What would have happened if Christopher Columbus missed the Americas?

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. But what if Columbus never returned from his voyage? Columbus’ three ships, the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria, may have run out of water, threatening the lives of all the sailors. They may have been lost at sea, or drowned in a storm because they set sail during hurricane season. Or, more likely, Columbus may have reached the Caribbean and never returned to Europe. In fact, Columbus’ largest ship, the Santa Maria, ran aground on the reefs of Haiti. Columbus barely made it back to Europe after his first voyage.

So what if Columbus sailed to the Atlantic Ocean and never returned? Would Europe have given up the western route to Asia, or would other nations have eventually sent their own voyages? Without the silver and gold flowing from the New World into Europe, would the Habsburgs retain power? Did the British Empire exist? With less competition, would the Ottomans conquer Europe? Without Columbus’ voyage, world history would look very different.

Some other explorers might run into the Americas, only delaying the same inevitable results

What would have happened if Christopher Columbus missed the Americas?
Photo: L. Prang & Co. / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

If Columbus had not landed in America, would Europeans have completely abandoned the idea of ​​u200bu200ba western route to Asia? Would anyone dare to cross the Atlantic, knowing that three ships of Columbus were destroyed along the way? It is possible that another explorer may have encountered the Americas at some point. But when, after 1492, would Europeans attempt to cross the Atlantic?

In the year 1500, Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral landed in Brazil. Cabral was not looking for the New World. His fleet had simply swept along on its voyage up the coast of Africa, on its way to India. Instead, strong winds descended on Cabral, Brazil.

Cabral could easily have been the first European to reach the Americas. If the Portuguese had laid claim to the entire New World, they would have poured their fortunes into the Iberian country, completely changing European history.

Portugal will become the major European trading power

What would have happened if Christopher Columbus missed the Americas?
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When Columbus set sail to find a western route to Asia, Portuguese explorers had already shown how promising the eastern route could be. In 1488 Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope. Just a decade later, Vasco da Gama sailed to India. Over the course of the sixteenth century, Portugal established many ports on the coasts of Africa, India, China and even Japan.

Without competition from Spain’s New World, Portugal would have dominated European trade networks. While the Ottomans and Italians may have retained their power in the Mediterranean, Portugal would have benefited from the wealth of Asian trade. Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva recently declared that “the roads created by the Portuguese to connect continents and oceans are the foundation of the world we live in today.” In the absence of Spanish competition, Portugal’s dominance would probably be even greater.

The Aztec empire would continue to grow across Mesoamerica

What would have happened if Christopher Columbus missed the Americas?
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Over the course of the fifteenth century, the Aztecs conquered central Mexico. Their empire succeeded in subduing many neighboring regions, and consolidated their control. However, one region remained unconquered: Tlaxcala, east of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.

In 1519, Hernan Cortés allied with the Tlaxcalans to defeat the Aztec Empire. Without their vital support, Cortes would almost certainly have failed to conquer the Aztecs. Without Cortes, who came as a direct result of Columbus’ discovery, the Aztecs would almost certainly have continued their conquest of Mexico, expanding throughout Mesoamerica.

The Inca Empire would have conquered South America

What would have happened if Christopher Columbus missed the Americas?
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In the hundred years before Spanish contact, the Incas more than doubled the size of their empire. Building alliances with neighbors, the Incas created a powerful and developed empire on the Pacific coast of South America.

However, Pizarro overthrew the Empire with the help of superior weapons and ruthless tactics. After capturing the Inca ruler Atahualpa and extracting a ransom of more than $50 million today, Pizarro executed Atahualpa. Even before the Spanish reached Inca lands, European diseases had ravaged, weakening the empire.

Without the Spanish contact, the Incas would have continued their expansion, creating a massive empire that would have conquered South America.

China will remain a powerful country and dominate trade in Asia

What would have happened if Christopher Columbus missed the Americas?
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China’s dominant Ming dynasty sent its own expeditions during the 15th century. Under the command of Admiral Zheng He, the Chinese fleet traveled to India and Africa. However, Ming soon took an isolationist turn, declaring that China was the only civilized part of the world.

While European merchants had a presence in China, they had to acknowledge Chinese supremacy. European powers, who would be weaker without their colonies in the New World, would struggle to break into the Chinese market, and would likely play a smaller role in Chinese trade. As a result, China would have continued its role as the dominant power in Asia. With little competition from the European powers, especially Portugal and the Dutch, China would have dominated trade throughout Southeast Asia.

North American tribes could have united into several nations hostile to the Native Americans

What would have happened if Christopher Columbus missed the Americas?
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Prior to European contact with North America, many Native American groups were becoming confederacies. The Iroquois Confederacy, made up of five nations—the Mohawks, Senecas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Oneidas—dominated from the Great Lakes to New York. They often fought the Algonquin nations for territory in the Northeast.

Before Spanish contact, California was home to 300,000 Native Americans divided into about 100 tribes. While relations between the tribes are usually peaceful, separate groups may have consolidated over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries. The Aztec expansion may have reached ca.

Without the massive decline in population caused by European diseases, as well as displacement, forced labor, and extermination, North American tribes might have consolidated into several dominant confederations that would have controlled large swaths of land.

The Ottomans were continuing their expansion into Central Europe

What would have happened if Christopher Columbus missed the Americas?
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The Ottomans besieged Vienna twice in the early modern period. Both times, the Habsburgs managed to hold off the invaders. But things would have looked different were it not for the Habsburg allies in Spain, who controlled a huge empire in the New World.

By 1500, the Ottoman Empire controlled much of the international trade flowing into Europe. As rulers of Istanbul, the Ottomans controlled trade coming from the Black Sea, Asia Minor, and the Near East. Their navy sailed the Mediterranean almost unchallenged. Had it not been for a strong competitor in Central Europe, the Ottomans might have continued their march into Central Europe, conquering Vienna just as they conquered Constantinople.

The Italian city-states could have continued their renaissance

What would have happened if Christopher Columbus missed the Americas?
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In the fifteenth century, Italian city-states flourished during the Renaissance. They spread cultural, political and social ideas to the rest of Europe. However, Columbus’ voyage and focus on colonizing the New World overshadowed the Italian Renaissance. None of the Italian city-states could compete in the race for colonies, thanks in part to their smaller size compared to the dominant powers of the Age of Discovery.

However, without the discovery of the Americas, the Italian Renaissance might have continued. In the early 16th century, Italy may have resisted invasions from France and Spain, extending the Italian Renaissance into the early modern period.

Spain will be divided into rival kingdoms

What would have happened if Christopher Columbus missed the Americas?
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Spain was united two decades before Columbus’ voyage, when Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon shared their crowns.

In 1492, the Catholic Monarchs expelled the Jewish population of Spain and occupied Granada, ending the last Muslim kingdom on the Iberian Peninsula. With the discovery of the New World, gold and silver poured into Spain, strengthening the newly formed United Kingdom.

But without wealth from the New World, Spain might easily collapse into rival kingdoms. Poorer Spain may not have succeeded in driving Muslims and Jews out of their country, creating a more diverse and less united Iberia.

People in North America will speak Dutch or French

What would have happened if Christopher Columbus missed the Americas?
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Had Columbus not reached the Americas, some European voyages might have eventually reached the New World. Perhaps the Portuguese discovered Brazil and focused their efforts on colonizing South America. Another European power would have risked the voyage across the North Atlantic to land in North America and found new colonies.

France was the European country most likely to colonize North America in the sixteenth century. In fact, France found a huge colony in North America. Instead of competing with the Spanish, France would have colonized much of the east coast, fighting Dutch rivals. Rather than gaining independence from the British, the United States may have sprung from a French colony, like Canada, or even a Dutch colony.

As a result, people in the United States will speak French or Dutch instead of English.

It would have been decades before another ship crossed the Atlantic

What would have happened if Christopher Columbus missed the Americas?
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Christopher Columbus struggled to find a supporter for his voyage. He visited the Portuguese in search of patrons for the king, but they rejected him. Columbus also offered to sail to the French or the English, but both refused.

By the time Spain funded Columbus’ westward voyage, the project was barely alive. Imagine if Columbus, after pleading to every great court in Europe for money, simply set sail and never returned. It is very likely that the Europeans would have invested their fortune in discovering an eastern route to Asia, as the Portuguese had done, rather than sending further fruitless voyages to the West.

It might have taken another explorer decades to convince Europe’s royal family to bet on Columbus’ failed route.

West African states could have developed into their own expansionist imperial powers

What would have happened if Christopher Columbus missed the Americas?
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In the fifteenth century, West Africa was dominated by the Mali Empire. Prior to Columbus’ voyage, Mali controlled an area larger than Western Europe, and implemented a sophisticated political system to control its empire. The Mali Empire enriched itself with trade, including important commodities such as gold and salt.

By 1500, a new dominant power had emerged in West Africa: the Songhai Empire, which controlled trade routes across the Sahara.

However, West Africa eventually turned into rival neighbors, in part because of a new trade network: the Atlantic slave trade. Without the European demand for slaves in the New World, West African states such as the Mali and Songhai empires would have continued to grow and consolidate their power.

The Russian Empire will become the dominant power in the world

What would have happened if Christopher Columbus missed the Americas?
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1492 was a significant year for Russia. The King of Poland passed, and his weak successor eventually ceded his Baltic lands to Ivan the Great. Ivan also conquered the Mongols, turning Central Asia into a region ripe for Russian conquest.

Russia’s strategic location allowed it to access Asian trade without having to pass through hostile Ottoman territory. With less competition from the Habsburg rulers, the Russians could have expanded their empire faster, turning themselves into a dominant world power. For centuries, Russia fought the Ottomans, but the balance may have tipped in Russia’s favor as stronger European trade passed through Russian lands. After all, without the resources of the New World, Europeans would still demand Asian trade, which the Russians could supply.

England may become the ‘sick man of Europe’

What would have happened if Christopher Columbus missed the Americas?
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England was slow to colonize the New World compared to its European rivals Spain, Portugal, France and even the Dutch. But without their North American colonies, which made up the vast majority of Britain’s overseas empire by 1750, England would never have become a major European power.

Britain used the North American colonies to fuel its expansion, and the colonies also became an important outlet for religious dissenters. The British might not have established their control over India without their experience and wealth from their American colonies.

However, by the eighteenth century, with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, Britain’s major coal reserves likely made the island an attractive resource. It is even possible that another power, such as the Russians or the Ottomans, may have colonized England for coal.


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