Columbus returned to Spain with nothing to show. However, he kept on insisting that spice existed in the New World. He kept promising that the spices were really hot, though no one in the Spanish courts believed him. Columbus was asked why, then, hadn't he brought any back? Columbus said that he had forgotten the shovels that there was way too much to carry and, besides, he had been "playing it cool." Many of the conquistadors merely responded with a roll of their eyes.

King Ferdinand nevertheless financed further exploration, and Columbus brought back what he thought was cinnamon but which was actually just regular tree bark. He walked around the court licking it and bragging, "Mmm, this is my new spice."

Columbus, sadly, was not the only honest man ruined by spice's seductive powders. Far from it. All across Europe, men would stand beneath clove trees, yelling up to the treetops, "I love you! Please, come down." All the rap songs were about spice.

Many spices were harvested only to be burned to repel insects, but, the more pungently they repelled, the more men desired them—the forbidden delight. These men would travel to the Malabar Coast, to the Spice Islands of Indonesia, to Morocco, to China. They would stand quivering, baskets in their hands. The spice wooed them.

"Make me yours," some men claimed it whispered, specifically to them.

For the most part, women felt threatened by spice. Although always the more open-minded gender, some women were spice­curious, especially in college.

Nowadays, spice's erotic legacy is nearly erased. In restaurants, the pepper grinder serves as a phallic reminder of what once was the Cleopatra of spices. And, when my wife asks me to "spice things up" in our marriage, she does so in order to help me recall why it is that a part of me wishes to sprinkle oregano all over my naked body.

This Columbus Day, I hope to remember Columbus not for his moronic failures in finding spice, or his brutal tyranny, but for his optimism, as he hoisted the sails on the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Paprika (as he wished it to be called).


In the beginning, Columbus is obsessed with making a trip westwards to Asia, but lacks crew and a ship. The Catholic theologians at the University of Salamanca heavily disapprove of it, and they are not keen on ideas that go against the writings of Ptolemaeus. After continuous warnings at the monastery, he becomes involved in a brawl with the monks, ending up lying in the monastery courtyard to pay penance. His eldest son, Diego, one of the monks, looks on disapprovingly. As Columbus continues his penance through a vow of silence, he is approached by Martín Pinzon, a shipowner from Palos, who introduces Columbus to the banker Santángel. Queen Isabella I (Sigourney Weaver) owes money to Santángel. Columbus meets with the queen, who grants him his journey in exchange for his promise to bring back sufficient amounts of riches in gold.

Columbus tricks many crewmen by telling them that the voyage would only last seven weeks. He goes to confession at the monastery to absolve his sins, and the monk reluctantly gives him absolution, as he is unable to inform the crewmen without breaking his oath. The next morning, three ships leave for the trip to Asia, with the flagship being the Santa Maria. During the voyage at night, Captain Méndez notices him navigating by the stars, a skill previously known only to the Moors. Columbus then happily teaches how to use the quadrant to find the North Star and that the 28th parallel must be followed to find land. Nine weeks go by and still no sign of land. The crew becomes restless and the other captain turns against Columbus. He tries to reinvigorate them, to let them see the dream that he wishes to share. While some of the crewmen were still not convinced, the main sail suddenly catches the wind, which the crewmen see as a small act of God's willingness. At night, Columbus notices mosquitoes on the deck, indicating that land is not far off. Some days later, Columbus and the crew spot an albatross flying around the ship, before disappearing. Suddenly, out of the mist they see Guanahani ("San Salvador") with lush vegetation and sandy beaches, their first glimpse of the New World.

They befriend the local natives, who show them gold they have collected. Columbus teaches one of them Spanish so that they are able to communicate. He then informs them that they are to return to Spain momentarily to visit the Queen and bring the word of God. They leave behind a group of crewmen to begin the colonisation of the New World. Columbus receives a high Spanish honour from the Queen and has dinner with the council. They express disappointment with the small amount of gold he brought back, but the Queen approves of his gifts. On the 2nd expedition, Columbus takes 17 ships and over 1,000 men with him to the island however, all the crewmen left behind are found to have been killed. When the tribe is confronted by Columbus and his troops, they tell him that other strangers (possibly another tribe) came and savaged them. Columbus chooses to believe them, but his commanding officer Moxica is not convinced. They begin to build the city of La Isabela and eventually manage to hoist the town bell into its tower, symbolising the arrival of Christianity in the New World.

Four years later, Moxica cuts the hand off one of the natives, accusing him of lying about the whereabouts of gold. The word of this act of violence spreads throughout the native tribes and they all disappear into the forest. Columbus begins to worry about a potential war arising, with the natives heavily outnumbering them. Upon return to his home, he finds his house ablaze by Moxica and his followers, confirming his unpopularity among a certain faction of the settlers. Soon, the tribes arrive to fight the Spaniards and the island becomes war-torn, with Columbus' governorship being reassigned with orders for him to return to Spain.

Christopher Columbus is accused of nepotism and offering administrative positions to his personal friends, thereby injuring the pride of the nobles such as Moxica so, he is replaced by de Bobadilla. It is revealed that Amerigo Vespucci has already travelled to the mainland America. Therefore, Columbus returns to Castile. Columbus is sentenced to many years in prison, but he is bailed out by his sons soon after. When summoned by the Queen about seeing the New World again, he makes a case for her about his dream to see the New World. She agrees to let him take a final voyage, with the proviso that he neither go with his brothers nor return to Santo Domingo or the other colonies. Columbus and his son go to Panama. The closing scene shows him old, with his youngest son writing down his tales of the New World.

    as Christopher Columbus as Gabriel Sánchez, Columbus's archrival in Castile as Queen Isabella I as Older Ferdinand Columbus as Beatriz Enríquez de Arana as Antonio de Marchena as Adrián de Moxica, Columbus's archenemy in the Indies as Martín Alonso Pinzón as Captain Méndez as Luis de Santángel as Francisco de Bobadilla as de Arojaz
  • Billy L. Sullivan as Younger Ferdinand Columbus as Brother Buyl as Hernando de Guevara as Bartholomew Columbus, brother of Christopher as Giacomo Columbus, brother of Christopher
  • José Luis Ferrer as Alonso de Bolaños
  • Bercelio Moya as Utapán as Diego Columbus as Ship's Boy
  • Fernando García Rimada as King Ferdinand V
  • Albert Vidal as Hernando de Talavera
  • Isabel Prinz as Dueña as de Vicuña
  • Ángela Rosal as Pinzón's Wife
  • Silvia Montero as Pinzón's Daughter (uncredited)

The production info is based on the Paramount Pictures pressbook.

The idea for the film began in 1987 when French journalist Roselyne Bosch was researching an article for the upcoming 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the Americas. While examining copies of Columbus' letters to Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand, Bosch realized there was interesting material for a screenplay and began additional research on the events surrounding the voyages such as biographies on Columbus and original documents and translations. Bosch then teamed with French producer Alain Goldman. Hoping to set their sights on attracting a major film director, they met with Ridley Scott as well as Mimi Polk Sotela, producer of Thelma and Louise and vice president of Scott's production company.

Bosch remembers, "I chose to explore the most exciting theory about him – that he was a rebel who pushed the limits of his time not just geographically, but also socially and politically. You can't imagine a more complex personality that his. There are several men in one."

After Bosch teamed with French producer Alain Goldman, the duo set their sights on attracting a major film director. "Bosch's approach satisfied my curiosity about what kind of leader, seaman and father he was," says Goldman.

Goldman and Bosch met with director Ridley Scott and Mimi Polka-Sotela, executive vice president of his production company and producer of Thelma and Louise. According to Polka-Sotela, "We thought Roselyne's approach was very interesting. As a journalist, she had clearly done her research and her approach was to be honest but fair about Columbus – his obsessions, what he did in order to try and fulfill his dreams: both the positive and the negative results from the pursuit of this quest." According to Scott,"He was a bright light emerging from a dark age, a man looking for renaissance."

Ridley Scott and Alain Goldman joined forces in the autumn of 1990 and the film went into pre-production. While Bosch was finishing the script the producers, CAA, Sinclair Tenenbaum, and Marriott Harrison Solicitors secured financing for what became an international co-production through Odyssey Distributors, and in North America with Paramount Pictures.

Gerard Depardieu was cast in the lead and prepared for the role researching Columbus's letters.

Armand Assante was cast as Sanchez, treasurer of the Spanish crown. According to Ridley Scott, "Sanchez actually existed, but very little is known about him. He personifies the nobility and the forces that eventually brought Columbus down."

Sigourney Weaver was cast as Queen Isabel. According to Scott, "I think Sigourney has a kind of stature as well as a vulnerability that I think Isabel must have had. And that's where the impact lay in the relationship between her and Columbus. It would be silly to suggest it was ever anything approaching sexual, but there was something that obviously impressed Isabel about him."

Michael Wincott was cast as the villain, the disturbed nobleman Adrian de Moxica, who incites a brutal mutiny in the New World. According to Wincott, "Moxica is a creature of his lineage, a man of absolute and corrupt power. To him, Columbus is a peasant and a foreigner, and taking orders from someone so beneath his station is total humiliation. It would have been impossible for them to get along."

Scott and his production team scouted in Spain for more than four months before choosing locations in such historic cities as Caceres, Trujillo, Seville, and Salamanca. The filmmakers were given permission by Spanish authorities to film in world-famous monuments like the Alcazar and Casa de Pilatos in Seville and the Old Cathedral of Salamanca. In Spain, 350 carpenters, laborers and painters worked on the film. Era appropriate props were specially constructed and later-era replicas were secured from antique dealers and prop houses in Madrid, Seville, Rome, and London.

Costume Designer Charles Knode created more than 3,000 costumes. According to Knode, "What we always tried to do was have clothing, not costumes. We tried to make everything look lived-in." Eight outfits were created for Queen Isabel, including a gold brocade gown with a 30-foot printed velvet train and gem-encrusted headdress.

According to Gerard Depardieu, "Once I'm on the set, it's like an explosion of joy," Depardieu says. "I am happy to follow the director and I don't want to convince him of a different approach to a scene. With Ridley Scott I've managed to build up exactly the kind of relationship I yearn for on the set." For settings for the New World, Cuba, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Colombia were considered, but Costa Rica was chosen. According to Scott, "Costa Rica has been called 'the Switzerland of the Indies.' It's balanced politically, has no army, and has 95% literacy. Apart from that I needed to have islands, beaches, mainlands, and jungle, and I found it all in Costa Rica." While filming in Costa Rica, the production was based in Jacó, a small town on the Pacific coast. In addition to heavy humidity and 100+ °F (37.8+ °C) temperatures, the production crew had to deal with alligators, scorpions and poisonous snakes. A snake handler was on hand to help keep them away. Ten major sets were built, including three Indian villages, a gold mine, and Columbus's city of Isabel, a twenty acre set which included a cathedral, city hall, an army barracks, a jail, and a two-story governor's mansion for Columbus. Scenes in the New World were often enhanced by atmospheric effects such as mist, smoke, rain, and fire.

170 indigenous people of Costa Rica comprising four tribes, the Bribri, Maleku, Boruca, and Cabecar, were cast as the natives that Columbus encountered. One of the featured natives was Bercelio Moya, who played Utapan, Columbus's translator. Moya's father, Alejandrino, was cast as Chief Guarionex, and his grandfather, Florin, was cast as the tribe's shaman. Other members of Moya's tribe, the Colombian Waunana, helped build totem poles, dugout canoes, furniture, and weapons. According to cast member Alejandrino Moya, "I feel that the people we are portraying are both noble and dignified, and I would have been proud to have been part of their tribe."

Square Sail, a British-based company, refashioned the Santa Maria and Pinta replicas from the hull up from two early 20th century era brigantines. The Nina was constructed in Brazil specifically for the film for the film's 500th anniversary by the Columbus Foundation. The Santa Maria and Nina sailed from Britain to Costa Rica, arriving 10 December 1991 where they joined the Nina.

Filming commenced on 2 December 1991 and ended 10 March 1992, according to

Renowned Greek composer Vangelis composed the score. Its main theme, "Conquest of Paradise", was used by former Portuguese Prime-Minister António Guterres at his 1995 election and it was used by the Portuguese Socialist Party as its campaign and rally anthem, [4] [5] [6] although it was replaced by the main theme from Gladiator (curiously another Ridley Scott film) since the first José Sócrates legislative elections campaign, [7] which doesn't prevent the theme from still being deeply associated with the Socialist Party. [8]

Russia used it in the 2nd round of the 1996 Russian presidential election [9]

The theme is also used at the starting line of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc ultramarathon. The German boxer Henry Maske (former world champion (IBF) in the Light heavyweight category) used the main theme as his official entry theme during his professional career. Other usages of the theme include New Zealand Super 15 Rugby franchise the Canterbury Crusaders, as they run onto the field, often accompanied by actors dressed as knights and riding on horseback, and rugby league team Wigan Warriors who play in the Super League, as well as being played before the start of every match in the 2010 and 2014 cricket World Twenty20 championships as well as the 2011 Cricket World Cup. In these events the theme was played right before the national anthems of the two competing nations, as the flags of the two nations were carried into the ground, accompanied by the players of the two teams. The theme was also played in the Top Gear: US Special and became a signature piece for World Professional Champion figure skaters Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding. Despite the film's dismal box office intake in the United States, the film's score became a successful album worldwide.

Box office Edit

1492: Conquest of Paradise opened on 66 screens in Spain, grossing $1 million in its first five days. [10] In the United States and Canada, it opened 9 October 1992 in 1,008 theaters. The version released there was edited to 150 minutes, with some violence and brutality removed in order to achieve a PG-13 rating. [11] The film was a flop in the United States, debuting at number 7 with a gross of $3,002,680 worse than the opening of Christopher Columbus: The Discovery earlier in the year, and went on to gross just $7 million. [12] [13] [14] It opened in France on 12 October 1992, grossing $1.46 million for the weekend from 264 screens. [10] In its second week in Europe, it was the highest-grossing film with a gross of over $7.7 million, including $1.77 million in its opening week in Germany from 213 screens. It did not open well in Italy with $261,800 in its opening weekend from 33 screens. [15] [16] By the end of 1992, it had grossed $40 million internationally, for a worldwide total of $47 million. [17] It went on to gross $59 million. [18]

Critical response Edit

Overall, the film received mixed reviews from critics, [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] with the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes giving the film a 32% rating based on 22 reviews with the critical consensus: "Historically inaccurate and dramatically inert, Ridley Scott's retelling of Christopher Columbus' exploits is an epic without grandeur or insight". [24] However, film critic Roger Ebert said that the film was satisfactory, and that "Depardieu lends it gravity, the supporting performances are convincing, the locations are realistic, and we are inspired to reflect that it did indeed take a certain nerve to sail off into nowhere just because an orange was round." [25] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade of "B+" on scale of A+ to F. [26]

Juan de Oñate

Juan de Oñate would be the last of the conquistadors to traverse present-day Texas. Unlike his predecessors, his explorations would have a direct and lasting impact on the region.

In early 1598, Juan de Oñate led an expedition to settle present-day New Mexico. Unlike some of his predecessors, who were only tasked with claiming land and finding resources, Oñate was ordered to establish a colony. Many of the colonists in his party hoped to find their own riches mining silver. On his way north he crossed the Rio Grande at El Paso del Norte, the site of the modern city of El Paso. It was there that he formally declared Spanish possession of what is now New Mexico. After establishing the colony&rsquos new headquarters near modern-day Santa Fe, Oñate followed in Coronado&rsquos footsteps and headed east in search of the city of gold, Quivira. Like Coronado before him, he failed to find any riches on the Great Plains.

During his brief time in the region, Oñate&rsquos expedition found nothing the Spanish were searching for: no cities of gold, no precious metals, and no jewels. However, his actions would have great impact on Texas in the coming decades. His route through El Paso del Norte&mdasha route already well-known to Native American populations who had used it for trade long before Spanish arrived&mdashbecame El Camino Real del Norte. This road would serve as a crucial lifeline connecting New Mexico to the capital in Mexico City. Its location on El Camino Real del Norte made El Paso del Norte an important trading and transportation hub in the future.

Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus, the son of a respected weaver and local politician, was born in Genoa. He worked in his father's business, but chose to go to sea at age 14. Columbus sailed throughout the Mediterranean and one day was shipwrecked off the coast of Portugal. Making his way to Lisbon, he joined a brother and worked as a chart maker. During the second half of the 15th century, Portugal was the great Western center of explorers and adventurers, and the staging area for the quest to find an ocean path to the East. During his years in Portugal, Columbus heard tales from sailors about lands beyond the known world's western extremity. Educated people of the day recognized that the earth was a sphere, but no European was aware of the existence of the American continents and the Pacific Ocean. Columbus became one of the few voices to call for sailing west to reach the lucrative markets of China and Japan. His idea was given a hearing by the Portuguese king, John II, but royal support was given instead to those seeking to sail eastward around Africa for the same purpose. Around 1479, Columbus married, but his wife died in 1485. Having failed to gain Portuguese support for a westward exploratory voyage, Columbus moved to Spain with his son Diego. At the time, Spain was a lesser power than Portugal and consumed by a protracted war against the Moors. Nevertheless, Columbus's proposal received a polite reception from the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand II and Isabella. With the fall of Granada in 1492, Spain was freed to focus its energies on challenging Portugal in trade and exploration. The monarchs agreed to support a westward voyage to China as well as name Columbus "admiral of the ocean seas" and governor of the lands he discovered. For his part, Columbus promised to spread the Christian faith to the people of the East and return with gold, silver, and spices. First Voyage (1492-93) The expedition left from Palos, Spain in early August 1492. No soldiers, colonists, or priests accompanied the crew, which attests to the venture's exploratory nature. The Niña, Pinta , and the flagship Santa Maria, sailed first to the Canary Islands, where repairs were made and additional food was taken aboard. On September 6, the ships headed due west, catching the favorable Canaries Current. Columbus had no charts for the waters he entered. He was distrustful of the existing primitive forms of celestial navigation and depended instead on Dead Reckoning in determining his position. On October 7, the flotilla's course was changed to the southwest. Landfall occurred on October 12 on a Bahamian island that Columbus named San Salvador. Most authorities believe the landing took place on present-day Watling Island, but the description left by Columbus fits several neighboring islands as well. The explorers believed they had landed on outlying islands of Asia, but were uncertain of whether they had approached India, China (then known to Europeans as Cathay), Japan (Cipango), or Indonesia (the Spice Islands). Foreshadowing events to come, Columbus noted in his journal that the natives (Arawaks) were a gentle and trusting people who could easily be enslaved for the benefit of Spain. During the fall of 1492, Columbus hoped to locate the Chinese emperor and explored many parts of the Caribbean. He sighted Cuba and ran the Santa Maria aground off Hispaniola ("La Isla Española"). The crew and all supplies had to be removed from the damaged ship and a small fort was erected on the island. Named Navidad in honor of the Christmas holiday, the small settlement was the first European outpost in the New World since the Norse explorers. Leaving a portion of his crew on Hispaniola, Columbus caught the Gulf Stream for his return trip to Spain. He managed to present Ferdinand and Isabella with just small gold nuggets and jewelry, but assured them he had found islands on the outskirts of China or Japan. Columbus was well received by the monarchs, who quickly arranged for a more ambitious second voyage.

Second Voyage (1493-96) The expedition that departed from Cádiz in September 1493, was a much more zealous undertaking, comprising 17 ships with officers and crews, 1,500 prospective colonists and a wide variety of livestock. The aims of the venture were clear: to establish colonies and discover gold and silver. Landfall was made in the Lesser Antilles* in November. The convoy worked its way back to the settlement of Navidad on Hispaniola, where Columbus discovered the fort in ruins and the bodies of some of the colonists in shallow graves no survivors were found. It is assumed by most historians that friction developed between the natives and the white settlers and the latter were wiped out in battle. A new community was established at a nearby location. Columbus spent much of 1494 exploring other islands, notably Jamaica and southern Cuba. He did not attempt to circumnavigate Cuba and was convinced that it was a part of China. Conditions at the settlement on Hispaniola became grave during Columbus's absence. Many colonists avoided the hard labor they were unaccustomed to or consumed their time searching for gold. Little effort was expended to improve living conditions or plant crops. Columbus attempted to restore discipline when he returned, but his attempt alienated many settlers. Columbus was a far better sailor than an administrator. He dealt with the labor issue by caving in to the demands of the colonists who wanted to enslave the natives to augment the work force. Conditions remained dire and many settlers boarded ships for a return to Spain, where they reported their displeasure to the Crown. In 1496, Columbus left the struggling colony to defend his administration before royal officials. His brothers Bartholomew and Diego were left in charge of the settlement. The second voyage resulted in the establishment of a tenuous colony on Hispaniola and the discovery of little in the way of mineral wealth. Third Voyage (1498-1500) The third voyage departed from Seville in May 1498, with only six ships. The complaints of earlier colonists had taken their toll and Columbus was forced to include convicts among the assemblage. The ships were divided into two groups, one destined immediately for Hispaniola and the other under Columbus to continue the search for China. The exploration party touched land first at Trinidad off the coast of Venezuela, then sailed toward the mainland. A sighting of the Orinoco River mouth convinced Columbus that he was on the shores of a major continent, not another island. He sailed next for the settlement on Hispaniola, where conditions were persistently chaotic. Complaints to Spanish officials were so frequent that a royal governor was dispatched to the colony in 1500. Columbus was arrested and shipped back to Spain in chains. Ferdinand and Isabella, whose sympathy was waning, spared the explorer from imprisonment, but the height of his influence had clearly passed. Fourth Voyage (1502-04) Columbus was not able to mount another venture until May 1502, when he sailed with four ships from Cádiz. His desire to locate China and its wealth was coupled by a need to restore his reputation. Columbus was denied permission to enter the colony at Hispaniola, where he remained a very unpopular figure. He avoided disaster by riding out a hurricane in a small, sheltered harbor, then resumed his quest. His effort was plagued by further storms and doldrums, making his final voyage the most harrowing of all. Columbus sailed along the coast of Central America, hoping in vain to find an opening that would allow him to reach the shores of the Far East. In December 1502, Columbus attempted to return to Hispaniola. He was ill, losing his eyesight, and his ships were rotting and on the verge of sinking. His one remaining vessel ran aground off of Jamaica, where the entire crew sought refuge. Two sailors volunteered to make a perilous journey by canoe to Hispaniola to seek rescue for the marooned party. The crewmembers completed their journey, but wary officials waited almost a year before sending aid to Columbus. The "admiral of the ocean seas" knew he was not welcome on Hispaniola and departed immediately for Spain. Columbus spent most of his remaining days seeking reinstatement of his titles and riches. However, Isabella's death in 1504, removed his most loyal support. After many attempts, he was granted an interview with Ferdinand, in 1505. A generous financial settlement was granted, but the king refused to reinstate his titles. Columbus died in May 1506, unaware that he had discovered a new world. The great explorer was not honored with his name given to the areas he discovered. That honor went instead to a relatively obscure fellow Italian, Amerigo Vespucci. See background of Spain's Entry into the New World and Columbus's legacy. *NOTE: The Lesser Antilles are part of an arc-shaped series of islands stretching from the junction of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico eastward and southward to the coast of South America. The Greater Antilles include Hispaniola (today the Dominican Republic and Haiti), Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Jamaica. The Lesser Antilles include the Windward and Leeward islands, Trinidad, Tobago, and Barbados. The Antilles and the Bahamas to the north are sometimes known collectively as the West Indies. See map above.

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Gold, Glory, and God - Spanish Motivations in the New World

The Spanish that explored and conquered parts of the New World had three basic ideas that motivated them--Gold, Glory, and God.


Upon his return from the New World, Columbus reported to the Spanish crown that he saw much potential for riches in the newly discovered territory. The natives that met Columbus and his party traded bits of gold to them for parts of Columbus's ships and other items of interest. In addition, the native chieftain reportedly gave Columbus a ceremonial mask inset with gold. Columbus also reported seeing gold in the rivers. He also told the Spanish that he believed there would be mines rich with gold and other metals. Columbus and the Spanish were extremely interested in wealth. That's what inspired his voyage in the first place!

While there were no mines on Hispaniola, as more explorers and conquistadors surveyed parts of the New World, they kept hearing of a rich empire that existed in the west (in Mexico.) The search for gold became an obsession with the Spanish. England, France and other European Nations were in search of riches too, but they tended to focus more on getting rich by way of trade.


Keep in mind that Western Europe was still at the tail end of the Middle Ages and feudalism. Europe had been at war, off and on, for centuries. This, along with the Reconquista of Spain from the Moors, had fostered a culture that glorified the military and its leaders. Men who won battles or performed other great deeds were often rewarded by titles of nobility, land, money, and laborers. Since there was little land to be had in Europe, the discovery of huge amounts of land in the New World became a big motivator for individuals to seek personal glory there.


In January of 1492, Spain had finally finished driving the Moors out of the Iberian Peninsula. The end of this war helped feed religious fervor among the Spanish. In addition, the Papal decree of 1493 gave Spain the authority and duty of converting any and all natives in the New World to Christianity.

This trio of motivating factors, Gold, Glory, and God, along with superior technology and disease, would prove to be the fuel that propelled the Spanish to conquer most of South America, parts of the Southwestern United States, and all of Mexico and Central America. The legacy of Spanish culture and the tragedy of the extermination of the indigenous peoples of these areas would change the course of the world forever.

(update 8-24-16) If this page was helpful, interesting, etc. , please consider sharing the link with someone else. Also, I'd love to get your questions and comments below .


thanks, the summary of the 'god, glory, gold' was very helpful. I teach high school.

Thank you for creating this resource. It has helped with virtual learning more than any other resource I have found!

God, Glory and Gold – The Motivation of the Spanish Conquistadors

What motivated the Spanish Conquistadors is often neatly broken down into three basic factors: God, glory and gold. While it is hard to fault this concept it is nonetheless a hugely simplistic point of view. Each Conquistador had his own reasons for travelling to an unknown and hostile land few were forced to go and each soldier was motivated by his own personal goals.

By looking at the Hernan Cortés expedition, as will be done here, the concept of God, glory and gold can both be supported and expanded upon. The few hundred brave men who went with Cortés into the heartlands of the Aztec Empire were by no means uniform in their goals or ideals. While most were motivated by God, glory and gold to some extent, the influence of each one varied depending upon the individual.

Personal Wealth and the Quest for Aztec Gold

That the Conquistadors were in search of personal wealth is undeniable. The quest for Aztec gold was at the forefront of the Cortés expedition and the reason why many soldiers willingly joined the campaign. If gold did not come their way then silver, textiles, jewelry and other treasures were never far from reach. Bernal Diaz, Conquistador and later chronicler of the expedition, frequently details the gifts (of varying value) offered to his party in The Conquest of New Spain.

Potential personal wealth also resided in the possibility of claiming land. While some of the upper ranks in the expedition, Cortés included, were already landowners in New Spain or back in their homeland, others were landless soldiers with much to gain and very little to lose. Settling in a Spanish-controlled New World as a landowner offered its own distinct benefits.

The Conquistadors, Religion & the Spread of the Catholic Faith

The Cortés expedition went to great lengths to establish the Catholic faith in the lands through which they passed. At times, in contrast to the otherwise careful handling of the native population by Cortés, the destruction of native religious idols was carried out in order to promote the Catholic faith. Crosses were also erected in potentially hostile territory and sermons and teachings were given to the local populace by way of translator.

The Cortés expedition, however, was largely a military undertaking. It can be argued that religious motives were largely a pretext for the actual purpose of the campaign, the quest for Aztec gold. In order to maintain the support of both the Spanish crown and the Catholic Church, the cunning Cortés would have felt the need to give the expedition a religious angle.

That said, the Conquistadors were highly religious men who bore witness to sacrifices, cannibalism, idolatry and acts of sodomy throughout their journey through the New World. Bernal Diaz makes it quite clear that his companions were horrified by much of what they saw. That Cortés and his men may have felt compelled to promote their own faith in light of native religious practices is not beyond reason.

The Conquest of New Spain in the Name of the King

Cortés certainly paid heed to his King but he took his own advice more than that of any other man, certainly while in the New World. He often consulted with the senior members of his expedition but he was, by and large, a man under his own command. Cortés’ early years seem to reflect this independent streak, a character trait that was to grow as the man matured.

However, Cortés always portrayed himself as the envoy of his King, particularly when dealing with Montezuma. The royal fifth (the portion of booty to be given to the crown) may have been a little light on occasion, but Cortés and his Conquistadors had little reason to be overtly disloyal to Spain.

The Conquistadors, Glory & Honor

Warfare has long been associated with concepts such as “glory” and “honor”. It is doubtful whether any Conquistador could be seen as driven principally by a desire for glory, although glory can be seen as a driving force behind the Cortés expedition. Whatever charges can be raised against the conduct of the Conquistadors, their bravery cannot be questioned.

Historian Irving Albert Leonard highlights this Spanish notion of glory: “This Spanish preoccupation with the abstract quality of Glory, which was closely identified with military distinction, probably crystallized during the more than seven centuries of intermittent warfare against the Moors”. If glory itself was a motivating factor for the Spanish Conquistadors, it would certainly help to explain their numerous acts of almost foolhardy bravery.

Watch the video: Detector Hobbyists Risk Everything To Find Gold Nuggets. Aussie Gold Hunters (November 2021).