Amerigo Vespucci: Wikis


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Amerigo Vespucci

Statue outside the Uffizi, Florence.
Born March 9, 1454(1454-03-09)
Florence, Italy
Died February 22, 1512 (aged 57)
Seville, Spain
Nationality Italian, Florentine
Other names Américo Vespucio [es]
Americus Vespucius [la]
Alberigo Vespucci
Occupation Merchant, Explorer, Cartographer
Known for Demonstrating that the New World was not Asia but a previously-unknown fourth continent.[a]

Amerigo Vespucci (Florence, March 9, 1454 – Seville, February 22, 1512) was an Italian explorer, navigator and cartographer. The continent of America is popularly believed to have derived its name from the feminized Latin version of his first name.[1]



Illustration of the birthplace of Amerigo Vespucci

Amerigo Vespucci was born and brought up by his uncle in the Republic of Florence in what is now Italy. Vespucci was born in Montefioralle, a small village near Greve in Chianti, south of Florence.

He worked for Lorenzo de' Medici and his son, Giovanni. In 1492 he was sent to work at the agency of Medici bank in Seville, Spain.

At the invitation of king Manuel I of Portugal, Vespucci participated as observer in several voyages that explored the east coast of South America between 1499 and 1502. In 1500 that King's commander, Pedro Álvares Cabral, on his way to the Cape of Good Hope and India, had discovered Brazil at latitude 16°52'S. Portugal claimed this land by the Treaty of Tordesillas, and the King wished to know whether it was merely an island or part of the continent Spanish explorers had encountered farther north.

Vespucci, having already been to the Brazilian shoulder, seemed the person best qualified to go as an observer with the new expedition Manuel was sending. Vespucci did not command at the start - the Portuguese captain was probably Gonçalo Coelho - but ultimately took charge at the request of the Portuguese officers. Vespucci, in all probability, voyaged to America at the time noted, but he did not have command and as yet had no practical experience piloting a ship. On the first of these voyages he was aboard the ship that discovered that South America extended much further south than previously thought.

The expeditions became widely known in Europe after two accounts attributed to Vespucci were published between 1502 and 1504. In 1507, Martin Waldseemüller produced a world map on which he named the new continent America after Vespucci's first name, Amerigo. In an accompanying book, Waldseemüller published one of the Vespucci accounts, which led to criticism that Vespucci was trying to upset Christopher Columbus' glory. However, the rediscovery in the 18th century of other letters by Vespucci, primarily the Soderini Letter, has led to the view that the early published accounts could be fabrications, not by Vespucci, but by others.

In 1503 Amerigo sailed in Portuguese service again to Brazil, but this expedition failed to make new discoveries. The fleet broke up, the Portuguese commander's ship disappeared, and Vespucci could proceed only a little past Bahia before returning to Lisbon in 1504. He did not sail again, and as there seemed no more work for him in Portugal he returned to Seville, where he settled permanently and where he had earlier married Maria de Cerezo. He was middle-aged, and the fact that there were no children might indicate that Maria was also past her youth.

Historical role

Columbus never thought Vespucci had tried to steal his laurels, and in 1505 he wrote his son, Diego, saying of Amerigo, "It has always been his wish to please me; he is a man of good will; fortune has been unkind to him as to others; his labors have not brought him the rewards he in justice should have."

In 1508, after only two voyages to the Americas, the position of chief of navigation of Spain (piloto mayor de Indias) was created for Vespucci, with the responsibility of planning navigation for voyages to the Indies.

Two letters attributed to Vespucci were published during his lifetime. Mundus Novus (New World) was a Latin translation of a lost Italian letter sent from Lisbon to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici. It describes a voyage to South America in 1501-1502. Mundus Novus was published in late 1502 or early 1503 and soon reprinted and distributed in numerous European countries.[2] Lettera di Amerigo Vespucci delle isole nuovamente trovate in quattro suoi viaggi (Letter of Amerigo Vespucci concerning the isles newly discovered on his four voyages), known as Lettera al Soderini or just Lettera, was a letter in Italian addressed to Piero Soderini. Printed in 1504 or 1505, it claimed to be an account of four voyages to the Americas made by Vespucci between 1497 and 1504. A Latin translation was published by the German Martin Waldseemüller in 1507 in Cosmographiae Introductio, a book on cosmography and geography, as Quattuor Americi Vespuccij navigationes (Four Voyages of Amerigo Vespucci).[2]

In 1508, King Ferdinand made Vespucci chief navigator of Spain at a huge salary and commissioned him to found a school of navigation, in order to standardize and modernize navigation techniques used by Iberian sea captains then exploring the world. Vespucci even developed a rudimentary, but fairly accurate method of determining longitude (which only more accurate chronometers would later improve upon).

In the 18th century three unpublished familiar letters from Vespucci to Lorenzo de' Medici were rediscovered. One describes a voyage made in 1499-1500 which corresponds with the second of the "four voyages". Another was written from Cape Verde in 1501 in the early part of the third of the four voyages, before crossing the Atlantic. The third letter was sent from Lisbon after the completion of that voyage.`[2]

Some have suggested that Vespucci, in the two letters published in his lifetime, was exaggerating his role and constructed deliberate fabrications. However, many scholars now believe that the two letters were not written by him but were fabrications by others based in part on genuine letters by Vespucci. It was the publication and widespread circulation of the letters that might have led Martin Waldseemüller to name the new continent America on his world map of 1507 in Lorraine. Vespucci used a Latinised form of his name, Americus Vespucius, in his Latin writings, which Waldseemüller may have used as a base for the new name, taking the feminine form America. (Although there are other hypotheses[3]; see Naming of America.) Amerigo itself is an Italian form of the medieval Latin Emericus (see also Saint Emeric of Hungary), which through the German form Heinrich (in English, Henry) derived from the Germanic name Haimirich.[citation needed]

The two disputed letters claim that Vespucci made four voyages to America, while at most two can be verified from other sources. At the moment there is a dispute between historians on when Vespucci visited mainland the first time. Some historians like German Arciniegas and Gabriel Camargo Perez think that his first voyage was done in June 1497 with the Spanish Pilot Juan de la Cosa. Vespucci's real historical importance may well rest more in his letters, whether he wrote them all or not, than in his discoveries. From these letters, the European public learned about the newly discovered continent of the Americas for the first time; its existence became generally known throughout Europe within a few years of the letters' publication. He died on February 22, 1512 in Seville, Spain, of an unknown cause.


Portrait of Amerigo Vespucci, part of the Madonna della Misericordia by Domenico Ghirlandaio at the Ognissanti church in Florence

First Voyage A letter published in 1504 purports to be an account by Vespucci, written to Soderini, of a lengthy visit to the New World, leaving Spain in May 1497 and returning in October 1498. However, modern scholars have doubted that this voyage took place, and consider this letter a forgery. [4] Whoever did write the letter makes several observations of native customs, including use of hammocks and sweat lodges.[5]

Second Voyage About the 1499–1500, Vespucci joined an expedition in the service of Spain, with Alonso de Ojeda (or Hojeda) as the fleet commander. The intention was to sail around the southern end of the African mainland into the Indian Ocean.[6] After hitting land at the coast of what is now Guyana, the two seem to have separated. Vespucci sailed southward, discovering the mouth of the Amazon River and reaching 6°S, before turning around and seeing Trinidad and the Orinoco River and returning to Spain by way of Hispaniola. The letter, to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici, claims that Vespucci determined his longitude celestially [7] on August 23, 1499, while on this voyage. However, that claim may be fraudulent,[7] which could cast doubt on the letter's credibility.

Third voyage The last certain voyage of Vespucci was led by Gonçalo Coelho in 1501–1502 in the service of Portugal. Departing from Lisbon, the fleet sailed first to Cape Verde where they met two of Pedro Álvares Cabral's ships returning from India. In a letter from Cape Verde, Vespucci says that he hopes to visit the same lands that Álvares Cabral had explored, suggesting that the intention is to sail west to Asia, as on the 1499-1500 voyage.[6] On reaching the coast of Brazil, they sailed south along the coast of South America to Rio de Janeiro's bay. If his own account is to be believed, he reached the latitude of Patagonia before turning back, although this also seems doubtful, since his account does not mention the broad estuary of the Río de la Plata, which he must have seen if he had gotten that far south. Portuguese maps of South America, created after the voyage of Coelho and Vespucci, do not show any land south of present-day Cananéia at 25° S, so this may represent the southernmost extent of their voyages.

After the first half of the expedition, Vespucci mapped Alpha and Beta Centauri, as well as the constellation Crux, the Southern Cross.[7] Although these stars had been known to the ancient Greeks, gradual precession had lowered them below the European horizon so that they had been forgotten. On his return to Lisbon, Vespucci wrote in a letter to d'Medici that the land masses they explored were much larger than anticipated and different from the Asia described by Ptolemy or Marco Polo and therefore, must be a New World, that is, a previously unknown fourth continent, after Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Fourth voyage Little is known of his last voyage in 1503–1504 or even whether it actually took place.


a Europeans had long conceptualized the Afro-Eurasian landmass as divided into the same three continents we know today: Europe, Asia, and Africa. Once cosmographers realized that the New World was not connected to the Old (but before its true geography was fully mapped), they considered the Americas to be a single, fourth continent.


  1. ^ For rival claims, see Naming of America page: Arciniegas, Germán. Amerigo and the New World: The Life & Times of Amerigo Vespucci. Translated by Harriet de Onís. New York: Octagon Books, 1978.
  2. ^ a b c Formisano, Luciano (Ed.) (1992). Letters from a New World: Amerigo Vespucci's Discovery of America. New York: Marsilio. ISBN 0-941419-62-2. Pp. xix-xxvi.
  3. ^ Peter MacDonald. "BBC History the naming of America". BBC. Retrieved 2008-08-25. 
  4. ^ "Life of Amerigo Vespucci". Retrieved 2010-02-28. 
  5. ^ "Account of alleged 1497 voyage". Retrieved 2010-02-28. 
  6. ^ a b O'Gorman, Edmundo (1961). The Invention of America. Indiana University Press. pp. 106–107. 
  7. ^ a b c on a rainy and stormy day with calm seas, stars could be identified near the horizon to judge latitude/longitude celestially. Although South America's continental shelf drops quickly into the deep ocean beyond the Orinoco River, the mouth is on the shelf, avoiding the ocean swells and waves which hinder visibility of stars near the horizon. Seamen who could navigate from Europe to America and back could chart stars on the horizon, especially for a cartographer like Vespucci.[citation needed]
  • Amerigo and the New World by Arciniegas, German; Alfred A. Knopf [1955]
  • Amerigo: the Man Who Gave His Name to America by Fernández-Armesto, Felipe; Weidenfeld & Nicolson [2006] (hardcover, ISBN 0-297-84802-X).
  • Heroes of American History: Amerigo Vespucci by Ober, Frederick A.; Harper & Brothers [1907]
  • Amerigo Vespucci: Pilot Major by Pohl, Frederick J.; Columbia University Press [1944]
  • Norbert Schulz: Amerigo Vespucci, Mundus Novus (mit Zweittexten). M.M.O. VERLAG ZUR FÖRDERUNG DES MITTEL- UND NEULATEINISCHEN, Butjadingen 2007. (Neulateinische Texte für den altsprachlichen Unterricht (Vivarium (Series neolatina, Band II))) ISBN 978-3-9811144-2-3
  • Markham, Clements R. (1894) The Letters of Amerigo Vespucci, and Other Docuemnts Illustrative of His Career. Hakluyt Society. (Reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2010. ISBN 9781108012867)

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

AMERIGO VESPUCCI (1451-1512), merchant and adventurer, who gave his name of Amerigo to the new world as America,. was born at Florence on the 9th of March 1451. His father, Nastagio (Anastasio) Vespucci, was a notary, and his uncle, Fra Giorgio Antonio Vespucci, to whom he owed his education, was a scholarly Dominican and a friend of Savonarola. As a student Amerigo is said to have shown a preference for natural philosophy, astronomy and geography, He was placed as a clerk in the great commercial house of the Medici, then the ruling family in Florence. A letter of the 30th of December 1492 shows that he was then in Seville; and till the 12th of January 1496 he seems to have usually resided in Spain, especially at Seville and Cadiz, probably as an agent of the Medici. In December 1495, on the death of a Florentine merchant, Juanoto Berardi, established at Seville, who had fitted out the second expedition of Columbus in 1493, and had also undertaken to fit out twelve ships for the king of Spain (April 9th, 1 495), Vespucci was commissioned to complete the contract. As Ferdinand, on the 10th of April 1495, recalled the monopoly conceded to Columbus (this order of April loth, 1495, was cancelled on June 2nd, 1497), "private" exploring now had an opportunity, and adventurers of all kinds were able to leave Spain for the West. Vespucci claims to have sailed with one of these "free-lance" expeditions from Cadiz on the 10th of May 1497. Touching at Grand Canary on the way, the four vessels he accompanied, going thirty-seven days on a westsouth-west course, and making l000 leagues, are said to have reached a supposed continental coast in 16° N., 70° W. from Grand Canary (June 16th, 1 1497). This should have brought them into the Pacific. They sailed along the coast, says. Vespucci, for 80 leagues to the province of Parias (or Lariab), and then 870 leagues more, always to the north-west, to the "finest harbour in the world," which from this description should be in British Columbia or thereabouts. Thence 100 leagues rriore to north and north-east to the islands of the people called "Iti," from which they returned to Spain, reaching Cadiz on the 15th of October 1498. Still following Vespucci's own statement, he, on the 16th of May 1499, started on a second voyage in a fleet of three ships under Alonzo de Ojeda (Hojeda). Sailing south-west over 500 leagues they crossed the ocean in forty-four days, finding land in 5° S. Thence, encountering various adventures, they worked up to r 5° N., and returned to Spain by way of Antiglia (Espanola, San Domingo), reaching Cadiz on the 8th of September r Soo. Entering the service of Dom Manuel of Portugal, Vespucci claims to have taken part in a third American expedition, which left Lisbon on the 10th (or r 5th) of May 1501. Vespucci has given two accounts of this alleged third voyage, differing in many details, especially dates and distances. From Portugal he declares that. he sailed to Bezeguiche (Cape Verde), and thence south-west for 700 leagues, reaching the American coast in 5° S. on the 7th (or 17th) of August. Thence eastward for 300 (r 50) leagues, and south and west to 52° S. (or 73° 30'; in his own words, "13° from the antarctic pole," i.e. well into the antarctic continent). He returned, he adds, by Sierra Leone (June loth), and the Azores (end of July), to Lisbon (September 7th, 1502). His second Portuguese (and fourth and last American) voyage, as alleged by him, was destined for Malacca, which he supposed to be in 33° S. (really in 2° 14' N.). Starting from Lisbon on the 10th of May 1503, with a fleet of six ships, and reaching Bahia by way of Fernando Noronha (?), Vespucci declares that he built a fort at a harbour in 18° S., and thence returned to Lisbon (June r8th, 1504). In February 1505, being again in Spain, he visited Christopher Columbus, who entrusted to him a letter for his son Diego. On the 24th of April 1505, Vespucci received Spanish letters of naturalization; and on the 6th of August 1508 was appointed piloto mayor or chief pilot of Spain, an office which he held till his death, at Seville, on the 22nd of February 1512.

If his own account had been trustworthy, it would have followed that Vespucci reached the mainland of America eight days before John Cabot (June 16th against June 24th, 1497). But Vespucci's own statement of his exploring achievements hardly carries conviction. This statement is contained (i.) in his letter written from Lisbon (March or April 1503) to Lorenzo Piero Francesco di Medici, the head of the firm under which his business career had been mostly spent, describing the alleged Portuguese voyage of March r 501-September 1502. The original Italian text is lost, but we possess the Latin translation by "Jocundus interpreter," perhaps the Giocondo who brought his invitation to Portugal in 1501. This letter was printed (in some nine editions) soon after it was written, the first two issues (Mundus Novus and Epistola Albericii de Novo Mundo), without place or date, appearing before 1504, the third, of 1504 (Mundus Novus), at Augsburg. Two very early Paris editions are also known, and one Strassburg (De Ora Antarctica) of 1505, edited by E. Ringmann. It was also included in the Paesi novamente retrovati of 1507 (Vicenza) under the title of Novo Mondo da Alb. Vesputio. The connexion of the new world with Vespucci, thus expressed, is derived from the argument of this first letter, that it was right to call Amerigo's discovery a new world, because it had not been seen before by any one. This prepared the way for the American name soon given to the continent. (ii.) In Vespucci's letter, also written from Portugal (September 1504), and probably addressed to his old schoolfellow Piero Soderini, gonfaloniere of Florence 1502-1512. From the Italian original (of which four printed copies still exist, without place or date, but probably before 1507) a French version was made, and from the latter a Latin translation, published at St Die in Lorraine in April 1507, and immediately made use of in the Cosmographiae Introductio (St Die, 1507) of Martin Waldseemiiller (Hylacomylus), professor of cosmography in St Die University. Here we have perhaps the first suggestion in a printed book that the newly discovered fourth part of the world should be called "America, because Americus discovered it." Since Alexander von Humboldt discussed the subject in his Examen critique de l'histoire de la geographic du nouveau continent (1837), vol. iv., the general weight of opinion (in spite of F. A. de Varnhagen, Amerigo Vespucci, son caractere, ses ecrits... sa vie. .. , Lima, 1865, and other proVespuccian works) has been that Vespucci did not make the 1 497 voyage, and that he had no share in the first discovery of the American continent.

See also R. H. Major, Prince Henry the Navigator (London, 1868), pp. 367-88; F. A. de Varnhagen, Le Premier voyage de Amerigo Vespucci (Vienna, 1869); Nouvelles recherches sur les derniers voyages du navigateur florentin (Vienna, 1869); Ainda Amerigo Vespucci, Novos estudos (Vienna, 1874); Luigi Hugues, Il terzo viaggio di A. Vespucci (Florence, 1878); "Alcune considerazioni sul Primo Viaggio di A. Vespucci," in the Bolletino of the Italian Geographical Society, series ii. vol. x. pp. 248-63, 367-80 (Rome, 1885); "Il quarto Viaggio di A. Vespucci," in the same Bolletino, year xx., vol. xxiii. pp. 532-54 (Rome, 1886); "Sul nome ' America '" in the same Bolletino, series iii. vol. i. pp. 4 0 4-?7, 5 1 5-3 0 (Rome, 1888), and an earlier study under the same title (Turin, 1886); "Sopra due lettere di A. Vespucci," in the same, series iii. vol. iv. pp. 8 49-7 2, 9 2 9-5 1 (Rome, 1891); Narrative and Critical History of America, edited by Justin Winsor, vol. ii. pp. 129-86 (1886); The Letters of A. Vespucci (translation, &c., by Clements R. Markham, London, Hakluyt Society, 1894); H. Harrisse, A. Vespuccius (London, 1895); Jos. Fischer and F. R. von Weiser, The Oldest Map with the Name America ... (Innsbruck, 1903); Angelo Maria Bandini and Gustavo Uzielli, Vita di Amerigo Vespucci (Florence, 1898); B. H. Soulsby in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society (London, February 1902), pp. 201-9. (C. R. B.)

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Simple English

Amerigo Vespucci
Statue at the Uffizi, Florence.
Born March 9, 1454(1454-03-09)
Florence, Italy
Died February 22, 1512 (aged 57)
Seville, Spain
Nationality Italian
Other names Américo Vespucio [es]
Americus Vespucius [la]
Known for Demonstrating that the New World was not Asia but a previously-unknown fourth continent.[a]

Amerigo Vespucci (March 9, 1454 - February 22, 1512) was an Italian merchant, explorer and cartographer. He was the first person to explain that the New World discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 was not the eastern area of Asia, but an unknown continent (America).

It is also popularly believed that North and South America derive their name from a Latinized version his first name.[1]

He died of malaria.

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  1. Arciniegas, Germán. Amerigo and the New World: The Life & Times of Amerigo Vespucci. Translated by Harriet de Onís. New York: Octagon Books, 1978.

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