Vasco Da Gama
During the 15th
century Portuguese navigators pressed farther and farther down the
uncharted west coast of Africa. They were searching for a sea route
to India, whose highly valued spices promised wealth to European
traders. By 1488 a Portuguese expedition under Bartholomew Diaz had
reached the Cape of Good Hope. Then in 1492 Spain sent Christopher
Columbus sailing westward to find India. Soon afterward King Emanuel
I of Portugal selected Vasco da Gama to head a new expedition
charged with sailing around the cape and on to India.
A nobleman of the king's household, Vasco
da Gama was born at Sines, Portugal. At the time of his appointment,
he was a veteran soldier and a skilled mariner. To Da Gama was
entrusted a fleet of four vessels. His brother Paulo was placed in
command of one of them. On July 8, 1497, they set sail from Lisbon.
After months of sailing, the crew sighted
the southwest coast of Africa on November 1. On November 22 they
rounded the Cape of Good Hope. In May 1498 Da Gama landed at Calicut
(now Kozhikode) on the southwest coast of India.
Influenced by Muslim traders who feared
competition, the Hindu ruler of the city was suspicious of the
Europeans. Da Gama secured samples of spices and precious stones,
however, and began the homeward journey. When the expedition
returned to Lisbon in the summer of 1499, ending a voyage that had
lasted for more than two years, only 55 of the original crew of 170
remained. Scurvy had killed most of the others. Da Gama arrived in
Lisbon a little later after he stopped at the Azores to bury his
brother Paulo. For his achievement the king granted Da Gama the
coveted title dom, generous pensions, and permission to carry on
trade with India.
In February 1502 Da Gama set sail a second
time for India. He returned in September 1503 with the first tribute
of gold from the East. Again he received money and honors. Da Gama
also enjoyed favor as an adviser to his king and was made count of
Vidigueira in 1519. Five years later he was sent to India as
viceroy, charged with the task of reforming abuses in the colonial
government. He died within a few months at Cochin, India, on Dec.
Da Gama's voyages had brought his country
immense wealth. As a result of his exploration, Portugal had become
one of the foremost powers of Europe because it controlled the route
to the Indies.
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