What is the big difference between Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci? Columbus was well-remembered with some controversies of him being a brutal imperialist and, in comparison, Vespucci was not often mentioned in history based on the few letters of his voyages.
In details, the differences between Columbus and Vespucci are
- Columbus’s name is etched into history with a lot of controversies. Some regard him as a brave hero, others see him as an opportunistic and brutal imperialist cum murderer. His name is forever mixed with colonialism, imperialism, and annihilation.
- Vespucci on the other hand isn’t remembered or mentioned often in history. Perhaps it was because he wasn’t the first in discovering the new world or his personal life is so mired in the ordinary and sleazy that he remains somewhat a second rate explorer. Vespucci is thought of as the guy who lent his name to identify a continent and Columbus, an explorer.
Besides that difference, Columbus and Vespucci shared similar traits. They were both Italian, adventurous, daring, and approached the curveballs in life with a heavy dose of gumption. Exploration wasn’t their first choice and they embarked on a maritime career later in life. Both men were smart and shrewd.
Columbus vs Vespucci on United States
In the US, Columbus Day is a national holiday. People celebrate Columbus’ arrival on October 12 every year, but why was America not named after Christopher Columbus?
The answer lies in one ambitious Italian adventurer.
America could have been the United States of Columbia. So what did they do differently?
History of European Explorations
Firstly, some background of why both of them looked for America.
Cosmography and cartography were the rages when Europeans realized there’s still much to be explored, discovered, and conquered in the world. The idea of great wealth and colonization of exotic lands in the far east seduced the kings and rulers to consolidate their resources and sponsor willing and competent explorers. Also, the Europeans felt that they in turn can contribute to the world with trade, knowledge, and spreading of religion which is mainly Christianity and Catholicism.
In the 14th century, Europeans, riding on the wave of political, cultural, and artistic resurgence and aided by a flourishing economy, began the search for new sites for acquisition by sending out explorers to sea. The 14th century possibly paved the way for the age of exploration or discovery stretching from the 15th to the 17th century.
European countries especially the stronger powers like Spain and Portugal were fighting to put their flag on new sites. Europe’s mainly Christian and Catholic countries didn’t have easy access to Asia by land routes. The Ottoman Empire and other growing Islamic states blocked accessibility to Asia. Asia’s importance could not be ignored because Asia provided many commodities including spices which is valuable to the Europeans.
In the beginning, Columbus didn’t set out to find America, his original intention was to find a safer way to Asia by sailing west across the Atlantic.
Christopher Columbus was born in Italy to a wool merchant, in his early career, he was already working in related fields as a seaman and then a chart maker. He made a switch to exploration after securing funding from Spain’s King Ferdinard and Queen Isabella, whose dynastic union created Imperial Spain from the lands of Castile and Aragon. While Spain got bigger and stronger through the union, Portugal was still a looming threat. Hence, Spain’s greed, lust, and fear set the stage for a chain of events that will result in monumental colonization.
In 1492, Columbus made his maiden voyage with the promise of being made governor of new land he ‘discovered’ plus a fraction of the spoils. With that deal inked, he reached the Bahamas, which he called San Salvador meaning Christ the Saviour.
Columbus returned triumphant in 1493 claiming that he has reached the ‘new world’. This news spread rapidly and Amerigo Vespucci, a fledging Italian dogsbody at the time, decided on becoming an explorer for a mid-career change.
Vespucci was born in Florence, Italy. He had a varied resume from the merchant, ship chandler to rumored pimp. When Columbus achieved fame for his voyages, Vespucci was busy restocking commodities for vessels hence he was known as ‘pickle dealer’. The odd-job laborer did provide some benefits, it gave Vespucci the knowledge and network he needed to plan his grand long haul voyage. Vespucci secured funding for his maiden journey from Spain. He saw a golden opportunity as Spain was keen on building on Columbus’ work though Columbus himself fell out of favor after the monarchy was informed of his brutality against the aborigines. Columbus enslaved and executed the native population if they could not meet his unreasonable work quota. He was arrested and stripped of his official post.
And so it begins. Vespucci made two trans-Atlantic voyages and it was the second trip that proved to be fruitful. Sailing under the Portuguese flag, Vespucci is thought to have reached Brazil’s coast. As such, he laid claim to having found the ‘New World’. The knowledge of South America’s existence is not new, Columbus previously theorized as he sailed past the mouth of Orinoco River that the large discharge of freshwater indicates a landmass of continental size. Columbus was right, Orinoco River is one of the longest rivers in South America at 2,250 kilometers spanning both Venezuela and Columbia. However, it was Vespucci who made landfall.
Years later in 1507, a map published in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, northeastern France referred to the southern hemisphere where Vespucci landed as America. The norm is to give feminine names to continents just like Asia and Africa, hence Amerigo became America. Then 3 decades later in 1538, mapmaker Mercator adopted America also for the northern hemisphere and this solidified the name America for the ‘new world’.
Today, close to 330 million people called themselves Americans.