If you think the name Amerigo sounds like America—you’re not wrong.
In fact, Amerigo Vespucci is the namesake of the Americas. The Italian explorer proved that the land discovered by Christopher Columbus was not a part of Asia, but a separate continent.
The new continent was named America, after the Latin spelling of Vespucci’s name—Americus.
There is a lot more to learn, though. Here are 9 fascinating facts about the 15th century explorer.
Amerigo Vespucci: 9 fascinating facts about America’s namesake
1. He was blamed for stealing other peoples’ thunder.
There is serious doubt over the legitimacy of letters that highlight Vespucci’s achievements. Some historians believe that the letters were not actually written by the explorer, an interesting fact about Amerigo Vespucci. His reputation has taken a hit for this, with some scholars believing he actually stole credit for some of his discoveries—including taking credit for the Americas from Christopher Columbus.
Regardless, he remains a key influence in the Age of Discovery, and his establishment of the fact that the Americas were not part of Asia was pivotal in establishing the world as we know it.
2. He was awarded honorary Spanish citizenship
And by a king, no less. In 1505, King Ferdinand gave Vespucci the title of Pilot Major of Spain, along with a great salary. This made Vespucci a naturalized Spanish citizen, and he and his wife, Maria Cerezo, made their home in Seville, Spain.
Amerigo Vespucci was responsible for establishing a school of navigation, whos goal was to modernize navigation techniques and train students in a standardized, consistent practice. He worked for the navigation school until his death in 1512, from malaria.
3. He proved America was not part of Asia
Until his 1501-1502 voyage, scholars had established that Columbus had discovered a new part of Asia. During his voyage to Portugal, he demonstrated that Brazil and the West Indies were not the extreme eastern peninsula of Asia, but a separate and unexplored land mass.
He wrote to his friend Lorenzo di Pier Francesco de Medici to describe his findings and express his doubts about this extreme peninsula of Asia.
In historic texts, he refers to this as the New World—a name that would stick for centuries to come.
In 1507, German cartographer, Martin Waldseemuller, created a world map using the information provided by Columbus and Vespucci. On his map, he named the new continent—which had not yet been separated into North and South America—after Vespucci. He gave it the Latinized, feminized version of Amerigo.
4. He discovered Rio de Janiero
As he set sail from Lisbon in 1501, Vespucci’s voyage was led by Goncalo Coelho. The fleet headed for Cape Verde, and sailed along the coast of what is now known as South America. As they sailed for Patagonia, they discovered present-day Rio de Janeiro and Rio de la Plata, not a well-known fact about Amerigo Vespucci.
5. Spain thought he was wrong
After Vespucci returned to Spain following one of his earlier explorations of Asia, he was convinced that Asia wasn’t just one large land mass—but rather, a collection of archipelago and some separate land masses. He wanted to prove it.
His plan was to sail to the Indian Ocean and explore the Bay of Bengal and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). When the Spanish refused to fund his next voyage, he turned to Portugal. They agreed to fund the expedition in 1500.
6. Vespucci had other jobs before he became an explorer
Vespucci was in his 40s when he finally decided to pursue exploration as a career. While the number of voyages he made is contested, there are at least two confirmed.
Originally from Florence, Italy, Amerigo was sent to work for the Medici family in his early 20s. His uncle, Guido Antonio, was a spokesman for the family with King Louis XI of France, and he took Vespucci with him to learn the ropes.
Amerigo worked first as a banker, and then as a merchant and supervisor for their shipping company in Seville. It is through his time working in the ship-outfitting business that Vespucci learned about exploration—which was rising in popularity.
7. That’s how he met Christopher Columbus
While working in ship-outfitting for the Medici family, Vespucci met Columbus in 1496.
Columbus had returned from his voyage to the Americas at this point. According to historic letters, a conversation between the two men sparked Vespucci’s interest in exploration, an interesting fact about Amerigo Vespucci. By this time, Amerigo’s business was struggling, and through his connections he knew that the Spanish king was willing to fund explorers. Letters and historic documents say that a mid-40s Vespucci was excited at the thought of seeing the world for himself—and maybe the prospect of becoming famous. He closed his business and worked towards gaining funding to explore the world.
8. He was part of a voyage that discovered the Amazon River.
In May of 1499, Vespucci was part of an expedition from Spain to Guyana. Under the command of Alonso de Ojeda, the flotilla of four ships split up and travelled in different directions. Vespucci’s ship went south towards Cape St. Augustine, and on to Trinidad and Haiti. On this voyage he is believed to have discovered the mouth of the Amazon, although some historians still doubt the authenticity of his letters and claims.
9. He had good connections
Amerigo Vespucci was born to a notary in 1454, in Florence. As Florence was the stronghold of the Medici, who ruled over Italy for centuries, he was both employed by—and friends with—the famous family. The Medici family owned the largest bank in Europe at the time, as well as having countless businesses and ties throughout Europe.
Vespucci is also known to have met with King Louis XI of France, and King Ferdinand of Spain, many times over the course of his life.
Although there is ongoing doubt among scholars and historians about some of Amerigo Vespucci’s claims, one thing goes uncontested: he proved that North and South America were their own land.
His interest in exploration later in his life has had a massive influence on the world we live in now, and his name lives on long after his death in February 1512.
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