Vasco da Gama Biography

Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese explorer, holds the distinction of being the first European to reach India by sea. His groundbreaking achievement not only connected Europe and Asia through an ocean route but also revolutionized trade and politics for the Portuguese. Previously, they had to navigate treacherous routes, but with the discovery of this new sea route, they could easily establish their colonial rule in Asia. Da Gama’s journey began as a young and inquisitive man, educated in mathematics and navigation. His bravery and skills were proven when he successfully completed a mission for King John II, seizing French ships to assert Portugal’s power. Recognizing his capabilities, King Manuel entrusted da Gama with a mission to find a direct maritime route to the East. His triumphant discovery of the sea route to India earned him great respect and the prestigious position of Portuguese viceroy in India.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: D. Vasco da Gama
  • Died At Age: 55
  • Family:
    • 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: Álvaro d’Ataide da Gama, Cristóvão da Gama, Estêvão da Gama, Francisco da Gama, Isabel d’Ataide da Gama, Paulo da Gama, Pedro de Silva da Gama
  • Born Country: Portugal
  • Explorers
  • Portuguese Men
  • Died on: December 24, 1524
  • Place of death: Kochi, Kerala

Childhood & Early Life

There is some confusion regarding the year of Vasco da Gama’s birth. He is believed to have been born in either 1460 or 1469 in Sines, Portugal. His father, Estêvão da Gama, was a wealthy knight, and his mother, Isabel Sodré, was the daughter of João Sodré, a prominent figure in the military Order of Christ. Da Gama had four brothers and one sister. Not much is known about his early life, but some sources suggest that he studied in 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, which proved beneficial for da Gama’s future career. In 1492, the king dispatched da Gama on a mission to the port of Setúbal and to the Algarve. The French government had earlier disrupted Portuguese shipping, and John II wanted da Gama to seize French ships in retaliation. Da Gama successfully completed the task and received praise from the king.

In 1495, King Manuel ascended to the throne and continued to support the da Gama family. Portugal, which had established itself as one of the most powerful maritime countries in Europe, revived its mission to find a direct trade route to India. Vasco da Gama was chosen to lead the expedition in 1497. He captained a fleet of four vessels, including his flagship, St. Gabriel, and set off in July 1497 to find a sailing route to India and the East.

The expedition sailed down the coast of Africa, turned into the Atlantic, and then swung back in an arc to arrive at the southern African coast. The ships reached the Cape of Good Hope and moved toward the uncharted waters of the Indian Ocean. In May 1498, the explorers finally reached the Indian coast at Calicut (now Kozhikode), successfully discovering the all-water route from Europe to Asia. They returned to Portugal in 1499, where da Gama received a hero’s welcome and many rewards from the king.

Da Gama was sent on another voyage to India in 1502 to secure Portugal’s dominance in the region. On this voyage, the explorers attacked Muslim ships and ports along the African east coast. In Calicut, India, they destroyed the city’s trade port and killed several hostages. Da Gama returned from this voyage in 1503, but the king did not consider it a success, and da Gama did not receive any rewards.

For the next two decades, da Gama lived a quiet life. In 1521, King Manuel I died, and his son, King John III of Portugal, appointed Vasco da Gama as the Viceroy of India in 1524. Da Gama embarked on his third voyage to India in April 1524 with a fleet of 14 ships. After a troubled journey, the fleet arrived in India. However, da Gama’s health declined steadily, and he died in Cochin on Christmas Eve in 1524. He was initially buried in Kochi but later his remains were returned to Portugal in 1539.

Major Work

Vasco da Gama’s biggest contribution to Portugal 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.

Personal Life & Legacy

Vasco da Gama married Catarina de Ataíde around 1501. They had six sons and one daughter. Da Gama embarked on his third voyage to India in 1524 but contracted malaria shortly after his arrival and his health declined. He died in Cochin on Christmas Eve in 1524. His remains were initially buried in Kochi but later returned to Portugal in 1539.

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