MAPS, MONEY, AND MONOPOLIES: The Mission of Christopher Columbus

“The one duty we owe to history is to re-write it.”

—Oscar Wilde1

WE ARE READY TO BELIEVE that conspiracies exist, at least, in modern times. Literature abounds that challenges the promoted “orthodoxies” and the “directed historical narratives” that emanate from the power centers of the world’s elites. Many reading this book, for example, would question the promoted orthodoxies concerning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the “official story” of 9/11, and so on.

Yet, when we turn to the Middle Ages and Renaissance, we are quick to swallow the standard historical narratives, unwilling to believe that conspiracies—complete with psychological operations, cover stories, false fronts, false flag operations, and so on—could exist in those times. And at the head of this list has been the story of the voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492. We all know the myth by heart: going before King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, Columbus argued he would find a new direct route to the spice islands of the East, bypassing the Portuguese mastery of the route around the horn of Africa and through the Indian Ocean. That, anyway, was the story.

But as will be argued here, the story is just that: a cover story, and the truth may be very different. The truth may indeed be so different that it boggles the mind.

To see why, we need to step out of the arcane and heady world of finance, philosophy, metals, and metaphors, and into the equally arcane and heady world of navigation and ancient and medieval maps, maps that on close examination demonstrate an unusual knowledge and provenance.


1. Antarctica

This bizarre story begins with the map of an Ottoman Turkish admiral named Piri Reis (ca. 1465/1470–ca. 1555). The problem of the Piri Reis map may be succinctly stated as follows: it showed something that had not been discovered yet, namely Antarctica, as the following picture shows:

Piri Reis map: Note the coast of South America, the west African bulge, and Spain, then, at the bottom of the map, that of Antarctica

The map immediately caught the attention of science history professor Charles H. Hapgood, [1904–1982] who, with his students, went in search of precedents for this anomaly, searching ancient medieval maps called portolanos and other Renaissance world maps. It was not long before they unearthed the famous Oronteus Finaeus map of 1532, which, like many maps of the period, clearly depicted the Terra Australis, as the yet-to-be discovered Antarctic continent was then known.

Right Side of the Oronteus Finaeus Map of 1531 Showing Antarctica2

The problem is obliquely admitted by the skeptical website “Bad Archaeology,” which notes that “Although there are fairly obvious similarities between the general depiction of the southern continent by Oronteus Finaeus and modern maps of Antarctica, they do not stand up to close scrutiny; indeed, there are more differences than similarities, much as one would expect from a map drawn without genuine knowledge of the southern continent!”3 In other words, the problem—for those willing simply to look—is that longbefore Captain Cook came close to the continent in 1773, and before actual contact was made in 1820, the continent, in spite of inaccuracies in the map, was being depicted more or less accurately, pettifogging tactics of standard academia to deny it notwithstanding.

Hapgood recounts his discovery of this anachronistically accurate map:

Then one day, I turned a page, and sat transfixed. As my eyes fell upon the southern hemisphere of a world map drawn by Oronteus Finaeus in 1531, I had the instant conviction that I had found here a truly authentic map of the real Antarctica.

The problem with the map as depicted by Oronteus was more than just the general resemblance of the depicted continent to modern cartographic representations; the problem went much deeper:

The general shape of the continent was startlingly like the outline of the continent on our modern map … The position of the South Pole, nearly in the center of the continent, seemed about right. The mountain ranges that skirted the coasts suggested the numerous ranges that have been discovered in Antarctica in recent years. It was obvious, too, that this was no slapdash creation of somebody’s imagination. The mountain ranges were individualized, some definitely coastal and some not … This suggested, of course, that the coasts may have been ice-free when the original map was drawn. 4

A closer view will allow the reader to see what Hapgood is talking about:

Close-up of Oronteus Finaeus Map of 1532

Oronteus Finaeus’ map was not the only such map depicting the yet-to-be-encountered southern polar continent. Hapgood found others, including the Hadji Ahmed Map of 1559, once again clearly showing the southern polar continent in a Mercator-like projection:

Hadji Ahmed Map of 15595

All of this, as Hapgood noted, led some who had encountered such maps, especially the Piri Reis map, to speculate that portions of the coast on the Turkish admiral’s map that lay under the ice and were nonetheless more or less accurately depicted must have been mapped “before the ice appeared.”6

2. Medieval Portolans

The problem then became much more acute. Pursuing his quest for ancient maps that seemed to embody anachronistically out-of-place accuracy, Hapgood soon discovered the Dulcert Portolano of 1339, produced by Angelino Dulceti, who, interestingly enough, was probably trained in Genoa, the other great northern Italian merchant city-state with its own exclusive trading privileges with the Byzantine Empire, and the great rival of Venice.7 A glance at the Dulcert Portolano, though very faded, will immediately show the problem:

Dulcert Portolano of 13398

While difficult to see, the outlines of Europe, Asia Minor, and North Africa are faintly visible in the above picture, raising the questions: why is this map so accurate, and where did this accuracy come from? How did this knowledge come to medieval and Renaissance Europe, to spur the voyages that would confirm that another world existed, unknown to the Europeans?

3. Maps from High Antiquity

Enter Venice once again, and all that it symbolized of the great trading rivalry of Venice and Genoa for the Far Eastern trade flowing through Byzantium.

In Chapter Two, it was noted that the sudden appearance of the Hermetica in northern Italy followed the Council of Ferrara-Florence, which was, we also observed, financially sponsored in part by the Medicis of Florence. We speculated there that the presence of the Byzantine humanists Bessarion and Plethon among the Greek delegation to the council was the contact point for the Florentine merchants who may have been seeking lost knowledge that could only have come from the imperial archives of the East Roman Empire in Constantinople. We thus speculate that this contact may have been one route for the sudden appearance of apparently hidden cartographic knowledge of the Earth during this period.

But as noted also in chapter three, the contacts of Venice and its rival Genoa with the East Roman or Byzantine Empire predate those of the council of Florence by some two centuries, with the Venetian and Genoese virtual monopolies of ports and tax exemptions within Byzantium. The establishment of the Latin Empire after the Fourth Crusade by Venice would have given Venice access to the imperial archives, and thus to the charts and exemplars from which Piri Reis compiled his map. Similarly, the Genoese access to Byzantium during the period of the Venetian-Genoese rivalry would have given them a corresponding access. The question is, why did Venice not access and utilize this knowledge?

As we saw in chapter three, the question is easily answered by a map of the world. Venice could not easily access the Atlantic, for the route was blocked not only geographically but by the warring Moors and Castillians in Spain. Venice, in other words, if it had access to this cartographic knowledge, could not utilize it, and would have had to suppress the knowledge of it from being acquired by anyone else lest its favored position astride the trading routes to the Far East be jeopardized, and with it, its whole financial and mercantile empire.

The question that remains is whether or not such exemplars of the Piri Reis map actually existed. If so, then the likelihood of Venetian suppression of knowledge rises. We have already seen that medieval portolanos existed, and that these appear to have been drawn from much earlier exemplars, as Hapgood commented:

… (One) of the leading scholars in the field did not believe that the charts originated in the Middle Ages. A. E. Nordenskiöld, who compiled a great Atlas of these charts … and also wrote an essay on their history… , presented several reasons for concluding that they must have come from ancient times. In the first place, he pointed out that the Dulcert Portelano and all the others like it were a great deal too accurate to have been drawn by medieval sailors. Then there was the curious fact that the successive charts showed no signs of development. Those from the beginning of the 14th Century are as good as those from the 16th. It seemed as though somebody early in the 14th century had found an amazingly good chart which nobody was able to improve upon for two hundred years. Furthermore, Nordenskiöld saw evidence that only one such model chart had been found and that all the portolanos drawn in the following centuries were only copies—at one or more removes—from the original. He called this unknown original the “normal portolano” and showed that the portolanos, as a body, had rather slavishly been copied from the original. He said:

“The measurements at all events show: (1) that, as regards the outline of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, all the portolanos are almost unaltered copies of the same original; (2) that the same scale of distance was used on all the portolanos.”9

Hapgood notes that Nordenskiöld believed that these measures were derived from Carthaginian and Phoenician sources.10

But that was not all. Nordenskiöld also compared the maps of the most famous ancient geographer, Ptolemy, whose maps were introduced to western Europe in the 1400s, with the most famous of the medieval portolanos, the Dulcert Portelano. Notably, the medieval map was much more accurate, as Nordenskiöld’s comparison of the two clearly shows:

Nordenskiöld’s Comparison of the Ancient Geographer Ptolemy’s Map (Top), with the Medieval Dulcert Portolano (Bottom)11

Hapgood minces no words when stating the implications of this comparison:

Let us stop to consider, for a moment, what this means. Ptolemy is the most famous geographer of the ancient world. He worked in Alexandria in the 2nd Century A.D., in the greatest library of the ancient world. He had at his command all the accumulated geographical information of that world. He was acquainted with mathematics. He shows, in his great work, the Geographia … , a modern scientific mentality. Can we lightly assume that medieval sailors of the fourteenth century, without any of this knowledge, and without modern instruments except a rudimentary compass—and without mathematics—could produce a more scientific product?

Nordenskiöld felt that there had been in antiquity a geographic tradition superior to the one represented by Ptolemy. He thought that the “normal portolano” must have been in use then by sailors and navigators, and he answered the objection that there was no mention of such maps by the various classical writers by pointing out that in the Middle Ages, when the protolan charts were in use, they were never referred to by the Schoolmen, the academic scholars of that age. Both in ancient and in medieval times the academic mapmaker and the practical navigator were apparently poles apart.12

Note carefully what Hapgood is really implying here, for if medieval navigators had no more than crude mathematical techniques and even cruder navigational instruments, then the medieval portolanos, exemplified in the Dulcert portolano, must represent some hidden tradition of secret knowledge, handed down from High Antiquity and antedating even Ptolemy and the renowned library of Alexandria.

However, is there any more evidence to suggest such a notion? Indeed there is, but it is a slightly complicated matter to convey. When Hapgood and his students began to correlate the latitude and longitude positions of Piri Reis’ map with actual modern calculations of positions, they discovered that Piri Reis’ map was off by some 4 1/2 percent. The source of this error in Piri Reis’ map appeared to have stemmed from Eratosthenes’ computation of the circumference of the Earth.13 When Piri Reis’ map was redrawn with this correction, an astounding thing resulted, one with profound implications:

We found that this resulted in reducing all the longitude errors until they nearly vanished.

This was a startling development. It could only mean that the Greek geographers of Alexandria, when they prepared their world map using the circumference of Eratosthenes, had in front of them source maps that had been drawn without the Eratosthenian error, that is, apparently without any discernible error at all … suggesting that the people who had originated the maps possessed a more advanced science than that of the Greeks.14

In other words, there was a more ancient, and hidden, tradition of knowledge behind the medieval portolanos, and indeed, behind the map of Admiral Piri Reis.

Hapgood summarizes these implications in no uncertain terms:

To sum up, then, this part of the Piri Re’is [sic, et passim] Map suggests that Piri Re’is had a source map of Africa, Europe, and the Atlantic islands, based on maps probably drawn originally on some sort of trigonometric projection adjusted to the curvature of the earth. By default of any alternative, we seem forced to ascribe the origin of this part of the map to a pre-Hellenic people—not to Renaissance or Medieval cartographers, and not to the Arabs, who were just as badly off as everybody else with respect to longitude, and not to the Greeks either. The trigonometry of the projection (or rather its information on the size of the earth) suggests the work of Alexandrian geographers, but the evident knowledge of longitude implies a people unknown to us, a nation of seafarers, with instruments for finding longitude undreamed of by the Greeks, and, so far as we know, not possessed by the Phoenicians, either.15

Elsewhere, Hapgood is even more deliberate in pointing out the obvious implications of a lost culture and knowledge from High Antiquity:

The picture that seems to emerge, therefore, is one of a scientific achievement far beyond the capacities of the navigators and mapmakers of the Renaissance, of any period of the Middle Ages, of the Arab geographers, or of the known geographers of ancient times. It appears to demonstrate the survival of a cartographic tradition that could hardly have come to us except through some such people as the Phoenicians or the Minoans, the great sea peoples who long preceded the Greeks but passed down to them their maritime lore.16

This method of dividing the circle is not modern; it is the oldest way of dividing the circle known to man. Furthermore, since it involves counting by tens, it alone can explain how the ancient source map of the Antarctic, probably drawn ages before either Phoenicians or Babylonians existed, had on it the circle that Oronteus Finaeus took for the Antarctic Circle, but which we have shown may have been the 80th parallel. The implication from this is that the 360-degree circle and the twelve-wind system were ancient before the rise of Babylonia and long before Tyre and Sidon were built by the Phoenicians. Babylonian science was thus, perhaps, a heritage from a much older culture.17

That is, Piri Reis’ map represents the survival of a hidden, ancient tradition, one stemming—as Hapgood notes—from Alexandria, Egypt. This now brings us at last to a consideration of the famous voyage that broke the back of the monopoly of the northern Italian city-states on the trading routes to the East, and particularly the Venetian monopoly. It brings us to …


It brings us to the implied hidden reasons for it, reasons carefully disguised behind the story—most likely a cover story—that Columbus was merely trying to find a direct oceanic route to trade with the Orient.

1. Piri Reis’ Statements on Columbus

Significantly, it is the Turkish admiral Piri Reis who, once again, pries open the door to a significant mystery regarding Columbus and the possible real—though very definitely secret—purposes of his initial voyage for Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. On his now famous map there are marginal notes by the admiral himself, and in one of these, Piri Reis states:

This section explains the way the map was prepared. Such a map is not owned by anybody at this time. I, personally, drawn (sic) and prepared this map. In preparing this map, I made use of about twenty old charts and eight Mappa Mundis, i.e., of the charts called “Jaferiye” by the Arabs and prepared at the time of Alexander the Great and in which the whole inhabited world was shown; of the chart of (the) West Indies; and of the new maps made by four Portugueses (sic) containing the Indian and Chinese countries geometrically represented on them. I also studied the chart that Christopher Columbus drew for the West. Putting all these material (sic) together in a common scale I produced the present map. My map is as correct and dependable for the seven seas as are the charts that represent the seas of our countries.18

Note that Piri Reis states that he is relying upon a chart drawn by Columbus “for the West.” But the questions are, when did Columbus draw this chart, before, or after, his first voyage? And more importantly, what did it show?

The standard answer is of course that Columbus drew his chart “for the West” after his return to Europe from his first voyage. However, in yet another marginal note the Turkish admiral states something truly astounding. Ponder these words closely:

But it is reported thus, that a Genoese infidel, his name was Colombo, he it was who discovered these places. For instance, a book fell into the hands of the said Colombo, and he found it said in this book that at the end of the Western Sea (Atlantic) that is, on its western side, there were coasts and islands and all kinds of metals and also precious stones. The above-mentioned, having studied this book thoroughly, explained these matters one by one to the great of Genoa and said: “Come, give me two ships, let me go and find these places.” They said: “O unprofitable man, can an end of a limit be found to the Western Sea? Its vapour is full of darkness.” The above-mentioned Colombo saw that no help was forthcoming from the Genoese, he sped forth, went to the Bey of Spain (king), and told his tale in detail. They too answered the Genoese. In brief Colombo petitioned these people for a long time, finally the Bey of Spain gave him two ships, saw that they were well equipped, and said:

“O Colombo, if it happens as you say, let us make you kapudan (admiral) to that country.” Having said which he sent the said Colombo to the Western Sea.19

Note carefully what we have here, for according to Piri Reis:

1)Columbus possessed a book relating the knowledge of the New World, in other words, Columbus had access to knowledge not generally available, to secret knowledge, and therefore possibly had access to a secret cartographic tradition as well;

2)That knowledge stated that there was an abundance of bullion and gems, in other words, a source of bullion not in the hands of the Orient, nor the Venetians, and thus, a means of breaking the bullion and banking monopolies of Italy; and finally and most importantly;

3)The publicly-stated purpose for Columbus’ voyage—the version taught to this day in standard academic histories—namely, that the Genoese navigator was seeking a direct trade route to the Far East, was not the real purpose of the voyage; the real purposefrom the outset was to find “Atlantis,” the lands of the Western Sea, to find the New World, and its riches.

We can see why King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella would back such a venture, for if Columbus’ effort to find the New World failed, a direct trade route to the Far East might nonetheless be opened, bypassing the rival Portuguese monopoly routes around the horn of Africa and through the Indian Ocean. If, on the other hand, Columbus did discover the New World and thus the potential for vast new sources of spices, bullion, and gems, then again, Ferdinand and Isabella would gain. It was, for them, a win-win proposition, but one whose true purpose—the testing of a tradition of hidden knowledge—had to be maintained in deepest secrecy lest Spain lose its jump-started position in the race for those riches. Indeed, it was the historian Las Casas who stated that prior to his first voyage, Columbus “had a world map, which he showed to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, and which, apparently, convinced them that they should back Columbus.”20

One can reconstruct a possible sequence of events. Columbus originally approached the Spanish monarchs, and shared with them the details from his book. After several attempts to persuade them had failed, he finally produced what he was holding back in order to convince them: a world map depicting portions of the New World. Such a map would have had to be detailed in other particulars known to the Spanish in order to convince them. Is there any evidence of such a map?

Indeed there is.

And it exists independently of any speculative reconstructions surrounding Columbus.

The map, made by Martin Behaim in 1492 prior to Columbus’ voyage, clearly shows early depictions of the mouth of the St. Lawrence seaway and portions of Newfoundland:

Hapgood’s Reproduction of the Modern Cartographic depiction of the St. Lawrence Channel (Upper Left), the map of Sebastion Cabot (1544) in the upper right, the Lescarbot Map of 1606 in the Lower Right, and Martin Behaim’s Map of 1492, prior to Columbus’ Return, in the lower left.21

In other words, Behaim clearly had access to some cartographic tradition depicting the New World before Columbus had even returned, raising the possibility that Columbus had access to such a tradition as well.

But if so, where does it come from?

At the beginning of this section, we noted that Venice is the most likely possibility, since it had sacked Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, and made off with a number of important treasures, some, no doubt, from the imperial archives, which would have likely included someremnants from the ancient library of Alexandria. We have also, in other chapters of this book, pointed out that the arrival of the Byzantine humanists at the Council of Ferrara-Florence in the early fifteenth century represents another possible source of hidden, Hermetic, and esoteric tradition and lore. Hapgood himself is alive to all this possibility:

We have seen that Piri Re’is, in all probability, had ancient maps at his disposal in Constantinople. It is quite possible that copies of these had reached the West long before his day. Greek scholars fleeing from the Turks brought thousands of Greek manuscripts to Italy before the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Much earlier still, in the year 1204, a Venetian fleet, supposedly intended to carry a crusade to the Holy Land, attacked and captured Constantinople. For about sixty years afterward Italian merchants had access to map collections in Constantinople.22

We therefore concur with Hapgood’s assessment, an assessment strongly implying that Columbus’ original voyage had a covert purpose:

It is known that (Columbus) traveled widely in Europe, always on the lookout for maps. His voyage was not a sudden inspiration; it was a deeply settled objective, one followed with perseverance for many years, and it required, above all, maps.23


1. Spain, Genoa, and Venice

With this, we are now in a position to begin to reassemble some pieces, and to construct a speculative scenario of what might have really been going on behind the scenes of Columbus’ voyage, and its sponsorship by Ferdinand and Isabella.

1)We assume that at some point, the Italian city-states, and in particular Venice, gained knowledge of the existence of the New World via Greek manuscripts and maps taken when that city sacked Constantinople in 1204;

2)Thus, Venice, at least, had knowledge of the New World, and actively suppressed this knowledge for nearly three centuries. The reason for such suppression is abundantly clear, for the New World would represent possible new sources of bullion, ending the virtual Venetian monopoly on international bullion trade, and it would also represent an end to the Venetian near-monopoly on trade with the Far East, since Venice, isolated as it was, had no easy access to the Atlantic Ocean and the trading possibilities it represented.

3)Consequently, one sees two familiar patterns—first appearing in ancient times, and continuing into modern times—of a financial elite that is

a)actively seeking ancient sources of information, and

b)seeking to monopolize and suppress it, lest that knowledge break out of the closed system of finance that made their power, position, and prestige, possible.

Columbus’ discovery of the New World was the game changer for the closed system of bullion trade and finance that Venice dominated, and it was meant to be. Unlike with Giordano Bruno, however, Genoa could not simply arrange for all of Spain to be burnt at the stake for opening the system.

It is worth pointing out yet another speculative possibility as to how this monopoly of hidden knowledge was broken. In chapter two, and again earlier in this chapter, I pointed out that one likely source for the sudden explosion of Hermeticism in northern Italy was the Greek humanists who accompanied the imperial delegation to the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438–1439) a mere four decades prior to Columbus’ fateful voyage. It is likely here that the Venetian monopoly over hidden cartographic tradition—if indeed there was one—was broken, and it is significant that a seaman from Genoa, the great rival of Venice, should be the one to break it.24

Indeed, Genoa could not burn all of Spain at the stake for daring to open up the system again, but it is suggestive, and perhaps also significant, that for a brief moment in history, Genoese bankers became the financiers to the Spanish crown, as if in repayment of a “hidden secret protocol” in the negotiations between Ferdinand, Isabella, and Christopher Columbus. After all, it was the Genoan adventurer that they named Admiral of the Atlantic upon his return to Spain, and it was the bankers of Genoa who for that brief moment in history made profit from Spain’s new sources of bullion.

Nor can we assume for a moment that the revisionist explanation that Columbus was after a new source of slaves somehow evades the implications of the speculations entertained in this chapter, for slavery, as we know by now all too well, was an integral component of the bullion-coinage-military-slavery complex.


1Oscar Wilde, “The Critic as Artist.”

2Charles H. Hapgood, Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings (Kempton, Illinois: Adventures Unlimited Press, 1996), pp. 81–82.

3“The Oronteus Finneus Map,”

4Hapgood, Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, pp. 79-83, emphasis added.

5Ibid., p. 100.

6Ibid., p. 2.

7For Dulcert, see “Angelino Dulcert,” For Genoa’s rivalry with Venice and its trading privileges in the Byzantine Empire, see Robert Crowley’s excellent popular treatment, City of Fortune, pp. 143, 154–171.

8Hapgood, Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, p. 8.

9Ibid., p. 9, citing A.E. Nordenskiöld, Periplus: An Essay in the Early History of Charts and Sailing Directions. Trans. from the Swedish by F.A. Bathev. (Stockholm: Norstedt, 1897), p. 24.

10Ibid., pp. 9–10.

11Hapgood, Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, p. 10.

12Ibid., p. 11.

13Ibid., p. 33.

14Ibid., p. 33, emphasis in the original.

15Ibid., p. 49.

16Ibid., p. 40.

17Ibid., p. 185, emphasis added.

18Ibid., p, 217, emphasis added.

19Ibid., p, 220, emphasis added.

20Ibid., p. 59.

21Ibid., p. 58.

22Ibid., pp. 58–59.

23Ibid., p. 59.

24Another possibility is mentioned by Crowley, namely, that another objective of Columbus “was to find a fresh stock of human beings to enslave,” (Crowley, City of Fortune, p. 136). Crowley notes that Genoa at the time held more slaves than any other city within medieval Europe. Venice, it will be recalled, also engaged in slaving activity.

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