Columbus’s Identity Crisis and the Ongoing Spread of False Columbus News
The news was astounding! Famous India was discovered just a month’s sailing across the Atlantic, proclaimed the first-ever International Press Release, dated Lisbon, March 4, 1493.
The outrageous assertion addressed to Luis de Santángel (clerk of Ración de la Corona de Aragón,) begins, “ Sir: Since I know that you will rejoice with the glorious success that our Lord has given me in my voyage, I write this to tell you that in 33 days I sailed to the Indies,” wrote Don Cristóbal Colón; the newly created Admiral of the Ocean Sea, Viceroy and Governor of the Indies.
Commonly known today as Colón’s First Letter, the published newsflash was so extraordinary that it spread like wildfire amongst the population of Europe.
You may have never heard of the noble knight named Don Cristóbal Colón that discovered the New World on October 12, 1492, because historians gave the discovery fame to another man. The man historians chose was Cristoforo Colombo, a peasant weaver from Genoa, Italy, whom the English call by the Latinized name of Christopher Columbus.
Inspiracion de Cristobal Colón by Jose Maria Obregon, 1856. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
What’s In A Name: Columbus’s Mistaken Identity
For the last 100 years, Italians have celebrated their Genoese Christopher Columbus, and professors still teach this Christopher Columbus fairytale in schools all around the globe. Historians mixed up the noble navigator Colón with the peasant weaver Colombo, giving the wool-weaver the glory that did not belong to him. Contemporary documents prove that the Genoese weaver Christopher Columbus was not the explorer Don Cristóbal Colón. The investigation of the documents by this author is published in COLUMBUS-The Untold Story.
How did such a mistake come to be? It was not just a simple case of mistaken identity.
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How Mistakes Lead to Mistaken Identity
To understand how researchers took the wrong road to Genoa, we must recognize the labyrinth of misinformation created initially by the printing press in 1493. Also imperative to this story is a 30-year-long Spanish Inheritance Lawsuit initiated in 1578. Aside from the false news published in the European Press of the day, forged documents were introduced during the Inheritance Lawsuit to support the Genoese Christopher Columbus.
As soon as Admiral Colón anchored in Lisbon on March 4, 1493, he sent the now-famous letter to Santángel who, not only helped to convince Queen Isabel to sponsor him, but had lent money to the Spanish Crown to finance the 1492 voyage. It is not clear how the Barcelona printer Pedro Posa managed to get his hands on the missive sent to Santángel. Still, during its printing Posa gave the discoverer the surname of Colom. Posa’s final sentence reads, “ This letter was sent by Colom to the Escrivano de Ración about the islands discovered in the Indies, contained in another letter to Their Highnesses,” (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Second page of the Barcelona Letter printed in April 1493 by Pedro Posa, ending with, “This letter sent Colom...” Colom means pigeon in Catalan. (The New York Public Library)
This minor misspelling by Posa was probably an innocent mistake. Using an m instead of an n was the first misinformation step. A more considerable error arose just a few weeks later when Posa’s publication was translated by Aliander de Cosco into Latin and republished in Rome on April 29, 1493. This Roman news pamphlet further corrupted the name Colom into Columbo, gaining the infamy of being the first publication to give the false name of Columbo to Colón, as shown in Figure 2.
Ever since Cosco’s 1493 publication, the mistake of changing Colón into Colombo spread to all non-Spanish-speaking nations. Colón’s propaganda letter was such a sensation that eleven editions were published in 1493 alone. Between 1494 and 1497, six more editions were published, spreading the news of the discovery to the four corners of Europe. The unaware public never knew they were being communicated false information.
Figure 2. Section of the First Letter printed in Rome, showing the printing error of the name as “Columbo.” (Source: Library of Congress, Control Number: 46031077)
Those who contended that the navigator’s surname was Colombo were people outside of Spain, living far from the events and alien to the truth. Hence all places outside Spain started to know Admiral Colón by the wrong name of Colombo/Columbus.
However, Colombo and Columbus were not the only wrong versions of the Admiral’s surname. Various publications show no agreement on the surname with variations such as Christofori Colom, Christophorum Coloni, Christoforo Colûbo, Christophoro Colõbo, Christofano Colombo, Xpõfano Cholonbo, among others - see Figure 3.
Figure 3. Various versions of Colón’s letter where the name appears according to the printer’s taste. (Author compilation)
This false portrayal of the mastermind of the epic voyage as Columbo instead of Colón was a mistake that grew and grew over the centuries and tricked historians into investigating and writing about the wrong person.
The error continued until the present day and has been impossible to correct.
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The Voyage from Colón to Columbus
We can now comprehend how from 1493 until today the media, (authors, printers and translators,) have been altering the facts about Admiral Colón’s life. First, they distorted the name of Colón to Colom in Catalan, and then to Columbo, Columbus, Colombo, Kolomb, and so on. The rest, as they say, is history, albeit erroneous.
Had Cristóbal Colón’s voyage taken place just a few decades earlier, before the establishment of the printing press, he would not have garnered so much worldly fame, and less confusion would have been created around his identity.
Don Hernando Colón, Don Cristóbal’s son, wrote in his Historie that the Latin form of his father’s name was Christopher Colonus; thus, not Columbus – see Figure 4. This explanation was necessary because countless people were already calling his father by the wrong name during Hernando’s lifetime. Don Hernando even explained that the name Colón came from the Greek kōlon, meaning member in that language. The same word where the English language got its colon and semicolon from.
Figure 4. Page 3 of Don Hernando’s Historie where he wrote Christopher Colonus. (Internet Archive)
Contrary to the Portuguese language, where Colom corresponds to a Portuguese form of the Spanish Colón, unfortunately, the word colom in Catalan means pigeon. The Catalan colom in Posa’s printing is equivalent to the Italian colombo and the Latin columbus, which are not the same as the Greek kōlon.
Nevertheless, historians insisted, contrary to Hernando’s clarifications and many of Cristóbal Colón’s own documents, that his name was Colombo with the meaning of pigeon in Italian. Aside from discounting Don Hernando’s statements, the researchers asserted continuously and incorrectly that Hernando had lied about this father’s name and identity. They even named him falsely Hernando Colombo when printing his Historie in 1571.
The Spanish documents show that the correct name is Cristóbal Colón, never Colombo. Colón is the surname the discoverer used while living in Spain - see Figure 5. Colón has been the name for him and his descendants in Spain and all Spanish-speaking nations for 530 years. Colón is the surname by which his Spanish descendants are presently known.
Figure 5. The title page from Don Cristóbal Colón’s Book of Privileges prepared by the discoverer in 1502 reads Cartas Previlegios Cedulas y otras Escrituras de Dõ Xpõval Colon Almirãte Mayor del Mar Oceano Visorey y Governador de las Islas y Tierrra Firme [Letters, Grants, Bonds and other Documents of D. Cristóbal Colón, Admiral Major of the Atlantic, Viceroy and Governor of the Islands and Continent.] (Source: University of North Carolina at Chapell Hill, Rare Books Collection, RBC folio E114.S84c.1.)
Obscuring the Truth
Many authors, including those of the Raccolta Colombiana, used the names Colón and Colombo indiscriminately and interchangeably as if they were the same name. Treating both surnames as the same caused even more confusion. They would certainly not have done so innocently, but to remove obvious doubts that exposed the Genoese weaver as not being the Iberian navigator.
“Not a single document from the Raccolta proves the Italian origin of Colón or clarifies the mystery of his birth and childhood,” declared Ezquerra Abadía in 1966, and we totally concur.
Contemporary Spanish writers who knew the navigator in person referred to him as Colom or Colon. For example, “Don Christoual Colom was the first discoverer and Admiral of these Indies,” wrote Oviedo (1478-1557) at the beginning of his second book Historia general de las Indias. Andrés Bernáldez (1450-1513), in his Historia de los Reyes Catholics Don Fernando y Doña Isabel wrote “whom they called Christobal Colon, a man of very high ingenuity."
Pedro Matire de Anghiera, the chaplain to Queen Isabel, wrote “Cristophorus Colonus” in his book De orbe nouo…
Colón in Spanish is not a translation of the Italian word Colombo, which is palomo in Spanish.
The merging of the two names into one happened either because biographers wrongly accepted the two as the same person, or possibly because it is evident that they were not the same person and some authors were intent in falsifying the story, just as they have.
This fact caused Afonso Dornelas to write that “Colón certainly never imagined that confusion could arise between Colombos and Colóns.”
This grave translation error, however, continues to be accepted today and has proven to be impossible to correct. For instance, when trying to translate the Latin word columbus into Spanish, dictionaries give us Colón and not palomo. In the same way, when we search for the translation of Colón into English, Lithuanian or any other language, we get the mistranslation as Columbus, Kolumbas, Kolumb, Colomb, Colombo, just to mention a few, and not the Greek κῶλον nor the Latin colon.
Today, it is clear that the discoverer’s name was not Colombo but Colón and that he was not the Colombo weaver from Genoa. Still, how could researchers accept and graft the Colombo weaver into Colón’s story?
Portrait of a Man, Said to be Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547) (Public Domain)
Columbus Lies, Double-Dealings, and Forgeries
The false propaganda and rumors had a way to overwhelm the truth. Yet Colombo families in Genoa did not believe they were related to the famous Colón from Spain.
In 1578, when Colón’s great-grandson, Don Diego Colón, died without an heir, all the discoverer’s great-grandchildren fought for the posts, titles, real estate, gold, and lands, some of which were considerable territories in the New World. This inheritance lawsuit lasted until 1609; 30 years of litigation
When the Italian Colombo families learned of this inheritance, some decided to try and steal it for themselves. However, since they were not related to the Spanish Colón family, they needed to forge documents to present to the Spanish Tribunal. The forgeries were not only done by the Colombo pretenders but also by the Genoese government itself in the attempt to inherit what would be, perhaps, the wealthiest inheritance at the time:
In 1582, arrived Don Baltazar Colombo, Lord of Cuccaro in Italy, in Monferrato, but residing in Genoa. In 1588, another Italian, Don Bernardo Colombo, arrived ... But this litigator was forced to withdraw because it was demonstrated during the litigation the falsity of the documents on which his claim was based. (GANDÍA, Pg 52)
In the 1580s, not one Colombo was found in Genoa who believed himself related to the Colón family from Spain. Bernardo Colombo, one false pretender who fought for the opportunity to be named the heir to the Spanish House of Colón, was from Cogoleto and not Genoa.
The other false pretender, Baltazar Colombo was a nobleman who could afford to prepare a better deception. But he too failed to prove that Colón was a noble Italian, not from Genoa, but from Baltazar’s land of Cuccaro.
Baltazar supported the defense of his cause through purchased witness testimony, including a monk who claimed under oath to remember the birth of the Colón brothers in the Castle of Cuccaro. Knowing that Admiral Colón was born circa 1455 and that the monk’s testimony was written around 1580, how could he swear that he remembered something that had happened 125 years earlier?
Nevertheless, this second Genoese pretender persevered and fought for Colón’s inheritance for nearly three decades. With so much documentation forged in the lawsuit, it became difficult for the judges of the Tribunal to decipher where the truth was. Still, lucidity persevered, as the transcripts from the lawsuit show:
Notoriously excluded [...] is the aforementioned Don Baltazar [Colombo], for not belonging, as he claimed to belong, to the same family of the [...] founder [Don Cristóbal Colón] [...] Don Baltazar is not, nor proved to be, a relative of the founder [...] [the 1498 Last Will that he presented was] neither legitimate, nor public, nor authentic, nor solemn [...] after analysis by all the judges of the investigative Council, it proved to be nothing more than a simple paper. (CANOVA & MARTUCHO)
What is clear is that a pretender who did not belong to the Colón family would have to forge all of his documents to have any chance of entering the inheritance lawsuit. And among the papers presented by Baltazar Colombo is a Last Will of 1498. In it one can read, “I was born in Genoa.” The 1498 Last Will was suspected at the outset as not authentic, thus fraudulent, and duly rejected:
And because it was said, explicitly and openly, that the aforementioned Baltazar had previously presented the aforementioned Last Will, which he considers authentic, along with other writings, Your Majesty should not accept the fraud that may result, because what Baltazar previously presented was supposed to correspond only to a missing page of the [true] Last Will of 1502. (CANOVA & MARTUCHO)
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Do The Forgeries Say It All?
When we saw this 1498 Last Will at the Archivo General de Indias in Seville in 2003, we knew instantly that it was a forgery. The first word of the document reads, “ Tresaldo,” which means Copy, yet the document is signed “ El Almirante,” The Admiral. Another words, this supposed copy is signed by the Admiral who was already dead. Furthermore, the date on the document is 1 598 but someone wrote a 4 over the 5 to make it look like 1498, as shown in Figure 6. The Last Will of 1498, claiming Colón was born in Genoa and utilized today by so many historians in their false claims that Colón was the Genoese Colombo, was reviewed and rejected as a forgery by the Spanish Tribunal in the 16th century.
Figure 6. The fraudulent 1498 Last Will’s first page on the left has as its first word Treslado. The last page on the right shows the signature “El Almirante” instead of a name, and the date 1 598 corrected to 1 498, as seen on inset. (Arquivo Geral de Índias, PATRONATO, 295, N.101.)
Only 72 years had passed since the death of the First Admiral of the Indies. Still, no person in Genoa, and not even the Genoese government, seemed to know that the famous Don Cristóbal Colón was supposed to be the Cristoforo Colombo weaver from that city. Genoa’s Senate chose instead to support a false Bernardo Colombo pretender from Cogoleto to go to Spain and try to steal the inheritance from the navigator’s legitimate descendants.
This episode shows how no one in Genoa believed that Don Cristóbal Colón was Genoese, despite the publications and searches for relatives of the navigator carried out by the Senate of Genoa. The best they could find were two postulants, Bernardo of Cogoleto and Baltazar of Cuccaro, both without any blood ties to the famous Spanish Colón.
Since Don Cristóbal Colón never belonged to a Colombo family and considering that he was not born in Genoa, as it appears he was not, all Genoese documents become suspicious of being fraudulent and should be discarded as not being part of Don Cristóbal Colón’s story.
The puzzle of Don Cristóbal’s identity became much more complicated because of Baltazar’s false documents that historians later accepted as authentic and continue to be accepted nowadays. They also claim falsely that the surnames Colón and Colombo were the same. Baltazar Colombo appears as Baltazar Colon in several of the lawsuit documents, something intolerable to accept because, as we have shown, the two surnames are very different in meaning, and the two families were unrelated. (CANOVA & MARTUCHO)
How was it that the Tribunal of the Indies rejected the 1498 Last Will as “not authentic” and this deception by Baltazar came to be accepted as authentic by historians who then presented it as the only Iberian proof of Colón’s Genoese birth?
The Assereto Document Age Discrepancy
The last document utilized in the fraud of the Genoese Columbus, and the last one we will discuss here (since they are discussed in detail in our book) is called the Assereto Document. Another fabricated document supposedly from 1479 claiming that a Cristoforo Colombo from Genoa was sent to Madeira Island by Paulo Di Negro to buy sugar without money. The Assereto describes Cristoforo Colombo as being 27 years old in 1479.
Even if we choose to ignore all the physical irregularities of the document that make it suspect, we are left with the following unlikely scenario. That Colombo had been sent by Di Negro to buy sugar at the end of the world, since Madeira and the Azores, in 1479, were the known end of the European world to the west; but Di Negro did not give him money to make the purchase!
Would any commercial agent act with such incompetence by sending a buyer so far to buy sugar without giving him the money?
Perhaps no more evidence is needed than the year of birth to prove that Colombo was not Colón. Don Cristóbal Colón wrote several times that he was 28 years old in 1484. Therefore, the navigator was born in 1455 or 1456. However, the Colombo from the Assereto was born in 1451. Unlike words and opinions, the math does not lie. A person cannot be 27 years old in 1479 and then be 28 years old in 1484. The only explanation is that Colón and Colombo were two different people.
Two Very Different Men
Admiral Colón, not only by his 1479 marriage to a Portuguese high noble dame, but also in all of his writings, deeds, relations with the nobility, and connections to the courts, shows himself to be a very cultured person, full of authority, immersed in matters of the sea since his childhood; a person who studied throughout his youth, who never worked a day in manual labor, and who, in his own words, told us he started his seafaring career at a very young age.
Even if we set aside the fact that the navigator’s name was never Colombo and that he was not a peasant, we can still show that the weaver was not the mariner.
Two of the three primary documents supporting the weaver theory are scientifically unacceptable. There is not a single piece of documentary evidence today to maintain that the two men, the weaver and the navigator, were one - The Last Will of 1498 is a forgery not written by Colón, the Assereto Document gives that Colombo as born in 1451; yet Don Cristóbal Colón was born in 1455/56, because he wrote several times that he was 28 years old in 1484 when he entered Spain.
While the weaver Cristoforo Colombo spent his youth behind a loom in Genoa, Cristóbal Colón spent his youth in school. Among the expertise his studies provided him are the languages of Portuguese, Castilian, and Latin, in addition to familiarity with Greek and Hebrew - but did NOT know the Italian language. (TEXTOS, 215.) In the sciences he was acquainted with geography, cosmography, geometry, cartography, theology, mathematics, advanced navigation techniques, and even encryption. We know Bobadilla confiscated secret encrypted letters that Don Cristóbal wrote to his brother Don Bartolomé.
Don Bartolomé Colón himself was not far behind Don Cristóbal because aside from encryption, he wrote at least Castilian and Latin. Don Bartolomé was so well educated in Cartography and Navigation that he equaled his brother. In 1493, following written instructions left by Don Cristóbal, Don Bartolomé captained a fleet of ships directly to Haiti without ever having sailed there. Friar Las Casas wrote, “ not less educated in Cosmography and what pertains to it, and in making of, or painting, of navigation charts and globes and other instruments of that art, than his brother,” (LAS CASAS, T. II, 214.)
Like Don Cristóbal, Don Bartolomé was a man of the sea, and not a wool weaver, to whom Don Cristóbal entrusted important tasks like the governance of the New World in his absence or the preparing of the ships, as he declared, “the Lord Lieutenant already left with the ships for careening in the old town.” (THACHER, Vol. 3, 264.)
Occam’s logic tells us that if we are going to doubt any of the documents, we must start by doubting those which are foreign to the Admiral, written by other people who lived in another world and, thus, separated from the events by time and space, before we choose to put in doubt the documents written by the subject about his own life.
We must not fall into the same mistakes as the past investigators and discard the words of a noble Admiral and Viceroy to impose facts that do not fit his life. We must demand the truth, by every means possible, and not allow ourselves to accept as truth documents that are clearly fraudulent, composed of uncertainties, and not even related to the person whose life we are scrutinizing.
I submit that the Spanish documents are enough proof that Don Cristóbal Colón was not Cristoforo Colombo, and he was not a Genoese peasant. Today, nobody knows who Don Cristóbal Colón actually was because we have spent centuries investigating and writing about the wrong guy. Furthermore, DNA tests currently underway at the University of Granada will likely fail to give us a final identity of the famous Admiral because out of all the candidates being compared by Professor José Lorente, there is not one who fits the profile of the great navigator.
In our latest book we have presented a mountain of irrefutable evidence in support of the Polish-Portuguese prince born on Madeira Island and await access to the bones in Wawel Cathedral for future DNA testing. Therefore, this ongoing “ Columbus” Identity Mystery will take a long while yet to solve. We are only at the beginning of the truth!
For further explanation and full references of supporting evidence, read COLUMBUS-The Untold Story, available at www.Columbus-Book.com
Top image: Was the fleet of Santa Maria, Pinta and Niña represented here admiral led by Christopher Columbus or Don Cristóbal Colón? Source: Michael Rosskothen / Adobe Stock
By Manuel Rosa
Manuel Rosa is a PhD candidate in Insular and Atlantic History (15th-20th Centuries) at the University of the Azores. He has spent 30 years investigating the life of the discoverer, took part in DNA testing and advised UNESCO and the Haitian Government on matters of Colón’s lost ship the Santa Maria. Several of his books published on this subject include COLUMBUS. The Untold Story (Outwater Media, 2016) and Portugal e o Segredo de Colombo (Alma dos Livros, 2019). His webpage is located at www.Manuel-Rosa.com.
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