Died At Age: 50
Born in: Algarve
Famous as: Portuguese explorer
siblings: Diogo Dias, Pêro Dias
children: António Dias de Novais, Simão Dias de Novais
Died on: May 29, 1500
place of death: Cape of Good Hope
Cause of Death: Drowning
education: University of Lisbon
Bartolomeu Dias was a Portuguese explorer who became the first European to reach Indian Ocean from the Atlantic. A nobleman of the Portuguese royal household, he is considered to be one of the greatest of the Portuguese pioneers who explored the Atlantic. He earned a reputation for himself as the leader of a difficult expedition which rounded what was to become known as the Cape of Good Hope in Africa, and then sailed around the continent’s southernmost point, Cabo das Agulhas, to reach the Indian Ocean. He served as a knight and sailing-master of the man-of-war during the reign of King John II of Portugal who appointed him to head an expedition to sail around the southern tip of Africa in the hope of finding a trade route to India. Even though Portugal had already established trade relations with the Asian countries, the king was interested in discovering an easier route to reach the Indian subcontinent. The expedition proved to be a very difficult one, and Dias faced several violent storms on his journey. He was ultimately successful in discovering the passage around southern Africa which was later named “Cape of Good Hope”. As an experienced explorer he also helped in the construction of ships that were used by fellow explorer Vasco da Gama.
Childhood & Early Life
Almost nothing is known about Bartolomeu Dias’ childhood and early life. It is believed that he was born around 1450, in Algarve, Kingdom of Portugal. His parentage is also not known.
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Dias was employed as a knight of the royal court. He also served as the superintendent of the royal warehouses, and sailing-master of the man-of-war, ‘São Cristóvão’ (Saint Christopher). It is believed that he was an experienced sailor.
King John II of Portugal ascended the throne in 1481 and focused on the exploration of the coasts of Africa in order to seek new trade routes to Asian countries that would enable Portugal to establish foreign trade with prosperous nations like India. He appointed many navigators to embark on expeditions to explore new routes and stake the claims of the Portuguese crown in newly discovered lands.
In 1487, the king appointed Bartolomeu Dias to lead an expedition in search of a sea route to India. The king had heard of a legendary Christian priest and ruler ruler called Prester John who was rumored to rule over a vast kingdom in Ethiopia. Dias was also entrusted with discovering the lands ruled by Prester John.
He set sail around August 1487. Dias’s fleet consisted of three ships: his own São Cristóvão, the São Pantaleão, and a square-rigged support ship. His crew included some of the leading pilots of the day like Pêro de Alenquer and João de Santiago, who had been on previous expeditions to the African continent. The expedition party also included six Africans who had been brought to Portugal by earlier explorers.
The men sailed south along the West coast of Africa and collected extra provisions on the way at the Portuguese fortress of São Jorge de Mina on the Gold Coast. As the ships sailed off the coast of South Africa, they encountered violent storms but somehow managed to survive and continue the expedition.
After a few days, they spotted land, about 300 miles east of present-day Cape of Good Hope. Then they entered the much warmer waters of the Indian Ocean. By March 1488, the expedition’s supplies were dwindling and the men were desperate to turn back. The expedition reached its furthest point on 12 March 1488 when they anchored at Kwaaihoek and planted a padrão to mark the easternmost point of Portuguese exploration.
On their return journey, Dias discovered the cape that would become known as the Cape of Good Hope. After spending 16 months on the expedition, Dias returned to Portugal in December 1488.
After his expedition he lived for a while in Guinea in West Africa, where Portugal had established a gold-trading site. Later on, the new King Manuel I asked him to help in building ships for the expedition of Vasco da Gama. Dias even sailed with the da Gama expedition as far as the Cape Verde Islands before returning to Guinea.
He became a part of the second Indian expedition headed by Pedro Álvares Cabral in 1500. The crew landed on the coast of Brazil on April 22, 1500 and then continued eastwards to India. The expedition however encountered storms near the Cape of Good Hope, and four of the ships, including Dias’, were lost at sea.
Bartolomeu Dias is credited with exploring the rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula, South Africa, which later became known as the Cape of Good Hope. His discovery of the passage around the cape was a milestone in the attempts by the Portuguese to establish direct trade relations with the Far East.
Personal Life & Legacy
He was married and had two children, Simão Dias de Novais and António Dias de Novais.
Bartolomeu Dias perished on the second Indian expedition in which he was one of the captains. Four ships in the expedition, including his own, encountered a violent storm while attempting to travel around the Cape of Good Hope in 1500 and were lost. Dias died in the storm along with the other occupants of the ill-fated ships.