Who was Vasco da Gama? What did Vasco da Gama do? Information on Vasco da Gama biography, life story, voyages and explorations.
Vasco da Gama; (1460-1524), Portuguese navigator who discovered a new sea route to India. He was born into a noble family at Sines, Portugal. Da Gama entered the king’s service and in 1492 he commanded a royal squadron on a retaliatory mission against French pirates. When selected by King Manuel II of Portugal to lead the expedition of 1497 to India he appears not to have had any record as an explorer but instead was known as an able fighting man, a determined leader, and a diplomat.
Da Gama’s expedition to India was less a voyage of exploration than an armed commercial mission. its principal object was to bring the Portuguese into the Muslim-dominated trade of the Indian Ocean. It was carefully prepared in the light of knowledge gathered during the 15th century voyages of exploration in African coastal waters and the Atlantic Ocean. These culminated in Bartholomeu Dias’ discovery of the Cape of Good Hope in 1487. Da Gama’s plan was reinforced by commercial and political intelligence obtained from travelers to the East. Unlike Columbus, the unscientific man of destiny, da Gama was an agent of the crown ordered to carry out a calculated policy.
First Voyage to India.
Da Gama’s fleet of four vessels sailed from Lisbon on July 8, 1497, and held a planned meeting off the Cape Verde Islands. Here da Gama decided to deviate from Dias’ policy of tacking down the African coast. His decision was probably based on information about the prevailing Atlantic winds that had been assembled since 1488. The new course involved a bold circular sweep in the Atlantic toward the Brazilian coast and the latitude of the prevailing westerlies. The ships then ran before the wind to make a landfall at St. Helena Bay, in South Africa, a few days after first glimpsing the African coast on November 1.
Da Gama thus established a route from Europe to the Cape of Good Hope that was to be followed throughout the days of sail. After doubling the cape on November 22 he touched at the East African ports of Quilmana, Mozambique, Mombasa, and finally Melindi, where the services of Ibn Majid, a famous pilot, were obtained for the voyage across the Indian Ocean. The expedition dropped anchor off Calicut on the Malabar coast of India on May 22, 1498. Da Gama set sail to return to Portugal on August 29, rounded the Cape on March 20, 1499, and entered Lisbon in triumph in September 1499, having lost more than a third of his entire company during the voyage, many of them because of scurvy.
Although his commercial negotiations at Calicut with the local Hindu ruler had been largely thwarted by influential Muslim merchants, da Gama had charted a navigable ocean route between Lisbon and India and had revealed the prospect of immense profits. However, a subsequent Portuguese expedition to India, led by Pedro Cabral in 1500, proved that the Muslim monopoly there could not be broken by negotiation or peaceful competition, but ,only by employing ruthless force.
Second Voyage to India.
When da Gama sailed again for India in 1502 he went as the commander of a powerful armament of 14 sail to establish Portuguese power in the Indian Ocean. In addition to extracting an immense tribute from the Sultan of Kilwa on the East African coast, he wreaked savage vengeance on the Muslims for their opposition in 1498 and for their massacre of the agents left behind by Pedro Cabral in 1500. Da Gama bombarded the harbor of Calicut and decisively broke a fleet assembled by the Malabar Muslims to resist him. This victory inaugurated the “Vasco da Gama Age” by demonstrating conclusively that the Portuguese, whatever their diplomatic and commercial inadequacies, possessed guns and ships capable of defeating any contemporary Asian navy. The lesson he taught was that the Muslims’ monopoly of the spice trade could be most effectively wrested from them by force of arms.
After his return to Portugal in December 1503 his successors embarked deliberately upon a warlike naval policy supported by a string of bases and fortresses strategically situated in the eastern seas. Da Gama went into semi-retirement, mainly at Evora, Portugal, and was created Count of Vidiguerra in 1519. In 1524, da Gama accepted an appointment as viceroy from King John III and returned to the scene of his early triumphs. He died suddenly at Cochin, India, on Dec. 24, 1524.