Christopher Columbus was a sailor and navigator (ca. 1454–1514) born in the Republic of Genoa. He embarked early on a naval career and then, at the age of 21, entered a formal apprenticeship as a merchant/trader. Following the writings of the classical geographer Ptolemy, Columbus, like most of his generation, understood that the world was round, but like Ptolemy, Columbus believed that it was much smaller than it actually is. This error suggested to him that it would be possible to sail westward from Europe and arrive in Asia more easily and conveniently than the route being pursued by Portugal around Africa. Seeking to compete with the Portuguese, Spain equipped him with three ships that embarked from Palos de la Frontera in August 1492. He eventually arrived on the shores of what are now the Bahamas in October. Initially he did not realize that he had not found Asia, but slowly came to understand that he had found a new continent.

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