A case of misplaced blame
All those blaming Columbus for sailing west must turn one chapter back in the history books to find that it was actually Islamic jihad disrupting the land routes from Europe to India and China that resulted in Columbus looking for a sea route.
Nearly two centuries before Columbus, the 17-years-old Marco Polo left Venice for India and China with his father, Niccolo Polo, and uncle, Matteo Polo, in 1271.
Together they traveled 5,600 miles to the east to meet Kublai Khan, the grandson of Ghengis Khan. Kublai Khan was Emperor of China, Korea, North India, Persia, Russia and Hungary. Marco Polo’s father and uncle had met the Kublai Khan on a previous journey.
Kublai Khan had requested that they bring back 100 teachers of the Holy Christian Faith and a flask of oil from Christ’s empty tomb in Jerusalem. Because of wars in Europe and the death of Pope Clement IV, only two preaching Dominican friars were sent by the new Pope, Gregory X. These friars became afraid and turned back after crossing an area being attacked by Turkish Muslims. Nevertheless, the Polos returned to China where Marco Polo was employed by Kublai Khan as an envoy for over 20 years.
Finally returning to Italy, Marco Polo was captured during the Battle of Curzola in 1298. While imprisoned in Genoa, Marco Polo dictated his stories of Persia, China, Mongolia, the Far East and India to a fellow prisoner, Rustichello da Pisa, who wrote them down into what became Medieval Europe’s best-seller, “The Travels of Marco Polo.”
Marco Polo’s book was nicknamed “Il Milione” or One Million Lies, as it described many things unbelievable to Europeans, such as:
- India’s worship of cattle
- homes smeared with cow dung
- naked holy men
- exotic herbs and spices
- indigo blue dye
- fields of cotton cloth being dyed
- China’s spaghetti noodles
- paper from tree pulp
- paper currency
- eye glasses
- thread from worms (silk)
- porcelain dishes (china)
- burning black stones (coal)
- wine from rice
- asbestos from a mineral
- women’s feet bound since childhood
- arrows shot from a recurve bow
- an imperial “pony-express” style postal system
Marco Polo surprised Europeans with a report that the Magi, who brought gifts to baby Jesus, were buried in Saveh, a town in Persia south of Tehran, Iran.
Marco Polo stated regarding his return to Europe from China: “I believe it was God’s will that we should come back, so that men might know the things that are in the world, since, as we have said in the first chapter of this book, no other man, Christian or Saracen, Mongol or pagan, has explored so much of the world as Messer Marco, son of Messer Niccolo Polo, great and noble citizen of the city of Venice.”
In Genoa, 127 years after Marco Polo’s death, Christopher Columbus was born in 1451. When Columbus was two years old, in 1453, the Muslim Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II conquered Constantinople. Muslim Turkish crusaders proceeded to invade Eastern Europe and dominate the Mediterranean. These aggressive military acts effectively curtailed trade from Western Europe to India and China.
As Muslim warriors expanded their Islamic State, they raided caravans that had crossed the China Silk Road. This made the minimal trade over land routes notoriously more dangerous. Caravans were raided by “thugs,” a word meaning “deceivers,” first mentioned by Ziya-ud-Din in his History of Furuz Shah, 1356, which originated from seven Muslim tribes.
Their method was to join an unsuspecting caravan on its journey through a remote area, riding with them for days in order to gain their trust. When travelers let down their guard, thugs would distract them with loud music or point at the sky allowing a fellow thug to sneak up behind and strangle the victim. This continued until every member of the caravan was killed. Thugs were careful to bury all the bodies so their evil deeds would not alert other caravans.
Their method was later adopted by Hindu followers of Kali. An estimated 2 million were killed by thugs over 600 years.Efforts to eradicate the thugs were finally begun in the 1830s, after British took control of India, being led by Governor-General William Bentinck and Captain William Henry Sleeman.
To deal with this cult of highway robbers, the British formed a “Thuggee and Dacoity (Banditry) Department, which was renamed in 1904 as the Central Criminal Intelligence Department.
Mark Twain wrote in “Following the Equator” (1897): “Nobody could travel the Indian roads unprotected and live to get through; that the Thugs respected no quality, no vocation, no religion, nobody; that they killed every unarmed man that came in their way. … This cancerous organization … doing its devastating work in secrecy, and assisted, protected, sheltered, and hidden by innumerable confederates – big and little native chiefs, customs officers, village officials, and native police, all ready to lie for it … through fear. … This condition of things had existed for generations, and was formidable with the sanctions of age and old custom.”
A best-selling English novel was “Confessions of a Thug” (1839), based on the life of infamous thug Syeed Amir Ali.
Once land trade routes were ended, Europeans began looking for a sea route. Vasco de Gama sailed from Portugal to India in 1498, but six years earlier, Columbus set sail. Growing up in Genoa, the city where Marco Polo had been held captive nearly two centuries earlier, Columbus grew up hearing stories of the Grand Khan in a very strange land on the other side of the world. Columbus owned a copy of Marco Polo’s book, and wrote numerous personal notes in the margins.
At the age of 41, Christopher Columbus wrote to the king and queen of Spain in 1492: “Concerning the lands of India, and a Prince called Gran Khan. … How many times he sent to Rome to seek doctors in our Holy Faith to instruct him and that never had the Holy Father provided them, and thus so many people were lost through lapsing into idolatries. … And Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians and Princes devoted to the Holy Christian Faith and the propagators thereof, and enemies of the sect of Mahomet and of all idolatries and heresies, resolved to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the said regions of India, to see the said princes and peoples and lands and the dispositions of them and of all, and the manner in which may be undertaken their conversion to our Holy Faith. …”
Columbus continued: “And ordained that I should not go by land (the usual way) to the Orient, but by the route of the Occident, by which no one to this day knows for sure that anyone has gone.”
On Oct. 10, 1492, Columbus wrote of his journey to India and China, of how the sailors were growing tired and scared, being on such a long journey – in fact, it was the longest voyage out of the sight of land to that date.
Answering the sailors who wanted to turn back, Columbus wrote: “Here the people could stand it no longer and complained of the long voyage … but the Admiral … added that it was useless to complain. He had come to the Indies, and so had to continue until he found them, with the help of Our Lord.”
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