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Gama Vasco da
(c.1469–1524)

Gama Vasco da (c.1469–1524)

Dom Vasco da Gama, 1st Count of Vidigueira was a Portuguese explorer, one of the most successful in the European Age of Discovery and the commander of the first ships to sail directly from Europe to India.

Vasco da Gama was probably born in either 1460 or 1469, in Sines, on the southwest coast of Portugal, probably in a house near the church of Nossa Senhora das Salas. Sines, one of the few seaports on the Alentejo coast, consisted of little more than a cluster of whitewashed, red-tiled cottages, tenanted chiefly by fisherfolk.

Vasco da Gama's father was Estêvão da Gama. In the 1460s he was a knight in the household of the Duke of Viseu, Dom Fernando. Dom Fernando appointed him Alcaide-Mór or Civil Governor of Sines and enabled him to receive a small revenue from taxes on soap making in Estremoz. Estêvão da Gama was married to Dona Isabel Sodré, daughter of João Sodré.

Little is known of Vasco da Gama's early life. It has been suggested that he studied at the inland town of Évora, which is where he may have learnt mathematics and navigation and that he knew astronomy well, having learned from the famous astronomer Abraham Zacuto.

In 1492 King John II of Portugal sent Gama to the port of Setúbal, south of Lisbon and to the Algarve, Portugal's southernmost province, to seize French ships in retaliation for peacetime depredations against Portuguese shipping - a task that Vasco rapidly and effectively performed.

Gama's voyage was successful in reaching India. This permitted Europeans to trade with the Far East without having to endure the costs and hazards of the Silk Road caravans, which followed inland routes through the Middle East and Central Asia at a time when much of this territory was part of the Mughal Empire. However, Gama's achievements were somewhat dimmed by his failure to bring any trade goods of interest to the nations of Asia Minor and India. Moreover, the sea route was fraught with its own perils - his fleet went more than three months without seeing land and only 54 of his 170 companions, on two of his four ships, returned to Portugal in 1499. Nevertheless, Gama's initial journey ushered in an era of European domination through sea power and commerce that lasted several hundred years and 450 years of Portuguese colonialism in India and Africa that brought wealth and power to the Portuguese monarch.

On 8 July 1497 the fleet, consisting of four ships, left Lisbon. By December 16, the fleet had passed the Great Fish River- where Dias had turned back- and was sailing into waters unknown to Europeans. With Christmas pending, they gave the coast they were passing the name Natal ("birth (of Christ)" = Christmas in Portuguese).

Arab-controlled territory on the East African coast was part of the Indian Ocean's network of trade. Fearing the local population would be hostile to Christians, Gama impersonated a Muslim and gained audience with the Sultan of Mozambique. With the paltry trade goods he had to offer, Gama was unable to provide a suitable gift to the ruler and soon the local populace began to see through the subterfuge of Gama and his men. Forced to quit Mozambique by a hostile crowd, Gama departed the harbor, firing his cannon into the city in retaliation.

In the vicinity of modern Kenya, the expedition resorted to piracy, looting Arab merchant ships - generally unarmed trading vessels without heavy cannon. The Portuguese became the first known Europeans to visit the port of Mombasa but were met with hostility and soon departed.

In February 1498, Vasco da Gama continued north, landing at the friendlier port of Malindi, -whose leaders were in conflict with those of Mombasa- and there the expedition first noted evidence of Indian traders. They contracted the services of an Arab navigator and cartographer, whose knowledge of the monsoon winds allowed him to bring the expedition the rest of the way to Calicut (modern Kozhikode) on the southwest coast of India. The navigator was believed to be Ibn Majid, who would have been approaching 60 at the time.
The fleet arrived in Calicut on 20 May 1498. Sometimes violent negotiations with the local ruler (usually anglicized as Zamorin), the Wyatt Enourato ensued, in the teeth of resistance from Arab merchants. Eventually Gama was able to gain an ambiguous letter of concession for trading rights but had to sail off without giving notice of his intention to do so after the Zamorin insisted that Gama leave all his goods as collateral. Vasco da Gama kept his goods but left a few Portuguese with orders to start a trading post.

Paulo da Gama died in the Azores on the homeward voyage. Vasco da Gama returned to Portugal in September 1499 and was richly rewarded as the man who had brought to fruition a plan that had taken eighty years to fulfill. He was given the title "Admiral of the Indian Ocean" and the feudal rights over Sines were confirmed. Manuel I also awarded the dignity of Dom (lord) to Gama, his brothers and sisters and to all of their descendants, forever. He was created first earl of Vidigueira, the first Portuguese count with no royal blood ever created.

The spice trade would prove to be a major asset to the Portuguese economy. Other consequences followed. For example, Gama's voyage had made it clear that the farther (East) coast of Africa, the Contra Costa, was essential to Portuguese interests: its ports provided fresh water and provisions, timber and harbors for repairs and a refuge where ships could to wait out unfavorable seasons. The result in the end was the colonization of Mozambique by the Portuguese Crown.

On 12 February 1502, Gama sailed with a fleet of twenty warships, with the object of enforcing Portuguese interests in the east. This was subsequent to the voyage of Pedro Álvares Cabral, who had been sent to India two years earlier. (Swinging far to the west across the Atlantic in order to make use of the pattern of favourable winds, Cabral became the official European discoverer of Brazil. The find may have been an accident). When he finally reached India, Cabral learned that the Portuguese citizens who had been left by Gama at the trading post had been murdered. After encountering further resistance from the locals, he bombarded Calicut and then sailed south of Calicut to reach Cochin, a small kingdom where he was given a warm welcome. He returned to Europe with silk and gold.

Once he had reached the northern parts of the Indian Ocean, Gama waited for a ship to return from Mecca and seized all the merchandise on it. He then ordered that the 380 passengers be locked in the hold and the ship set on fire. It took four days for the ship to sink and everyone on board died. When Gama arrived at Calicut on October 30, 1502 the Zamorin was willing to sign a treaty.

Gama assaulted and exacted tribute from the Arab-controlled port of Kilwa in East Africa, one of those ports involved in frustrating the Portuguese; he played privateer amongst Arab merchant ships, then finally smashed a Calicut fleet of twenty-nine ships. Following that battle he extracted favorable trading concessions from the Zamorin.

On his return to Portugal, in September 1503, he was made Count of Vidigueira, with his seat in land sold to him by the Duke of Bragança (the future royal family of Bragança). He was also awarded feudal rights and jurisdiction over Vidigueira and Vila dos Frades.
Having acquired a fearsome reputation as a "fixer" of problems that arose in India, he was sent to the subcontinent once more in 1524.

The intention was that he was to replace the incompetent Eduardo de Menezes as viceroy (representative) of the Portuguese possessions but he contracted malaria not long after arriving in Goa and died in the city of Cochin on Christmas Eve in 1524.

His body was first buried at St. Francis Church, Fort Kochi, Kochi but his remains were returned to Portugal in 1539 and re-interred in Vidigueira in a splendid tomb.


Azores, 1898, Departure of Fleet

Azores, 1898, Arrival in Calicut

Azores, 1898, Embarkation in Rastello

Azores, 1898, Muse of History

Azores, 1898, Da Gama, Camoes and «Sao Gabriel»

Azores, 1898, Archangel Gabriel

Azores, 1898, «Sao Gabriel»

Azores, 1898, Vasco da Gama

British Indian Ocean Territory, 2009, Vasco da Gama

Ciskei, 1993, Vasco da Gama

Comoren Islands, 2009, Vasco da Gama

France, 2009, Fernao Mendes Pinto & Vasco da Gama

Gambia, 1988, Henry the Navigator and Vasco da Gama

Gambia, 1988, Vasco da Gama

Gambia, 2000, Vasco da Gama's voyage to India

Guinea, 2000, Ship of Vasco da Gama

Guinea, 2000, Vasco da Gama in India

Guinea, 2001, Vasco da Gama

Guinea Bissau, 1981, Vasco da Gama

Guinea Bissau, 2007, Vasco da Gama

Guinea Bissau, 2008, Vasco da Gama

Hungary, 1978, Vasco da Gama

Irland, 1998, Vasco da Gama

Kenya, 1998, Portuguese ships arriving at Malindi

Kenya, 1998, Portuguese ships

Kenya, 1998, Map of Africa

Kenya, 1998, Vasco da Gama Pillar

Korea Nord, 1980, Vasco da Gama

Korea Nord, 1998, Vasco da Gama

Laos, 1992, «Sao Gabriel»

Macao, 1898, Vasco da Gama

Macao, 1898, Departure of Fleet

Macao, 1898, Arrival in Calicut

Macao, 1898, Embarkation in Rastello

Macao, 1898, Muse of History

Macao, 1898, Da Gama, Camoes and «Sao Gabriel»

Macao, 1898, Archangel Gabriel

Macao, 1898, «Sao Gabriel»

Macao, 1898, Vasco da Gama

Macao, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Macao, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Macao, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Macao, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Macao, 1969, Church of Our Lady, Vidigueira

Macao, 1998, «Sao Rafael», Vasco da Gama, «Sao Gabriel»

Macao, 1998, «Sao Rafael», Vasco da Gama, «Sao Gabriel»

Macao, 1998, Compass rose, Vasco da Gama

Macao, 1998, Compass rose, Vasco da Gama

Madeira, 1898, Departure of Fleet

Madeira, 1898, Arrival in Calicut

Madeira, 1898, Embarkation in Rastello

Madeira, 1898, Muse of History

Madeira, 1898, Da Gama, Camoes and «Sao Gabriel»

Madeira, 1898, Archangel Gabriel

Madeira, 1898, «Sao Gabriel»

Madeira, 1898, Vasco da Gama

Marshall Islands, 2000, «Sao Gabriel»

Mozambique, 1924, Overprint «Vasco da Gama 1924»

Mozambique, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Mozambique, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Mozambique, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Mozambique, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Mozambique, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Mozambique, 1963, Statue of Vasco da Gama in Mozambique

Mozambique, 1963, «Sao Gabriel»

Mozambique, 1969, Route Map of Da Gama's Voyage

Mozambique, 2002, Vasco da Gama

Mozambique, 2002, Vasco da Gama

Mozambique Company, 1937, «Sao Gabriel»

New Caledonia, 1998, Departure

New Caledonia, 1998, Fleet at Cape of Good Hope

New Caledonia, 1998, Vasco da Gama meeting Indian king

New Caledonia, 1998, Vasco da Gama

New Caledonia, 1998, Vasco da Gama

Nicaragua, 1996, «Sao Gabriel»

Niger, 1998, «Sao Gabriel»

Niger, 1998, Vasco da Gama

Paraguay, 1974, Blanchard's flight, Vasco da Gama

Portugal, 1898, Departure of Fleet

Portugal, 1898, Arrival in Calicut

Portugal, 1898, Embarkation in Rastello

Portugal, 1898, Muse of History

Portugal, 1898, Da Gama, Camoes and «Sao Gabriel»

Portugal, 1898, Archangel Gabriel

Portugal, 1898, «Sao Gabriel»

Portugal, 1898, Vasco da Gama

Portugal, 1898, Da Gama recieved by the Samorin of Calicut

Portugal, 1898, Da Gama recieved by the Samorin of Calicut

Portugal, 1898, Da Gama recieved by the Samorin of Calicut

Portugal, 1898, Da Gama recieved by the Samorin of Calicut

Portugal, 1898, Da Gama, Camoes and «Sao Gabriel»

Portugal, 1898, Da Gama recieved by the Samorin of Calicut

Portugal, 1945, Vasco da Gama

Portugal, 1969, Vasco da Gama

Portugal, 1969, Arms of Vasco da Gama

Portugal, 1969, Route map

Portugal, 1969, Vasco da Gama's fleet

Portugal, 1980, Vasco da Gama

Portugal, 1992, Vasco da Gama

Portugal, 1996, King Manuel I in Shipyard

Portugal, 1996, Departure from Lisbon

Portugal, 1996, Fleet in Atlantic Ocean

Portugal, 1996, Sailing around Cape of Good Hope

Portugal, 1997, Erecting Landmark Monument

Portugal, 1997, Arrival of fleet in Mozambique

Portugal, 1997, Arrival of fleet in Mombasa

Portugal, 1997, King of Melinde greeting da Gama

Portugal, 1997, Vasco da Gama in Natal

Portugal, 1998, Da Gama with pilot Ibn Madjid

Portugal, 1998, Fleet arriving in Calicut

Portugal, 1998, «Sao Gabriel» in storm

Portugal, 1998, Audience with the Samorin of Calicut

Portugal, 1998, Travel of Vasco da Gama

Portugal, 1998, King of Melinde and Vasco da Gama

Portuguese Africa, 1898, Departure of Fleet

Portuguese Africa, 1898, Arrival in Calicut

Portuguese Africa, 1898, Embarkation in Rastello

Portuguese Africa, 1898, Muse of History

Portuguese Africa, 1898, Da Gama, Camoes and «Sao Gabriel»

Portuguese Africa, 1898, Archangel Gabriel

Portuguese Africa, 1898, «Sao Gabriel»

Portuguese Africa, 1898, Vasco da Gama

Portuguese Guinea, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Portuguese Guinea, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Portuguese Guinea, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Portuguese Guinea, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Portuguese Guinea, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Portuguese Guinea, 1969, Arms of Vasco da Gama

Portuguese India, 1898, Departure of Fleet

Portuguese India, 1898, Arrival in Calicut

Portuguese India, 1898, Embarkation in Rastello

Portuguese India, 1898, Muse of History

Portuguese India, 1898, Da Gama, Camoes and «Sao Gabriel»

Portuguese India, 1898, Archangel Gabriel

Portuguese India, 1898, «Sao Gabriel»

Portuguese India, 1898, Vasco da Gama

Portuguese India, 1925, Vasco da Gama, «Sao Gabriel»

Portuguese India, 1925, Vasco da Gama, «Sao Gabriel»

Portuguese India, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Portuguese India, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Portuguese India, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Portuguese India, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Portuguese India, 1946/1948, Vasco da Gama

Portuguese India, 1956, Vasco da Gama

Portuguese Niassa Company, 1921/1923, Vasco da Gama

Portuguese Niassa Company, 1921/1923, Vasco da Gama

Portuguese Niassa Company, 1921/1923, Vasco da Gama

Portuguese Niassa Company, 1921/1923, Vasco da Gama

Portuguese Niassa Company, 1921/1923, Vasco da Gama

Portuguese Niassa Company, 1921/1923, «Sao Gabriel»

Portuguese Niassa Company, 1921/1923, «Sao Gabriel»

Portuguese Niassa Company, 1921/1923, «Sao Gabriel»

Portuguese Niassa Company, 1921/1923, «Sao Gabriel»

Portuguese Niassa Company, 1921/1923, «Sao Gabriel»

Portuguese Niassa Company, 1924, «Sao Gabriel»

Portuguese Niassa Company, 1924, «Sao Gabriel»

Portuguese Niassa Company, 1924, «Sao Gabriel»

Portuguese Niassa Company, 1924, Vasco da Gama

Portuguese Niassa Company, 1924, Vasco da Gama

Qatar, 1967, «Sao Gabriel»

Sao Tome e Principe, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Sao Tome e Principe, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Sao Tome e Principe, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Sao Tome e Principe, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Sao Tome e Principe, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Sao Tome e Principe, 1939, Vasco da Gama

Sao Tome e Principe, 1939, Vasco da Gama

Sao Tome e Principe, 1939, Vasco da Gama

Sao Tome e Principe, 1939, Vasco da Gama

Sao Tome e Principe, 1939, Vasco da Gama

Sao Tome e Principe, 1969, De Gama's Fleet

Sao Tome e Principe, 1979, «Sao Gabriel»

Sao Tome e Principe, 2004, Vasco da Gama

Sao Tome e Principe, 2008, Vasco da Gama

Senegal, 1997, Da Gama and Ship's containing Spices

Senegal, 1997, Da Gama and map of Africa

Senegal, 1997, Da Gama and «Sao Gabriel»

Senegal, 1997, Da Gama and compass rose

Seychelles, 1981, «Sao Gabriel»

Timor, 1898, Departure of Fleet

Timor, 1898, Arrival in Calicut

Timor, 1898, Embarkation in Rastello

Timor, 1898, Muse of History

Timor, 1898, Da Gama, Camoes and «Sao Gabriel»

Timor, 1898, Archangel Gabriel

Timor, 1898, Flagship «Sao Gabriel»

Timor, 1898, Vasco da Gama

Timor, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Timor, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Timor, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Timor, 1938, Vasco da Gama

Timor, 1969, Convert Medalion

Uganda, 1989, Vasco da Gama, caravel

Umm al Quiwain, 1972, Vasco da Gama, «Sao Gabriel»

Zil Elwagne Sesel, 1985, Da Gama and «Sao Gabriel»

Macedonia, 1997.11.29, Skopje. Marco Polo

Portugal, 1982, Vasco da Gama

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