Why did Columbus set sail in 1492?

a.      to prove the earth was round

b.      to discover a sea route to the Spice Islands East Indies

c.      to spread the Gospel

d.      to acquire riches & power

If you answered "B, C, and D" you are correct. If you are like me though, you may remember from grade school being taught that Christopher Columbus also wanted to prove the earth was round. We were told that people back then thought you could "fall off the edge of the earth" if you sailed too far in any direction. However, the truth is that most educated Europeans during that time period already believed it was round. Columbus wanted to sail west to reach the East Indies. The disagreement centered not on the shape but rather on the size of the world. Although Eratosthenes (276-194 BC) had already fairly accurately calculated the Earth's circumference, Columbus (using different measurements) believed it was smaller.

Columbus finally found sponsorship for his expedition from Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand from Spain. He asked for and was granted three requests:

1.      one tenth of all the riches he brought back

2.      governorship of all the lands that he visited

3.      the title "Admiral of the Sea"

The Spanish monarchs desired the potential riches and new lands from this voyage. But Queen Isabella, like Columbus, was a devout Catholic and she, too, wanted to see the Gospel spread to other lands. So on April 17, 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella signed a contract with Christopher Columbus. They hoped he would return with gold, silver, silk, gems and spices. (Instead, he just brought back a new spice, later named "allspice," as well as chile peppers, corn, and tomatoes.)

So Columbus and his crew began their daring expedition to the Spice Islands. The Moluccas were the original "Spice Islands." They are but a small chain of islands in the north central part of E Indonesia, between Sulawesi (Celebes) and New Guinea. The Moluccas are mountainous, fertile, and humid and are home to nutmeg and cloves.

Use an atlas (a historical atlas will show Columbus's route) and find Spain. Next, find New Guinea. The Moluccas are the group of islands directly west of New Guinea. Columbus set sail from Spain and headed west. Most scholars of the time were certain that Columbus' estimate of the circumference of the earth was much too small. They were right. Columbus would have been in serious trouble had he not hit landfill in the Americas. He and his crew could not possibly have survived a trip all the way to the east coast of Asia!