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This Page Contains Primary Source Quotes, Images, & Maps.
The following quotes come from Christopher Columbus to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in a letter describing his first voyage.
…this Hispana (island name) abounds in various kinds of species, gold and metals. The inhabitants . . . are all, as I said before, unprovided with any sort of iron, and they are destitute of arms, which are entirely unknown to them, and for which they are not adapted; …
— Christopher Columbus
What conclusion could you draw due to Columbus’ perception of the Native Americans in the above quote?
. . . On my arrival at that sea, I had taken some Indians by force from the first island that I came to, in order that they might learn our language, and communicate to us what they knew respecting the country; which plan succeeded excellently, and was a great advantage to us, for in a short time, either by gestures and signs, or by words, we were enabled to understand each other.
Do you feel Columbus is justified in his taking of natives by force to allow him to communicate with other natives?
The following quote is an account from a priest in the New World speaking about what he had personally witnessed.
“With my own eyes I saw Spaniards cut off the nose and ears of Indians, male and female, without provocation, merely because it pleased them to do it. …Likewise, I saw how they summoned the caciques and the chief rulers to come, assuring them safety, and when they peacefully came, they were taken captive and burned.”
— Bartolomé de las Casas
What was Bartolomé de las Casas’ purpose in making this statement?
The above photo is of Christopher Columbus’ handwritten notes in the margins of The Travels of Marco Polo. Columbus and many other explorers like him studied the stories of previous explorers and classic scholars from antiquity. “Columbus was not a scholarly man. Yet he studied these books, made hundreds of marginal notations in them and came out with ideas about the world that were characteristically simple and strong and sometimes wrong, the kind of ideas that the self-educated person gains from independent reading and clings to in defiance of what anyone else tries to tell him” (Morgan).
Columbus vigorously read material that supported his beliefs, which partially explains his reasoning behind asking multiple nations for financing despite their continued statements of his wrongly estimating the size of the earth. Columbus may have been wrong, but he was a victim of his of his time and the information available to him. Though he searched for information that supported his belief, it is not hard to understand why that information was readily available in a time where information was limited.
Martin Behaim’s view of the Atlantic Ocean. Behaim and Columbus lived at the same time and drew their information from the same sources. Looking at a map like this during that time made the idea of traveling west to get to Asia very tempting.
In the center-left of the map you can see “Cipangu,” the word used for Japan. To the top right you can see “Hispania,” or Spain. With a resource like this at your disposal it would be hard to not want to sail west instead.
Another of Behaim’s works. This is a map showing the two hemispheres of Behaim’s Erdapfel, the oldest serving terrestrial globe, ironically constructed in 1492 just before the arrival of the knowledge of another continent.
- Queen Isabella
- King Ferdinand
- Bartolome de las Casas