With Bartolomeu Dias’ “discovery” in 1460, the Portuguese knew how far away it was to the end of Africa and that at that time it was too far away to go by ship all the way to India. Making such a long journey would require bigger ships to carry large enough loads of goods to make the voyage profitable. The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama was the first European to travel around Africa to India in 1498. Two years later the Portuguese sent a large fleet of ships to India, but they lost their way in a storm in the Atlantic Ocean and made landfall instead in what is now Brazil. Portuguese is still the language of Brazil.
1492 is a monumental year in American history, but it was momentous in Spain before Columbus ever left. From 711-1492, Spanish Christians and North African Muslims, called Moors, fought for control of Spain. The Moors pushed all the way to France before, gradually over seven centuries known as the Reconquista, the Christians “reconquered” Spain. The final push for victory came with the marriage of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile and the unification of their regions into a united Spain. United by the first ever King and Queen of Spain, the Spanish finally defeated the Moors in 1492.
With victory in hand, the Spanish needed to catch up to their Iberian neighbors, Portugal. Similar to the U.S. – Soviet space race, the Portuguese had jumped ahead in the race to Asia by rounding Africa. Christopher Columbus was no stranger to the Spanish court, but his radical theory was rejected there and in every other European court he had asked for assistance.
Your homework for next week is to answer the following question. What was so controversial about Christopher Columbus’ theory?
Editors Note: Travis Childs is a history instructor at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. He is a graduate of Midway High School and lives in Bluegrove. He is currently president of the Clay County Historical Society.