Reconsidering History: Ancient Greeks Discovered America Thousands of Years Ago
Reconsidering History: Ancient Greeks Discovered America Thousands of Years Ago

CAVALESE, Italy—The year 1492 is one of history’s most famous dates, when America was discovered by Europeans. However that “New World” may have been already known to the ancient Greeks, according to a book by Italian physicist and philologist Lucio Russo.

The translated title for Russo’s book would be “The Forgotten America: The Relationship Among Civilizations and an Error Made by Ptolemy.” But the author told the Epoch Times that the title for the English version, which isn’t ready yet, will probably be “When the World Shrunk.”

Some Clues         

Among the many clues of contact between ancient Europeans and Native Americans are the few pre-Columbian texts to have survived the Spanish devastation.

In a book about the origins of the Maya-Quiché people there are many interesting points. The fathers of that civilization, according to the text, were “black people, white people, people of many faces, people of many languages,” and they came from the East. “And it isn’t clear how they crossed over the sea. They crossed over as if there were no sea,” says the text.

However, researchers later decided to translate the Mayan word usually meant for “sea” as “lake.”

There are also many Mayan depictions and texts about men with beards. But Native Americans do not grow beards.

Furthermore, some artworks of the ancient Romans show pineapples, a fruit that originated in South America.

Ways of Thought

Russo, who currently teaches probability at Tor Vergata University of Rome, says the main reason why researchers think America wasn’t known to ancient Greeks is not due to lack of proof, but to scientific dogma.

For years, the theory that civilization evolves according to fixed stages has been dominant. For example, a civilization discovers fire, then invents the wheel, writing, and so on, all the way to modern technology and democracy. All civilizations are supposed to pass through these stages and they can be ranked according to their level of evolution.

But Russo presents a different scenario: inventions, like writing or breeding, didn’t develop independently in every different civilization, but filtered from one to another. 

It is also untrue that science becomes better and better with time. There were, in fact, many instances of scientific and cultural decay, like the destruction of Carthage and the fall of Greek civilization, from which the Romans inherited only a small portion of their scientific knowledge.

Importantly, one of the skills they didn’t inherit was how to navigate the oceans.

You can get an idea of this by considering that “the size of the ships in the Hellenistic era was exceeded only in the era of Napoleon” and that Columbus based his trip on a partial recovery of Hellenistic math, according to the book. The Greeks were, among other things, at that time the only civilization that was able to understand that the Earth was round—an understanding that was later lost.

Even today we are in an epoch of “scientific crisis,” Russo told the Epoch Times. But it’s a crisis different from that of Roman times. The modern decay hides itself using technological advancements as a mask and consists in shrinking the availability of knowledge, now the property of a few people.

The Error of Ptolemy

So, how did people come to forget America, if it is true that it was already known to the ancients? The error, according to the author, is mainly due to Ptolemy, who developed a world map finding a midpoint between the claims made by various ancient sources.

The key problem is the identification of the Fortunate Islands, which the ancient Greeks sometimes referred to, as the Canary Islands (near the West coast of Africa). But the Greeks were actually referring to the Antilles, according to Russo. The misunderstanding was due to the Romans and other post-Greek people’s disbelief and incapability of navigating the oceans.

With philological and mathematical reasoning, Russo leads the reader to understand the meaning of all of Ptolemy’s errors—which are generally considered pretty huge—showing how the knowledge of the planet by ancient Greeks was instead very precise. Ptolemy missed the latitude of Canary Islands by 15 degrees latitude, making them to appear on the point of the map were the Antilles would expected to be. Of course America was not on his map.


According to Russo, the book prompted two kinds of extreme reactions. Scientists and philologists showed enthusiasm, while negative reactions came from historians and geographers, whom he said were often unable to understand some logical aspects of his works.

Russo thinks we have “a lot to learn” from the ancient Greeks. For example we should “try to limit excessive specialization,” because the most interesting things can be understood only by those who have a grasp of more than one aspect of human knowledge.

  • PapayaSF

    The pineapple depictions are fascinating, but it seems unlikely that there was a trans-Atlantic trade in fresh fruit back then. Perhaps there was a pineapple-like fruit in the Mediterranean which has since gone extinct?

    Studies of Egyptian mummies have supposedly found traces of cocaine, which might also mean ancient trans-Atlantic trade, or a related Old World plant that went extinct.

    • bobcat4424

      The idea that all immigration to North and South America came over the Bearing Strait land bridge is pretty much nonsense. Yes, while it existed, there was foot traffic from Asia. But there was also contact with Iberians (the Clovis Peoiple), China (the Olmecs), Europe (the Incas and Mayans) and Africa (the Incas and Mayans.) This country was visited by Norse (numerous), Welsh (Medoc), and Chinese long before Columbus.
      Generally, the presence of pineapples in Roman and Greek art are ignored. But a pineapple is one of the most durable fruits that can be shipped across the Atlantic profitably. Pineapples would be shipped alive while most other fruit and vegetables would rot in the dank sea air.
      I have been to Pompeii and seen the House of Ephebus pineapple mosaic. I have alse seen a couple of other examples in the museo at Naples. I have also seen (and been hit by cones falling from the pin es of Rome.) There is NO resemblence of the pineapples in the mosaics to pine cones, which lack the spiky foliage at the top. Also, the pine cones are brown instead of a golden color.

  • george vakos

    In North Atlantic, one of Feroe islands, the name of one of Feroe island cluster is called: Mykenes. Was it the midway for the Mykenian Greeks in 1500-1000 BC on their way to Canada, where recently was found a big scale of prehistoric copper mines?

  • Userul lui Peşte

    That knowledge was lost in the history is a fact, that Greeks were good sailors and established colonies all over is also a fact, that in antiquity a few Europeans might have somehow sailed past an ocean like Atlantic may be considered possible as well (Australia was colonized that way by aboriginals, didn’t it?), but to say that someone “discovered” America before Columbus, in the sense of getting back from there and be able to repeat such journey anytime later establishing settlements and permanent connections with those settlements (like Columbus did), is a little too much!

  • Michael

    Yes, I have maintained that there was a great deal of unrecorded interaction among ancient cultures. After all many adventurers are not the note taking type and many probably did not survive the adventure nor the interaction.

  • ChaoticWin

    How exactly such knowledge, if true, was lost may never be known. It is possible that the knowledge wasn’t actually lost, but merely hidden by a powerful elite. Who knows, perhaps the Vatican has records of the Americas hidden away in their voluminous central repository. There are other suggestions, backed by datum, which show the Vatican has hidden other things, whether that be Holy See-Nazi collaboration or the theory that Jesus was code for a mushroom.

    It is very interesting to think the ancients, particularly the Greeks, may have had trans-Atlantic contact with the Americas, especially when coupled with the Islamic Golden Age. Given that it was this (the latter) civilization which translated and expanded upon numerous Greek writings, and coupled with recent findings which suggest that early (10th-11th centuries) Andalusian navigators sailed as far as the Sargasso Sea, it is not unreasonable to believe that such journeys were undertaken as a direct response to existing understandings of Greek knowledge of the world’s geography. Too, there is much to be said about the capability of other pre-Colombian navigators, such as the Chinese-Muslim Xhang He.

    One of the major problems in early recent European understandings and theories of human population dispersal has, unfortunately, been terribly shaded by a pervasive belief in the truth of religious narrative. For a very long time in Europe, it was believed that the Bible was a literal record of history. As such, all of the peoples of the world had already been accounted for, as descendants of the three sons of Noah. This Antedeluvian belief system had no place for unknown people. When, in 1492, Columbus discovered for a newly-purely-Christian monarch an unaccounted-for people, “heresy” was the only logical response. It is thus unsurprising that Jesuits accounted for much of the destruction of the vast majority of Mayan and Aztec codices.

    But the longer term effect of this mindset was an unwillingness to accept any hypothesis which did not adhere to the idea that the Bible was literal truth. The first widely-accepted hypothesis, and one which has only recently come under fire, was Clovis First. This is the theory that the entirety of the Americas, both North and South, were colonized by an Asiatic group who crossed the Bering Land Bridge during the last ice age, when sea levels were lower. Merely getting the Young Earth Creationist-but-still-scientific crowd to accept that the Earth was older than ~6000 years was a huge achievement. Getting them to accept that Noah wasn’t real, that the flood didn’t cover the entire planet and kill everyone except Noah, his wife, and their three sons? That was too big a step. It is this mindset which continues to haunt and pervade serious academic research into pre-Colombian population dispersal models.

  • lavallette

    I much prefer the theory that the Egyptians made it to central and South America on the Atlantic prevailing currents. Evidence: The Pyramidal Structures of the Aztecs and the Incas as well as the similarity of the facial features on their sculptures

  • dr_mabeuse

    I’m sick of these speculations about who “discovered” America. The native Americans discovered it. The only other ones who deserve note are the ones who changed its history. Stopping for a picnic or a walk in the woods doesn’t count because it doesn’t matter.

  • chenelope

    Nice article Vince