At a time when European kingdoms were beginning to establish new trade routes and colonies, motivated by imperialism and economic competition, Columbus proposed to reach the East Indies (South and Southeast Asia) by sailing westward. This eventually received the support of the Spanish Crown, which saw a chance to enter the spice trade with Asia through this new route. During his first voyage in 1492, he reached the New World instead of arriving in Japan as he had intended, landing on an island in the Bahamas archipelago that he named San Salvador. Over the course of three more voyages, he visited the Greater and Lesser Antilles, as well as the Caribbean coast of Venezuela and Central America, claiming all of it for the Crown of Castile.
Though preceded by short-lived Norse colonization of North America led by Leif Erikson in the 11th century, Columbus is the European explorer credited with establishing and documenting routes to the Americas, securing lasting European ties to the Americas, and inaugurating a period of exploration, conquest, and colonization that lasted for centuries. His exertions thereby strongly contributed to the development of the modern Western world. He also founded the transatlantic slave trade, and within 25 years of being colonized the population of Hispaniola natives declined, dying from enslavement, massacre or disease.
Columbus had set course in hopes of finding a western route to the Indies (Asia). He called the inhabitants of the lands that he visited indios (Spanish for "Indians"). His strained relationship with the Spanish crown and its appointed colonial administrators in America led to his arrest and dismissal as governor of the settlements on the island of Hispaniola in 1500, and later to protracted litigation over the benefits that he and his heirs claimed were owed to them by the crown.
The name Christopher Columbus is the Anglicisation of the Latin Christophorus Columbus. His name in Ligurian is Cristòffa Cónbo, in Italian Cristoforo Colombo and in Spanish Cristóbal Colón. He was born before 31 October 1451 in the territory of the Republic of Genoa (now part of modern Italy), though the exact location remains disputed. His father was Domenico Colombo, a middle-class wool weaver who worked both in Genoa and Savona and who also owned a cheese stand at which young Christopher worked as a helper. His mother was Susanna Fontanarossa. Bartolomeo, Giovanni Pellegrino, and Giacomo were his brothers. Bartolomeo worked in a cartography workshop in Lisbon for at least part of his adulthood. He also had a sister named Bianchinetta.
Columbus never wrote in his native language, which is presumed to have been a Genoese variety of Ligurian (his name would translate in the 16th-century Genoese language as Christoffa Corombo Ligurian pronunciation: ). In one of his writings, he says he went to sea at the age of 10. In 1470, the Columbus family moved to Savona, where Domenico took over a tavern. In the same year, Christopher was on a Genoese ship hired in the service of René of Anjou to support his attempt to conquer the Kingdom of Naples. Some modern historians have argued that he was not from Genoa but, instead, from the Aragon region of Spain or from Portugal. These competing hypotheses have generally been discounted by mainstream scholars.