Biography of Juan de la Cosa (¿-1510)

Spanish navigator and cartographer whose place of birth is doubtful. According to some sources, he was born in Santa María de el Puerto (Santoña current) and, according to others, in Orduña (Vizcaya) around 1449; He died in land company (today Colombia) in 1510.

It is known with certainty that was a neighbor of the Puerto de Santa María, Cádiz, where he owned the merchant ship Santa María, rented by Christopher Columbus as ship almiranta for his first trip to the new world in 1492. Of the thing took part in this trip as skipper, but not as a pilot, which suggests that at this time he had much knowledge of scientific navigation.

Charter marina of Juan de la Cosa, 1500s.

Although the Santa María ran aground on the North coast of Hispaniola, came out with Columbus on his second voyage (some authors have said that the Juan de la Cosa this travel was not the same person as the one of the first, which has not been generally accepted). It was probably at this time when it acquired much of his subsequent knowledge of navigation and cartography, since its position in this second trip seems to have been that of an apprentice who Colon showed their maps and transmitting their knowledge. Witnesses in the process followed to Columbus by the Crown would assert, with some exaggeration, that he had learned everything he knew "things of the sea" of Colon, and had then used this knowledge in their own voyages of exploration.

In any case, to 1498 Juan de la Cosa was already considered as one of the most experienced pilots of the West Indies, and to breaking the aforementioned year Colon monopoly on navigation to those regions, their services were very much in demand. In 1499-1500 served as first pilot on the journey of Alonso de Ojeda to explore the coast of Guyana and Venezuela. In 1500-1502 was the first driver and likely partner in the expedition of Rodrigo de Bastidas who reached the Gulf of Urabá; in 1504-1506, he returned to Urabá in front of his own commercial expedition. Finally, he served as first pilot of Ojeda and second Commander in the expedition of 1509, which attempted to establish a colony on the coast of Colombia. The crew disembarked, against his advice, on the site now occupied by Cartagena de Indias; just Ojeda went ahead inland, he was assaulted by a mob of indigenous peoples; Juan de la Cosa came to its relief, and defended by a trench of stakes, had prodigies of value. But, finally, after falling to his side more than three hundred of his own, he succumbed also under the poisoned arrows of their enemies, and a few days later he was found hanging from a tree.

Monument to Juan de la Cosa in the Puerto de Santa María (Cádiz).

The celebrity of Juan de la Cosa is also the famous map of which he was principal Manager, discovered and printed by Alexander von Humboldt in the 19th century. Probably, you did have this map by itself; the evidence suggests that it was not a very skilled draftsman. Instead, and probably starting with Bastidas in 1500, he left instructions to another cartographer so that it combined a new world map drawn by him with a proper map of the old world. The map chosen for this object seems to have been done twelve years before the map of Juan de la Cosa and does not correspond to the same scale; Thus, the effect of combining both maps was exaggerating the size of the American coasts. However, this world map is the first known that incorporated information from the new lands discovered in the West, and is also of exceptional interest because of the likely knowledge and use of the maps drawn by Columbus himself.


LEGUINA, e. de: Juan de la Cosa, pilot (Cristóbal Colón companion); biographical study, Madrid: Fontanella, 1877.

Colon lawsuits", in the collection of unpublished documents relating to the discovery, conquest, and organization of the ancient Spanish possessions of overseas, 25 vols., Madrid: Rivadeneyra successors, 1885-1932, vols. VII and VIII.

BALLESTEROS BERETTA, a.: The Cantabrian Sea and Juan de la Cosa, Santander: Diputación Provincial, 1954.

BARREIRO MEIRO, r.: Juan de la Cosa and its double personality, Madrid: Instituto Histórico de Marina, 1970.

DAVIES, a.: "The date of Juan de la Cosa's World Map and its Implications for American Discovery", Geographical Journal, 142, 1976, pp. 111-116.

ROYO GUARDIA, f.: "Cristóbal Colón, the insularity of Cuba and the map of Juan de la Cosa", in Revista de Indias, 28, 1968, pp. 433-474.