The truth behind Columbus

Columbus statue in Santo DomingoHated by some, adored and respected by others, Columbus is a controversial historical figure. Some go as far as to say that he committed genocide of the New World’s indigenous people, yet others grant him with the discovery of the fact that the earth is round. Neither is true. For Columbus Day, which is celebrated today in a number of countries, we dug around to uncover, as far as possible, the real facts behind Columbus feats.

Wanted to prove the earth was round?
No, there was no need for Columbus to debunk the theory that the earth was flat; the ancient Greeks had already done that. As early as the sixth century B.C., the Greek mathematician Pythagoras theorized that the world was round, and two centuries later Aristotle backed him up with astronomical observations proving that the planet was not shaped like a pancake.

Figured out the difference between the true North and the magnetic north?
Yes, Columbus introduced the principle of compass variation (the variation at any point on the Earth’s
surface between the direction to magnetic and geographic north) and observed the rotation of the
Pole star. This important navigational principle is still used by all long distance sailors today.


Responsible for genocide?
No, despite the fact that Columbus ran the islands which he conquered for the Spanish crown with an iron fist, the explorer and his men didn’t wittingly bring a number of highly contagious diseases with them on their voyage to look for a new route to India. The effect, however, was that over 95% of the indigenous people did die within 50 years of Columbus’ first landing on Hispaniola.

Changed the Western Hemisphere beyond recognition?
Yes, Columbus and other Europeans brought with them Old World agricultural techniques, including crop rotation and animal breeding. They also introduced new tools, including the wheel, as well as non-indigenous plants and domesticated animals such as the horse. Add to that the previously unknown diseases like small pox, typhoid and diphtheria that were brought in as well as the imposition of Christianity, and you can definitely say that things changed beyond recognition on all levels.  


First European to land in the New World?
Most likely not, it is generally believed that Norwegian Vikings landed in present-day Newfoundland around 1000 A.D., almost five centuries before Columbus set sail. Some historians also claim that Celtic people from present day Ireland crossed the Atlantic even well before the Vikings.

Good captain and sailor?
Yes, apart from the fact that he sailed from Europe to the Americas and back four times in wooden, often leaking sail ships, which would be considered quite a feat even nowadays, he was also the first one to make note of the importance of the Atlantic wind pattern called the prevailing Westerlies, which blows steadily west to east. This convinced him it was possible to sail west with the Trade Winds to the New World and return to Europe with the Westerlies.

Columbus ship