The 15th and 16th centuries are known as the “Age of Discovery” or “Age of Exploration,” since it was a time when European leaders were funding global voyages, hoping that explorers would discover riches and new regions around the world to claim as their own. Portugal was a leader in this race, with many of their ships sailing around Africa shuttling cargo between Europe and Asia and Africa.
Columbus was determined to find a westward passage to these regions and propositioned first the Portuguese king, then leaders in Genoa and Venice, Italy, to lead a three-ship expedition across the Atlantic. Each of them rejected his idea. He then went to Spain. At first, Spain was busy with its Reconquista system—evicting Jews and Muslims out of their territory after centuries of war. Also, their nautical experts were skeptical of Columbus’s plan. So, they rejected him at first too—at least two times, according to historians. But by the end of the 15th century, their new regime was in place, and the country was able to focus on exploration and conquest in other regions. Soon after, in January 1492, Queen Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon of Spain agreed to sponsor his voyage.
Ultimately, the two parties united since they both desired fame and fortune, including victory in the “discovery race” and goods from gold to spices, as well as the opportunity to spread Catholicism across the world.