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Vasco Da Gama

Portuguese Navigator

Born: 1460

Died: 1524

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. 24, 1524.

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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