Monday, May 03, 2010


More has been written about Christopher Columbus than most other explorers, and he is widely held to have discovered America, though the Vikings and, if you believe the Mormons, the Hebrews, are said to have arrived there centuries, if not millennia earlier. Despite a paucity of testamentary evidence, it is widely held that the intrepid explorer hailed from the Italian city of Genoa, and sailed for Isabella and Ferdinand, the king and queen of Spain, after many years of trying to convince them that the world was round, a belief that was uncommon despite the fact that Aristotle, Eratosthenes and Aristarchus the Samian had propounded it over a thousand years before. The story of Columbus being the son of a woolworker from Genoa however, only derives from the fact that there was someone named Columbus from Genoa who was a wool worker and is a legend attributed to Peter Martyr de Anghiera. However, new research suggests that this Columbus was not the same Columbus as the sailor.
On the contrary, Columbus is held to be an associate of the last dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, the Palaiologoi, who fled to the west after the fall of Constantinople. According to the American Greek Seraphim Countas, Columbus and his kinsman Colon-the-Younger came to France with the Paleologoi and was able to employ his connections in order to ingratiate himself with the royalty of the period. Ostensibly, this would make sense. Why would the King and Queen of Spain grant Columbus three ships and a decent stash of money if he was merely the son of a Genovese woolworker? Colon, was Hispanised form of the Italian Colombo, which was italianized from the French Coullon, which, it is argued, was merely a sobriquet. A further investigation appears to reveal that Colon was known by his contemporaries as Giorgio Griego, or Grecus, or Graecus. In 1905 another renowned Columbus scholar, Henry Vignaud, proved beyond all doubt that Colon the Younger was none other than George Paléologue de Bissipat, (Disypatos) also called Georges le Grec; that he was a Byzantine prince related to the imperial family of the Palaiologi; and that he held a high rank in the French Navy, being the principal lieutenant of vice-admiral Guillaume de Casenove (that is, the elder Colon), who was known as “Coullon.”
According to Du Cange, the Dishypatoi were among the most illustrious Byzantine families. The oldest members on record were one Thomas Dishypatos (mentioned by an anonymous writer in the reign of Leo the Armenian in the 9th century) and George Dishypatos (mentioned in the 10th century). The name appears again and again in various records of the 11th through 15th centuries. One Dishypatos was a reader at the cathedral of Aghia Sophia in Constantinople; another was a priest there; another was Archbishop of Thessaloniki; another was the author of a famous defencee of the
hesychasts of Mount Athos. In Columbus’s era, Du Cange tells us, Alexis Dishypatos was a special ambassador in France for the emperor Manuel II Palaiologos, trying in the early 15th century to secure financial aid for the emperor’s war against the Ottomans. John Dishypatos, an officer of the imperial court, was twice sent by the emperor John VIII Palaiologos as ambassador to the Council of Basel and to the Papal court to negotiate in matters concerning the union of the Orthodox and Latin churches.

Further circumstantial evidence thickens the plot. For example, the House of Palaiologos was closely connected by blood or marriage to many of the ruling families of Italy, including those of Genoa and Montferrat, such as the Doria, Spinola, Centurione, and Gattelusio families. All the marquises of Montferrat were Palaiologoi, and one of them was invited in 1409 to take charge of the government of Genoa. These facts, he suggests, may explain why Columbus, a member of the Disypatos family, was thought to be Genoese or Ligurian.

Abbé Renet, who published a history of the de Bissipat family in 1889, states that Giorgios Disypatos made his way to France, where he was received by King Louis XI with great honors for his excellent military
Feats. He first appears in French documents in 1460, where he is called “our noble man Georges le Grec, counselor and chamberlain of the King and vicomte of Falaise.” Eventually, Disypatos (as de Bissipat) became commander of the French fleet in the English Channel. And in French records, de Bissipat’s name is always qualified as a descendant of the emperors of Constantinople.

Louis XI granted Disypatos properties in Bordeaux, Beauvais, and Toucques. In addition to returning King Alfonso V to Portugal from France in 1477, in 1483, shortly before Louis XI’s death, the king sent Disypatos to the Cape Verde islands to obtain the blood of a special sea turtle in the hope of healing the king’s skin disease.
Three telling aspects of Disypatos’s career that help explain how Columbus settled in Portugal, how he was able to marry into the highest ranks of the Portuguese nobility, and how he was able to present his plan of discovery to the King of England:

Firstly, in August 1476, Guillaume de Casenove (that is, Colon the Elder, or Coullon) is known to have commanded a Franco/Portuguese squadron against the Genoese. De Casenove’s trusted second-in-command, Colon the
Younger (that is, Disypatos) was there, too. Ferdinando Columbus (Christopher’s son) and Las Casas record that Columbus was sailing with his famous kinsman, Colon the Younger, when they fell into battle with a fleet near Cape St. Vincent. Columbus, they say, had to jump into the sea to save himself at one point and, clinging to an oar, was able to make his way to shore and from there to Lisbon, where he settled and married a Portuguese woman, Doña Felipa Perestrello e Moniz.

Secondly, it is known that in 1477 Disypatos was appointed by Louis XI to escort King Alfonso V of Portugal back home from France, where King Alfonso had been visiting for a year trying to obtain the French king’s military support. Alfonso was said to have been so pleased with Dishypatos’s escort that he asked Louis XI to reward Dishypatos with French naturalization, which the French king did later in147. Peter Dickson, has explained how Disypatos’s delivery of Alfonso V back to Portugal is the key to Columbus’s marriage into the exalted Braganza-Norona family of Portugal. Dickson, who has scoured the relevant Portuguese genealogical records, has established that, in marrying Felipa Perestrello e Moniz in about 1479, Columbus essentially married “to the foot of the Portuguese throne.” Pointing out the closeness of Felipa’s family to the powerful Braganzas and to the Portuguese royal family, Dickson says Columbus’s marriage can be explained as a favor to Disypatos. Of course, such a marriage would have been impossible, had Columbus not been a nobleman himself.

Thirdly, in August 1485, Disypatos was appointed by the new French king, Charles VIII to escort the English Duke of Richmond, Henry Tudor, across the English Channel to England from Brittany, where Henry had been living in exile. Later that month (22nd August), at the famous battle of Bosworth
Field, Henry Tudor killed King Richard III and became King Henry VII of England. It is known that three years later, in 1488, Columbus’s brother
Bartholomeo presented Columbus’s plan of discovery to Henry VII. How, it is asked, did a poor Genoese wool-worker have access to Henry VII, King of England? The Disypatos connection seems to explain it. Further, it is noteworthy that He also points out that, in 1493, Bartholomeo was living at the French court, and it was through the French king that Bartholomeo learned that his brother, Christopher had returned to Spain from his first voyage of discovery.
Still not convinced? Several historians have speculated that whether or not he was of Byzantine provenance, Columbus may have come from the island of Chios. The argument supporting this theory states that Chios was under Genoese control at the time, and was thus part of the Republic of Genoa, and that he kept his journal in Greek and Latin instead of the Italian of Genoa. He also referred to himself as "Columbus de Terra Rubra" (Columbus of the Red Earth); Chios was known for its red soil in the south of the island where grow the mastic trees that the Genoese traded.
The theory is in the very least fascinating and engrossing, whether true or not. And why should Kitso Kolomvo not be Greek? After all, do not all famous people have a Greek origin? At any rate, Diatribe suggests that we should all lobby the Greek government to commit all its extensive resources to propagate this theory worldwide. Anything that will present us as the fathers of America and agents of European imperialism is bound to stand us in good stead and may provide much needed leverage in obtaining valuable financial aid at this our time of crisis and solidarity in respect of our “national issues.” It is a strategy of universal application. Tune in next week when we discover that William Dampier was actually an ancestor of Kolokotroni and Captain Cook, was the descendant of Iakovos Mageiros an itinerant Greek masterchef , adept at cooking the books, heightening the irony of his death at the hands of Hawaian cannibals. Now all that remains is an ancestry for Kevin Rudd, in the hope of a tax break. Σιγά.....

First published in NKEE on 3 May 2010