Vasco da Gama

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Vasco da Gama with sword
Vasco da Gama
by Antonio Manuel da Fonseca


Vasco da Gama (1460 - 1524) was a Portuguese explorer. He led the first expedition that traveled from Europe to India by sailing around Africa.

Where did Vasco da Gama grow up?

Vasco da Gama was born in a small coastal town in Portugal named Sines. His father was a knight and an explorer. He followed in his father's footsteps and soon commanded ships in the king's name.

A Trade Route to India

Spices from India were very popular in Europe, however, the only way to travel from Europe to India was over land. This was a long and expensive trip. The King of Portugal figured if he could find a way to get to India by sailing on the ocean, he would become rich trading spices in Europe.

An explorer by the name of Bartolomeu Dias had discovered the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of Africa. It was thought that there may be a way around the Cape and to the northeast towards India. However, many were skeptical and thought that the Indian Ocean did not connect with the Atlantic Ocean.

Vasco da Gama was given a fleet of ships by the king and told to find a trade route around Africa to India. He was also told to find any other trading opportunities along the way.

The First Voyage

Vasco da Gama left on his first voyage from Lisbon, Portugal on July 8, 1497. He had 170 men and 4 ships: the Sao Gabriel, Sao Rafael, the Berrio, and a fourth ship unnamed and used for storage.

Route of Vasco da Gama
Route traveled by da Gama on his first voyage
Map by Ducksters
Click to see larger view

The expedition rounded the southern tip of Africa at the Cape of Good Hope on November 22. They then headed north up the coast of Africa. They stopped at trading ports along the way including Mombasa and Malindi. At Malindi they gained a local navigator who knew the direction to India. With the help of a Monsoon wind they were able to cross the Indian Ocean and arrive in Calicut, India in less than a month.

At Calicut, Vasco ran into issues when trying to trade. He had brought little of value in his ships. This made the local traders suspicious. Soon he had to leave. The voyage back was disastrous. Around half of his crew died from scurvy as the trip back took much longer. However, when he returned home, he was a hero. He had found the much needed trade route to India.

Later Voyages

Vasco da Gama commanded two more fleets to India. The second voyage was more of a military expedition where he captured Arab ships and tried to show the might of the Portuguese navy.

On the third voyage Vasco was to take over as Viceroy of Portuguese India. However, he died of malaria shortly after arriving.

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