Scholarly Source: David Abulafia, The Discovery of Mankind: Atlantic Encounters in the Age of Columbus

European Exploration, Perception of the Other, and the Columbian Exchange

What factors contributed to the European interest in exploration?

David Abulafia, The Discovery of Mankind: Atlantic Encounters in the Age of Columbus (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008)

David Abulafia is an English historian of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. He was Professor Emeritus of Mediterranean History at the University of Cambridge until his retirement in 2018. He is a fellow of the British Academy and received a British Academy medal for his work on Mediterranean history.

Castile, once the home to three religions existing side by side in the fragile but productive harmony known to historians as convivencia (that is, ‘living together’), had proclaimed its Christian identity by receiving the surrender of the last Muslim kingdom on Iberian soil, Granada, on 2 January 1492, after 780 years of Muslim rule over part or even most of the Iberian peninsula—a surrender Columbus claims to have witnessed. A few months later, in the Alhambra palaces overhanging Granada, Ferdinand and Isabella issued decrees commanding that all Jews in their kingdoms of Castile, Aragon, Sicily and Sardinia either depart or convert to Christianity. The pope, Alexander VI Borgia, himself a Spaniard, would before long reward Ferdinand and Isabella with the title Reyes Católicos, ‘Catholic Monarchs’, in recognition of their service to the Christian faith in conquering Granada, and of their plans to carry their conquests further into North Africa, as far, indeed, if God so willed, as the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Columbus and his patrons Ferdinand and Isabella saw the conquest of Granada as part of the same great venture on which Columbus was about to embark: “Your highnesses, as Catholic Christians and princes who love the holy Christian faith, exalters of it and enemies of the sect of Muhammad and of all idolatries and heresies, thought to send me, Christopher Columbus, to those abovementioned regions of India to see the princes, peoples, and lands and their disposition and all the rest, and determine what method should be undertaken for their conversion to our holy faith”. . . .
Ferdinand would not simply carry the war against Islam across the Straits of Gibralter to Morocco. It must become a global struggle. It must bring Christianity to the whole world. For at times a messianic fervor gripped Ferdinand. At other times, he seemed hard-headed, ruthless, pragmatic. . . . for the Christians, the deliverer would be Ferdinand, king of Castile and Aragon, who would recover Jerusalem, smash the power of Islam and the Turks, convert the remaining Jews and usher in the last days of mankind, culminating in the Second Coming of Christ. As his career progressed, Christopher Columbus, the ‘bearer of Christ’ (Christophoros), God’s dove (colomba), increasingly saw himself too as someone sent by God to help deliver the world. The discovery and conversion of the people of the New World was part of God’s plan for mankind.