This little diddy has been making the rounds of my Facebook friends, and since I have blogged on Sr. Cristoforo Colombo de Zena before (and then a little later), I figured I would throw my two cents in.
For my money, Columbus was a man of his age and nothing more. He was a gigantic ball of ego in a world that was rapidly being changed. His fame was due more to the changes in the world around him than anything else.
- Movable type printing presses, invented in 1439 in Germany, had spread throughout Europe.
- The Hundred Years’ War ended in 1453, settling a dispute between England and France that had raged throughout Western Europe and required tremendous financial investments. With the war over, financiers could afford to help the crowns of Europe with other expenditures – like expeditions to Asia.
- Constantinople fell in 1453, leaving a giant gaping hole in the trade with Asia but also freeing the resources of the Italian city states – Genoa, Pisa, Venice – for other activities.
- The stabilization of Portugal under Juan II, beginning in 1481, presented a threat to the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, the joint monarchs of Aragon and Castille.
- The united House of Aragon and Castille had finally succeeded in expelling the Muslims from Iberia (Spain) in 1492.
The confluence of these major events in the years prior to Columbus’ expedition created the environment in which he worked. His was not a scientific expedition to prove the world was round (that was a completely unfounded legend created by the American writer Washington Irving in 1821). It was a commercial enterprise, and it was required to make a profit for the Crowns of Aragon and Castille.
Too many modern liberals are quick to condemn Columbus. There is certainly a lot we could say about the way he conducted his exploitations, but I doubt seriously that if our places were swapped with his, we would have done much different. The air of superiority that our modern liberals take can be irritating – not because they are necessarily wrong in their assessment of the morality of our successors but because they think they would have thought or acted differently.