The great-great-grandfather of Columbus originated in India: Latin documents

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The great-great-grandfather of Columbus originated in India: Latin documents

At the start of the thirteenth century, the Roman Catholic leadership felt an acute need to develop well-trained theologians from among its clergy. As a response to this need, a certain Castilian by name of Dominic of Guzmán, a trained theologian and a priest, brought together six well-educated priests and sought an approval from Pope Honorius III to allow him to build a religious order, specializing in theology and preaching. The Pope granted his approval in 1217. Dominic’s band of priests was named the Order of Preachers, later popularly called the Dominican Order. The order saw rapid growth all over Europe. By the year 1303, it had 16 provinces on the continent and one outside of it – in Jerusalem.

Some of the members of the order were keen to work further afield. Accordingly, a special unit was created within the order in 1312 named Peregrinantes (Pilgrims). An individual friar – a Peregrinus (Pilgrim) – could now go to virtually any land outside of Europe to carry out his activities of preaching and service. Such a pilgrim friar ceased to be associated with a particular convent or a province.

In 1318, Pope John XXII allocated Persia, Ethiopia and India to the Dominicans for any faith-related activities. The Franciscans, a contemporary order, were allocated the Mongol regions of China.

During the period, the Genoese merchants were already conducting their trade with China and India by sailing from Genoa to the port of Trabzon on the Black Sea, trekking via Armenia and Persia, and then boarding a vessel at Hormuz for Thane near Mumbai. The friars began to travel to the East, using these merchants acting as their guides.

The Pope appointed Francis of Perugia, a pilgrim Dominican friar, as the archbishop at Soltaniyeh in Persia, and in 1329, another friar of the same order, Jordan of Catalonia, as the bishop of Kollam in today’s Kerala. This was the very first instance for India to get a Latin (Roman Catholic) bishop. Jordan reported to Francis of Perugia.

Why Kollam?

Kollam was considered to be the major centre of the Nasrani or St Thomas Christians. The community was present in almost all the port towns in India and engaged in trade and other port-related activities. Some members of this community had vessels too. These vessels moved goods over the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. It appears that the Genoese merchants and the friars preferred these vessels over those of the Muslim sailors.

The word for Kollam among the Genoese merchants was Colõbo/Colombo. Some of the correspondence among the European clergy in the early fourteenth century uses the word, Columbo. When Jordan was appointed the bishop of this place, the papal Latin scribes converted the Italian-sounding place-name to a more Latinized form of Columbum.

A place called Columbum does not exist anywhere in Europe.

Kollam and Mangalore on the Catalan Atlas of 1375 AD (Image courtesy of

The 1375 Catalan Atlas refers to this city as Colobo and the province as Columbo. It may be noted that a tilde, usually representing a nasal ‘n’ or ‘m’, was not used by all European languages at the time. Hence the cartographers deduced that Colobo and Columbo as two separate entities. This is the only province in India marked as a Christian province (i.e. with a cross).

Interestingly, Mangalore city (“Manganor” on the map) too is shown with a cross, suggesting a significant Christian presence. These Christians could have been the Persian Nestorians or the (Indian) Nasrani Christians.

About 20 years after Jordan was appointed the bishop of Kollam, Europe (like other regions) experienced its great pandemic called the Black Death. History records it as arriving aboard a Genoese vessel from the Black Sea. The pandemic wiped out a third of Europe’s population. All the activities of the Dominicans in Persia and India came to an abrupt stop.

Just about this time, and perhaps having something to do with the Black Death, a certain Musso, clearly a migrant, begins to run a tavern at a village near Genoa. For, in 1357, in his legal contract to lease a property, his occupation has been provided as a tavern-keeper. This Latin document is arguably the very first instance in the Republic of Genoa to carry the words ‘Columbus’ Columbum’ and ‘Columbo’ – distinctly identifying the use of the word as a toponym for Musso who would have had some links to the pilgrim friar Jordan. A very ordinary migrant from Columbum would not have known the Latin spelling of the place.

The Nasrani Christians have traditionally used biblical names. Moosa/Moosha (i.e. Moses) is one such biblical name. On the Italian-influenced Latin document, Moosa became a Musso.

How can this Musso be connected to Christopher Columbus?

In addition to their sharing the same toponym (in Latin), the 1357 contract that Musso entered into specified that the use of the property would be limited to Musso’s own family and his legitimate heirs forever. No one outside the family would be able to lease the property. This property continued to be used by the Columbus clan even during the time of Columbus 135 years later.

It may be noted that a certain Bartolino of Piacenza in Lombardy, identified later by historians as the great-grandfather of Columbus, had similarly set up the Fedecommesso delle Terre di Pradello – a family trust based at Pradello – which he declared inalienable outside the Columbus lineage.

The timeline and the circumstances suggest that Musso would have been the father of Bartolino, and hence, the great-great-grandfather of Christopher Columbus.

The surname of Columbus (or its variants of de Columbis/de Columbo/de Columbum) was recorded in many official documents – as a toponym – at Genoa and Piacenza.

This article is an excerpt from the book Christopher Columbus: Buried deep in Latin the Indian origin of the great explorer from Genoa (Amazon, ASIN B0925JV1GG) by Ilarius Augustus, retailing currently at $2.99.

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  1. I am a little sceptical about this. Speculations about historical figures and lineages abound everywhere. This tendency to appropriate or assimilate famous figures into one’s own culture or land is understandable, but it would require rigorous research and proof that is unassailable. The Sephardim, for instance, believe that Columbus was one of their own. This theory would have him with Jewish origins. (Not very credible either, but a little less far-fetched than this, I suppose. Moreover, they have referred to historical accounts and records that might very well prove their point).
    Yes, this might very well be the truth for all we know, but it cannot be based on mere speculation and connecting up figures without attributing facts or historical proof.

  2. Dear Tejaswi,
    I was a little late to see your comment. Hence the delay in response.
    True there are many ‘origin’ theories.
    Why is this one different?
    (1) Europe did/does not have a place called Columbum. In 1329, only one place was named Columbum by the Pope: and that was for Kollam (today’s Kerala). The Genoese called the place Columbo/Colombo. The place is also identified as such in the 1375 Catalonian Atlas.
    (2) Why was the Pope interested in Kollam? According to the Genoese merchants and European missionaries, it was the centre of Nasrani Christians. The Pope appointed a friar from Catalonia (now part of Spain) as Kollam’s bishop. The Latin documents call Kollam as Columbum. Please read
    (3) There are many Latin documents (many already examined by others, some not) from Genoa that talk about persons “De Columbum/ de Columbo / de Colombo” – all meaning the same thing: the person from Kollam. These appear only after 1329.
    (4) The ‘character’ of the Columbus clan (which prompted many to speculate Columbus was Jewish) matches only one community in the world: the Nasranis who follow many Israelite customs even today.
    The book contains the documentation. So long as I am concerned, more convincing than any theories, because the book shows the documents. BTW, the book is only $2.99. So, not a large expense to check the source documents and then declare what one thinks about them. I too had my doubts before!

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