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Christophoros Kolombos

Was he really from Chios?


In Pyrgí, Chios, there’s a house with an EU-sponsored plaque in Greek marking the OIKIAS KOLOMBOU, the house of Columbus. You’ll see the name Kolombos elsewhere on signs and inscribed over the doors; it’s a common name in Pyrgí. And according to Ruth G. Durlacher-Wolper’s Christophoros Columbus: A Byzantine Prince from Chios, Greece (1982) the most famous member of the family ‘discovered’ the New World.

Colombus is one of history’s mystery men, who purposefully covered his tracks and left few clues to his past. Durlacher-Wolper argues the reason for his secrecy is because he was a Greek who, like many after the fall of Constantinople in 1452 was living in Catholic Genoa, and wanted to avoid persecution in case he was captured by the Turks. The Chians then and now were famous sailors; and Chios of course was Genoese territory from 1346-1566, during which time there had been ‘mastic’ intermarriages between the Genoese merchants and Byzantine aristocracy.

There are other clues as well: Colombus’s bizarre signature, a mix of Byzantine Greek and Latin (both of which he knew well); in his writings (which were never in Italian) he often referred to mastic and Chíos, always spelling it with a Greek C (and the mastic grows in red soil— Columbus often referred to himself as ‘Columbus de Terra Rubra’), the fact that he claimed to have sailed with his kinsman ‘Colon the Younger, the Greek corsair’ (George Paleologus Disipatos, a nobleman who became a famous corsair after 1452).

Columbus had an account with the Bank of St George, the same used by the Maona mastic syndicate, and at sea he kept two logs, one in Roman leagues, and a secret one, in Greek leagues. The Genoese, of course, pooh-pooh all this, although they have never been able to produce rock hard evidence that Columbus was from the city—-even Columbus’s own son Ferdinand couldn’t find any relatives.

Sidelights and Myths

Text © Dana Facaros

Image by Panegyrics of Granovetter