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Vasco da Gama Biography

Last updated date: 23rd Apr 2024
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Vasco da Gama

Vasco da Gama was a Portuguese explorer, the first person to sail directly from Europe to India, and one of the most influential in the European Age of Exploration. Commissioned to find Christian lands in the East by King Manuel I of Portugal (the king, was under the impression that India was the mythical Christian kingdom of Prester John) and to obtain Portuguese access to the commercial markets of the Orient, Vasco da Gama expanded the discovery of the sea route of his predecessor, Bartolomeu Dias, who had first rounded the Cape of Good Hope in Africa. Vasco da Gama was born into a noble family. In 1497, he was given command of a Portuguese government-equipped expedition tasked with discovering a maritime route to the East. He became sick after arriving in Cochin. He died on December 24, 1524, and was buried in a Catholic church in Kochi but in 1538, his remains were returned to Portugal.

In this Vasco da Gama biography, we will learn about Vasco da Gama’s early life, his voyages, his explorations and his family.

About Vasco da Gama

Vasco da Gama was born in the town of Sines, one of the few seaports on the Alentejo coast, southwest of Portugal, possibly in a house near the church of Nossa Senhora das Salas. His father, Estêvão da Gama, had served as the household knight of Infante Ferdinand, Duke of Viseu, in the 1460s. He rose to the ranks of the Santiago Military Order. In the 1460s, Estêvão da Gama was appointed as the alcaide-mór (civil governor) of Sines. After 1478, he remained in the region as receiver of taxes and keeper of commendas of the Order.

Isabel Sodré, daughter of João Sodré, a scion of a well-connected family of English descent, married Estêvão da Gama. Her father and her brothers, Vicente Sodré and Brás Sodré, were related to the household of the Duke of Viseu,Infante Diogo and were prominent people in Christ's military order. Vasco da Gama was the third son of Estêvão da Gama and Isabel Sodré. His siblings were: Paulo da Gama, João Sodré, Pedro da Gama and Aires da Gama. Vasco had a well-known niece, Teresa da Gama, too (who married Lopo Mendes de Vasconcelos).

For his services to the crown, he was created count of Vidigueira. Without the use of the expensive and dangerous Silk Road caravan routes of the Middle East and Central Asia, Da Gama's trip was successful in creating a sea route from Europe to India that would enable trade with the Far East. The voyage, however, was also hindered by its inability to deliver to the nations of Asia Minor and India any commercial goods of interest. The path was fraught with danger: in 1499, only 54 of his 170 voyagers and two of his four ships came back to Portugal.

Exploration Before Vasco da Gama

From the early 15th century, the nautical school of Henry the Navigator had been extending Portuguese knowledge of the African coastline. From the 1460s, the goal had become one of rounding the southern extremity of that continent to gain easier access through a reliable sea route to the riches of India (mainly black pepper and other spices).

These long-term plans were coming to fruition by the time da Gama was ten years old. Having explored as far as the Fish River (Rio do Infante) in modern-day South Africa, Bartolomeu Dias had returned from rounding the Cape of Good Hope and verified that the unknown coast stretched to the northeast.

The hypothesis that India was accessible from the Atlantic Ocean by sea was reinforced by simultaneous land discovery during the reign of João II of Portugal. Pêro da Covilhã and Afonso de Paiva were sent to Alexandria via Barcelona, Naples, and Rhodes, and from there to Aden, Hormuz, and India, which provided the theory with credence. The relation between the findings of Dias and those of da Covilhã and de Paiva remained for an explorer to prove and to link these separate segments of a potentially lucrative trade route into the Indian Ocean.

Manuel I of Portugal, on the strength of his record of protecting Portuguese trading stations along the African Gold Coast from French depredation, offered the mission, originally given to Vasco Da Gama's father, to him.

Vasco Da Gama First Voyage

Vasco da Gama led a fleet of four ships with a crew of 170 men from Lisbon on 8 July 1497. The distance travelled to India and back around Africa was greater than around the equator. The navigators were Pero de Alenquer, Pedro Escobar, João de Coimbra, and Afonso Gonçalves, the most experienced in Portugal. How many individuals were in each ship's crew is not known for sure, but about 55 returned, and two ships were lost. Two of the vessels, newly constructed for the voyage, were carracks; the others were caravels and supply ships.

The Vasco Da Gama ship name were:

  • São Gabriel, commanded by Vasco da Gama; was a carrack of 178 tons, 27 m long, 8,5 m high, 2,3 m drawn, 372 m2 sails, 27 m long, 8,5 m wide, 2,3 m drawn, 372 m2 sails.

  • São Rafael, under the direction of his brother Paulo da Gama; a dimension close to that of São Gabriel.

  • A caravel, slightly smaller than the former two, commanded by Nicolau Coelho, Berrio (nickname, officially called São Miguel).

  • Storage ship of unknown name, under the order of Gonçalo Nunes, doomed to be scuttled in South Africa's Mossel Bay (São Brás).

Rounding the Cape

The fleet had crossed the White River, South Africa, by December 16, where Dias had turned around and went on to waters unknown to Europeans. They gave the coast the name Natal ("Christmas" in Portuguese) with Christmas pending.


Vasco da Gama lived in the vicinity of Mozambique Island from 2 to 29 March 1498. An integral part of the trade network in the Indian Ocean was Arab-controlled territories on the East African coast. Da Gama impersonated a Muslim and obtained an audience with the Sultan of Mozambique, fearing the local population would be hostile to Christians.


Vasco da Gama went further north, arriving at the more peaceful port of Malindi on 14 April 1498, whose leaders were in dispute with those of Mombasa. The expedition first noted signs of Indian merchants there. A pilot who used his knowledge of the monsoon winds to direct the expedition the rest of the way to Calicut, situated on the southwestern coast of India,  was hired by Da Gama and his crew for services. Sources vary about the pilot's nationality, naming him a Christian, a Muslim, and a Gujarati in different ways.

Vasco Da Gama in India

On May 20th, 1498, the fleet arrived at Kappadu, near Kozhikode (Calicut), on the coast of Malabar (now the state of Kerala in India). The Samudiri (Zamorin) King of Calicut, who was staying in his second capital at Ponnani at that time, returned to Calicut upon hearing the news of the arrival of the foreign fleet. The navigator was greeted with traditional hospitality, including a grand parade of at least 3,000 armed Nairs, but no clear results were obtained in an interview with the Zamorin.


Paulo da Gama died on a journey home in the Azores, but on the return of Vasco da Gama to Portugal in September 1499, he was richly rewarded as the man who brought to life an eighty-year-old scheme. The title "Admiral of the Indian Ocean," was granted to him, and the feudal rights over the Sines were confirmed. Manuel I also awarded him the title Dom (count). The journey of Da Gama made it clear that the farther (East) coast of Africa, the Contra Costa, was important to Portuguese interests: its ports offered fresh water and supplies, timber and harbours for repairs, and an area waiting for unfavourable seasons.

Vasco Da Gama Second Voyage

On February 12, 1502, da Gama again sailed to enforce Portuguese interests with a fleet of 20 warships. Two years ago, Pedro Álvares Cabral had been sent to India (when he mistakenly found Brazil, although some say it was deliberate), and when he discovered that those at the trading post had been killed and faced more opposition, Calicut had been bombed. He also took silk and gold back to show that he had once again been to India.

At one point, da Gama was waiting for a ship to return from Mecca, seizing all the goods, locking the 380 passengers in the hold, and setting the ship on fire. It took the ship four days to sink, killing all the men, children, and kids.

Da Gama invaded and paid tribute to one of those ports involved in frustrating the Portuguese, from the Arab-controlled port of Kilwa in East Africa; he played privateer among Arab merchant ships, then finally crushed a Calicut fleet of twenty-nine ships, and effectively conquered that port city. He obtained lucrative trading terms and a large amount of loot in exchange for peace, placing him in extremely good favour with the Portuguese crown.

He was made Count of Vidigueira on his return to Portugal from lands previously belonging to the future royal family of Bragança. Feudal rights and authority over Vidigueira and Vila dos Frades were also given to him.

Vasco Da Gama Third Voyage

Da Gama was sent to the subcontinent once again in 1524 after gaining a formidable reputation as a "fixer" of problems that emerged in India. The plan was to succeed the inept Eduardo de Menezes as viceroy (representative) of Portuguese possessions, but not long after arriving in Goa, he contracted malaria and died on Christmas Eve in 1524 in the city of Cochin. His body was first buried in the church of St. Francis, Fort Kochi, then his remains were later returned to Portugal in 1539 and buried in a magnificent tomb in Vidigueira. The Hieronymites Monastery in Belém, Lisbon, was erected in honour of his journey to India.

Vasco Da Gama Marriage and Children

With his wife, Catarina de Ataíde, Vasco da Gama had six sons and one daughter:

  • Dom Francisco da Gama, who inherited the titles of 2nd Count of Vidigueira and 2nd "Admiral of the Seas of India, Arabia and Persia" from his father. He lived in Portugal.

  • Dom Estevão da Gama was appointed captain of Malacca for a three-year period, serving from 1534 to 1539 (including the last two years of the term of his younger brother Paulo) after his abortive 1524 term as Indian patrol captain. From 1540 to 1542, he was subsequently appointed as the 11th governor of India.

  • From 1533 to 1534, Dom Paulo da Gama (having the same name as his uncle Paulo), Captain of Malacca, was killed off Malacca in a naval action.

  • Dom Cristóvão da Gama, Captain of Malacca from 1538 to 1540; nominated for a performance in Malacca, but executed during the 1542 Ethiopian-Adal War by Ahmad ibn Ibrahim.

  • From 1548 to 1552, Dom Pedro da Silva da Gama was appointed captain of Malacca.

  • In the 1540s, Dom Álvaro d'Ataide da Gama was appointed captain of the Malacca fleet and, from 1552 to 1554, captain of Malacca itself.

  • The only daughter of Dona Isabel d'Ataide da Gama was Ignacio de Noronha, the son of the first Count of Linhares.


Vasco De Gama is credited with being the first European to discover an ocean trade route to India. He did something that few explorers before him had been able to do. The Portuguese were able to establish a long-lasting colonial empire in Asia and Africa thanks to his discovery of this sea path.

Portuguese sailors were able to escape the Arab trade blockade in the Mediterranean and the Middle East thanks to the modern ocean path around Africa. Portugal's economy benefited from increased access to the Indian spice routes. By opening up an Indian Ocean path, Vasco da Gama opened up a new world of riches. His voyages and explorations aided in the transformation of the globe for Europeans.

FAQs on Vasco da Gama Biography

Q1. Who is Vasco Da Gama?

Ans. Vasco da Gama was a Portuguese sailor (1460 or 1469 - December 24th, 1524). He was the first European who found India, and travelled to our country, via the Cape of Good Hope. He's been to India by ship three times. In Sines, Portugal, Da Gama was born.

Q2. Who Discovered India?

Ans. As the Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama arrived at Calicut on the Malabar Coast, he became the first European to enter India through the Atlantic Ocean. In July 1497, Da Gama sailed from Lisbon, Portugal, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and anchored on the east coast of Africa at Malindi.