BARCELONA - Christopher Columbus was a cruel, despotic tyrant who ruled over his subjects with an iron fist, according to new documents which have emerged 500 years after his death.
The man who discovered America routinely subjected slaves to torture and starved his own subjects in colonies in what is now the Dominican Republic.
Columbus was known to have mistreated native people when he was viceroy in Santo Domingo at the end of the 15th century, but until now it had been put down to his lack of political sensitivity.
The documents suggest a hidden face to the man who, after discovering the Western World in 1492, fell from grace eight years later because of his conduct in Santo Domingo.
In 1500, Columbus was brought back from Santo Domingo as a prisoner on the orders of the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, to stand trial.
Statements from 23 witnesses at his trial were accidentally uncovered at the Archive of Simanacas near Valladolid by the archivist Isabel Aguirre, who spent a year transcribing the papers.
Consuelo Varela, a historian with the High Council for Scientific Research in Seville, has studied the documents and believes it is the most important new discovery about Columbus' life for a century.
Varela told the Spanish daily El Pais: "Life in the colony in these first seven years was hard and terrible."
"Columbus ran the colony with an iron fist. One woman [said] Columbus came from a working class family and that his father had been a weaver.
"Columbus' brother Bartholme had her tongue cut out, after parading her naked through the streets on a donkey Christopher congratulated his brother on defending the family honour."
The 46-page document shows Columbus and his brothers Bartholme and Diego as tyrants.
Columbus was arrested, stood trial and was dismissed as viceroy of Santo Domingo and governor of the Indies.
The exposure of this different side to the famous sailor has already provoked angry reaction in Italy. Some of the accounts, critics say, may have come from enemies of Columbus, who were out to damage his reputation.