Gama, Vasco da (1524)

views updated

Gama, Vasco da (1524)

Vasco da Gama (b. 1460s; d. 24 or 25 December 1524), Portuguese explorer, discoverer of the maritime route to India. Son of a member of the household of Prince Fernando, da Gama had been a fidalgo in the royal household of King João II and, at the time of his first voyage, a knight and commander in the Order of Santiago. About 1507 he transferred to the Order of Christ, and in 1519 he became first count of Vidigueira.

King Manuel I named da Gama leader of the armada that sailed from the Tagus River on 8 July 1497 in search of a maritime route to India. Two of the four ships, the São Gabriel and the São Rafael, were commanded, respectively, by Vasco and his brother, Paulo. After more than ninety days at sea—the longest known voyage out of sight of land by a European to date—da Gama dropped anchor in the Bay of Santa Helena, 100 miles north of the Cape of Good Hope. On 22 November 1497, da Gama rounded the cape and on Christmas Day reached what is now known as Natal. On 2 March 1498, he reached the island of Mozambique. After stopping at Mombasa and Malindi, da Gama—with the help of a Muslim pilot from Gujarat—departed across the Indian Ocean on 24 April, and on 20 May he anchored several miles north of Calicut.

Da Gama remained in India for over three months. Early in his stay, he met with Calicut's Hindu leader, whom the Portuguese called the samorim. But relations with him deteriorated, and da Gama sailed northward to Angediva Island, along India's west coast, south of Goa. Beginning the return voyage on 5 October, da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope on 20 March 1499. He arrived in Lisbon in very late August or during the first three weeks in September, though one of his ships, the Berrio, already had arrived on 10 July. Honored for his efforts, da Gama was made admiral of India, became a member of the king's council, and was given financial rewards.

Made leader of the fourth Portuguese expedition to India, da Gama set sail from Lisbon in February 1502. After exacting reprisals in Calicut from the natives for the massacre of the Portuguese stationed there, da Gama left India on 28 December 1502 and reached Lisbon on 1 September 1503.

In 1524 da Gama returned to India for a third and final time at the behest of King João III. Sent to clean up corruption and restore authority in Portuguese Asia, he was given the post of viceroy of India, the second to receive that title. Sailing from Lisbon on 9 April 1524, da Gama reached Chaul on 5 September. His administration was an energetic one, but it was also short, as he died in Cochin less than four months after his arrival.

See alsoExplorers and Exploration: Brazil .


The definitive biography of Vasco da Gama as of 2008 remains to be written. To date, the best book-length account in English of the first voyage of da Gama is Elaine Sanceau, Good Hope: The Voyage of Vasco da Gama (1967). It is based largely on the sixteenth-century Portuguese chroniclers. The best short study in English is probably the chapter, "The Indian Ocean Crossing," in John H. Parry, The Discovery of the Sea (1974). The most important source for the first voyage is the diary of an anonymous eyewitness. It has been published in Portuguese in a number of editions and is included in José Pedro Machado and Viriato Campos, Vasco da Gama e a sua viagem de descobrimento (1969). The diary has been edited and translated into English by E. G. Ravenstein (with excellent notes, introduction, and accompanying materials) in A Journal of the First Voyage of Vasco da Gama, 1497–1499 (1898). A judicious summary in English of da Gama's career is found in Bailey W. Diffie and George D. Winius, Foundations of the Portuguese Empire, 1415–1580 (1977). Two other useful surveys are found in Damião Peres, História dos descobrimentos portugueses, 3d ed. (1983), and Luis De Albuquerque, Os descobrimentos portugueses (1983). Augusto C. Teixeira De Aragão published many documents dealing with Vasco da Gama in Vasco da Gama e a Vidigueira, Estudo historico, 3d ed. (1898).

Additional Bibliography

Disney, A. R., and Emily Booth. Vasco da Gama and the Linking of Europe and Asia. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Garcia, José Manuel. A viagem de Vasco da Gama à India 1497–1499. Lisboa: Academia de Marinha, 1999.

Subrahmanyam, Sanjay. The Career and Legend of Vasco da Gama. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

                                      Francis A. Dutra