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Vasco Da Gama

Born in the 15th century

Vasco da Gama was born in the 15th century (around 1460 or 1469, sources are uncertain of the exact date) in Sines, a Portugal town on the Atlantic Ocean. 1)

Born in the noble family

Vasco da Gama was born into a noble family, which is mentioned as early as 1166. His father, Estevao da Gama, was a knight of the Order of Santi (Order of St. James) and a servant of the Duke of Viseu, Ferdinand. He held the position of governor and magistrate in Sines. Estevao enjoyed great confidence from the Portuguese ruler and was therefore entrusted with the first sea expedition to India. He did not live to see this expedition, however, and died in 1497, before it began. His mother, Isabel Sodr was English. 2)

Paulo da Gama

The oldest of the siblings was Paulo da Gama, who was also a sailor and explorer. He participated in the 1498 expedition to India, which Vasco commanded, as captain of the ship Sao Rafael. He died on the way back, the day after the ships arrived in the Azores. 3)

Astronomy and navigation

According to Portuguese historian Teixeira de Aragao, Vasco da Gama may also have studied astronomy and navigation in Evora. There he probably also met Juan Ponce de Leon, later the explorer of Florida. 4)

First naval mission

In 1492, King John II of Portugal sent Vasco da Gama on his first naval mission. His task was to seize French ships in retribution for plundering Portuguese shipping. The mission was successful and da Gama strengthened his position at court. 5)

Route to Asia

King John II of Portugal embarked on a series of reforms to build a powerful navy and to awaken shipping from the slumber that had lasted since the death of Henry the Sailor. The idea of finding a sea route to Asia by circumnavigating Africa arose. 6)

Set sail

Vasco da Gama set sail on July 8, 1497, from Santa Maria de Belem, near the Capela de Sao Jeronimo, founded by Henry the Sailor. 7)


Four ships set sail for India: the Sao Gabriel, the Sao Raphael, the Berrio, and a transport ship of unknown name. 8)

The crew

The crew numbered 160 people (some sources say 170), including many convicts. Vasco da Gama had to deal with mutinies of the crew, severe storms, and scurvy, from which a large part of the crew suffered and died. Only 55 people returned to Portugal. 9)

Audience with the Sultan

When da Gama reached the southern tip of Africa, where Dias anchored, he sailed onward into waters previously unknown to Europeans. He arrived in Arab-controlled territory that was an integral part of the trade network in the Indian Ocean. Fearing the hostile attitude of the local population towards Christians, da Gama declared himself a Muslim and thus gained an audience with the Sultan. As he was unable to offer a dignified gift to the sultan, he was chased out of the port. He also had to use cannons. 10)

First Europeans in Mombasa

The da Gama's crew were the first known Europeans to enter the port of Mombasa. 11)

Entering Calicut

The crew sailed to Calicut, India on May 20, 1498, landing on a beach 18 km from the present city. 12)

Admiral of the Indian Seas

Despite the relatively limited success of the expedition, for it failed to sign a trade agreement with Calicut, and there was little spice on the ships, da Gama was greeted like a hero on the coast of Lisbon. He was given the title of “Admiral of the Indian Seas” and the city of Sines as a fief. 13)

1502 for India again

In 1502 Vasco da Gama set sail for India again. This time his fleet numbered 20 ships, and the aim was to enforce Portuguese interests and seize by force goods that could not be obtained by peaceful means. 14)

Pirate activities

Da Gama conducted pirate activities against Arab merchant ships. 15)

vasco_da_gama.txt · Last modified: 2021/11/25 02:33 by aga