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Tuesday, November 2, 1999 Published at 09:23 GMT


Columbus tops millennium poll

Christopher Columbus 'discovered' America by mistake

Christopher Columbus has topped a BBC News Online poll to find the greatest explorer of the millennium.

The Genoa-born discoverer won October's vote at the last minute, pushing Captain James Cook, who had led for most of the month, into second place.

The top 10 included Marco Polo and astronaut Neil Armstrong as well as mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary.

The vote was the tenth in BBC News Online's monthly Your Millennium series. In November you can vote for the greatest woman of the last 1,000 years.

To inspire you, two prominent women, Cabinet Office minister Mo Mowlam and Nobel-prize winning anti-landmine campaigner Jody Williams have contributed their personal top-10 lists.

Christopher Columbus' poll win is likely to be controversial.

His landing in America on 12 October 1492 marks a seminal event in world history, opening up a New World for Europeans. But research has thrown doubts on Columbus' success.

Despite popular belief, Columbus (1451-1506) did not "discover" America. Civilisations there dated back thousands of years and European explorers and colonists did a great deal of damage to the native cultures.

Columbus was a great navigator in his day, although he believed the Earth's circumference to be much smaller and Asia much larger than they actually are.

But despite this - and the fact that Columbus spent his whole life believing he had in fact landed in Asia - he ranks as a great explorer for his bravery in sailing into the unknown. His voyages opened up large-scale trade links between the Old World and the New.

Christopher Columbus, or Cristoforo Colombo, was born in Genoa, Italy, the son of a wool weaver. But when he was not voyaging he lived mainly in Portugal and Spain.

At a time when Portugal was a great seafaring nation Columbus worked as common seaman on a merchant ship and as a chart-maker before entering the service of King John II of Portugal. He learned Portuguese, Latin and Spain's official language, Castilian, so that he could read geography books and try and map the world.

BBC News Online readers from across the world took part in the millennium poll and those who voted for him did not seem concerned at Columbus' mixed success.

David Bender said: "True, there were people already living in the Americas, and Christopher Columbus may have landed in the New World by accident, but that does not change the fact that his "discovery" changed human history immeasurably."

And Kate Randall said: "Without any of the modern advantages, Christopher Columbus discovered the new world.

Click here to see the full results of October's vote.

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Result of the BBC News Online Millennium vote for September

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