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Vasco da Gama - Important Figures in History

Vasco de Gama was a Portuguese explorer and the first European to reach India by sea.

Vasco da Gama was a Portuguese navigator and explorer who became the first person to sail directly from Europe to India. He made several voyages to India. By the time he returned from his first voyage to India in 1499, he had spent 300 days at sea, more than two years from home, and had covered a distance of 24,000 miles. Da Gama sailed with a crew of 170 and returned with only 54 - most of his men died from diseases like scurvy. His brother Paolo was among who died.

5. Early Life

Details of Vasco da Gama’s early life are not precisely known. He was born to Estevao da Gama and Isabel Sodre in the period between 1460 and 1469 along with five brothers and one sister. He is thought to have learned mathematics and navigation at Evora town. He joined his father’s Order of Santiago around 1480. He married a woman of noble birth after his first voyage and had six sons and one daughter.

4. Career

Vasco da Gama spent most of his life from around the age of twenty as a sea navigator. His first mission was to map a sea route to India via the southern coast of Africa. During this time, John II, the king of Portugal, sought a way to break through the spice trade between Europe and Asia. Da Gama began his voyage on July 8, 1497, with a crew of 170 men and four ships. The fleet made stops at Mozambique, Mombasa and the friendly Malindi before moving on to Calicut on the coast of India in May 1498. India welcomed him warmly, but soon the relations were spoilt by the cheap gifts he offered in India and conflicts with Muslim traders. He abandoned his mission and returned to Portugal having failed at securing a trade treaty in Calicut. He made two other voyages to India before his death in 1524.

3. Challenges

During his voyages, da Gama faced challenges such as unpredictable weather changes, attacks from other sailors, hostilities in the towns he stopped by, and the death of his crew members especially due to scurvy and loss of vessels. Food supplies also posed a problem to his crew as they spoilt fast. Poor relations with the leaders in Calicut kept him from successfully signing a trade treaty between India and Portugal.

2. Major Contributions

Vasco da Gama is widely recognized for mapping the route to India which opened up trade between Portugal and India. His voyage encouraged the Portuguese crown to establish trade posts on the eastern coast of Africa with a view of maintaining Portugal’s trade routes. He played a significant role in establishing Portugal as an early colonizing power along the east coast of Africa. For his contributions, he was awarded titles and honors such as the Admiral of the Seas of Arabia, Persia and all the Orient as Chief of the Portuguese India Armadas, the Second Viceroy of India, and as the First Count of Vidigueira.

1. Death and Legacy

Vasco da Gama died three months after his third voyage to India in 1524 after contracting malaria. He was initially buried in India, but his remains were transferred to Portugal and interred in the Monastery of the Hieronymites. Da Gama is recognized as one of the pioneering sea navigators in the Europe to East sea route. The Vasco da Gama Church in Kerala, the Vasco da Gama port city in Goa, the Vasco da Gama tower, football clubs and the Vasco da Gama Bridge are some of the establishments in his honor.

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