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When it comes to Christopher Columbus, most famous of the explorers of the Age of Discovery, it’s hard to separate truth from myth, and fact from legend. Here are ten things that maybe you didn’t already know about Christopher Columbus and his four legendary voyages.

1. Christopher Columbus wasn’t his real name

Public Domain image

Christopher Columbus is an Anglicization of his real name, given to him in Genoa where he was born: Cristoforo Colombo. Other languages have changed his name, too: he is Cristóbal Colón in Spanish and Kristoffer Kolumbus in Swedish, for example. Even his Genoese name is not certain, as historical documents about his origin are scarce.

2. He almost never got to make his historic journey

Library of Congress

Columbus became convinced of the possibility of reaching Asia by traveling west, but getting the funding to go was hard sell in Europe. He tried to get support from many sources, including the King of Portugal, but most European rulers thought he was a crackpot and didn’t pay much attention to him. He hung around the Spanish court for years, hoping to convince Ferdinand and Isabella to finance his journey. In fact, he had just given up and was headed to France in 1492 when he got the news that his voyage had finally been approved.

3. He was a cheapskate

Andries van Eertvelt , painter (1628)

On his famous 1492 voyage, Columbus had promised a reward of gold to whoever saw land first. A sailor named Rodrigo de Triana was the first to see land on October 12, 1492: a small island in the present-day Bahamas Columbus named San Salvador. Poor Rodrigo never got the reward however: Columbus kept it for himself, telling everyone he had seen a hazy sort of light the night before. He had not spoken up because the light was indistinct. Rodrigo may have gotten hosed, but there is a nice statue of him sighting land in a park in Seville.

4. Half of his voyages ended in disaster

Artist Unknown

On Columbus’ famed 1492 voyage, his flagship the Santa Maria ran aground and sank, causing him to leave 39 men behind at a settlement named La Navidad. He was supposed to return to Spain loaded with spices and other valuable goods and knowledge of an important new trade route. Instead, he returned empty-handed and without the best of the three ships entrusted to him. On his fourth voyage, his ship rotted out from under him and he spent a year with his men marooned on Jamaica.

5. He was a great captain, but a terrible governor

Library of Congress

Grateful for the new lands he had found for them, the King and Queen of Spain made Columbus governor in the newly-established settlement of Santo Domingo. Columbus, who was a fine explorer, turned out to be a lousy governor. He and his brothers ruled the settlement like kings, taking most of the profits for themselves and antagonizing the other settlers. It got so bad that the Spanish crown sent a new governor and Columbus was arrested and sent back to Spain in chains.

6. He was a very religious man

Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, 1520

Columbus was a very religious man who believed that God had singled him out for his voyages of discovery. Many of the names he gave to islands and lands he discovered were religious ones. Later in life, he took to wearing a plain Franciscan habit everywhere he went, looking much more like a monk than a wealthy admiral (which he was). At one time during his third voyage, when he saw the Orinoco River empty out into the Atlantic Ocean off of northern South America, he became convinced he had found the Garden of Eden.

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