Gama, Vasco da

(1468?-1524)
   Navigator, conqueror, and fleet commander of the Portuguese ships that discovered the sea route to India in 1497-98. Born in Sines and trained in navigation, Vasco da Gama was named commander of four—by today's standards very small—vessels, which left the Tagus from Belém on 8 July 1497. The fleet sailed via the Cape Verde Islands down the African coast and passed the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, on 18 November 1497. After cruising up the coast of East Africa, Vasco da Gama's ships reached Mombasa and then Melinde, where a friendly sultan permitted an Indian Ocean pilot to assist da Gama in the voyage east to the west coast of what became Portuguese India. The Portuguese reached Calicut, India, on 18 May 1498. Vasco da Gama's missions were to discover the route to India, tap into the spice markets of Asia, and contact and make treaties with Christian rulers there.
   Perhaps the greatest of Portugal's discoverers and sea explorers, da Gama accomplished these missions, although liaison with Christian princes proved illusory; Portugal broke the spice monopoly of the Venetian-Asian system and began the process of prying open Asia to Western trade, conquest, and empire.
   The first of da Gama's ships returned to Lisbon in July 1499, and da Gama himself returned later in the summer. In the age of exploration, in a different league even than Christopher Columbus's first voyage to the West Indies, da Gama's feat stands unequaled: the distance from Portugal to India by the most direct route around the Cape of Good Hope was 16,000 kilometers (10,000 miles) by sea under severe conditions typical of the age of sail. The entire round trip took two years, and out of about 170 crew members only 55 returned to Lisbon. King Manuel I showered the navigator-commander with honors. Da Gama made another voyage to Calicut (1502-04) and died in government service in India in 1524. Along with other famous navigator-conquerors of the Age of Discoveries, as well as the national epic poet Luís de Camões, Vasco da Gama is buried in the Jerônimos Monastery.

Historical dictionary of Portugal 3rd ed.. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

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