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World Explorers: Vasco da Gama

5 minutes

(female narrator) By the late 15th century, to bypass the long and treacherous overland Silk Road, Europeans endeavored to find a sea route to the spices and other luxuries of Asia. In 1497, the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama was the first person to sail from Europe to India, establishing a direct route to Asian trade ports for Portugal.

(Describer) Titles: PBS Education. World Explorers: Vasco da Gama.

(Describer) A map zooms in on western Europe, and the pointer on a timeline goes to 1460. Portugal is highlighted next to Spain.

Born into a noble Portuguese family around 1460, Vasco da Gama joined the navy, earning a reputation as a determined navigator by the age of 30. He was so fearless that when the French disrupted Portuguese shipping, King John II of Portugal sent him to seize French ships as retaliation against the French king. In 1495, King Manuel I inherited the Portuguese throne. He commissioned da Gama to find a sea route from Portugal to India, in hopes of controlling trade through the Indian Ocean to Asian ports. Powerful Arab traders had enjoyed a monopoly on trade with India and East Asia, living along the shores of the Indian Ocean. On July 8, 1497, da Gama departed Portugal with four ships. He sailed along the west coast of Africa, rounding the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean that November. After resting a month in Mozambique, da Gama continued to Mombasa and Malindi in present-day Kenya to establish a Portuguese presence in those East African ports. From there, da Gama crossed the Indian Ocean and on May 20th, 1498, reached Calicut, the most important trading center in Southern India. But Calicut's leader, Zamorin, was not impressed with da Gama's gifts. He took offense that the Europeans assumed his people were Christians when they were Hindus. Da Gama's attempts to establish a trade relationship with Calicut for Portugal failed. Da Gama left Calicut just three months after arrival. Unfortunately, he departed during monsoon season. The return voyage took nearly a year and only 54 of the crew's original 170 members survived. Still, da Gama was greeted as a hero. After all, he was the first European to successfully navigate from Europe to India, opening the trade route for Portugal. In three years, da Gama was ready for a second India trip, with 20 ships and the king's command that he ensure kingdoms throughout the Indian Ocean agree to trade with Portugal. So da Gama attacked Arab trade ships, threatened to burn African ports that refused to swear loyalty to King Manuel, and forged alliances with the rules of Cochin and Goa, Zamorin's enemies in India. Finally, da Gama bombarded Calicut itself, as revenge for Zamorin's previous rejection. Da Gama returned to Portugal in October of 1503. He was richly rewarded for his efforts and, for the next 20 years, advised the king on matters pertaining to India. During this time, Portugal established numerous colonies in East Africa and India. In 1524, King John III appointed him as Portuguese viceroy in India. He traveled there to investigate the growing corruption of the Portuguese government. It was da Gama's last trip. He died in Cochin in December, 1524. Da Gama's historic voyages from Portugal to India successfully opened the door to Portuguese colonialism in Africa and Asia. Just two years after da Gama reached India, Portugal claimed Brazil in South America, making it the first global empire in history. The Portuguese empire lasted until 2002, when it granted sovereignty to its last remaining colony.

(Describer) A map of da Gama's journeys covers a globe.

The port city of Vasco da Gama in Goa, India, is named after him, as is the crater Vasco da Gama on the moon. Accessibility provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

(Describer) Titles: PBS Education. World Explorers: Vasco da Gama. Accessibility provided by the US Department of Education.

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In order to bypass the treacherous Silk Roads, Vasco da Gama became the first person to find a sea route from Europe to Asia's lucrative trade centers. Born into a noble Portuguese family, he was a talented navigator and ship captain. Part of the "World Explorers" series.

Media Details

Runtime: 5 minutes

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