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Why Is Christopher Columbus So Important?

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Christopher Columbus was an explorer credited with discovering the New World on an expedition in 1492. Although he did not actually discover America, his expedition did kick off centuries of exploration, conquest and colonization.

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For many generations, Columbus was credited with discovering the land people now know as America. However, because millions of people already lived in the lands making up North America and South America, many historians claimed that it was not possible for him to "discover" the land. He did discover the land that the Europeans did not know existed, thus opening it up for further exploration and colonization by European countries.

Early Travels and Voyages
Columbus embarked on many voyages in the Mediterranean region beginning as a teenager. He also took many expeditions to Africa. In his time at sea, he heard tales of all of the riches available in China, India and the rest of Asia. It was an attractive destination for many Europeans, including Columbus. Unfortunately, land routes were becoming increasingly difficult to navigate due to hostile armies in the way. Many voyagers began traveling to Asia from Europe by sea in a route that went around the continent of Africa.

Columbus' First Voyage
Columbus devised a plan to shorten the trip to Asia from Europe by traveling West across the Atlantic Ocean rather than around Africa. By his estimates, it would only be 2,300 miles from the Canary Islands to Japan. In reality, the distance is more than 12,000 miles. He presented this faster and safer route to monarchs in Portugal and England in hopes of securing a benefactor to finance his voyage. He was declined by both. In 1491, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain agreed to his plan in hopes of finding fame and fortune and spreading Catholicism to Asia. They agreed to give Columbus 10 percent of the riches he found.

Setting Sail
In 1492, Columbus set off with his three ships — Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria — across the Atlantic Ocean. A few months after setting sail, he landed in the Caribbean islands. He sailed around the islands for several months looking for riches and not finding much. He left behind several men and one ship before returning to Spain to show what he found.

Subsequent Voyages
Between 1492 and 1504, Columbus made four separate voyages to the New World. Although Columbus did not find the material riches he was looking for, he did find another commodity worth of trade: slaves. Unfortunately, Queen Isabella was horrified by his gift of 500 slaves and would not accept them. Columbus was known for treating the natives in the Americas and the Caribbean horribly. By the end of his expeditions, he was arrested and stripped of his titles due to his brutal treatment of the native people and the conditions of his settlements.

Age of Exploration
Although Columbus did not discover the Americas and was brutal to the people already living there, he is still an important figure in history. His voyages kicked off centuries of European exploration in the New World. Had he not landed in the Caribbean by mistake, perhaps English, French, Spanish and other European explorers would not have sent out explorers of their own.

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