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Famous Explorers | Bartolomeu Dias

Updated on May 26, 2014
Bartolomeu Dias
Bartolomeu Dias

Bartolomeu Dias was a famous explorer and sailor from Portugal (1450-29/5/1500), he was leader of an expedition to sail around the southern tip of Africa into the Indian Ocean.

It is difficult to reconstruct accurately the life of Bartolomeu Dias. Little is known about his early life. No information regarding the date and place of his birth, and the data available prior to the trip that made him famous, we can only say with certainty that Bartolomeu Dias was squire of King John II, and, accompanied Diogo de Azambuja to S. Jorge da Mina, helping him in taking the fortress.

In 1478 he was involved in actions of Corso and that would have been the reason that led the king to grant him the royal fifth of the prey taken by him. Certainly belonged to the gentry as many captains of his time.

When King John II ascended to the throne, it became clear that one of its major objectives was the arrival in the East, and that his efforts would address particularly in finding a sea route linking the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean.

In 1486 Bartolomeu Dias was instructed to find the southern limit of the African continent and leads a fleet of three ships, according to most historians.

Bartolomeu Dias was appointed chief captain of a fleet consisting of two caravels and a support ship, carrying the supplies.

The fleet left Lisbon in August 1487, and would have followed the course used in other trips, and supplyied up, probably in S. Jorge da Mina.

In December, the expedition had already reached the limit of the trips of Diogo Cao. Already in 1488 the fleet reaches the "Angra das Voltas", where southeast winds forced him to abandon coastal navigation, forcing him to enter the open sea.

They then sail to Southwest, and only after a few days turn again to sail to the East.

However as they don't see any coastline, Dias decided to head north, and, having found land, the men became convinced they had reached the southern tip of the African continent, and therefore entered the Indian Ocean.

The navigators then decided to undertake the return journey, and only at that time they found and explored the Cape of Storms (name later changed to Cape of Good Hope by King John II). The two caravels arrived in Lisbon in December 1488, after sixteen months and seventeen days of travel.

Bartolomeu Dias voyage map
Bartolomeu Dias voyage map

We know that after returning to Lisbon was the recipient of the Warehouse of Guinea between 1494 and 1500.

In 1497 is part of the crew of Vasco da Gama. Three years later is among the officers of Pedro Alvares Cabral who participate in the discovery of Brazil. After taking possession of the new found land, Cabral's fleet departs for the Indies. When passing the Cape of Good Hope, several ships sink because of heavy storms, including that of Bartolomeu Dias, who died in the accident.

The name of Bartolomeu Dias will be linked to entry into a new world, which completely transformed the Ptolemaic worldview of his contemporaries. His travels gave an essential contribution to the construction of a new route that would prove crucial to reach India. The axis of the economy, passed from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean.

The determination to fulfill his mission, overcoming fears, winds and storms, had profound consequences in human history. Without knowing it, Dias contributed decisively to a definite change in the history of the Europe, the Atlantic Ocean and the World.

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