10 Major Accomplishments of Explorer Vasco da Gama


Vasco da Gama was a Portuguese explorer who is famous for being the first European to reach India by sea thus establishing a maritime route between Europe and Asia. His discovery had far reaching consequences not only giving a huge boost to the economy of his country through trade but also leading the way to European imperialism in the East. Know about the contribution of Vasco da Gama though his 10 major accomplishments and achievements.


#1 Vasco da Gama linked Europe and Asia through an ocean route for the first time

The Age of Discovery was a period of global exploration that started in the early 15th century and was primarily initiated by Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal. One of the principal aims of the explorers of the period was to find an ocean route between Western Europe and Asia. Vasco da Gama realized that quest to become the first European to link Europe and Asia by a maritime route.

Vasco da Gama voyage route
The route followed in Vasco da Gama’s first voyage (1497–1499)


#2 His discovery is considered a milestone in world history

Da Gama’s trip to India which established a maritime route from Europe to Asia had far reaching consequences. It enhanced the European economy through trade with the east, which was previously dominated by Muslims due to their geographical position. It led to an era of European imperialism in the East making European countries world leaders and it also marked the advent of global multiculturalism.

Vasco da Gama's ship
A depiction of Vasco da Gama’s ship


#3 He led the Portuguese expedition to India

In 1488, Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias became the first European to reach the Indian Ocean through the Atlantic, hence proving they were connected and sparking interest in establishing a maritime route to the East. King Manuel I of Portugal chose Vasco da Gama to lead a fleet in search of an ocean route to India. The expedition which consisted of four ships and a crew of around 170 men set sail from city of Lisbon on 8 July 1497.

Vasco da Gama leaving the port of Lisbon
A depiction of Vasco da Gama leaving the port of Lisbon in Portugal


#4 He was the first known European to visit Mombasa

A part of the route required Da Gama’s fleet to sail more than 10,000 kilometres of open sea. At that time this was the longest journey ever made out of sight of land. Da Gama and his crew also overcame the challenge of sailing through waters which were previously unknown to Europeans. In April 1498, they became the first Europeans to visit the port of Mombasa in Kenya, which lay in their route to India.

Vasco da Gama Pillar in Malindi
Pillar of Vasco da Gama in Malindi, 120 kms northeast of Mombasa


#5 Vasco da Gama was the first European to reach India by sea

In May 1498, Vasco da Gama’s fleet reached the Indian coast of Calicut (now Kozhikode). He became the first European to reach India by sea, thus linking Europe with Asia through an ocean route. Da Gama was given a grand welcome by King Zamorin of Calicut but their relations soured as Da Gama’s presents failed to impress the king and due to the presence of hostile Muslim traders. Though Da Gama was unable to strike a treaty with Zamorin, his expedition was financially successful as he brought in cargo that was worth sixty times the cost of the expedition.

Vasco da Gama meets Zamorin
A steel engraving depicting the meeting between Vasco da Gama and Zamorin


#6 His expedition to India and back to Portugal was the longest ever ocean voyage till then

Vasco da Gama began his return voyage to Portugal on 29 August 1498. After facing adverse conditions due to which he lost two ships and numerous members of his crew, he arrived in Lisbon on 29 August 1499. He was rewarded by King Manuel I of Portugal and his discovery was hailed. The sum of the distances in the outward and return voyages covered by Da Gama’s fleet made the expedition the longest ever ocean voyage till then, far longer than circumnavigating the earth by way of the Equator.

Manuel I of Portugal
Manuel I of Portugal


#7 His discovery led to drastic expansion of the Portuguese economy

The establishment of a maritime trade route between Portugal and India by Vasco da Gama led to vastly improving the economy of the Portuguese Empire. It led to the Portuguese India Armadas, which were fleets of ships dispatched from Portugal for India on a regular basis. Between 1497 and 1650, there were 1033 departures of ships at Lisbon. These fleets brought back products, like spices, which were new to Europe and led to Portugal dominating the European markets for decades.

The five 'Glorious Spices'
The five ‘Glorious Spices’ which were in high demand in European markets


#8 He was given the title of Admiral of the Seas of Arabia, Persia, India and all the Orient

Portrait of Vasco da Gama
Portrait of Vasco da Gama by Antonio Manuel da Fonseca

For his contributions to Portugal, Vasco da Gama was awarded the noble title of Dom (lord) in perpetuity for himself, his siblings and their descendants. On 30 January 1502, he was given the title of Almirante dos mares de Arabia, Persia, India e de todo o Oriente (“Admiral of the Seas of Arabia, Persia, India and all the Orient”). Also Da Gama was granted the power to intervene and have a determining role on any future India-bound fleet.

#9 He was the 6th Governor of the Portuguese State of India

Vasco da Gama led the 4th Portuguese India Armada with the purpose of subjugating Zamorin of Calicut. It reached India in October 1502 but was unsuccessful in fulfilling its purpose. In 1505, the Portuguese State of India was established to govern their colonies in the region. Due to his contributions, Vasco da Gama was appointed the Governor of India in 1524; though he died a few months later. He was the 6th Governor of Portuguese India and the second to be given the privileged title of Viceroy.


#10 He is among the most prominent figures in the history of exploration

Vasco da Gama is considered one of the leading figures of not only the Age of Discovery but the entire history of exploration. Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads), a Portuguese epic poem written by Luís Vaz de Camões and regarded as Portugal’s national epic, is primarily about Vasco da Gama’s voyages. Numerous places have been named after him including the port city of Vasco da Gama in Goa and the crater Vasco da Gama on the Moon. Da Gama ranked 10th in a nationwide poll for the Greatest Portuguese organized by the Portuguese public broadcasting station RTP.

Vasco da Gama Bridge in Lisbon
Vasco da Gama Bridge in Lisbon, Portugal


The Pilgrim Ship Incident

Though Vasco da Gama is revered in Portugal, his legacy in India has suffered due to several reasons including the pilgrim ship incident. On his second voyage to India, Da Gama intercepted a ship of Muslim pilgrims on its way to Mecca. It contained more than 400 people including around 50 women and several children. Da Gama and his men not only looted the pilgrim ship but locked all its passengers and burnt them to death.

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