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Vasco da Gama

Nationality: Portuguese

Born: c. 1460’s

Died: December 24th, 1524

Vasco da Gama was a Portuguese explorer. He led the first expedition that traveled from Europe to India by sailing around Africa.

Vasco da Gama was born in a small coastal town in Portugal named Sines. His father was a knight and an explorer. He followed in his father's footsteps and soon commanded ships in the king's name.

Spices from India were very popular in Europe, however, the only way to travel from Europe to India was over land. The King of Portugal figured if he could find a way to get to India by sailing on the ocean, he would become rich trading spices in Europe.

The explorer Bartolomeu Dias had discovered the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of Africa. It was thought that there may be a way around the Cape and to the northeast towards India.

Vasco da Gama was given a fleet of ships by the king and told to find a trade route around Africa to India. He was also told to find any other trading opportunities along the way.

Vasco da Gama left on his first voyage from Lisbon, Portugal on July 8, 1497. He had 170 men and 4 ships.

The expedition rounded the southern tip of Africa at the Cape of Good Hope on November 22. They headed north up the coast of Africa. They stopped at trading ports along the way including Mombasa and Malindi. At Malindi they gained a local navigator who knew the direction to India. With the help of a Monsoon wind they were able to cross the Indian Ocean and arrive in Calicut, India in less than a month.

At Calicut, Vasco ran into issues when trying to trade. He had brought little of value in his ships. Soon he had to leave. The voyage back was disastrous. Around half of his crew died from scurvy as the trip back took much longer. However, when he returned home, he was a hero. He had found the much needed trade route to India.

Vasco da Gama commanded two more fleets to India. The second voyage was more of a military expedition. On the third voyage Vasco was to take over as Viceroy of Portuguese India. However, he died of malaria shortly after arriving.

Vasco da Gama is a Great Utopian for the distances he covered in the outward and return voyages that made his great expedition the longest ocean voyage ever made until then, far longer than a full voyage around the world by way of the Equator. Furthermore, this voyage was the first to link Europe and Asia by an ocean route, connecting the Atlantic and the Indian oceans.

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