Amerigo Vespucci (b. March 9, 1454, Florence – d. February 22, 1512, Seville), scientist, cartographer and merchant, coming from an aristocratic family in Florence, was one of the greatest navigators of all time.
He was the only one who understood that South America was a newly discovered continent, a continent which stretched on both sides of the Equator, like Africa, but which was separated from Africa by the Atlantic Ocean, thus proving that Brazil and the West Indies were not it represents the eastern part of Asia, but new areas, unknown to Europeans.
Vespucci created a system for calculating longitude with the help of which he was able to find the circumference of the Earth with an error of almost 80 kilometers. He discovered some of the world’s most important rivers, the Amazon, the Pavia and the Rio de la Plata.
America, the “feminine” variant of the name Amerigo
He was the first European to reach Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay and Argentina and the first to observe the existence of the equatorial current, exploring nearly 6,000 miles of coastline, more than anyone else had managed before him.
Of all his achievements, the most important was the rediscovery of America, a continent baptized as such, from 1507, after Amerigo.
Ambiguous information related to Vespucci’s travels
It is estimated that the period in which Vespucci carried out his expeditions falls between 1497 and 1504, evidence of these facts being the information that comes from two sources. The first source includes a letter in Italian that Vespucci allegedly sent on September 4, 1504, from Lisbon, Portugal, to the gonfalonier (magistrate of a medieval Italian republic) Piero Soderini, and two Latin versions of this letter, entitled “Quattuor Americi navigationes’ and ‘Mundus Novus’ or ‘Epistola Alberici de Novo Mundo’.
The second source of evidence related to his travels is three private letters addressed to the famous De Medici family, very close to Amerigo Vespucci (from 1478 the navigator had become the manager of the De Medici family’s money, helping to develop its business and accumulating, in turn , substantial assets). The researchers believe that the only authentic documents would be the private letters, those in which only two trips were mentioned, and not four, as it appeared in the first series of documents.
Voyage completed by Vespucci between May 1499 and June 1500
The voyage completed by Vespucci between May 1499 and June 1500 as navigator of an expedition of four ships sent from Spain under the command of Alonso de Ojeda has been declared authentic.
In 1499, seven years after the discovery of the West Indies by Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci set out on his first expedition, commanded by Alonso de Ojeda (Spanish explorer and conqueror), an expedition whose purpose was to map the coasts of the West Indies, but which Vespucci had also accepted it for personal reasons, having in mind the exploitation of the voyage and from a commercial point of view, curious and interested in what products he might bring with him. On June 27, 1499, the ships reach Brazil, but although he was somehow convinced that he was close to a new route to Asia, in June 1500 Vespucci returned to Spain with the ships he was coordinating. Once back in Spain, he prepares a new expedition with the intention of reaching the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Ganges (the current Bay of Bengal) and the island of Taprobane or Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), a plan that the Spanish government does not approve, so Vespucci asks for help the Portuguese government in the late 1500s.
Under the auspices of the Portuguese government, Vespucci was able to complete the second expedition, lifting anchor in Lisbon on May 13, 1501. After a stop in the Cape Verde Islands, and then continuing southwest, Vespucci reached the coastal area of Brazil towards Cape St. Augustine.
An important tab in the history of geographical discoveries
Although the rest of the voyage is shrouded in confusion, Vespucci claimed to have continued south and may have seen (in January 1502) Guanabara Bay (Gulf of Rio de Janeiro) and sailed to the Río de la Plata, making Vespucci the first European who discovered that estuary (Juan Díaz de Solís arrived there in 1516). It is also possible that the ships went further south along the coast of Patagonia (in present-day southern Argentina). The way back is unknown. Vespucci’s ships anchored in Lisbon on July 22, 1502.
The voyage of 1501-1502 represents an important tab in the history of geographical discoveries, because Vespucci himself, as well as scientists, became convinced that the newly discovered lands were not part of Asia but represented a “New World”. In 1507, the humanist Martin Waldseemüller reprinted at Saint-Dié in Lorraine “Quattuor Americi navigationes” (“Four Voyages of Amerigo”), a work preceded by his own pamphlet entitled “Cosmographiae introductio”, suggesting that the newly discovered world be called “ab Americo Inventore…quasi Americi terram sive Americam” (“from Amerigo the discoverer…as if it were the land of Americus or America”). Thus, the proposal is applied even if only to South America, for the time being, and will then be extended to North America as well.
Pilot Major at the court of the King of Spain
In early 1505, Amerigo Vespucci was summoned to the court of Spain, where he was offered new responsibilities based on his experience as a navigator. He was hired to work for the famous Casa de Contratación de las Indias (Commercial House for the Indies). Although he would have liked to sail again to the New World, Ferdinand, the king of Spain, appointed him to the position of “Pilot Major”, Amerigo being thus forced to give up his dream.
Vespucci’s role was to train Spanish ship captains in navigational techniques, cosmography, oversee hydrographic charts, prepare nautical charts and ensure that navigational instruments were not damaged. He also controlled the trade routes from Spain to the New World. Vespucci, who had obtained Spanish citizenship, held this position until his death. The great Italian navigator died on February 22, 1512, in Seville, Spain, of malaria. He was only 58 years old.