1451 – 1506: Christopher Columbus
“For the execution of the voyage to the Indies,
I did not make use of intelligence, mathematics or maps.”
In honor of the day named after the dude, I’ve decided to write up a quick little essay on the guy.
Christopher Columbus (a.k.a. Cristoforo Colombo / Cristobal Colon) was an Italian merchant sailor who, after reading about Marco Polo, had this crazy plan to chart a shortcut to East Asia, and instead discovered North America… without realizing it. As all Kindergarten kids can tell you: Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 back when the world was flat, and discovered America. Right?
Well, there’s a few minor problems with those ‘facts’…
THE SECRET ORIGIN OF COLUMBUS
As a kid, Chris ran away, and became a deckhand on an Italian ship, where he worked his way up to Captain-status (Kirk-style). On their way to England, his ship was attacked by the Portuguese Navy (by accident), leading to his washing up on the shore of Portugal. From here, he decided to reevaluate his life, and got himself an education as a map-maker. Dude even learned a few languages on the side, but was mostly fluent in Spanish and Italian.
Christopher married the daughter of a Portuguese Admiral and inherited a collection of books. It was among these works, specifically about the travels of Marco Polo, in which he talked about how awesome and wealthy China was. Of course no one believed Marco Polo, so they locked the guy in jail for fraud, he wasn’t able to pass go, or collect $200. Polo inspired Columbus to chart his own voyage and prove that China really existed. There was one problem, he was kinda broke.
Columbus pitched his idea to the Portuguese King who shot him down, and sent him packing, so he went to Spain. Christopher Columbus made a visit to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand the Fifth (of Spanish Inquisition-fame), where he would eventually manage to convince them to fiscally back his expedition, with the promise of riches with compounded interest.
At first they laughed in his face, but Columbus wouldn’t take no for an answer, so kept bugging them until they finally gave in.
During this time, Spain had been fighting a war with the Muslims since 711 C.E., but now that the fighting had finally ceased, there wasn’t enough land to pay the living veterans with, so Columbus offered an easy solution: LAND! (Or at least sacks of gold from said land…) Columbus was just about to go to the French with his idea, when a Spanish messenger stopped him. Columbus found himself in the perfect position to make a few demands: Noble title, and 10% of all earnings – take it or leave it. The Spanish monarchy approved.
Two of the ships they provided him had been repossessed, and it was the Italians who fronted most of the cash, so Spain wouldn’t really lose all that much in the event that Columbus was truly nuts, and / or gearing up for a suicidal mission.
The Three Caravel Ships under Columbus’s command were: The ‘Nina’ (translated from Spanish as: Little Girl), The ‘Pinta’ (“Painted Lady”, aka: Hooker), and The ‘Santa Maria’ (“The Mother of Christ”)…..
1492 – COLUMBUS GOES WEST
On August 2nd, 1492, Columbus set sail for Japan. On October 12th, 1492, Columbus made landfall in the Caribbean.
Columbus worked from Marco Polo’s research without realizing that Polo had in fact been using Arabic miles rather than European and Greek measurements, which was to be slightly problematic. During this voyage into the unknown, the crew began to get anxious, because the trip was supposed to only take a couple weeks, and was now going on for months.
As the ship passed the Point of No Return, the crew was ready to mutiny, but Columbus (being a smooth-talking Lando Calrissian type) convinced them to give him another day and fortunately (for him) the very next day they spotted land in the distance! Just to be clear, if North America wasn’t there, his crew probably would’ve starved to death… after cannibalizing their dumbass Captain.
Christopher Columbus claimed this random island in the name of Spain as San Salvador. He was completely under the impression that he’d discovered a new route to India, and so called the indigenous peoples Indians.
Convinced he was actually in the islands off Southeast Asia, when in fact he was in the Caribbean, Columbus continued on his voyages from there hoping to find India and instead discovered Cuba. Over the next ten years Columbus and his crew would crisscross the Atlantic on four separate voyages, later discovering Haiti, where the Santa Maria sank off the coast…
Columbus sailed back and forth from Spain to the ‘New World’ on a few more occasions, eventually colonizing the island of Hispaniola (Haiti).
COLUMBUS GETS GREEDY
“Men are never accustomed to falling into a single error or committing only one sin.” – De Las Casas
As I mentioned before, Columbus wasn’t the first person to discover the western hemisphere, primarily because there were already people living there! That however didn’t stop C-Dawg from planting the Spanish flag and taking the cred. Either way though, Columbus at least deserves credit for the European Age of Exploration, right?
Well here’s where things get really dicey – It was in Hispaniola that Columbus absolutely lost his marbles. This was chronicled by Father Bartolomé de Las Casas, one of his most ardent supporters, who bore firsthand witness to his descent into darkness and wrote extensively about the horrors that befell the native Arawak people.
Columbus’s excitement over his ‘discovery’ soon gave way to panic – where was all the gold?! Where were all the oriental riches that Marco Polo’s tales had promised? He began to sweat, thinking about what the Spanish monarchs would do to him if he brought back nothing but soil samples and a shrubbery.
That’s when he noticed the shiny jewelry the native islanders wore… and noted how easily they traded their wealth in exchange for useless trinkets. And if there was one thing Columbus was good at, it was swindling. It would be like stealing candy from a sleeping baby.
If Columbus was alive today he would be a shady used car salesman.
In his own words, Columbus wrote, “The ‘Indians’ are so naïve and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone…”
This line of thought led Columbus to exploiting the generosity of the friendly natives with the ferocity of a starving wolf. The Arawak were bewildered by the Europeans’ obsession with their fashion sense. Chris and his crew attempted to find the source of their riches through a heated game of Charades, to no avail. Frustrated, Columbus began searching for something else he could bring back with him.
Wandering aimlessly around the islands for weeks, Columbus had nothing to show for it but a useless plant the natives kept smoking: Tobacco. Columbus had discovered something that would shape the world economy for centuries to come – and didn’t even notice.
Because he was an idiot.
COLUMBUS GOES GENOCIDAL
You see, Columbus wasn’t just a wandering Karl Pilkington type. No, this guy had more skeletons in his closet than Skeletor.
In his quest for a profit, Christopher Columbus completely ignored the discovery of tobacco and instead focused his sights on the natives themselves. In his report to the crown, asking for more money, Columbus offered in return: as much gold AND slaves as he could acquire on his travels. Yup, that’s right, if swindling the natives of their gold wasn’t bad enough, he then started stealing the natives themselves.
Just a reminder, this guy gets a national holiday…
When Columbus ordered his crew to round up the islanders, he spoke about them as cattle, under the pretense that they would help them find the gold. The ones that resisted were shot on sight. Columbus further convinced the colonists that the natives were savage cannibals to justify their slaughter. Armed with muskets, swords and hungry dogs, the Spanish mercenaries raided their villages, killing dozens and capturing hundreds. The Spaniards hunted down native deserters and fed them to their dogs.
Columbus immediately put the enslaved population to work digging for gold that wasn’t there. He shipped off hundreds of slaves back to Europe, but only a third survived the trip. Father Casas continued to write in his journal, appalled by the horrendous actions of his former hero: enslavement, forced labor, starvation, the spread of disease, barbaric torture, mutilation, and ultimately genocide.
When all was said and done, the Caribbean had a population drop of 3-to-5 MILLION!
So on his third voyage, his fellow colonists had enough of his bull – Chris was arrested, chained in manacles, and thrown into a prison cell without trial before being sent back to Spain, where 23 testimonials came to light that Columbus used barbaric torture on a regular basis. He was voted off the island, Survivor-style.
Again, Columbus Day is a thing.
Despite all the mountains of evidence against him, King Ferdinand pardoned Columbus of all wrongdoing, (because he was sorry?!) and even funded a fourth and final expedition, so that he could continue ‘converting the Indians to Christianity’.
Columbus paved the way for many other conquistadors to follow: Cortez, Pizarro, De Soto, and Coronado among others, leading to the demise of countless Meso-American civilizations. Till his death, Columbus consistently claimed that this ‘Earthly Paradise’ that he’d discovered was located at the end of the Orient.
It wasn’t until Amerigo Vespucci’s voyages in the early 1500’s, that anyone realized Columbus had actually discovered an entirely new Continent (or two), which Amerigo then named after himself (The Americas). So yeah, despite being a wandering moron, Columbus, as in the much-revered historical figure, (who didn’t actually discover America, nor was the first European) actually had a very significant impact on world events: the creation of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade!
One positive thing that did come about because of Columbus’s mistake?
The world became a much larger place than any culture had originally estimated – a recurring theme, which continues to this day.
So yeah, Happy Columbus Day everyone!
If you’re a fan of “Epik Fails of History”, please help us keep this site going by heading over to Patreon.com/EpikFails to lend your support and share it with your friends. Every little bit helps! The more people donate, the more I can afford to dedicate time to researching, writing, and meme-making for all you fine people!
—– More articles on Historic Failure: