Enterprise of the Indies

During the 1470s and early 1480s, Christopher Columbus participated in several long voyages that took him as far as Iceland and Africa. Trade with Asia (then called the Indies) was very profitable at the time, and he began to formulate the idea that it would be faster and easier to travel to Asia by sailing westward from Europe, going across the Atlantic Ocean, than by traveling east, as was commonly done. Contrary to legend, all educated fifteenth-century Europeans knew that the earth was round, but no one had any idea about its size; most theories underestimated the size of the earth by about one-third. Most people also believed the earth was one huge landmass, consisting of Europe, Africa, and Asia, surrounded by water. It was not surprising that Columbus guessed incorrectly at the distances between continents.

Naming his plan to reach Asia on a westward route “The Enterprise of the Indies,” Columbus tried unsuccessfully to persuade Portuguese king John II (1455–1495) to support an expedition proving his theory. In May 1486, Spanish queen Isabella I (1451–1504) agreed to hear his plan. Besides finding a new trade route and untold riches, part of Columbus’s goal in his enterprise was to bring Christianity to the world’s peoples. This appealed to Queen Isabella, who wished to create a vast, worldwide, Spanish empire that would spread the Christian religion to every corner of the earth.
In April 1492, Queen Isabella and her husband, King Ferdinand II (1452–1516), signed an agreement with Columbus to fund his voyage. Columbus secured three ships—the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria—and a crew of about ninety men and boys. The Santa Maria, at 100 feet in length, was the largest of the three ships.



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