In the 1400’s, Portugal became the first European country to sail to Asia. They did this by sailing around Africa. Sailing to Asia was quicker and safer than travelling over land. Also, boats are bigger than horses! And, that meant that they could carry many more things.
In the past, the countries between Europe and Asia served as middlemen to get items for the Europeans. They charged fees, however. Now, Europeans could get to Asia without having to pay other nations for their services. Portugal’s route made it cheaper to get spices and other materials they wanted from Asia.
Christopher Columbus was inspired by Portugal. However, he thought he could find a quicker route. He thought that he could sail to those same nations in Asia without having to sail around Africa — Africa is huge! Because the Earth is round, Columbus assumed he could sail west and eventually reach Asia in the east. Can you believe that? He sailed west to go east? How crazy is that?
Columbus had trouble finding someone to finance his trip. For years, he traveled to many different countries looking for money to pay for his voyage. Several people laughed at his idea of travelling west to go east. Most people thought it was impossible. Some countries liked his idea. However, they believed that Earth was much larger than Columbus thought. Because of this, they thought sailing west would take too long. To them, the Portuguese route was still the best path.
In 1492, Spain decided to fund Columbus’ trip. They gave him three ships: the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. Spain also gave him the title “Admiral of the Ocean Sea.” Columbus was contracted to claim all newly discovered land for Spain and become the new land’s governor. In return, he would receive 10% of all the revenue from the new land.
Columbus arrived in the “New World” on October 12, 1492. No one knows the exact island he landed on first, but we do know that he landed somewhere in the Bahamas. Today, this region is known as the West Indies. Upon his arrival, he referred to the native people as “Indians” because he believed he was on the islands near India, which is in southern Asia.
In total, Columbus made four voyages to these islands and the mainland of Central and South America. According to other Europeans, he had “discovered a new world.” Nevertheless, Columbus died in 1506 still believing he landed in Asia.
Related Terms & Topics
- What were Europeans looking for in Asia?
- Why was finding a water route to Asia so important?
- Why did Columbus think traveling west to Asia was a better route?
- How do you think the native people in the “New World” felt about Columbus establishing himself as their governor?
- Explain your thoughts on why Columbus and Spain felt it was within their rights to claim Native American lands for themselves.
1. You are a Native American on San Salvador (the first island Columbus claimed). Imagine that you have been asked by your tribe to represent them in a conversation with the Spaniards about the tribe’s wishes. Write a dialogue, or script, based on how you think that conversation would go?
2. You are Christopher Columbus and have returned to Europe. Everyone believes you have “discovered a new world.” You do not. Write a paragraph explaining why you think you have landed in Asia. Use some examples as proof.
Illustrations by Justin Weinmann