1. brett says

    He was pretty bad even by Spanish standards, which is saying something considering this happened in the same decade as the expulsion of the Moors and Jews from Spain. The Spanish Crown recalled him after 1499 and removed him from governorship, although they let him do a final expedition and keep some of his wealth and titles.

  2. Nick Gotts says

    There’s a statue of the scumbag by the harbour in Barcelona. Someone really ought to pull it down.

  3. Pen says

    If you read to the end of the link, make sure to read the footnote about Bartolome de las Casa before adopting another hero. I do think he’s interesting to study, as an example of how a Spaniard could think about things at the time. Ideally, you then have to go back and see how the elites in general thought about various native Europeans and other known peoples to find the roots of these kinds of attitudes. Best of all, never do heroes.

  4. physonic says

    Thank you for linking this. Granted, i am not American so i would never dream of celebrating Columbus day, but since school i was of the impression that this guy was one of the good guys.

  5. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Bad enough that even an asshole who pointedly thinks “it’s satire!” is an adequate response to people who object to comics dehumanizing sex workers has a problem with him.

  6. mothra says

    Slightly OT. In grade school we were all taught the rhyme: “In fourteen hundred ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” And I piped up and said this doesn’t work because (just as easy to remember): “In fourteen hundred ninety three, Columbus sailed the deep blue sea,” and, “In fourteen hundred ninety four, Columbus reached a distant shore.” At least the continent is not named ‘Columbia.’

  7. woozy says

    Thank you for linking this. Granted, i am not American so i would never dream of celebrating Columbus day, but since school i was of the impression that this guy was one of the good guys.

    I’ve always had a problem with the infantization of elementary education that *all* historical figures almost by definition must be “one of the good guys”; That the guy made a medical breakthrough, created a piece of art, discovered a law of science, he must therefore also be an exemplary overall human being.
    One can argue, I suppose, that columbus day is about the mythology of exploration (although that’s really rather naive in light of modern awareness) but even still Columbus himself was pretty awful even in terms of his time. (As pointed out by others.)

  8. woozy says

    “In fourteen hundred ninety three, Columbus sailed the deep blue sea,”

    wasn’t this a dialog between Will Robinson and Dr. Smith in “Lost in Space”?

  9. grahamjones says

    From Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut:

    A lot of the nonsense [about the US] was the innocent result of playfulness on the
    part of the founding fathers of the nation of Dwayne Hoover and
    Kilgore Trout. The founders were aristocrats, and they wished to show
    off their useless education, which consisted of the study of hocuspocus
    from ancient times. They were bum poets as well.

    But some of the nonsense was evil, since it concealed great crimes.
    For example, teachers of children in the United States of America
    wrote this date on blackboards again and again, and asked the
    children to memorize it with pride and joy:


    The teachers told the children that this was when their continent was
    discovered by human beings. Actually, millions of human beings were
    already living full and imaginative lives on the continent in 1492. That
    was simply the year in which sea pirates began to cheat and rob and
    kill them.

  10. Nick Gotts says


    Best evidence for that? I’ve heard it raised as possible, even likely, but are there any indisputable relics or records?

  11. busterggi says

    Well yes, Columbus was that bad but at least he was a good Christian by contemporary standards.

  12. says

    Here in Seattle the day has been declared to be Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

    Italian-American organizations are upset. I think that they should have their own holiday, but of course a different figure should be celebrated. I nominate Tresca.

  13. says

    That was exquisitely done. Not only did is droop the Columbus balloon with quick jabs of insight, but it gave something else to celebrate in its stead. While I wish the person we celebrated in Columbus’s place wasn’t religious, those who worship Columbus are most likely religious so this gives them a powerful replacement.

    I was feeling very down today (personal reasons aside). Not only is it Columbus Day, but I finished the Iliad yesterday and there are stark similarities. Both the Iliad and Columbus Day hold up a mythologized image of perfection steering history, but that perfect idol is wrapped in heavy cloaks of rape, mass murder, and ecological destruction. The writer at Oatmeal made me realize humanity does more than simply reapply the past with new trappings.

  14. brett says

    If you’re going to nominate an Italian explorer of the Americas for an Italian-American celebration, why not the man who actually gave the continents their names? Amerigo Vespucci seems to have been “just an explorer” – I’m not seeing any information on whether he did anything really exploitive of the native population on his voyages.

  15. brett says

    Correction: Gave the continents their modern names. I don’t know what the indigenous population called them before the Columbian Exchange outside of their respective territories.

  16. Nick Gotts says


    I wasn’t thinking of Menzies’ daft claims (I’ve read his first book); I have a feeling I’ve heard of possibly Chinese pottery on the west coast of the Americas, and I wondered if birgirjohansson had a reference to anything similar. I’ve also read a history of writing which conjectures that Mesoamerican scripts were derived from Chinese, which seems far-fetched and certainly isn’t mainstream. Polynesian navigators probably did reach the west coast – the best evidence being the presence of sweet potatoes in Polynesia.

  17. Trickster Goddess says

    At least the continent is not named ‘Columbia.’

    Except for a big chunk of the northwest, where I live.

  18. tbtabby says

    Animal Crossing: New Leaf calls the holiday “Explorer’s Day.” It’s not a big deal, but the Nooklings have a 50% off sale on everything in their store, and if you go to the event plaza, Isabelle is there, dressed up like an admiral, and if you talk to her, she’ll give you a model ship. You can also pose in a gag photo stand that makes you and two of your friends look like the crew of Kapp’n’s ship.

    As for the comic, it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. Fuck Columbus. I wish his crew really had hung him.

  19. unclefrogy says

    even if they hung him I doubt it would have made that big a difference in the long run. Europeans were a rather rapacious bunch at the time even the “saints” were not problematic.
    uncle frogy

  20. Joseph Felsenstein says

    Nick Gotts @23:

    Japanese castaways were always coming ashore in the Pacific Northwest (as glass Japanese fishing-net floats came ashore for many years). For example The 3 Kichis in 1834. So it’s hard to imagine that there wasn’t cultural influence from that direction.

  21. says

    Here’s more about Christopher Columbus (Trigger Warning):

    Columbus Enslaved the Native People for Gold

    Because Columbus reported a plethora of Natives for slaves, rivers of gold and fertile pastures to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, Columbus was given 17 ships and more than 1,200 men on his next expedition. However, Columbus had to deliver. In the next few years, Columbus was desperate to fulfill those promises—hundreds of Native slaves died on their way back to Spain and gold was not as bountiful as expected.

    Columbus forced the Natives to work in gold mines until exhaustion. Those who opposed were beheaded or had their ears cut off.

    In the provinces of Cicao all persons over 14 had to supply at least a thimble of gold dust every three months and were given copper necklaces as proof of their compliance. Those who did not fulfill their obligation had their hands cut off, which were tied around their necks while they bled to death—some 10,000 died handless.

    In two years’ time, approximately 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead. Many deaths included mass suicides or intentional poisonings or mothers killing their babies to avoid persecution.

    According to Columbus, in a few years before his death, “Gold is the most precious of all commodities; gold constitutes treasure, and he who possesses it has all he needs in the world, as also the means of rescuing souls from purgatory, and restoring them to the enjoyment of paradise.”

    Columbus Provided Native Sex Slaves to His Men

    In addition to putting the Natives to work as slaves in his gold mines, Columbus also sold sex slaves to his men—some as young as 9. Columbus and his men also raided villages for sex and sport.

    In the year 1500, Columbus wrote: “A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.”

    Columbus’ Men Used Native People as Dog Food

    In the early years of Columbus’ conquests there were butcher shops throughout the Caribbean where Indian bodies were sold as dog food. There was also a practice known as the montería infernal, the infernal chase, or manhunt, in which Indians were hunted by war-dogs.

    These dogs—who also wore armor and had been fed human flesh, were a fierce match for the Indians. Live babies were also fed to these war dogs as sport, sometimes in front of horrified parents.

  22. says

    As far as pre-Columbus contact between Eurasia and the Americas, there’s also the Unangan, whose traditional lands include territory from Kamchatka Krai nearly to Kodiak Island. They and other peoples of the Alaskan and Kamchatka Penisulas were always in contact across the Bering Sea.

  23. CR Jackels says

    Thanks for this post PZ. I just finished reading the chapter on Columbus in “A Peoples History”. It’s been my indeginous people’s day tradition for the last 7 years. Anyone who has not read Howard Zinn needs to get to a library asap. His works are must reads for all Americans.

  24. mnb0 says

    Before anyone starts celebrating Bartholomeus Day one should realize that he was the one who proposed to get African slaves instead of indegenous ones. Sure, later in his life he regretted it, but mixed feelings remain.

  25. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Oddly enough, the link addresses that point. Mixed feelings are understandable, I guess.

  26. lanir says

    It would never pass the House of Representatives but a better response to celebrating immigrants and their struggles would be a day about immigrants and their struggles. Date it for when the Statue of Liberty was assembled here (very fitting because of the message and she’s also the only immigrant among our national monuments as far as I recall).

  27. says

    Here is the explanation for PZ and others criticizing Christopher Columbus, an explanation from rightwing religious doofuses. PZ and his ilk (that would be me, I am of the ilk) dislike Columbus. [Right.] We dislike Columbus because he shared the Gospel with those he enslaved. [Wrong. … headdesk, headdesk, …]

    The Family Research Council knows the real reason people criticize Christopher Columbus: It’s because he was a Christian! In fact, according to FRC Vice President Dr. Kenyn Cureton, Columbus was such a great Christian that he even shared the Gospel with the people he enslaved.

    On “Washington Watch” yesterday, Cureton said that Columbus had good intentions since he was trying to find gold to fund a potential war with Muslims over control of Jerusalem and spread the Gospel to indigenous peoples.

    He argued that Columbus only enslaved native peoples instead of killing them because he was a merciful leader (and he needed them to search for gold to help defeat the Muslims). […]

    “So he did do some things that weren’t right but his motives overall were, number one, to get gold to free Jerusalem but secondly to share the Gospel,” Cureton said. “He was very much motivated by his Christian faith and I think that is what is behind this effort to wipe his name out from history.” […]

    /Right Wing Watch link.

  28. julial says

    And the Aztecs were really sweeties…
    And the Incas:

    The practice of human sacrifice was widespread in the Mesoamerican and in the South American cultures during the Inca Empire.

    And the Toltecs and the Olmecs:

    Mesoamerican cultures, such as the Tarascans and Toltecs, performed human sacrifices as well and from archaeological evidence, it probably existed since the time of the Olmecs

    A 21st century condemnation of 15th century persons is smug and self righteous.
    I expect us to be roundly condemned by future societies, should we survive long enough, for our lack of population control, non-sustainable consumption of irreplaceable resources and wholesale destruction of the gene bank of the planet.

  29. anteprepro says

    Julial: Oh, I forgot that we were celebrating Aztecs Were Perfect Day and teaching children that human sacrifice didn’t happen.

    No, wait, that isn’t happening. We have a holiday named after someone whose only accomplishment is genocide and all other accomplishments are bad history. And suddenly judging someone for owning sex slaves and committing genocide and only doing so because they are getting hero worship treatment for it is smug and self righteous? I suppose we shouldn’t criticize genocide or slavery at all then.

    “All just products of their time, how dare you think morality is a thing.”

  30. says

    julial @42:

    A 21st century condemnation of 15th century persons is smug and self righteous.

    So what do you propose? People laud Columbus as a hero and a great man. If we can’t judge him based on the horrible things he did, then we shouldn’t be able to make any statements about him at all, no? Then he shouldn’t have a holiday in his name after all.

    And if condemning someone who permitted his crew to rape Indigenous Peoples…someone who held slaves…someone who sold people into slavery…if condemning that person is smug and wrong, then call me Cap’n Smugwronggery! I’m happy to have a moral compass that finds that shit wrong no matter what time period we’re discussing.

  31. julial says

    Tony @ 44

    I am so pleased to see absolute morality exists unchanging over the centuries, you have it and are happy to share.
    Note, I didn’t claim that being smug and self righteous was a bad thing. My post carried no normative statements, only that I believe we will be condemned for the reasons stated.
    Of course you feel strongly that your morality is right and correct. It’s sort of a tautology.
    BTW, have you given your real property back to the people of the First Nations? Or just feeling pleased that you aren’t a thug like Columbus? You too are a person of your own time, happily participating in the activities for which I expect to be despised by future society.