Columbus’s Portuguese Inheritance

By David Waters, published November 1992


This article gives the background to Europe before the threats of Vikings or Muslims, where lay schools spread reading and writing and the classical scientific writings were disseminated.   The invention of the compass and quantitative navigation resulted in hydrography, portolans and portolan charts, all useful and practicable within the Mediterranean. Galleys replaced lateen sails with the northern square sail and centre-line rudders, and the vessels used by Columbus were evolved. The way in which navigation was carried out by altura is described, to bring a navigator back to Lisbon from the Azores or from a landfall on the Guinea coast. Once magnetic variation had been worked out, King John II used his ablest navigators to solve the navigational problem of sailing south, i.e. by using the sun to give latitude universally. All of this knowledge prepared for the success of Columbus’s voyages.

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Filed under: Atlantic | Late Middle Ages | High Middle Ages | Mediterranean
Subjects include: Science & Exploration

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