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Voyage of Bartolomeu Dias (1487–88)

Bartolomeu Dias ( ; Anglicized: Bartholomew Diaz; c. 1451 – 29 May 1500), a nobleman of the Portuguese royal household, was a Portuguesemarker explorer who sailed around the southernmost tip of Africa in 1488, the first European known to have done so, although some historians credit Herodotus's account of a Phoenicianmarker expedition that achieved the feat under the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Necho II (610 – 595 BC).

Purposes of the Dias expedition

Dias was a cavalier of the royal court, superintendent of the royal warehouses, and sailing-master of the man-of-war, São Cristóvão (Saint Christopher). King John II of Portugal appointed him, on 10 October 1486, to head an expedition to sail around the southern end of Africa in the hope of finding a trade route to India. Another purpose of the expedition was to try to revisit the countries reported by João Afonso de Aveiro (probably Ethiopia and Aden) with which the Portuguese desired friendly relations. Dias was also charged with searching for the lands described by Prester John, who was a fabled Christian priest and African prince.

Dias originally named the Cape of Good Hopemarker the "Cape of Storms" (Cabo das Tormentas). It was later renamed by King John II of Portugal to the Cape of Good Hope (Cabo da Boa Esperança) because it represented the opening of a route to the east.

As it turned out, Dias's name for the Cape was more accurate and prophetic than was the king's. In 1500, Dias was the captain of one of the ships in Pedro Álvares Cabral's fleet, again voyaging to Indiamarker. Near the end of May, the ships encountered a huge storm off the Cape, and four ships, including Dias's, were lost.

Using his experience with explorative travel, Dias later became a shipbuilder and constructed both the São Gabriel and its sister ship, the São Rafael that were used by Vasco da Gama to circumnavigate the Cape and continue the route to India.

The expedition

Having rounded the Cape of Good Hopemarker at a considerable distance, Dias continued east as far as the mouth of the Great Fish Rivermarker, in what is now the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. Dias wanted to continue sailing to India, but he was forced to turn back when his crew refused to go further. It was only on the return voyage that he actually discovered the Cape of Good Hope, in May 1488. Dias returned to Lisbonmarker in December of that year, after an absence of sixteen months.

The discovery of the passage around Africa was significant because, for the first time, Europeans could trade directly with India and the other parts of Asia, bypassing the overland route through the Middle East, with its expensive middlemen. The official report of the expedition has been lost.

Follow-up voyages

After these early attempts, the Portuguese took a decade-long break from Indian Ocean exploration. During that hiatus, it is likely that they received valuable information from a secret agent, Pêro da Covilhã, who had been sent overland to India and returned with reports useful to their navigators.

A red herring

In 2008, the Namdeb Diamond Corporation, while searching prospective mining sites off the coast of Namibiamarker, discovered an early sixteenth-century shipwreck. It was been speculated it might have been Dias' ship. Portuguese gold coins were found, but they proved to have been minted after 1525, excluding the possibility of it being Dias' ship.

Personal life

Dias was married and had two children:
  • Simão Dias de Novais, who died unmarried and without issue
  • António Dias de Novais, a Knight of the Order of Christ, married to (apparently his relative, since the surname de Novais was transmitted through her brother's offspring) Joana Fernandes, daughter of Fernão Pires and wife Guiomar Montês (and sister of Brites Fernandes and Fernão Pires, married to Inês Nogueira, daughter of Jorge Nogueira and wife, and had issue), and had issue.

Dias' grandson Paulo Dias de Novais was a Portuguese colonizer of Africa in the 16th century. Dias' granddaughter, Guiomar de Novais married twice, as his second wife to Dom Rodrigo de Castro, son of Dom Nuno de Castro and wife Joana da Silveira, by whom she had Dona Paula de Novais and Dona Violante de Castro, both died unmarried and without issue, and to Pedro Correia da Silva, natural son of Cristóvão Correia da Silva, without issue.

See also


  1. Alan Lloyd, "Necho and the Red Sea: Some Considerations". The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 63 (1977): 149 (subscription required).
  2. "The World's History, Third Edition", by Howard Spoken, Prentice Hall, NJ 2006. p444
  3. "The Way of the World", by David Fromkin, Vintage Books, NY 2000. p117

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