Vasko Da Gama

Vasko Da Gama

Portuguese navigator
Country: Portugal

  1. Biography of Vasco da Gama
  2. Early Life and Adventures
  3. The Voyage to India
  4. The Route Along the Coast of Africa
  5. The Voyage to India
  6. The Difficult Journey
  7. Challenges in India
  8. Later Life and Legacy
  9. Later Expeditions and Death

Biography of Vasco da Gama

Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese navigator, was born around 1460-1469 in the coastal town of Sines, Portugal. He came from an ancient noble family and gained a reputation as a courageous seafarer from a young age. Five centuries ago, Lisbon was the center of maritime exploration. Portuguese sailors were exploring the route along the coast of Africa to the south. They also established a sea route to India and Southeast Asia for Europeans. Vasco da Gama led this expedition and later conquered India.

Early Life and Adventures

Vasco da Gama was born into a noble family in the Portuguese coastal town of Sines. His father, Estêvão da Gama, was the chief administrator and judge of the towns of Sines and Silves. From a young age, Vasco participated in military actions and naval expeditions. He must have had military experience because when French corsairs captured a Portuguese caravel carrying gold from Guinea to Portugal in 1492, King Manuel I entrusted him with a responsible task. The sailor, on a fast caravel, sailed along the French coast, capturing all French ships on raids. As a result, the King of France had to return the seized ship, and Vasco da Gama became a well-known figure in Portugal. It was clear that the experienced navigator, highly regarded by the king, would be entrusted with an unusual task.

The Voyage to India

On July 8, 1497, Vasco da Gama's fleet of four ships, each with a displacement of 100-120 tons, set sail from Lisbon. The expedition was meticulously prepared with the help of experienced navigator Bartolomeu Dias and was equipped with supplies for a three-year voyage. The crews were recruited from the best sailors, totaling 168 people, who were ordered by the King of Portugal to open the way to India and the East Ocean.

The Route Along the Coast of Africa

For centuries, Portuguese sailors had been laying the route along the coast of Africa to the Indian Ocean. Thanks to the efforts of Prince Henry, known as "Henry the Navigator," who was passionate about conquering new lands, more and more expeditions set off along the African coast, overcoming superstitious fears that the sea was impassable due to heat and storms. In 1419, the Portuguese rounded Cape Non and discovered the island of Madeira. In 1434, Captain Gil Eanes ventured beyond Cape Bojador, which was once considered an insurmountable border. A decade later, Nuno Tristão reached Senegal, bringing back ten local inhabitants and selling them profitably. This marked the beginning of the slave trade, which justified the expenses of maritime voyages. In the following years, the Azores and Cape Verde Islands were discovered and annexed to the Portuguese crown, as well as Guinea and Congo, which supplied slaves and gold. In 1486, Diogo Cão's expedition reached Cape Cross. The seafarers approached the southern tip of the African continent. However, the Portuguese kings were enticed by the path to the Spice Islands. The monopoly on the spice trade was held by the Arabs, who delivered pepper, cinnamon, and other highly valued seasonings to Europe through the Persian Gulf and overland. On February 3, 1488, Bartolomeu Dias' ships, which had left Lisbon in August 1487 and were headed for India, rounded the Cape of Good Hope. Only the team's refusal to continue the voyage due to hunger forced them to turn back without reaching their goal. Ten years later, Vasco da Gama was about to do what his predecessor had failed to accomplish.

The Voyage to India

The voyage began successfully. The ships passed the Canary Islands, separated in the fog, and regrouped at the Cape Verde Islands. The further route was hindered by headwinds, but Vasco da Gama turned southwest and, just before reaching the then-unknown Brazil, thanks to favorable winds, managed to reach the Cape of Good Hope by the most convenient route (later becoming traditional for sailing ships). However, the sailors spent 93 days at sea, and it was only on November 4 that they reached land. The sailors encountered Bushmen on the shore. Due to a conflict with them, they had to quickly weigh anchor. The cold weather caused complaints from the crew, but the "captain-commander" remained firm, and on November 22, 1497, the fleet rounded the Cape of Good Hope. After a stopover, during which the Portuguese obtained provisions and made agreements with the Bushmen, the fleet of three ships (the old transport had to be sunk) continued its journey along the coast, establishing contacts with local tribes. On December 16, the explorers saw the last padrão column left by Diogo Dias on the shore. An unexplored path lay ahead.

The Difficult Journey

This path proved to be challenging. Due to monotonous and insufficient food, scurvy spread among the crew. Supplying provisions and water became difficult as they entered the Muslim-influenced zone. On March 2, 1498, the Portuguese arrived at the port of Mozambique, where they were almost annihilated by an Arab sheikh. On April 7, the fleet approached the port city of Mombasa, and the local sheikh also attempted to seize the "infidels'" ships, which had anchored as a precaution. In return, the Portuguese captured Arab ships. On April 14, traveling with favorable winds, the expedition reached the wealthy city of Malindi. The local sheikh was an opponent of the Mombasa sheikh and wanted to acquire new allies, especially armed with firearms that the Arabs did not possess. In addition to provisions, he provided pilots who knew the way to India. On April 24, the fleet left Malindi, and on May 20, it arrived in Calicut. Merchants who were aware of Portugal and other European countries welcomed them in the city.

Challenges in India

On May 28, Vasco da Gama was ceremoniously received as an ambassador by the zamorin, the ruler of Calicut. However, the modest gifts brought by the sailors disappointed the ruler, and news of Portuguese piracy further strained relations. Arab merchants sought to incite animosity towards the Christian competitors. Vasco da Gama was not allowed to establish a trading post in Calicut. The zamorin only permitted the unloading and sale of goods before the Portuguese departed. He even temporarily detained Vasco da Gama on land. Portuguese goods could not find buyers for almost two months, and the captain-commander decided to return. Before leaving, on August 9, he sent a letter to the zamorin, reminding him of the promise to send an embassy to Portugal and requesting several bags of spices as a gift for the king. However, in response, the ruler of Calicut demanded the payment of customs duties. He ordered the seizure of Portuguese goods and people, accusing them of espionage. In turn, Vasco da Gama took several influential Calicut visitors hostage. When the zamorin returned the Portuguese and some of the goods, the captain-commander sent half of the hostages ashore and took the rest with him to show the power of Portugal. He left the goods as a gift to the ruler of Calicut. On August 30, the fleet set sail on the return journey, easily evading Indian boats attempting to attack the Portuguese ships. Pirates had to be repelled along the way. The three-month journey to the shores of Africa was accompanied by heat and diseases among the crews. Only on January 2, 1499, did the sailors see the wealthy city of Mogadishu. Reluctant to disembark with a weary and depleted crew, da Gama ordered the bombardment of the city with cannons as a warning. On January 7, the sailors arrived in Malindi, where they recovered over five days thanks to good food and fruits provided by the sheikh. Nevertheless, the crews were so diminished that on January 13, during a stop south of Mombasa, one of the ships had to be burned. On January 28, they passed Zanzibar Island, and on February 1, they made a stop at San Jorge Island near Mozambique. On March 20, they rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and on April 16, a favorable wind carried the fleet to the Cape Verde Islands. From there, Vasco da Gama sent a ship ahead, which on July 10, delivered the news of the expedition's success to Portugal. The captain-commander himself stayed behind due to his brother's illness. It was only on September 18, 1499, that Vasco da Gama returned triumphantly to Lisbon.

Later Life and Legacy

Only two ships and 55 people returned. The price of the lost lives was the opening of the route to South Asia around Africa. By 1500-1501, the Portuguese had begun trading with India. Using armed force, they established their strongholds on the peninsula and, in 1511, captured Malacca, the true land of spices. Upon his return, King Manuel bestowed the title of "Dom" and a pension of 1,000 cruzados on Vasco da Gama as a representative of the nobility. However, da Gama sought to become the lord of the city of Sines. As the matter dragged on, the king appeased the ambitious explorer by increasing his pension. In 1502, before his second voyage, the king granted him the title of "Admiral of the Indian Ocean" with all honors and privileges.

Later Expeditions and Death

Meanwhile, the expeditions led by Cabral and João da Nova, which sailed to the shores of India, encountered resistance from local rulers. To establish fortifications and subdue the country, King Manuel I sent an expedition led by Vasco da Gama. The expedition included twenty ships, ten of which were commanded by the Admiral of the Indian Ocean. Five ships were intended to hinder Arab maritime trade in the Indian Ocean, and another five, under the command of da Gama's nephew, Estêvão da Gama, were meant to guard the trading posts.

The expedition set sail on February 10, 1502. Along the way, the sailors stopped at the Canary Islands. Not far from the Cape Verde Islands, the admiral showed Indian envoys returning home a caravel loaded with gold bound for Lisbon. The envoys were amazed at seeing so much gold for the first time. At the same time, Vasco da Gama established forts and trading posts in Sofala and Mozambique, conquered the Arab emir of Kilwa, and demanded tribute from him. Starting a fierce struggle against Arab navigation, he ordered the burning of an Arab ship with all the pilgrim passengers on the Malabar coast.

On October 3, the fleet arrived in Cannanore. The local rajah ceremoniously welcomed the Portuguese and allowed them to build a major trading post. After loading the ships with spices, the admiral sailed to Calicut. Here, he acted decisively and mercilessly. Despite the zamorin's promises to compensate for the losses and news of the arrest of those responsible for the attacks on the Portuguese, the admiral seized the ships in the port and bombarded the city, turning it into ruins. He ordered the hanging of captured Indians on masts, and he sent the severed hands, feet, and heads of the unfortunate people back to the shore, throwing their bodies overboard to be washed ashore. Two days later, Vasco da Gama bombarded Calicut again, causing further casualties. The zamorin fled the destroyed city. Leaving seven ships to blockade Calicut under the command of Vicente Sodré, da Gama sailed to Cochin. Here, he loaded the ships and left a garrison in the new fortress.

The zamorin, with the help of Arab merchants, assembled a large fleet, which set out to meet the Portuguese again on February 12, 1503. However, the artillery of the Portuguese ships turned the light vessels into flight. On October 11, Vasco da Gama returned to Lisbon with success. The king, satisfied with the spoils, increased the admiral's pension. However, he did not give the ambitious sailor a significant appointment. Only in 1519 did da Gama receive land and a count's title.

After his return from the second expedition, Vasco da Gama continued to develop plans for further colonization of India and advised the king to create a maritime police force there. The king took his suggestions into account in twelve documents (decrees) concerning India.

In 1505, King Manuel I, on da Gama's advice, established the position of Viceroy of India. Francisco de Almeida and Afonso de Albuquerque, who succeeded each other, strengthened Portugal's power in India and the Indian Ocean with ruthless measures. However, after the death of Albuquerque in 1515, his successors proved to be greedy and incapable. The new king of Portugal, João III, who received less and less profit, decided to appoint the stern and incorruptible 64-year-old Vasco da Gama as the fifth Viceroy. On April 9, 1524, the admiral set sail from Portugal, and upon arrival in India, immediately took firm measures against the abuses of the colonial administration. However, he did not have time to restore order as he died of illness on December 24, 1524, in Cochin.

For some time, Portugal remained the master of the Indian Ocean until it was replaced by other colonial powers. The uprisings of the local population against the abuses, cruelty, and arrogance of the colonizers contributed to the loss by the Portuguese of what Admiral Vasco da Gama had discovered and conquered.