This is an ample subject that can only be covered in more than one article. Here is the first, an introduction.
The discovery of the continent of America, unknown until then to the rest of the world, by Italian navigator, “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” and explorer Christopher Columbus on 12 October 1492 appropriately marks in history books the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Modern Era. This is not to say that the former was worse than the latter, far from it. It’s not a judgement of value but a statement of fact.
That landing on the island he named “San Salvador” after Christ the Saviour was the start of a new perception of the world, both physically and culturally.
Myths and Facts about Columbus’ Epic Feat
in Bullet Points
♦ Flat Earth
The “flat Earth myth“, the belief that Columbus, his European contemporaries and the Church thought the Earth to be flat, was a fabrication.
In reality, classical Greece and Rome already knew that the Earth is a sphere, and even more the Church. It was the Greeks who introduced into the world the concept of a spherical Earth, in particular the 6th-century-BC philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, whose school was in Crotone, Calabria, Southern Italy. In the 3rd century BC another ancient Greek, Eratosthenes of Cyrene, measured the radius of the Earth obtaining a measure that differs only by 5% from the currently known value.
Thus, it was due to an abundance, not lack, of knowledge that Medieval Europe was aware of the risks of such an exceedingly long voyage for the time through unknown seas.
Who spread this falsity? We have their names and surnames. From Wikipedia:
Beginning in the 19th century, a historical myth arose which held that the predominant cosmological doctrine during the Middle Ages was that the Earth was flat. An early proponent of this myth was the American writer Washington Irving, who maintained that Christopher Columbus had to overcome the opposition of churchmen to gain sponsorship for his voyage of exploration. Later significant advocates of this view were John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White, who used it as a major element in their advocacy of the thesis that there was a long-lasting and essential conflict between science and religion”
In sum, it was part – although, unfortunately, not all – of the anti-Catholic propaganda that has been going on for centuries, and that contemporary historiography now recognizes as a pack of lies and even gave it an apt name: Black Legend.
♦ Reasons for the Voyage
What moved Columbus to embark in his voyage is to be found in Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations”, a prophecy that could not have been fulfilled without the great navigator’s having discovered America.
Christopher Columbus, as Italian historian Professor Marco Tangheroni summed up, was a deeply religious man, son of his time: the reading of his logbook during his first crossing to the Americas shows us a man who is deeply convinced that his mission was willed by God, to be able to bring Jesus Christ to those who did not yet know him; therefore, we are not proposing the case for beatification of the Genoese admiral, but defining him as “Not a saint, but defensor fidei [defender of the faith]”.
In addition to that, he hoped to reach the East by a different route, which would enable European ships to circumvent the Islamic world and its constant menace for Christians.
The great explorer had studied navigation sciences and, after the recent discovery, mainly by the Portuguese, of various islands and archipelagos in the Northern Atlantic, made the prediction based on his calculations that new lands were likely to exist further west.
♦ Genocide or Viral Contagion?
The idea, often heard, that the discovery and conquest of America led to genocide of the indigenous populations is no truer than the flat earth myth. Genocide is intentional. What happened in America is that Europeans, not through their will, brought infectious diseases to which the natives were not immune and this caused many deaths. There were cases in which the reverse happened, and Europeans died of a disease they caught from Indians. African-American historian Thomas Sowell in his book Conquests and Cultures: An International History touchingly talks about missionaries who unknowingly “killed” Amerindians while evangelising and administering sacraments to them.
♦ Protestant versus Catholic Colonization
A personal experience. I once met a black Somali man in London around the late ’80s. He told me that he originated from the part of Somalia colonized by the British, not the Somalia which had been an Italian colony. He added that the Italian Somalia’s inhabitants had a higher level of education and culture than their British counterparts, due in particular to the involvement of Catholic missions there and their schooling work for the local population, in contrast to the British Somalia where the colonizers had been aloof and not really caring very much for or socializing with the natives.
Going beyond the personal and looking at history, this is probably in a nutshell the difference of Protestant versus Catholic colonization of the two parts of the continent of America.
♦ The Uniqueness of Spain and Europe in World History
Less than 3 years after the discovery of America, on April 17, 1495, the Catholic Monarchs of Spain prohibited slavery of Indians. Queen Isabel ordered to free the Amerindians brought to Spain by Columbus in 1495 and sold as slaves, redeeming them at her own expense and returning them to America. In fact Christopher Columbus originally believed in the classic, Aristotle’s view of the natural slavery of barbaric populations, a pagan position.
Here is a summary of the principles of what were called the “New Laws” introduced by Spain:
- ⇒ Ensuring the preservation of government and the good treatment of indigenous people
- ⇒ Prohibition to enslave indigenous people for any reason
- ⇒ Liberation of slaves, if juridical reasons to the contrary are not demonstrated
- ⇒ The natives were not to be forced to be loaders against their will or without adequate wages
- ⇒ They could not be taken to remote regions under the guise of collecting pearls
- ⇒ Royal officers, religious orders, hospitals and brotherhoods did not have the right to the encomienda
- ⇒ The possession of the lands granted to the first conquistadors had to completely cease upon their death without anyone’s being able to inherit their possession and dominion.
In fact, what the conquest and evangelization of Hispanic America did is unique in world history for the exactly opposite reason of what is trumpeted right and, especially, left. Conquest and slavery have been constant elements dominating the history of the whole world.
If an alien came to the Earth today and listened to the dominant narrative, he would form the opinion that Europeans, being “white”, must be the most terrible, most perverse people on the globe. That only they enslaved, subjugated, decimated and treated cruelly.
The opposite is much closer to the truth. Arabs and Jews have historically been among the most numerous and wealthy slave merchants.
Blacks themselves have enslaved other Africans: without them there wouldn’t have been any slave trade to the Americas, because, as African-American Sowell reminds us, whites who penetrated into the interior of Africa were risking their lives. Genocide? No. Infectious diseases from contact with blacks, to which they were not immune. So they remained near the coasts close to their ships, and bought black slaves captured in the interior from their black captors.
If something is unique about Europeans and their descendants is that they have been the only peoples to abolish and prohibit slavery.
♦ Columbus and Spain Put an End to Aztec Human Sacrifices and Cannibalism
Finally, although this is a gruesome subject, we must consider what is often willingly overlooked: the kind of life and society the Spaniards replaced.
Mass human sacrifices and cannibalism of American pre-Colombian “civilizations” were stopped by Europeans. The film Apocalypto, directed by Hollywood’s best brain, Mel Gibson, depicts the situation realistically.
There is plenty of documented evidence on this, which will be too long for this introduction and will be covered in another article.
That’s why the tribes of Amerindians, who lived isolated and not in villages, and were constant prey and victims of the more powerful Aztecs and Incas, found the Christian message a liberation from their lives of constant terror.
The Aztecs believed that the sun god Huitzilopochtli was waging a constant war against darkness and, if the darkness won, the world would end. To keep the sun moving across the sky and preserve their very lives, Aztecs had to constantly feed Huitzilopochtli with human hearts and blood.
Christianity, which denied that monstrous idea, was enormously liberating for the Indios, who converted in great numbers and became allied to the Conquistadores in the fight against the cannibalistic empires of Central and South America.
The oppressed peoples supported the conquerors because they were liberators. Without them, the Spaniards could not have overcome the Aztec and Inca empires. The numbers of the conquistadors were extremely small, in comparison.
The astounding victories of a few dozen Spaniards against thousands of warriors were determined neither by the arquebuses nor by the very few guns (among other things, often unusable in those climates, because the humidity neutralized the dust) or horses (who could not be charged into the forest).
Those triumphs were primarily due to the support of the indigenous people.
The Spaniards are accused of causing a demographic collapse which we have seen to be largely due to the “viral shock”. In reality, without their arrival, the population would have been reduced even more to the minimum terms, given the massacre that the rulers made of the youth of the subjugated populations. The intransigence, sometimes the fury of the first Catholics who landed, can be well explained in the face of this obscure idolatry in whose temples human blood always flowed.
Richard Konetzke, Colección de documentos para la historia de la formación social de Hispanoamerica, 1493-1810. Ed. IJB, CSIC., Madrid 1953.