Ancient documents suggest Italian sailors knew America 150 years before Christopher Columbus
Ahead of Columbus Day, the findings pose further questions about what the explorer really expected to find on his trip.
A new analysis of ancient writings suggests that sailors in Christopher Columbus’ Italian hometown knew America 150 years before its famous “discovery.”
Transcribing and detailing a document, circa 1345, by a Milanese brother, Galvaneus Flamma, Professor Paolo Chiesa, an expert in medieval Latin literature, made an “astonishing” discovery of an “exceptional” passage referring to a region that we know today as North America.
According to Chiesa, the old test – first discovered in 2013 – suggests that the sailors of Genoa already knew this land, recognizable as “Markland” / “Marckalada” – mentioned by some Icelandic sources and identified by researchers as part of the Atlantic coast. North America (usually assumed to be Labrador or Newfoundland).
Published in the peer-reviewed journal Unknown lands, the discovery precedes Columbus Day 2021, also celebrated as Indigenous Peoples Day in many states in the United States. The findings add fuel to the continuing question of “what exactly did Columbus expect to find when he crossed the ocean?” and come after a period in which his statues were beheaded, covered in red paint, lassoed around his head, and slaughtered, set on fire and thrown into a lake.
“We are in the presence of the first reference to the American continent, although in an embryonic form, in the Mediterranean space,” says Professor Chiesa, from the Department of Literary, Philological and Linguistic Studies at the University of Milan.
Galvaneus was a Dominican brother who lived in Milan and was related to a family that held the seigniory of the city.
He wrote several literary works in Latin, mainly on historical subjects. His testimony is valuable for information on contemporary Milanese facts, of which he has first-hand knowledge.
Cronica universalis, which is analyzed here by Chiesa, is considered one of his last works – perhaps the last – and has been left unfinished and unfinished. It aims to detail the history of the whole world, from “Creation” to its publication.
By translating and analyzing the document, Professor Chiesa demonstrates how Genoa would have been a ‘gateway’ for information, and how Galvaneus seems to be hearing, informally, rumors from sailors in the far north-western lands at possible commercial purposes – as well as information about Greenland, which he details precisely (for the knowledge of the time).
“These rumors were too vague to find consistency in cartographic or scholarly representations,” says the professor, explaining why Marckalada was not classified as new land at the time.
Either way, Chiesa states, Cronica universalis “Brings unprecedented evidence to speculation that information about the Americas, derived from Nordic sources, circulated in Italy a century and a half before Columbus. “
He adds: “What makes the passage (about Marckalada) exceptional is its geographical origin: not the Nordic area, as in the case of the other mentions, but the north of Italy.
“The Marckalada described by Galvaneus is ‘rich in trees’, much like the wooded Markland of the Greenlendinga Saga, and animals live there.
“These details could be standard, as distinctive of all good soil; but they are not insignificant, for the common characteristic of the northern regions is to be dark and barren, as Greenland actually is in Galvaneus’ account, or as Iceland is described by Adam of Bremen.
All in all, says Professor Chiesa, we should “trust” Cronica universalis as throughout the document Galvaneus states where he heard of oral histories, and supports his claims with elements drawn from accounts (legendary or real) belonging to earlier traditions on different lands, mixed and reassigned to a specific place .
“I see no reason not to believe it,” says Professor Chiesa, who adds, “it has long been noted that the 14th-century portulan (nautical) maps drawn in Genoa and Catalonia provide a more advanced geographical representation of the world. North. , which could be achieved through direct contact with these regions.
“These notions of the north-west probably got to Genoa by sea routes to the British Isles and the mainland coasts of the North Sea.
“We have no evidence that Italian or Catalan sailors ever reached Iceland or Greenland at that time, but they were certainly able to acquire from northern European merchants goods of this origin to be transported to the Mediterranean region.
“The marinarii mentioned by Galvaneus can be part of this dynamic: the Genoese could have brought back to their town scattered information on these lands, some real and others fanciful, that they heard in the northern ports from Scottish, British, Danish and Norwegian sailors with whom they traded.
Cronica universalis, written in Latin, is still unpublished; however, an edition is planned, as part of an academic and educational program promoted by the University of Milan.
Reference: “Marckalada: The First Mention of America in the Mediterranean Area (c. 1340)” by Paolo Chiesa, July 16, 2021, Unknown lands.
DOI: 10.1080 / 00822884.2021.1943792