Mapping Christopher Columbus

An Historical Geography of His Early Life to 1492


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About the Book

The impact of Christopher Columbus’s first transatlantic voyage launched an unprecedented explosion of European exploration. Throughout the last 500 years, scholars have recognized this transforming event, and they have written extensively on the subject. To date, no American author has dedicated a book to Columbus’s life before 1492. This biography does so, with a focus on geographical experiences that affected his formulation of a transatlantic concept.

Incorporating extensive research from American and European scholars (historians, geographers, anthropologists, and cartographers), the author proposes that Columbus systematically built a transatlantic voyage proposal from knowledge gained on previous voyages in the Mediterranean Sea and Eastern Atlantic Ocean. The book’s extensive use of maps place Columbus’s actions on specific land and ocean locations. Persons interested in gleaning more information about Columbus’s maritime background will find a plethora of maps to visualize the extent of his early travels.

About the Author(s)

Al M. Rocca is a professor emeritus of history and education at Simpson University in Redding, California. He has taught as an adjunct professor in history and geography at California State University, Monterey Bay. He served as editor of the Social Studies Review (California Council for the Social Studies) for many years and served as a member on several statewide committees constructing or reviewing history and social science educational materials and programs. He lives in Chico, California.

Bibliographic Details

Al M. Rocca
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 260
Bibliographic Info: 92 maps, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2023
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8755-1
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4806-4
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

List of Maps vii
Foreword by Ilaria Luzzana Caraci 1
Preface 3
Introduction 7
1. Youth and Early Adventures, 1451–1476 13
Young Columbus in the World of Genoese Mediterranean Mercantilism  13
The Expanding Mediterranean World of Columbus  17
Columbus Enters the Atlantic Ocean  23
2. The Ottoman Threat, 1453–1481 29
Muslim (Ottoman) Expansion in the Eastern Mediterranean  29
Genoese Colonies in the Black Sea Fall to Ottomans  33
Ottoman Atrocities and an Attack on Italy  34
3. History of Atlantic Exploratory Expansion 39
Atlantic Exploratory Voyages, Stage 1: Phoenician  39
Atlantic Exploratory Voyages, Stage 2: Roman Expansion of the Mediterranean and Extension into the Atlantic  40
Atlantic Exploratory Voyages, Stage 3A: Medieval (Vikings)  43
Atlantic Exploratory Voyages, Stage 3B: Medieval (Genoa and Venice)  48
Atlantic Exploratory Voyages, Stage 4: North Atlantic Fishing and Zones of Opportunity  50
4. Columbus Explores the North Atlantic, 1476–1478 55
Columbus in Portugal and His Life in Lisbon  55
Columbus Sails North to England, 1476 or 1477  57
Columbus and the Five Zones of Habitation  59
From England to Iceland and Beyond, 1477  60
Did Columbus Sail to Iceland?  65
Is Thule Really Greenland?  68
The Problem with Ancient and Medieval Translations  71
5. Marriage, Madeira, Porto Santo, and the African Coast, 1478–1481 76
Columbus Heads South  76
Columbus Marries  78
The Importance of the Islands of Porto Santo and Madeira  79
The Enterprise to the Indies Is Conceived  83
1482 and the Psychology of Discovery  86
The African Coast, São Jorge da Mina, and the Equatorial Region  88
The Alonso Sánchez Mystery, 1482  94
6. Columbus and Slavery Before 1492 100
Questions to Frame the Discussion  100
Slavery in the 15th Century  100
Columbus’s Early Experience with Slavery  103
New World Indigenous Slavery Before Columbus  109
Columbus and Slavery, 1492  117
7. The Toscanelli Map and King João II (Portugal), 1483–1485 124
Columbus Builds a Transatlantic Concept  124
The Toscanelli Letter and Atlantic Geography  126
Portuguese Atlantic Exploration  128
Muslim Expansion in Africa and King João’s Response  133
8. Columbus Builds His Cartographic Support 138
Christopher and Bartholomew Columbus’s Mapmaking Business  138
The Ptolemy World Map and the Size of Asia  139
1452 Leardo Map  144
1457 Genoese Map  149
1459 Fra Mauro Map  151
Toscanelli Map and the Small Earth Concept  152
Antillia and the Pareto Chart  155
9. Columbus Wins Approval from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, 1485–1492 158
Columbus Moves to Spain  158
Columbus Meets Ferdinand and Isabella Again  160
Columbus Back in Portugal and the Dias Voyage  162
Friar Juan Pérez, the Martellus Map, and the Behaim Globe  165
The Columbus Plan and Atlantic Zones of Opportunity  169
A New Plan and a New Approach, 1489–1492  175
Expected Zones of First Contact  184
10. Columbus’s Geographic Perspectives on the Eve of His 1492 Voyage 188
Columbian View of the Atlantic World  188
Perceptions of a Columbian Exchange  195
A Future for Social Globalism  200
The Problem of Geographic Complexity  204
Acknowledgments 211
Chapter Notes 213
Sources and Bibliography 235
Index 243

Book Reviews & Awards

• “Rocca’s book focuses on Columbus’s life and voyages prior to 1492 with the goal of determining how his idea of sailing west to reach Asia originated and evolved. … [He] contends that Columbus, during his voyages in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, used his observations to develop a model for how the winds and currents circulated. This knowledge made sailing west across the Atlantic to reach Asia feasible… Rocca draws on many primary and secondary sources to support his conclusion…persuasive…recommended”—Choice

• “Mapping Christopher Columbus is a valuable addition to the literature. In great detail, Rocca explains how Columbus became certain that he could reach the Orient by sailing west.”—Simonetta Conti, professor emeritus, University of Campania, Italy

• “By showing the evolving conceps of geography available to Columbus, Rocca’s Mapping Christopher Columbus provides a wonderful background to his voyages. It should be read by all those interested in the man.”—Carol Delaney, author, Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem

• “Rocca demonstrates through in-depth analysis that it was essentially the navigation experiences before the first transatlantic voyage that allowed Columbus to build and improve, little by little, his project Mapping Christopher Columbus is a new, significant, and useful contribution to Colombian historiography”—Ilaria Caraci, University of Rome, Tres

• “Rocca does an excellent job showing the moral quagmire in which Columbus found himself. Here I see a man with a moral compass having to deal with the Amerindians’ cultural history of slavery, the destruction of La Navidad, and Spanish leaders entrusted to carry out Columbus’s rule to treat natives fairly and humanely.”—Robert Stevens, University of Texas at Tyler

• “Rocca identifies the most scientifically significant topics and expresses even difficult ideas with clarity; even the geographical maps that accompany the text are excellent from every point of view: clear, easy to understand and created with great geographical competence.”—Carla Masetti, University of Rome, Tres

• “A valuable addition to the literature about Columbus. I have read [Samuel Eliot] Morison’s book and the works of many others, but none of them fully explain how Columbus became so certain that he could reach the Orient by sailing west. You do.”—Joe Scafetta, author, The True and Complete Story of Christopher Columbus