Christopher Columbus' Motivations to Sail West for the Indies
Christopher Columbus lived in an age of Moslem expansion in the east. With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, direct land routes to the Indies were closed to European merchants and traders, thus creating the need to find a sea route to the Indies. Portugal had spent years sailing the coast of Africa to reach the Indies, but Columbus thought he had a better way: sailing west. With the defeat of the Moors in 1492 Queen Isabella of Spain was willing to consider to Columbus' proposal to sail west. The motivations of Columbus sailing west to the Indies, whether economic, spiritual or personal, were all based on ancient authorities, writings and personal beliefs.
Columbus was born in 1451 in Genoa, a seafaring city. He was christened Christoforo Columbo. His father was a woolweaver and his mother was the daughter of a woolweaver. Histwo brothers, Bartolome and Diego, supported Columbus on the second voyage.
Columbus came from a poor family with little or no formal education. His knowledge of navigation came from experience not books. To explain Columbus' presence in Portugal, his son Fernando tells a fascinating but hardly believable story. Having made numerous trips throughout the Mediterranean for Genoa, he was supposedly sailing to England with a fleet of Genoese ships in 1476 when attacked by a French fleet. A battle ensued and his ship sank. He then grabbed an oar and swam six miles to shore, landing in Portugal. He stayed in Portugal eight years, sailing up and down the Atlantic for Portugal. He went south to Africa, north to England and possibly Iceland and west to the Azores. In 1479 Columbus married Dona Felipa Perestrello e Moniz and a year later their only son, Diego was born. This marriage into nobility did much to enhance his connections at the royal court.
Columbus' Enterprise of the Indies. Columbus developed his theory of sailing west to the Indies after considerable time as a sailor. He had sailed down the coast of Africa and believed sailing west would be faster. He based this on the writings of Aristotle, Ptolemy, Marinus of Tyre, Marco Polo's "Travel", Cardinal Pierre d'Ailly's "Imago Mundi", "Historia Rerum" by Pope Pius II, Pliny's "Natural History", and the Bible.
Marco Polo intrigues Columbus, especially with his description of Cipangu or Zipangu (Japan) which he claimed was situated 1500 miles off the coast of China. In his description Marco Polo mentions the many riches of the Japanese, especially gold. He stated:
"The extraordinary richness of the sovereign's palace
. . . is a wonderful sight. The entire roof is covered with
a plating of gold. . . . The ceilings of the halls are of
the same precious metal; many of the apartments have small
tables of pure gold, of considerable thickness; and the
windows also have golden ornaments. . . .
"In this island...