In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. But what if Columbus never came back from his voyage? Columbus's three ships, the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, might have run out of water, threatening the lives of all the sailors. They could have been lost at sea, or shipwrecked in a storm because they sailed during hurricane season. Or, most likely, Columbus might have reached the Caribbean and never returned to Europe. In fact, Columbus's largest ship, the Santa Maria, ran aground on a Haitian reef. Columbus barely made it back to Europe after his first voyage.
So what if Columbus sailed off into the Atlantic and never returned? Would Europe have given up on a western route to Asia, or would other countries have eventually sent their own voyages? Without silver and gold from the New World flowing into Europe, would the Habsburgs have maintained power? Would the British Empire exist? With less competition, would the Ottomans have conquered Europe? Without Columbus's voyage, the world's history would look drastically different.
China Would Remain A Powerful State And Control Trade In Asia
China's dominant Ming Dynasty sent out its own voyages of discovery during the 15th century. Under Admiral Zheng He, the Chinese fleet traveled to India and Africa. However, the Ming quickly took an isolationist turn, declaring China the only civilized part of the world.
While European traders had a presence in China, they had to acknowledge Chinese superiority. European powers, which would have been weaker without their New World colonies, would have struggled to break into the Chinese market, likely playing an even smaller role in Chinese trade. As a result, China would have continued its role as the dominant power in Asia. With less competition from European powers, especially Portugal and the Dutch, China would have controlled trade throughout Southeast Asia.Was this likely?
North American Tribes Would Have Consolidated Into Multiple Adversarial Native American Nations
Before European contact with North America, several Native American groups were transforming into confederacies. The Iroquois Confederacy, made up of five nations - the Mohawks, Senecas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Oneidas - dominated from the Great Lakes to New York. They often battled the Algonquin nations for territory in the Northeast.
Prior to Spanish contact, California was home to 300,000 Native Americans broken into about 100 tribes. While relations between tribes were usually peaceful, the separate groups may have consolidated over the 17th and 18th centuries. Aztec expansion might have even reached into California.
Without the massive drop in population due to European diseases, plus displacement, forced labor, and extermination, North American tribes might have consolidated into several dominant confederacies that could have controlled large amounts of territory.Was this likely?
The Ottomans Would Have Continued Their Expansion Into Central Europe
The Ottomans laid siege to Vienna twice in the early modern period. Both times, the Habsburgs were able to turn back the invaders. But things would have looked different without the Habsburgs' allies in Spain, who controlled a massive empire in the New World.
By 1500, the Ottoman Empire dominated much of the international trade flowing into Europe. As the rulers of Istanbul, the Ottomans controlled trade coming from the Black Sea, Asia Minor, and the Near East. Their navy sailed the Mediterranean nearly unchallenged. Without a strong rival in Central Europe, the Ottomans might have continued their march into Central Europe, conquering Vienna much like they conquered Constantinople.Was this likely?
Spain Would Have Split Into Competing Kingdoms
Spain unified a couple decades before Columbus's voyage, when Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon shared their crowns.
In 1492, the Catholic Monarchs expelled Spain's Jewish population and conquered Granada, ending the last Muslim kingdom on the Iberian peninsula. With the discovery of the New World, gold and silver poured into Spain, propping up the newly united kingdom.
But without wealth from the New World, Spain might easily have crumbled back into competing kingdoms. A poorer Spain might not have successfully pushed out Muslims and Jews from their country, creating a more diverse, less united Iberia.Was this likely?