Portuguese sailor and navigator, ~1460 – 1524. He became the first to sail to India and the far East from Europe.

Born around 1460 as the son of a prominent military, a fortress commander on the southwestern coast of Portugal. The Portuguese had at this time a very strong navy, and were also colonizing Africa and other continents. Since the beginning of the 15th century, Portugal had been trying to find a route around Africa, but had never succeeded. The reason for this was of course due to the Muslims of middle Asia monopolizing the trade by land with India. The idea was to find another way to trade directly with the far East.

With this background, the King of Portugal, John II ordered a fleet of four ships to set sail for India in 1497. He made Vasco’s father Estêvão da Gama leader of the expedition, but when Estêvão died shortly after, Vasco became the leader. The four ships left Lisbon and set course for Cape of Good Hope which had been discovered a couple of years earlier. After 10 months of sailing, da Gama’s expeditions had rounded the Cape and had reached what today is Kenya. After picking up a pilot there – possibly the famous Arabic navigator Ahmed Ibn Majid - who could lead them to India, they finally reached Calicut (now Kolkata former Calcutta* now Kozhikode in Kerala) on May 20, 1498.

The arrival to Calicut didn’t go smooth since the Muslim merchants protested the Portuguese presence, and the goods that da Gama had brought as gifts and for trade weren’t in high demand in India. After an eventful trip back, where many of the sailors died from scurvy, they reached Portugal in late summer 1499.

The next expedition for Vasco to India set sail in 1502, and has as a goal to break the Muslim resistance in India, and also to revenge the death of Portuguese officials left behind in India by a second expedition. A large fleet, some 20 ships, reached Goa in summer 1502. da Gama then went to bombard and massacre Muslims and Hindus in Calicut in order to subdue the ruler (Zamorin) of Calicut, but to no avail. Instead they want back to Portugal. However, the Muslim resistance was now broken.

Thanks partly to Vasco, Portugal now had a small enclave in Goa, and also almost had monopoly on the trade with India. In 1524 Vasco da Gama became viceroy of India, and arrived there later the same year. After only a few months in India he became ill, and died on Christmas eve 1524.

*2001.10.30@21:46 JudyT says "Calicut and Calcutta are not the same place. Calicut is Kozhikode in Kerala(?)".

Reference: ne, britannica

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