Vasco da Gama Biography
Died At Age: 55
Also Known As: D. Vasco da Gama
Born in: Sines, Portugal
Famous as: Explorer
Spouse/Ex-: Catarina de Ataíde
father: Estêvão da Gama
mother: Isabel Sodré
siblings: Aires da Gama, João Sodré da Gama, Paulo da Gama, Pedro da Gama, Teresa da Gama
children: Cristóvão da Gama, Estêvão da Gama, Francisco da Gama, Paulo da Gama, Pedro de Silva da Gama
Died on: December 24, 1524
place of death: Kochi
Vasco da Gama was a Portuguese explorer who was the first European to reach India by sea. As the first person to sail directly from Europe to India, he linked Europe and Asia by ocean route, opening up vast trade and political opportunities for the Portuguese who no longer needed to traverse the dangerous and risky routes they previously used to. The discovery of the new sea route enabled the Portuguese to easily reach Asia and establish their colonial rule. Born as one of the sons of a wealthy knight, Vasco da Gama grew up to be a brave and curious young man. He is believed to have been educated in mathematics and navigation before joining the navy. He first proved his capabilities when King John II of Portugal sent him on a mission to the south of Lisbon and then to the Algarve region of the country to seize French ships in order to prove a political point to the French government which had disrupted Portugal shipping. The successful completion of this mission established him as a fearless sailor and earned him popularity. Later on when King Manuel ascended to the throne, he sent da Gama on a mission to find a maritime route to the East. The successful discovery of the direct sea route to India earned him much respect and he was made the Portuguese viceroy in India.
- There is some confusion regarding the year of his birth. Vasco da Gama is believed to have been born in either 1460 or 1469 in Sines, on the southwest coast of Portugal. His father Estêvão da Gama was a wealthy knight and his mother Isabel Sodré was daughter of João Sodré, a prominent figure in the military Order of Christ. He had four brothers and one sister.
- Not much is known about his early life, though certain sources suggest that the studied at the town of Evora. He is believed to have been trained in mathematics and navigation. Da Gama also claimed to have studied under the astrologer and astronomer, Abraham Zacuto though this claim was never verified.
- Vasco da Gama joined the Order of Santiago around 1480. King John II of Portugal, who ascended to the throne in 1481 held the Order in high regard and this proved beneficial for the future career of da Gama.
- The king dispatched da Gama on a mission to the port of Setúbal and to the Algarve in 1492. The French government had earlier disrupted Portuguese shipping and John II wanted da Gama to seize French ships in an act of retaliation. Da Gama, a fearless navigator, effortlessly performed the given task and received praise from the overjoyed king.
- In 1495, King Manuel ascended to the throne, and he too, like his predecessor was much in favor of the da Gama family. By this time, Portugal which had established itself as one of the most powerful maritime countries in Europe revived its earlier mission to find a direct trade route to India.
- Vasco da Gama was chosen to lead the expedition to India in 1497. Captaining a fleet of four vessels, including his flagship, St. Gabriel, he set off in July 1497 to find a sailing route to India and the East.
- The expedition first sailed south down the coast of Africa and then turned out into the Atlantic before swinging back in an arc to arrive at the southern African coast. Then the ships reached the Cape of Good Hope and moved toward the uncharted waters of the Indian Ocean. The explorers finally reached the Indian coast, at Calicut (now Kozhikode) in May 1498, thus successfully discovering the all-water route from Europe to Asia. The explorers returned to Portugal after a difficult journey back home in 1499.
- Da Gama received a hero’s welcome back home and was showered with many rewards by the king. The king sent him on another voyage to India in 1502 with the aim of securing Portugal's dominance in the region.
- On this voyage the explorers attacked Muslim ships, terrorized Muslim ports along the African east coast, and upon reaching Calicut, India, destroyed the city's trade port and killed several hostages. He returned from this voyage in 1503. The king did not consider this voyage to be a success and thus da Gama did not receive any rewards.
- Da Gama lived a quiet life for the next two decades. In 1521, King Manuel I died and was succeeded by his son King John III of Portugal. John III decided to appoint Vasco da Gama as the Viceroy of India in 1524.
- The king sent da Gama on his third voyage to India in April 1524 with a fleet of 14 ships. After a troubled journey, the fleet arrived in India. This proved to be da Gama’s final voyage as he died within three months of arriving in India.
- Vasco da Gama’s biggest contribution to Portuguese was the discovery of a direct sea route linking Europe and Asia for the first time. This feat, accomplished on his first voyage to India not only opened up many avenues for world trade but also paved the way for Portuguese colonization in Asia.
- Vasco da Gama married Catarina de Ataíde around 1501. His wife was the daughter of Álvaro de Ataíde, the alcaide-mór of Alvor (Algarve), and a prominent nobleman. The couple had six sons and one daughter.
- Da Gama embarked on his third voyage to India in 1524. He contracted malaria not long after his arrival in India and his health declined steadily. He died in Cochin on Christmas Eve in 1524. He was initially buried in Kochi but later on his remains were returned to Portugal in 1539.
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