Origin theories of Christopher Columbus

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Christopher Columbus depicted in The Virgin of the Navigators by Alejo Fernández, 1531–36.

The exact ethnic or national origin of Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) has always been a source of speculation because Columbus never declared where he was born and because he utilized the alias of Cristóbal Colón in Spain.[1] It is said by some Anglo-Saxon historians that Columbus' family was from the coastal region of Liguria, that he spent his boyhood and early youth in the Republic of Genoa, in Genoa, in Vico Diritto, and that he subsequently lived in Savona, where his father Domenico moved in 1470. Much of this evidence derives from data concerning Columbus' immediate family connections in Genoa and opinions voiced by contemporaries concerning his Genoese origins, which few dispute.

Genoese origin[edit]


In a 1498 deed of primogeniture, Columbus writes:

Siendo yo nacido en Genova... de ella salí y en ella naci...[2][nb 1]

As I was born in Genoa... came from it and was born there...

Many historians, including a distinguished Spanish scholar, Altolaguirre, affirm the document's authenticity; others believe it apocryphal.[nb 2] Some believe that the fact that it was produced in court, during a lawsuit among the heirs of Columbus, in 1578, does not strengthen the case for it being genuine.[6]

A letter from Columbus, dated 2 April 1502, to the Bank of Saint George, the oldest and most reputable of Genoa's financial institutions, begins with the words:

Bien que el coerpo ande aca el coracon esta ali de continuo...[7]

Though my body is here, my heart is constantly there...

Although a few people consider this letter suspect, the vast majority of scholars believe it genuine. The most scrupulous examination by graphologists testifies in favour of authenticity.[8] The letter is one of a group of documents entrusted by Columbus to a Genoese friend, after the bitter experiences of his third voyage, before setting out on his fourth.

In the spring of 1502, the Admiral collected notarized copies of all the writings concerned with his rights to the discovery of new lands. He sent these documents to Nicolò Oderico, ambassador of the Republic of Genoa. To this same Oderico he handed over the letter to the Bank of Saint George, in which he announced that he was leaving the bank one-tenth of his income, with a recommendation for his son Diego. Oderico returned to Genoa and delivered the letter to the bank, which replied, on 8 December 1502 lauding the gesture of their "renowned fellow-citizen" towards his "native land". The reply, unfortunately, never reached its destination; the Admiral, back in Castile after his fourth voyage, complained about this in another letter to Ambassador Oderico, dated 27 December 1504, and promptly annulled the bequest.

So we have four documents: the first preserved in the archives of the Bank of Saint George until, when it was taken over by the municipality of Genoa, the other three in the Oderico family archives until 1670, then donated to the Republic of Genoa. After the fall of the Republic, they passed to the library of one of its last senators, Michele Cambiaso, and in they were finally acquired by the city of Genoa. There are also public and notarial acts (more than a hundred) — copies of which are conserved in the archives of Genoa and Savona — regarding Columbus's father, Columbus himself, his grandfather, and his relatives.[nb 3]

Another doubt remains to be settled: can we be sure that all of the documents cited concern the Christopher Columbus who was later to become Cristóbal Colón, admiral of the Ocean Sea in Spanish territory? The list of contemporary ambassadors and historians unanimous in the belief that Columbus was Genoese could suffice as proof, but there is something more. The documents reveal this other information. One of them has been: the document dated 22 September 1470 in which the criminal judge convicts Domenico Colombo. The conviction is tied to the debt of Domenico — together with his son Christopher (explicitly stated in the document) — toward a certain Girolamo del Porto. In the will dictated by Admiral Christopher Columbus in Valladolid before he died, the authentic and indisputable document of which we have today, the dying navigator remembers this old debt, which had evidently not been paid. There is, in addition, the act drawn in Genoa on 25 August 1479 by a notary, Girolamo Ventimiglia.[9] This act is known as the Assereto document, after the scholar who found it in the State Archives in Genoa in 1904. It involves a lawsuit over a sugar transaction on the Atlantic island of Madeira. In it young Christopher swore that he was a 27-year-old Genoese citizen resident in Portugal and had been hired to represent the Genoese merchants in that transaction. Here was proof that he had relocated to Portugal. It is important to bear in mind that at the time when Assereto traced the document, it would have been impossible to make an acceptable facsimile.[6] Nowadays, with modern chemical processes, a document can be "manufactured", made to look centuries old if need be, with such skill that it is hard to prove it is a fake. In 1960, this was still impossible.[6][nb 4]

In addition to the two documents cited, there are others that confirm the identification of the Genoese Christopher Columbus, son of Domenico, with the admiral of Spain. An act dated 11 October 1496 says:[10]

Giovanni Colombo of Quinto, Matteo Colombo and Amighetto Colombo, brothers of the late Antonio, in full understanding and knowledge that said Giovanni must go to Spain to see M. Christopher Columbus, Admiral of the King of Spain, and that any expenses that said Giovanni must make in order to see said M. Christopher must be paid by all three of the aforementioned brothers, each one to pay a third ... and to this they hereby agree.

In a fourth notarial act, drawn in Savona on 8 April 1500, Sebastiano Cuneo, heir by half to his father Corrado, requested that Christopher and Giacomo (called Diego), the sons and heirs of Domenico Colombo, be summoned to court and sentenced to pay the price for two lands located in Legine. This document confirms Christoforo and Diego's absence from the Republic of Genoa with these exact words: "dicti conventi sunt absentes ultra Pisas et Niciam."[nb 5]

A fifth notarial act, drawn in Savona on 26 January 1501, is more explicit. A group of Genoese citizens, under oath, said and say, together and separately and in every more valid manner and guise, that the Christopher, Bartholomew and Giacomo Columbus, sons and heirs of the aforementioned Domenico, their father, have for a long time been absent from the city and the jurisdiction of Savona, as well as Pisa and Nice in Provence, and that they reside in the area of Spain, as was and is well known.

Finally, there is a very important sixth document from the notary of Bartolomeo Oddino, drawn in Savona on 30 March 1515. With this notarial act, Leon Pancaldo, the well-known Savonese who would become one of the pilots for Magellan's voyage, sends his own father-in-law in his place as procurator for Diego Columbus, son of Admiral Christopher Columbus. The document demonstrates how the ties, in part economic, of the discoverer's family with Savona survived even his death.

The Life of Admiral Christopher Columbus by his son Ferdinand[edit]

A biography written by Columbus's son Ferdinand (in Spanish and translated to Italian), Historie del S. D. Fernando Colombo; nelle quali s'ha particolare, et vera relatione della vita, et de' fatti dell'Ammiraglio D. Christoforo Colombo, suo padre; Et dello scoprimento, ch'egli fece delle Indie Occidentali, dette Nuovo Mondo ("The life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by his son Ferdinand"), exists.[11][12][nb 6] In it Ferdinand claimed that his father was of Italian aristocracy. He describes Columbus to be a descendant of a Count Columbo of the Castle Cuccaro (Montferrat). Columbo was in turn said to be descended from a legendary Roman General Colonius. It is now widely believed that Christopher Columbus used this persona to ingratiate himself to the good graces of the aristocracy, an elaborate illusion to mask a humble merchant background.[14] Ferdinand dismissed the fanciful story that the Admiral descended from the Colonus mentioned by Tacitus. However, he refers to "those two illustrious Coloni, his relatives."[nb 7] According to Note 1, on page 287, these two "were corsairs not related to each other or to Christopher Columbus, one being Guillame de Casenove, nicknamed Colombo, Admiral of France in the reign of Louis XI". At the top of page 4, Ferdinand listed Nervi, Cogoleto, Bogliasco, Savona, Genoa and Piacenza (all inside the former Republic of Genoa)[nb 8] as possible places of origin. He also stated:

Colombo ... was really the name of his ancestors. But he changed it in order to make it conform to the language of the country in which he came to reside and raise a new estate ...

In chapter ii, Ferdinand accuses Agostino Giustiniani of telling lies about the discoverer:

Thus this Giustiniani proves himself to be an inaccurate historian and exposes himself as an inconsiderate or prejudiced and malicious compatriot, because in writing about an exceptional person who brought so much honor to the country ...

In chapter v, writes:

And because it was not far from Lisbon, where he knew there were many Genoese his countrymen, he went away thither as fast as he could ...

He also says (chapter xi), that his father, before he was declared admiral, used to sign himself "Columbus de Terra rubra," that is to say, Columbus of Terrarossa, a village or hamlet near Genoa. In another passage Ferdinand says, that his father went to Lisbon, and taught his brother Bartholomew to construct sea charts, globes, and nautical instruments; and sent this brother to England to Henry VII to make proposals to this king, of his desired voyage. Finally, incidentally (chapter lxxii), Ferdinand says that Christopher's brother, Bartholomew Columbus named the new settlement Santo Domingo in memory of their father, Domenico.

The publication of Historie has been used by historians as providing indirect evidence about the Genoese origin of Columbus.

The testimony of the ambassadors[edit]

It is significant that no one protested at the court of Spain when in April 1501, in the feverish atmosphere of the great discovery, Nicolò Oderico, ambassador of the Genoese Republic, after praising the Catholic Sovereigns, went on to say that they "discovered with great expenditure hidden and inaccessible places under the command of Columbus, our fellow-citizen, and having tamed wild barbarians and unknown peoples, they educated them in religion, manners and laws". Furthermore, two diplomats from Venice — no great friend of Genoa, indeed, a jealous rival — added the appellation "Genoese" to Columbus's name: the first, Angelo Trevisan, in 1501,[nb 9] the second, Gasparo Contarini, in 1525.[nb 10] In 1498, Pedro de Ayala, Spanish ambassador to the English court, mentioned John Cabot, "the discoverer, another Genoese, like Columbus".[15] All these references were published, along with reproductions of some of the original documents, in the City of Genoa volume of 1931.

Support for the Genoese origin from contemporary European writers[edit]

The historian Bartolomé de las Casas, whose father traveled with Columbus on his second journey and who personally knew Columbus' sons,[nb 11] writes in chapter 2 of his Historia de las Indias:[17]

This distinguished man was from the Genoese nation, from some place in the province of Genoa; who he was, where he was born or what name he had in that place we do not know in truth, except that before he reached the Nation in which he arrived, he used to call himself Cristóbal Colombo de Terrarubia.

The historian Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés, writes that Domenico Colombo was the Admiral's father;[18] and in chapter 2, book 3 of his Historia general y natural de las Indias:[19]

Christopher Columbus, according to what I have learned from men of his nation, was originally from the province of Liguria, which is in Italy, where the city and the Seignory of Genoa stands: some say that he was from Savona, others that he was from a small place or village called Nervi, which is on the eastern seashore two leagues from the self same city of Genoa; but it is held to be more certain that he may have been originally from Cugurreo (Cogoleto) near the city of Genoa.

Many contemporary writers agree that the discoverer was Genoese:[3][6] In the volume published by the City of Genoa the testimony is cited of the historian Andres Bernaldez, who died in 1513. He was the author of a Historia de los Reyes Catolicos don Fernando y dona Isabel. In this work, belatedly published in Seville in 1869, it is written:[20] "In the name of Almighty God, a man of the land of Genoa, a merchant of printed books who was called Christopher Columbus." Actually, in the original text of Bernaldez, it says "land of Milan". However, this is merely lack of precision. In the 15th century, the Republic of Genoa was alternately fully and legally dependent on the Duchy of Milan and the latter's satellite. The editor rightly interpreted the Milanese reference in the sense of Genoese origin.

Columbus's Genoese birth is also confirmed by the works of the English Hakluyt (1601), of the Spaniard Antonio de Herrera (1612), the great Spanish dramatist Lope de Vega (1614), a paper manuscript dated 1626, conserved in Madrid's National Library, the works of the German Filioop Cluwer (1677), the German Giovanni Enrico Alsted (1649), the French Dionisio Petau (1724), and the Spaniard Luigi de Marmol (1667). This list represents the early writings of non-Italians. There were sixty-two Italian testimonies between 1502 and 1600. Of these fourteen are from Ligurian writers.[nb 12] It may be obvious, but not useless, to underline that the Venetians' (e.g. Trevisan's and Ramusio's) recognition of Columbus's Genoese birth constitutes a testimony as impartial as that of the Spaniards, French, and Portuguese.

Conformable to the testament in Seville (3 July 1539) is the evidence of Ferdinand Columbus, who states that his father was conterraneo (of the same country) with Mons. Agostino Giustiniani, who was, beyond all doubt,[21][22] born at Genoa:

Hijo de don Cristóbal Colón, genovés, primero almirante que descubrió las Indias ...[23]

Son of Christopher Columbus, Genoese, admiral who first discovered the Indies ...

Other information[edit]

Other testimony of contemporary or succeeding authors include:

  • A reference, dated 1492 by a court scribe Galindez, referred to Columbus as "Cristóbal Colón, genovés."[24]
  • The historian Peter Martyr d'Anghiera, was the earliest of Columbus's chroniclers and was in Barcelona when Columbus returned from his first voyage. In his letter of May 14, 1493, addressed to Giovanni Borromeo, he referred to Columbus as Ligurian,[nb 13] Liguria being the Region where Genoa is located.[nb 14]
  • Michele da Cuneo from Savona, a friend of Columbus' (possibly from childhood),[25] sailed with Columbus during the second voyage and wrote: "In my opinion, since Genoa was Genoa, there was never born a man so well equipped and expert in the art of navigation as the said lord Admiral."[26]
  • Giambattista Strozzi, a Florentine merchant, reported in a letter sent from Cadiz on March 19, 1494: "On the 7th of this month there arrived here in safety twelve caravels which came from the new islands found by Columbus Savonese, Admiral of the Ocean, for the king of Castile, having come in twenty-five days from the said islands of the Antilles."[21]
  • Cesáreo Fernández Duro in his book Colón y la Historia postuma, mentions the chronicler Alonso Estanquez, who has composed a Crónica de los reyes don Fernando y doña Isabel, before 1506, where he writes: "Cristobal Colón, genovés."[21]
  • In 1507 Martin Waldseemüller published a world map, Universalis Cosmographia, which was the first to show North and South America as separate from Asia and surrounded by water. Below the island of Hispaniola, near the coast of Paria (Central America) he inserted the words: "Iste insule per Columbum genuensem almirantem ex ma[n]dato regis Castelle invent[a]e sunt" or "these islands have been discovered by the Genoese admiral Columbus by order of the king of Castile."[27]
  • Witnesses in the 1511 and 1532 hearings in the Pleitos agreed that Columbus was from the Ligur. Another witness at the same hearing placed it more precisely, testifying, "I heard it said that [he] was from the seigneury of Genoa, from the city of Savona."[nb 15]
  • Father Antonio de Aspa, a Hieronymite from the convent of Mejorada, between 1512 and 1524, wrote a report on Columbus's first voyage, drawn largely from the Decades of Peter Martyr d'Anghiera, in which he claimed that Columbus was Genoese.[21][nb 16]
  • The Portuguese Jorge Reinel, in his map of 1519, writes the following words: "Xpoforum cõlombum genuensem."[29]
  • The German Simon Grynaeus, writes:[30] "Christophorus natione Italicus, patria Genuensis, gente Columba."
  • D. Diego, a grandson of the admiral, was knight of the Order of Santiago, in the genealogy section, of 1535, says: "Paternal Grandparents / Christopher Columbus, a native of Saona near Genoa, / and Filipa Moniz, a native of Libon."[21] In the same year, Pedro de Arana, a cousin of Columbus's Spanish mistress, testified that he knew Columbus was from Genoa.[nb 17]
  • The Spaniard Alonzo de Santa Cruz, c. 1550, said Columbus was from Nervi.[28]
  • The Spaniard Pedro Cieza de León writes that Columbus was originally from Savona.[31]
  • In his Commentarius de Ophyra regione apud Divinam Scripturam Commemorata of 1561, the Portuguese geographer Gaspar Barreiros, reported that Columbus was "Ligurian."[nb 18]
  • The Spaniard Jerónimo Zurita y Castro, writes:[32] "Christopher Columbus, man, as he said, whose company had always been for the sea and its predecessors, so that was foreign born and raised in poverty and the banks of Genoa."
  • The Portuguese António Galvão, writes:[33] "In the yeere 1492, in the time of Don Ferdinando king of Castile, he being at the siege of Granada, dispatched one Christopher Columbus a Genoway with three ships to goe and discouer Noua Spagna."
  • The Spaniard Gonzalo de Illescas, writes:[34] "Christopher Columbus Genoese, was born at Nervi, a village near to Genoa."
  • The Spaniard Esteban de Garibay, humanist and historian, writes:[35] "A man of the Italian nation, named Christopher Columbus, native of Cugurco (Cogoleto), or Nervi, village of Genoa."
  • The Portuguese João Matalio Metelo Sequano in 1580, writes that Columbus was born in the city of Genoa.[nb 19]
  • The Frenchman Lancelot Voisin de La Popelinière, writes:[36] "La plupart des princes chretiens, le nostre sur tous, l'Anglais, le Portugais, l'Espagnol mémes, n'avaient daigné préster sculement l'ouíe a l'ouverture que l'ltalien leur faisait."
  • The Spaniard Julián del Castillo, writes:[37] "Christopher Columbus, an Italian, was originally from Cogurio (Cogoleto) or Nervi, village near to the famous city of Genoa."
  • The German Michael Neander, writes:[38] "Christophoro Colombo Genuensi."
  • The Spaniard Gonzalo Argote de Molina clearly identified Albissola Marina as Columbus's birthplace.[39]
  • Friar Juan de la Victoria, author of the 16th century, wrote a Catálogo de los Reyes godos de España extracted from Fernández Duro in his Colón y La Historia Postuma; says the friar: "In the year 1488, the Italian Christopher Columbus, native of Cugureo (Cogoleto) or Nervi, village of Genoa, sailor."[21]
  • The Spaniard Juan de Castellanos, poet and chronicler, writes that Columbus was born in Nervi.[40]
  • The Spaniard Juan de Mariana, writes:[41] "Christopher Columbus, Genoese of nation."
  • The Portuguese Pedro de Mariz, historian and librarian, says that Columbus was Genoese.[42]


Scholars from all over the world agree that Columbus was Genoese.[nb 20]

Samuel Eliot Morison, in his book Christopher Columbus: Admiral of the Ocean Sea, notes that many existing legal documents demonstrate the Genoese origin of Columbus, his father Domenico, and his brothers Bartolomeo and Giacomo (Diego). These documents, written in Latin by notaries, were legally valid in Genoese courts. The documents, uncovered in the 19th century when Italian historians examined the Genoese archives, form part of the Raccolta Colombiana. On page 14, Morison writes:

House of Christopher Columbus in Genoa, Italy.

Besides these documents from which we may glean facts about Christopher's early life, there are others which identify the Discoverer as the son of Domenico the wool weaver, beyond the possibility of doubt. For instance, Domenico had a brother Antonio, like him a respectable member of the lower middle class in Genoa. Antonio had three sons: Matteo, Amigeto and Giovanni, who was generally known as Giannetto (the Genoese equivalent of "Johnny"). Giannetto, like Christopher, gave up a humdrum occupation to follow the sea. In 1496 the three brothers met in a notary's office at Genoa and agreed that Johnny should go to Spain and seek out his first cousin "Don Cristoforo de Colombo, Admiral of the King of Spain," each contributing one third of the traveling expenses. This quest for a job was highly successful. The Admiral gave Johnny command of a caravel on the Third Voyage to America, and entrusted him with confidential matters as well.

However, the not a single Raccolta document connects the Genoese Colombo to the Admiral Colon who sailed for Spain. In the early 1800s publications in Italy claimed Columbus was from Cugureo, Nervi, Bugiasco, Saona, Placencia, Genoa, Cuccaro, Cologneto and even proof that he was from Monferrato. as well as Calvi in Corsega.[49] Claims were made and continue to be made that the Raccolta contians many false documents, one of the critics was Spanish historian Angel de Altolaguirre y Duvale who took part in gathering documents for the Raccolta. [50] On the topic of Columbus' being born somewhere besides Genoa, Morison ignore it completely and states "Every contemporary Spaniard or Portuguese who wrote about Columbus and his discoveries calls him Genoese. Four contemporary Genoese chroniclers claim him as a compatriot. Every early map on which his nationality is recorded describes him as Genoese or Ligur, a citizen of the Ligurian Republic. Nobody in the Admiral's lifetime, or for three centuries after, had any doubt about his birthplace" and that "There is no more reason to doubt that Christopher Columbus was a Genoese-born Catholic Christian, steadfast in his faith and proud of his native city, than to doubt that George Washington was a Virginia-born Anglican of English race, proud of being an American."

The position of Morison, is adopted by the British historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto, who writes in his book:[51]

The Catalan, French, Galician, Greek, Ibizan, Jewish, Majorcan, Polish, Scottish, and other increasingly silly Columbuses concocted by historical fantasists are agenda-driven creations, usually inspired by a desire to arrogate a supposed or confected hero to the cause of a particular nation or historic community - or, more often than not, to some immigrant group striving to establish a special place of esteem in the United States. The evidence of Columbus's origins in Genoa is overwhelming: almost no other figure of his class or designation has left so clear a paper trail in the archives.

Paolo Emilio Taviani, in his book Cristoforo Colombo: Genius of the Sea discusses "the public and notarial acts - original copies of which are conserved in the archives of Genoa and Savona - regarding Columbus's father, Columbus himself, his grandfather, and his relatives." In Columbus the Great Adventure he further claims that Columbus named the small island of Saona "to honor Michele da Cuneo, his friend from Savona."[52]

This is fully accepted by Consuelo Varela Bueno, "Spain's leading authority on the texts, documents, and handwriting of Columbus."[53] She devotes several pages to the question of Columbus native land, and concludes that "all chroniclers of that period wrote that he was from Liguria in northern Italy."[54] The evidence supporting the Genoese origin of Columbus is also discussed by Miles H. Davidson. In his book Columbus Then and Now: A Life Reexamined, he writes:[28]

Diego Méndez, one of his captains, in testimony given in the Pleitos, he said that Columbus was "Genoese, a native of Savona which is a town near Genoa." Those who reject this and the more than ample other contemporary evidence, given by both Italian and Spanish sources as well as by witnesses at these court hearings, are simply flying in the face of overwhelming evidence. [...] What is the reason behind so much futile speculation? It can be mostly attributed to parochialism. Each of the nations and cities mentioned wants to claim him for its own. Since no effort was made to locate the supporting data until the early nineteenth century, and since at that time not all of the archives had been adequately researched, there was, initially, justification for those early efforts to establish who he was and where he came from. To do so today is to fulfill Montaigne's maxim, "No one is exempt from talking non-sense; the misfortune is to do it solemnly."


Although Columbus wrote almost exclusively in Spanish,[nb 21] there is a small handwritten Genoese gloss in a 1498 Italian (from Venice) edition of Pliny's Natural History that he read after his second voyage to America: this shows Columbus was able to write in Italian and understand it.[55] There is also a note in Italian in his own Book of Prophecies exhibiting, according to historian August Kling, "characteristics of northern Italian humanism in its calligraphy, syntax, and spelling".[nb 22] Phillips and Phillips point out that 500 years ago, the Latinate languages had not distanced themselves to the degree they have today. Bartolomé de las Casas in his Historia de las Indias claimed that Columbus did not know Spanish well and that he was not born in Castile.[56]

Valiant scholars have dedicated themselves to the subject of Christopher Columbus's language.[nb 23] They have conducted in-depth research both on the ship's log and on other of his writings that have come down to us. They have analyzed the words, the terms, and the vocabulary, as well as rather frequent variations often bizarre in style, handwriting, grammar, and syntax. Christopher Columbus's language is Castilian punctuated by noteworthy and frequent Lusitanian, Italian, and Genoese influences and elements.[3]

Catalan hypothesis[edit]

Since the early 20th century, researchers have attempted to connect Columbus to the Catalan-speaking areas of Europe, usually based on linguistic evidence. The first of them was Luis Ulloa, a historian from Peru who wrote a book in 1927, originally in French, defending the Catalan origin of Columbus.[57][nb 24] Some more recent studies also state Columbus had Catalan origins,[59] based on his handwriting, though these have been disputed.[60]

Throughout Columbus's life, he referred to himself as Christobal Colom; his contemporaries and family also referred to him as such. It is possible that Colom is the shortened form of Columbus used for the Italian surname Colombo (which means "dove"). Colom can also be a Portuguese, French, or Catalan name, and in the latter means "dove". There was a wealthy mercenary and merchant noble named Joan Colom i Bertran living in Barcelona in the 15th century, who has been proposed as the real Christopher Columbus.

According to Charles J. Merrill, a Doctor in medieval literature and associate professor of foreign languages, the analysis of Columbus's handwriting indicates that it is typical of someone who would be a native Catalan, and Columbus's phonetic mistakes in Castilian are "most likely" those of a Catalan, with examples such as "a todo arreo" (a tot arreu), "todo de un golpe" (tot d'un cop), "setcentas" (set-centes), "nombre" (instead of número), "al sol puesto" (el sol post).[61] Merrill states that the Genoese Cristoforo Colombo was a modest wool carder and cheese merchant with no maritime training and whose age does not match the one of Columbus.[61] Merrill's book Colom of Catalonia was published in 2008.[62]

Also, that he married a Portuguese noblewoman can be presented as evidence that his origin was of nobility rather than the Italian merchant class, since it was uncommon during his time for nobility to marry outside their class.[63] This same theory suggests he was the illegitimate son of a prominent Catalan seafaring family, which had served as mercenaries in a sea battle against Castilian forces.[63] Fighting against Ferdinand and being illegitimate were two reasons for hiding his origins.[63] Furthermore, the disinterment of his brother's body shows him to be a different age, by nearly 10 years, than the "Bartolome Colombo" of the Genoese family.[63]

However, Samuel Eliot Morison has cast no doubts regarding Columbus's marriage to the Portuguese noblewoman Filipa Perestrello.[64]

Greek hypothesis[edit]

The theory that Columbus was a Byzantine Greek nobleman was first proposed in scholarly fashion in 1943 by Seraphim G. Canoutas, a Greek-American lawyer and independent scholar.[65] The hypothesis rested mainly on statements attributed to Columbus by his son Ferdinand that Columbus had sailed for many years with Colombo the Younger, a famous seaman "of his name and family."[66] Canoutas pointed out that other scholars (including Harrisse, Salvagnini, Vignaud, and Gonzales de la Rosa[67]) had convincingly identified Colombo the Younger as Georges Paléologue de Bissipat (also known as Georges le Grec), an exiled Byzantine nobleman who was living in France by 1460 and rendering valuable service to the French king. However, these scholars rejected Columbus’s claim of kinship with de Bissipat.

Accepting the kinship claim as true, Canoutas established (through references to works by Du Cange[68] and Renet[69]) that Georges de Bissipat was in fact Georgios Palaiologos Dishypatos, scion of an ancient Byzantine noble family,[70] who fled to France sometime after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and, until his death in 1496, rendered important service to French kings Louis XI (1423–1483) and Charles VIII (1470–1498), including as vice-admiral. According to Canoutas, accepting that Dishypatos and Columbus were noble kinsmen and longtime sailing companions helped explain many anomalies that had to be ignored, or attributed to error or imposture in order to reconcile the accepted account of Columbus's early life as a wool-worker's son with his later life as a nobleman and Admiral.

Canoutas did not identify Columbus’s parents or place of birth, nor did he analyze Columbus’s claimed kinship bond with Dishypatos. However, Canoutas observed that the Byzantine imperial house of Palaiologos, to which Dishypatos was related on his mother’s side, was closely connected by blood or marriage to the ruling families of Italy, including those of Genoa and Montferrat, such as the Doria, Spinola, Centurione, and Gattelusio families.[71] For example, the Palaiologos family were the rulers of Montferrat for more than 200 years. This connection, he argued, might explain why Columbus’s contemporaries and others considered him to be Genoese or Ligurian.[72]

Another book written on his Greek origins is called “Christopher Columbus Was a Greek Prince and His real Name Was Nikolaos Ypsilantis from the Greek Island of Chios” by Spyros Cateras, New Hampshire, 1937. There is also a section in “The Secret Destiny of America” by Manly P. Hall, New York, 1944. pp 62–63.

Spanish-Jewish hypothesis[edit]

Some researchers have postulated that Columbus was of Iberian Jewish origins. The linguist Estelle Irizarry, in addition to arguing that Columbus was Catalan, also claims that Columbus tried to conceal a Jewish heritage.[73] In "Three Sources of Textual Evidence of Columbus, Crypto Jew,"[74] Irizarry notes that Columbus always wrote in Spanish, and occasionally included Hebrew in his writing, and referenced the Jewish High Holidays in his journal during the first voyage.

Simon Wiesenthal postulates that Columbus was a Sephardi (Spanish Jew), careful to conceal his Judaism yet also eager to locate a place of refuge for his persecuted fellow countrymen. Wiesenthal argues that Columbus' concept of sailing west to reach the Indies was less the result of geographical theories than of his faith in certain Biblical texts—specifically the Book of Isaiah. He repeatedly cited two verses from that book: "Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them," (60:9); and "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth" (65:17). Wiesenthal claimed that Columbus felt that his voyages had confirmed these prophecies.[75]

Jane Francis Amler argued that Columbus was a converso (a Sephardi Jew who publicly converted to Christianity). In Spain, even some converted Jews were forced to leave Spain after much persecution; it is known that many conversos were still practicing Judaism in secret.

In a footnote to his translation of George Sand's Un hiver à Majorque, Robert Graves remarks: "There is strong historical evidence for supposing that Cristobal Colom (Christopher Columbus) was a Majorcan Jew; his surname is still common in the island." [76]

Portuguese hypothesis[edit]

The first author who claimed Portuguese nationality for Christopher Columbus was Patrocínio Ribeiro in 1916.[77] The same text with some additions was again published in 1927, after his death, with a complementary study by the medical doctor Barbosa Soeiro relating Columbus' signature with the Kabbalah.

In 1988 José Mascarenhas Barreto published a book[78] which claims that Columbus was a Portuguese national and spy who hatched up an elaborate diversion to keep the Spanish from the lucrative trade routes that were opening up around Africa to the Indies. Barreto, through his interpretation of the Kabbalah and other research, suggested Columbus was born in Cuba, Portugal, the son of a nobleman and related to other Portuguese navigators. According to this claim, his real name was concealed, Christopher Columbus being a pseudonym, meaning Bearer of Christ and the Holy Spirit. His real name was supposedly Salvador Fernandes Zarco and he was the son of Dom Fernando, Duke of Beja, Alentejo and maternal grandson of João Gonçalves Zarco, discoverer of Madeira. Mascarenhas Barreto, however, has been discredited by Portuguese genealogist Luís Paulo Manuel de Meneses de Melo Vaz de São Paio in his works Carta Aberta a um Agente Secreto, Primeira Carta Aberta a Mascarenhas Barreto[79] and Carta Aberta a um "Curioso" da Genealogia.[80][nb 25]

Proponents of the Portuguese hypothesis also point to a court document which stated that Columbus' nationality was "Portuguese"[nb 26] and in another Columbus uses the words "my homeland" in relation to Portugal.[82]

Polish hypothesis[edit]

The latest theory sees Columbus as the son of the king of Poland Władysław III, who allegedly survived the battle of Varna in 1444 and later lived in Madeira.[83][nb 27] Manuel da Silva Rosa, an amateur historian currently working as an IT Analyst [85][86]spent 18 years researching the life of Columbus in Portugal and Spain and first published the hypothesis of the Polish origins of Columbus in COLÓN: La Historia Nunca Contada [COLUMBUS: The Untold Story] (2009).[87] In the book Rosa claims that Columbus was born Segismundo Henriques, the son of the exiled Polish King Władysław III, resident in the island of Madeira where Columbus also lived, and of a Portuguese noblewoman. The author believes Columbus would not have been able to marry Filipa Moniz Perestrelo, a Portuguese noblewoman, if he were not of noble birth himself because King John II was required to authorize Filipa's marriage.[88] The book attempts to solve the mystery of Columbus identity by utilizing Hernando Colón's claim that they are descendants of a Roman General who was the ancestor of the Italian Colonna family. Evidence is presented showing that the Kings of Poland also descended from the same Roman general Colonna.[89] The book shows a secret Columbus coat of arms inside the Columbus' private chapel[90] with a white eagle at center (arms of the Kings of Poland) and claims similarities exist between Columbus' original coat of arms and that of the Duques of Lithuania, ancestors of the Polish king, as well as the gold anchors on blue background of the Portuguese Henriques family as Columbus used.[91][92]

Other hypotheses[edit]

The Spanish historian Marisa Azuara has hypothesized that Columbus could be a Sardinian noble from the town of Sanluri, called Christòval Colòn: she claimed that he was son of Salvatore of Siena and Alagon and Isabella Alagon of Arborea, related with the Pope Pius II. At the time of his birth, the island of Sardinia was partially under Genoese economic and political rule, until it was conquered at the end of 15th century by the Kingdom of Aragon. Christòval Colòn would be born in 1436 and he spent his youth studying nautical science, and he spoke both Italian and Spanish.[93]

Norwegian Tor Borch Sannes has speculated that Columbus was Norwegian, comparing his coat of arms to that of the Bonde family who fled Norway for Italy in the 15th century.[94]

On 10 March 2009, British newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported that Spanish engineer and amateur historian[95] Alfonso Ensenat de Villalonga claimed that Christopher Columbus was "the son of shopkeepers not weavers and he was baptised Pedro not Christopher" and "his family name was Scotto, and was not Italian but of Scottish origin".[96]

In Calvi, a town on the north coast of Corsica, France, which used to be part of the Genoese Empire, one can see the ruins of a humble abode that locals believe to be Columbus' birthplace.[97][98]


  1. ^ A copy of this document, which dates back to the early seventeenth century and had been officially sent from Crown of Castile to the Republic of Genoa, is conserved in the State Archives of Genoa. The supposed original is in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville.
  2. ^ De Lollis observes that "the history of this important document is so clear that there is no doubt about its authenticity." Caddeo considers it authentic. Harrisse instead considers it a forgery from a later period. Madariaga states that the majorat "cannot be considered authentic," but adds, however, that it cannot be a complete invention and must have been edited on the basis of the 1502 testament, which has disappeared without a trace. Ballesteros refutes that thesis that it is a forgery; the authenticity of the document is proven by the rediscovery of a certificate, dated 28 September 1501, relative to the royal confirmation of the majorat in the archive of Simancas: "After this discovery the authenticity of the institution of the Columbus majorat has been clearly demonstrated and the historical clauses of the document have increased in value, as have Columbus's declarations regarding his Geonese birthplace."[3] This document was declared to be "worth the same as a blank piece of paper" by the Spanish tribunal when Baltazar Colombo presented it and the document rejected as not authentic.[4] The certificate dated 28 September 1501 is merely a copy of Columbus 1497 royal confirmation of the authorization to institute a majorat and it has none of the text in it that is in the "1598" majorat. Navarrete states that there is no authentic Majorat of 1498, there is only the document presented by Baltazar Colombo which the tribunal rejected.[5]
  3. ^ In May 2006, the Dr. Aldo Agosto, a noted Columbus scholar and state archivist at Genoa, has collected — for be officially presented to the conference of studies in Valladolid — one hundred and ten notarial documents, largely unpublished. Agosto claims these documents reconstruct the family tree of Christopher Columbus, going back as far as seven generations.
  4. ^ In light of the two acts cited, the tendency to compare, or worse, to confuse or replace the true "Genoese" Columbus family with other similarly named Ligurian, Lombard or foreign families collapses, as does the main argument of the dilettantes who oppose the Genoese documentation and try to maintain that there was indeed a Genoese Christopher Columbus, woolen-weaver, but who was not the discoverer of America.
  5. ^ "The summoned parties are absent and beyond Pisa and Nice."
  6. ^ The first nineteen of this book's fifty chapters were published in 1535, the first full version in 1851. This biography of Columbus was translated into Italian by Alfonso de Ulloa and printed for the first time in Venice in 1571.
    Alfonso de Ulloa was a Spaniard born in Caceres in 1529. His father, Francisco, fought for the emperor Charles V and in 1552 came to Venice as a secretary of the Spanish ambassador Diego Hurtado de Mendoza. Ulloa knew Italian so well that he rendered Spanish and Portuguese works into that language. His most famous translation is the Vita dell'Ammiraglio, 1571, "Ferdinand Columbus's life of his father," a book now of priceless value, because the original does not survive. The eminent American historian Washington Irving described the Vita as "an invaluable document, entitled to great faith, and is the corner-stone of the history of the American continent."[13]
  7. ^ In this regard, the eminent Spanish historian Antonio Ballesteros Beretta has written: "One person is responsible for the polemics about the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, and that person is his own son Ferdinand, who, in his biography of his father, displayed ignorance and doubts on a subject which, on the contrary, he should have known well. We must unhesitatingly point out that Don Ferdinand's work is rather tendentious and must be used with great caution. The problem of the Admiral's origin would not exist if Ferdinand had told the truth, which, instead, he deliberately concealed." "His dubious attitude" continues Ballesteros, "about the Discoverer's origins has given rise to an endless series of hypotheses, some of which are farfetched and fantastic. It is true that Ferdinand, in his father's biography, never ventures away from the Italian thesis, but he creates a great confusion. He tries to condition his readers, speaking of a noble family, from which his progenitor was presumably descended. He seeks it in Italy, and his attempts are aimed at creating a kind of nebula in which the splendour of an uncertain birth shines, and at the same time of a definite noble background. What is behind the father's silence and the confusion originated by the son?" Ballesteros has no hesitation in explaining: "We cannot blame Christopher or Ferdinand for having wanted to hide their origins. It was natural and human that Columbus, having reached great heights, at the side of the most powerful sovereigns of the earth, should conceal, with a claim of noble ancestry, his humble origins. Let us try to understand these human weaknesses and let us have compassion on his memory."[6]
  8. ^ The city of Piacenza was part of the Duchy of Milan; the Republic of Genoa was the latter's satellite.
  9. ^ Angelo Trevisan, chancellor and secretary to Domenico Pisano, the Venetian Republic's envoy to Spain, writing to Domenico Malipiero, member of Venice's Council of Predagi, notes that "I have succeeded in becoming a great friend of Columbus," and goes on to say: "Christoforo Colombo, Genoese, a tall, well-built man, ruddy, or great creative talent and with a long face."[6]
  10. ^ Gasparo Contarini, Venice's ambassador to the courts of Spain and Portugal, reporting to the Senate of the Venetian Republic on 16 November 1525 on the whereabouts of the island of Hispaniola (Haiti), spoke of the Admiral who was living there. The Admiral was Diego, Christopher's eldest son. Ambassador Contarini describes him thus: "This Admiral is son of the Genoese Columbus and has very great powers, granted to his father."[6]
  11. ^ Though he never appears to have had much to do with Columbus personally, Las Casas knew his son Diego, who provided some information on the early life of Columbus, and also was well acquainted with his natural son, Ferdinand. Las Casas knew both brothers of Columbus, Diego and Bartholomew, "rather well" and gave a succinct description of Bartholomew's person, temperament, and abilities, which demonstrated that he could both observe and describe with economy and distinction. Pedro de Arana, captain of one of the ships Columbus had on his third voyage and brother of Ferdinand Columbus' mother, was another member of the Columbus family group whom Las Casas knew well. He also "held frequent conversations" with Juan Antonio Colombo, a Genoese relative of Columbus, master of a ship on the third voyage.[16] Thus Las Casas enjoyed such an intimate and, at the same time, so extensive a knowledge of the Columbus family circle and of both printed and manuscript material on the subject, that he was able to write of the Admiral of the Ocean Sea with unequaled familiarity and authority.
  12. ^ The other authors being Lombards, Venetians, Tuscans, Neapolitans, Sicilians and one Maltese.[6]
  13. ^ "Christophorus Colonus quidam ligur vir" or "a certain Christopher Columbus, man of Liguria"
  14. ^ Peter Martyr d'Anghiera uses the two words, "Ligurian" and "Genoese", interchangeably. In the first Decade of his De Orbe Novo, book I: "homo ligur". In the second Decade, book I: "Christophorum Colonum ligurem" and book VII: "Christophoro Colono Genuensi" (NRC, VI, 1988).
  15. ^ Testimony of Rodrigo Barreda: "oyo decir que hera de la senioria de Genova de la cibdad de Saona."[28]
  16. ^ Father Antonio de Aspa mentions that three Genoese merchants helped to finance the venture: Jacopo Di Negro, from Seville, Zapatal, from Jerez, and Luis Doria, from Cadiz. To these names we can add the Genoese merchants Rivarolo, Doria, Castagno and Gaspare Spinola, mentioned by Nuncibay in his Genealogia de la Casa de Portugal, and in Columbus's correspondence with his son Diego. Ballesteros remarks that the only certain thing is that the Italian families of Pinello, Berardi, Centurione, Doria, Spinola, Cattaneo, Di Negro and Rivarolo appear continually in the presence of the great Genoese.[6]
  17. ^ Pedro was close enough to Columbus to have commanded a vessel on his third voyage across the Atlantic.[28]
  18. ^ "Duce Christophoro Colono Ligure."[29]
  19. ^ "Christophorus ergo Columbus, prouincia Ligur, vrbe, vt aiunt, genuensis, qui Maderam inhabitabit."[29]
  20. ^ They include the two greatest Columbians in Spain, Antonio Ballesteros Beretta, professor at the University of Madrid, and Juan Manzano Manzano, professor of Seville University; the leading North American authority, Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison; and the Argentinian Diego Luis Molinari, professor at the University of Buenos Aires. Obviously there are many more — admirers and detractors alike — who accept Genoa as his birthplace, including Robertson, Navarrete, Milhou, Irving, Boorstin, Demetrio Ramos, Carpentier, D'Avezac, Manuel Alvar, Nunez Jimenez, Munoz, Peschel, Duro, Mollat, Harrisse, Perez de Tudela, Aynashiya, Morales Padron, Magidovic, Roselly de Lorgues, Asensio, Braudel, Winsor, Fiske, Ciroanescu, Ruge, Markham, Serrano y Sanz, Obregon, Laguarda Trias, Thacher, de Gandia, Emiliano Jos, Aurelio Tio, Goldemberg, Vignaud, Ramirez Corria, Alvarez Pedroso, Marta Sanguinetti, Altolaguirre, Breuer, Leithaus, Alegria, Arciniegas, Davey, Nunn, Johnson, Juan Gil, Sumien, Charcot, Ballesteros Gaibrois, Levillier, Dickey, Parry, Young, Streicher, de La Ronciere, Muro Orejon, Pedroso, Brebner, Houben, Rumeu de Armas, de Madariaga, Stefansson, Martinez Hidalgo, Taylor, Mahn Lot, Consuelo Varela, Verlinden, Bradford, Heers, Davidson,[28] Bergreen,[43] Fernandez-Armesto,[44] McGovern,[45] Kirkpatrick Sale,[46] William and Carla Phillips.[47] Among the leading Italian authorities on Columbus, who also concur, are Spotorno, Sanguineti, Tarducci, Peragallo, Desimoni, De Lollis, Salvagnini, Uzielli, Assereto, Pessagno, Caddeo, Magnaghi, Almagia, Revelli and Bignardelli. Among the famous historians and geographers who have written general works that make reference to Columbus's Genoese birth, we will mention only Humboldt, the great 19th-century German geographer; Burckhardt, author of the prestigious Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy; Fisher, the distinguished English historian; Pirenne, the eminent Belgian historian; Merzbacher, professor of History of Law at the University of Innsbruck; and Konetzke, professor of Iberian and Latin-American History at Cologne University.[6]
    The eminent Italian historian, Paolo Emilio Taviani, devoted his time to the study of Christopher Columbus, becoming "one of the world's leading authorities on the subject. He retraced the voyages of the Genoese navigator and wrote numerous books about his life and times. Taviani, who was made a life senator in 1991, donated his collection of 2,500 volumes on Columbus to a council-owned library in his native Genoa."[48]
  21. ^ The oldest fragment of writing certainly attributable to Columbus is a marginal note in one of his books. De Lollis dates it around 1481. It is written in bad Spanish, mixed with Portuguese. All Columbus's letters, even those addressed to Genoese friends and to the Bank of Saint George, are written in Castilian.[6]
  22. ^ De Lollis claims that Columbus wrote these notes in Italian because of his deep bitterness, at that time, against the Spanish court. Ballesteros advances a more logical theory, suggesting that this is the psychological reaction of an elderly man, nostalgic for his homeland. Surely Columbus would never have written in Italian if he had not been in such close touch with many compatriots, first in Portugal, then in Spain and finally during his voyages of discovery. It is generally accepted that he was on friendly terms with Genoese, Tuscans, Corsicans, Venetians and Neapolitans, and the point has been especially underlined by historians.[6]
  23. ^ Chief among them are Menéndez Pidal, Arce, Caraci, Chiareno, Juan Gil, Milano, Consuelo Varela.[3]
  24. ^ The greatest of all Spanish historians Antonio Ballesteros Beretta,[22][58] Professor of the University of Madrid and director of the monumental series of publications on the Historia de America y de los pueblos americanos, engaged in a deeper scrutiny of the Catalan thesis. He writes: "[Ulloa] penetrates the great labyrinth of Columbus court documents to gather arguments in favor of his preconceived theory. It is not possible to follow him in all of his lucubrations. His fiery imagination pushes him into a continuous hermeneutics." "But what document, what proof," Ballesteros continues, "can be exhibited which affirms that Columbus was Catalonian? Absolutely none" and concludes that "with the Catalonian thesis we are faced by a system of clues based essentially on a negative approach, which declares that anything which can prove that the discoverer was Genoese is false."[3]
  25. ^ In this regard, the eminent American historian Samuel Eliot Morison writes: "If, however, you suppose that these facts would settle the matter, you fortunately know little of the so-called "literature" on the "Columbus Question." By presenting farfetched hypotheses and sly innuendos as facts, by attacking documents of proven authenticity as false, by fabricating others (such as the famous Pontevedra documents), and drawing unwarranted deductions from things that Columbus said or did, he has been presented as Castilian, Catalan, Corsican, Majorcan, Portuguese, French, German, English, Greek, and Armenian."[64]
  26. ^ The document describes the person as Portuguese but his name is empty. However, Antonio Rumeo De Armas in his book identifies the person, whose name is omitted, as Christopher Columbus by matching it with the payment receipt in Alonso de Quintanilla's ledgers. It should be noted that Rumeu de Armas thinks Columbus was Genoese but so influenced by his years in Portugal that he could have been mistaken for a Portuguese by Spaniards.[81]
  27. ^ However, according to the official historiography he was killed by the Turks[84] and his head impaled on a stake to terrify the infidels.


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  66. ^ "The first cause of the Admiral's coming to Spain and devoting himself to the sea was a renowned man of his name and family, called Colombo, who won great fame on the sea because he warred so fiercely against infidels and the enemies of his country that his name was used to frighten children in their cradles... He was called Colombo the Younger to distinguish him from another Colombo who in his time also won fame on the sea.... I return to my main theme. While the Admiral was sailing in the company of the said Colombo the Younger (which he did for a long time)...." Keen, Benjamin (trans.), The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by his Son Ferdinand (Rutgers Univ. Press, New Brunswick 1959), pp. 12-13. Ferdinando's biography is found at: Historie del S.D. Fernando Colombo (Italian)
  67. ^ Canoutas cited: Harrisse, Henry, Les Colombo de France et d’Italie (Paris 1872); Salvagnini, Alberto, “Cristoforo Colombo e i corsari Colombo,” Commissione Colombiana: Raccolta di documenti e studi pubblicati dalla R. Commissione Colombiana (Rome 1892-1896), Pt. II, vol. III; Vignaud, Henry, Études critiques sur la vie de Christophe Colomb avant ses découvertes (Paris 1905), pp. 129-189; and Gonzales de la Rosa, Manuel, La solution de tous les problèmes relatifs à l’origine et la vie de C. Colomb (Paris 1902), p. 19 (also in Proceedings of the International Congress of Americanists, Sess. 12 (1900), pp. 43-62).
  68. ^ Du Cange, Charles du Fresne, Historia Byzantina duplici commentario illustrata (Paris 1680), Vol. 1 Familiae Byzantinae, Ch. XLII Familia Palaeologorum Bissipatorum, pp. 256-257. Found at: Historia Byzantina
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  70. ^ Cf. Entries for “Dishypatos,” The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Vol. 1 (Oxford Univ. Press, New York & Oxford 1991), pp. 638-639.
  71. ^ Cf. Entry for “Palaiologos,” The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Vol. 3 (Oxford Univ. Press, New York & Oxford 1991), pp. 1557-1560.
  72. ^ Canoutas, op cit. pp. 68, 123.
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