The Dark side of Christopher Columbus - History Key

The Dark side of Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus is a historical figure whose life is defined mostly by words such as courage, strength of character and so on. It is very true that the explorer had the courage to sail where only a few have dared, but this can’t erase from history the cruelty and greed that Christopher Columbus has shown.


The official story of Columbus’ expedition (which we also learn in school) is full of half-truths and “censored” stories. In this article, we present you some less known things that will show you the inhuman, often ignored, side of this famous explorer.

Nothing special: Christopher Columbus, hunger for money

Of course, Columbus was an extremely skilled and courageous sailor, but the mission he started in 1492 didn’t have a humanitarian purpose at all. With the blessing of Queen Isabella I of Castile, Columbus started the adventure for wealth and resources.

Portrait of a Man, Said to be Christopher Columbus
Portrait of a Man, Said to be Christopher Columbus ©

In the contract signed with the Spanish royal family, it was mentioned that Columbus was to become viceroy of any new territories that he would discover. In addition, the explorer would receive 10% of all the precious metals discovered under his jurisdiction.

No one knew that Christopher Columbus would commit acts of unimaginable cruelty to the natives he would meet, just to enrich himself. That he would use them as slaves. In other words, Columbus was a brutal man, even for the standards of his time. His behavior made Bartolome de las Casas, who accompanied him in the expeditions, to report:

With my own eyes I saw Spaniards cut off the nose and ears of Indians, male and female, without provocation, merely because it pleased them to do it. …Likewise, I saw how they summoned the caciques and the chief rulers to come, assuring them safety, and when they peacefully came, they were taken captive and burned.” – Bartolome de las Casas – History of the Indies (1561)

The natives, a certain source of enrichment

So, the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the New World wasn’t auspicious for the natives. They lived peacefully and quietly until 1492.

When Columbus and his crew arrived in the Bahamas, the explorer and his team met the first indigenous people, called the Arawak. The misfortunes to follow were somehow prefigured by Columbus in his diary:

Weapons they have none, nor are acquainted with them, for I showed them swords which they grasped by the blades, and cut themselves through ignorance. They have no iron, their javelins being without it, and nothing more than sticks, though some have fish-bones or other things at the ends. It appears to me, that the people are ingenious and would be good servants and I am of opinion that they would very readily become Christians, as they appear to have no religion.” – Christopher Columbus – Journal of the First Voyage (1492)

Arawak people gathered for an audience, 1880
Arawak people gathered for an audience, 1880 ©

As an independent “entrepreneur”, Christopher Columbus immediately recognized the economic potential of the territory he had discovered.

From bravery to brutality

The moment when the explorer’s courage began to turn into brutality probably occurred after a few days after their arrival. Columbus’ transition is reflected in several letters sent to the King and Queen of Spain.

In one of those letters, the navigator promised the monarchs “no matter how gold is needed and no matter how many slaves you will ask, I can provide it.” Seeing that the Arawak people are “so naive and daring”, Columbus took advantage. He asked the natives to take him where the gold is, and se, he went to Cuba and Haiti.

Anyone over 14 years of age on the island of Hispaniola who failed to bring Columbus back the amount of gold he designated had their hands cut off and bled to death
Anyone over 14 years of age on the island of Hispaniola who failed to bring Columbus back the amount of gold he designated had their hands cut off and bled to death ©

In there, they discovered gold, but not so much as the navigator expected. However, he wrote in a letter that “there are many spices and mines filled with gold and other metals.” Thanks to this report, Columbus was funded for a second trip, this time with 13 ships and 1,200 people. Though he failed to fill the ships with gold, Columbus filled them with another exchange currency: slavery.

In 1495, Columbus returned to the New World and immediately took 1,500 prisoners from the Arawak population. 500 of them were sent to Spain (nearly 200 died during the trip). This was the first transatlantic slave trade.

How to eliminate slowly an entire civilization

The other 1,000 prisoners were forced to find gold. According to historian Howard Zinn, all the persons over 14 years old were forced to find a certain amount of gold. If they didn’t find enough, their hand would be cut off.

The way Christopher Columbus and his people treated the women and children of these population is even worse. To reward his lieutenants, Columbus let them rape the women. And, as he never forgot about money, the explorer used to sell women to the human traffickers.


The barbaric actions of Columbus reached to the ears of the Spanish monarchs. Concerned about it, the monarchs instructed Francisco Bobadilla to investigate the explorer. A recently discovered report in the Spanish archives, Bobadilla mentioned the brutal ways that Columbus used against the natives.

For instance, it was written that a woman who insulted Christopher Columbus’ family, was stripped and walked on a donkey in a populated area. After that, Bartolome (Columbus’s brother), cut off her tongue, being congratulated by the explorer for defending his family.

Dozens of such actions led the investigator to remove Columbus from power. He was sent back to Spain as a prisoner. Unfortunately, after Columbus’s removal, the Spanish continued the violence and slavery, almost destroying the natives.


There are many historical writings and that show us one thing: after setting foot on the New World, Christopher Columbus has radically changed, becoming an awful man.

Of course, no one is perfect, and no one can challenge Columbus’ abilities and bravery. But history should also not forget that this man, driven by the desire to enrich himself, was the one who started the New World catastrophes.

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