Introduction to the Series.
History. A usually hated subject by almost every student during school time. Classified as pointless by many because it has already passed when it’s actually because of this that it is the greatest teacher because like the old saying goes: It’s easier to be a Historian than a Prophet.
History is cyclic, religious leaders or scientific eminences or philosophers with weird hairdos may confirm this better, but it’s doomed to repeat itself over and over again even if it’s in another time and space. But History as a subject it is truly the study of the past, of a consumed fact that happened during a speficic time during a specific place. Period (Literally).
But there is a phrase that we have alll asked about any historical occurence, discovery, battle, period, and a big etc…What if?. From the simplest like what if I had not studied what I studied, would I be happier? What if my mother had not go to the same party as my father and met each other and voilá, here I am. Well, for starters I certaily would not be here, would that have changed something? For better or worse? We have all thought about that.
In the spanish coloquial repertoire, there are two phrases used to discard any fantastic or absurd theories or hypotheses: If my grandmother had wheels…she’d be a bicycle or if my aunt had balls…she’d be my uncle.
Anywho…this is to illustrate the fact that thinking of changing the past is indeed pointless. So why do we study history, for so many factors but the greatest of them all would be, to learn from the past, not only to try and make ammends but to learn from it and act better next time that same situation presents itself in the future. Which it will.
With that in mind It’s that I want to present this series on our blog: Moments that could have changed history.
But I just wrote that It’s pointless to change the past. So why on earth, am I creating this series? Well, to try and think about the implications that would have happened if people would not have acted the way they did. Either by their morals, education, beliefs, fears, ideals etc or simply because they wanted to watch th world burn or create a better one, they decided and acted the way they did and shaped our world, our lives and the times we are living.
Those who enter, do it with the comprehension of what the word CONTEXT means. The most important word when reading or studying History.
We should never ever look at the past with the eyes of our times. Beliefs, education, ideals and ideas were diffent from our current times. At least the vast majority. Black legends and myths are created that way with distort the actual historical truth.
Haven written all of that and without further ado, the first entry of this Series:
The Portuguese Plot to kill Columbus
15th Century AD.
The millennial Roman Empire is no more. Rome fell on September 4th of 476 AD at the hands of Odoacer and for almost one thousand years one of the greatest, most important and mightiest Empires in history remained, lingered and finally fell at Constantinople on September the 4th 1453 AD at the hands of Mehmed or Mehmet II and the Ottoman Turks.
It is well known that this event changed the world and triggered a chain of unimaginable events and situations. The Muslim expansion at the Middle East seemed unstoppable, the Crusaders dreams were all gone and Europe found itself isolated from the trading routes to the Middle and Far East.
Fast forward to 1483. 30 years after the fall of Constantinople. Europe urgently needed access to the East. By land it seemed more than impossible with the blockade by the Muslims on the Middle East, so the only option Europeans had was by sea, finding those sea routes no European had ever taken before to the end of the known world and just pray to each and every catholic saint that the Earth was indeed round and the ships would not fall from a god-dammed edge. The Exploration Age was ready to begin.
So with this in mind, a Portuguese expedition ordered by King João II of Portugal and lead by Diogo Cão sailed south along the African coast with the hopes of crossing into the Indian Ocean, finding India and all it’s wealth, whilst also trying to pursue the legend of Preste João, a legendary christian king, wealthy beyond imagination which could help the Portuguese with their Holy War against Islam (probably a legend inspired by the figure of Mansa Musa, the so-called wealthiest human being in history). After 2 voyages, they reached as far as present day Angola and Namibia, still on the Atlantic shores of Africa.
Cão sailed back to Portugal without finding the most southern tip of Africa and the entrance to the Indian Ocean but the Portuguese king refused to give up for a way to reach India and sent another expedition now led by Bartolomeu Dias who actually reached rounded Africa and reaching the Indian Ocean and the eastern shores of the African Continent, but his men were ready to munity after many months at sea and running very low on supplies, Dias agreed to turn back even if he actually wanted to keep exploring but on his return voyage he reached Cape of Good Hope on May 1488. The gates to east trading routes had been reached. A chronicler would later said about Dias: “He saw the land of India but never actually reached it just like Moses with the promised land”.
In December 1488, Dias would return to Lisbon and we know this because there was another explorer at court during that time wo wrote about Dias entrance to Lisbon’s port. No other than Cristopher Columbus, who left a detailed written account of Dias entrance and his discoveries.
Of course, Columbus was on the Portuguese Court trying to get the king’s support to finance his expedition and find the western route to the India but as it’s well known, the Portuguese King refused since he was already at the Indian Ocean doorstep and Columbus left for the Castilian court where Queen Isabella, would finance his expedition and we know the rest, Columbus would reach the Americas on October 12th 1492, first thinking he had finally reached the East Indies.
March 3rd 1493
It would be the Portuguese King and not the Castilian Queen and Aragonese King the first to know about the existence of the this new route to the West. How?
On march 3rd 1493, a ship docked on the Port of Restelo, on the outskirts of Lisbon, a traditional port for ships returning from exploring missions but this one was not hoisting the Portuguese colours. It was the “Santa María“, Columbus had actually done it and returned to brag about it.
Many of course venture to say, how foolish of the Portuguese King to refuse Colombus since now on the XXI Century we know of the riches the American territories created a Behemoth called the Spanish Empire but like I wrote, give the context and knowledge King Joao II knew it was the normal decision to be taken. After all, the Portuguese had reached Cape of Good Hope and rounded the African continent and the route to the East was at their grasp. We need to remember this was the goal of both, the portuguese and castilians. Even Columbus thought he had reached the Indies, later they realized the actual truth.
Above this, that finding a route to the Indies by sailing West was a total gamble, Columbus had certain reputation in the Portuguese Court. He was a man with a conceiled past. Then and now, his past and origins, trade and profession are still not fully known and others contradictory and even puzzling. He used to brag, phantasize and was known for being really exaggerated about his discoveries even before the Americas issue.
So one can only imagine how everything went on that day, March 3rd 1493, Columbus acted like a real condescendent (please insert insult in favorite language). He humilliated the Portuguese, he interviewed with Dias,whom he blamed for not getting the King’s support because of Dias discoveries in Africa. He bragged he had actually reached the islands close to Japan and the Portuguese wrote about him: “Pompous and always to the point of exceeding the limits of truth on whatever he says, and claimed way more about the riches referring to gold, silver and wealth than what was actually real”.
The proof he presented to the portuguese king of his feature was a native, he didn’t look african, and indeed closer to what the Europeans thought Indians looked like.
So Columbus acted like a show-off and he was all into himself that not for one second he thought about how this had placed a target on his back, if at least for a brief moment.
Consider the situation, Columbus had just returned with proof he had discovered a route to the Indies, he had gone to brag about it to the Portuguese King just to mess with him, he had one ship and few men and the castilians still didn’t know a thing…
Portugal and Castile were rivals and this discovery could (and did) put Castile as a superpower even if that was not their real intention. Remember, the goal of both nations was the discovery of new trading routes, not new territories to exploit. That came later after the realization those territories were not the East Indies.
But, what to do with Columbus and this information? Or Columbus felt untouchable or trusted the Portuguese were real nice people, which in general we are, but not so much the King’s counselors with proposed to kill Columbus (discretely) in order to end the Castilian discoveries.The King of Portugal discarded this idea, claiming to be immoral and because the diplomatic relations between the two kingdoms were tense. And the rest as they say it’s History.
But here comes, the what if?
I didn’t know about this information about some Portuguese counselors actually suggesting to kill Columbus till reading: Conquerors, How Portugal seized the Indian Ocean and Forged the First Global Empire by Roger Crowley. And my first immediate thought, was Holy Mary, mother of God and all the Celestial Court!.
And here comes finally the…What if? What if the King of Portugal, would not have acted so morally? What if they had actually killed Columbus?.
Thousands of scenarios open to debate and imagination.
– How soon would the spanish have discover the assassination and how would they have reacted? War?.
– Would have this given time to the Portuguese to explore this new route and would have that actually made them go through what the Spanish went in History?
-Could the Portuguese Conquistadors have also conquered the Aztec and Incan Empires? With all the implications that would have brought, either way!
or would the Portuguese just erase this knowledge, closed this chapter forever and focus on their route to India through the Cape of Good Hope?. More than certain, the world would not exist as we know it, starting by all the countries that now exist in the American continent since a vast majority are a mix of races.
Personally, for some reason I find myself often wondering about History…what if? So, for those that are like me, I hope you find this words amusing and also wonder about the past, not as a regret but something that also must be reflected upon, to undersand why people acted the way they did, how that shaped us because we also shape the life of other people directly or indirectly. We are what we are because of the people that came behind and we are going to the place we will leave to the next generation.
I will be writing more about such “What ifs” so please join me in the next one.