A Man of Many Flags

Columbus was born to a humble family in Genoa, an Italian port whose sailors and trade fleets made the city one of the most important and powerful centers of medieval Europe. But the Mediterranean wasn’t big enough for Columbus so he set about pitching his quest for Asia like a restless freelancer banging on the doors of disinterested editors. Neither Genoa nor its archrival, Venice, had much interest in the endeavor. The court of Henry VII in England thought about it, but let it slide. Columbus hung around Lisbon for quite a few years, imagining the seafarer-friendly kings of Portugal would bite, but they opted to stick with the eastern route around the tip of Africa that was already being furrowed by some of their great explorers. So Columbus turned to Spain and got lucky soon after its ruling monarchs — Ferdinand and Isabella — had finally squashed the last remnants of Iberia’s Muslim kingdoms.

There’s an irony to all this border hopping: investigations in recent years have led to suggestions that Columbus may have been a crypto-Jew, the child of a Sephardic Jewish family chased out of Spain by the Inquisition supported wholeheartedly by the Spanish crown, including Ferdinand and Isabella.

(Tags: Columbus, Crypto Jew, Spain)

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