Skip to main content

Did Alexander the Great Discover America?: Humanist Debate in Ottoman Istanbul

Thursday, November 17, 2016, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

During the middle decades of the sixteenth century, a debate raged among scholars at the Ottoman court about the recent discovery of America and its implications for both traditional knowledge and traditional religious authority.  Surprisingly, the crux of this debate revolved around the historical role of Alexander the Great as a patron of science and learning—and the question of whether he might have discovered the New World long before Europeans of the sixteenth century.   Since Alexander was a figure for whom Ottoman scholars and Western humanists had a shared reverence, the unfolding of this debate thus provides a unique window onto the intersection of ideas from the intellectual worlds of the Latin West and the Ottoman Empire during the most mature phase of the European Renaissance.


Giancarlo Casale is Associate Professor of History (Islamic World) and Morse Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Minnesota.  He is the author of The Ottoman Age of Exploration (Oxford, 2011) and executive editor of the Journal of Early Modern History.  He is currently spending the year as a Fernand Braudel Senior Research Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.