Bartolomeu Dias

Bartolomeu Dias was the first explorer to sail around the tip of Africa. He would be influential on fellow Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama. Dias came about 217 years after Marco Polo and expanded the explorations that were funded by the late Prince Henry the Navigator. Bartolomeu Dias was one of the first explorers since Henry the Navigator to begin expanding the Portuguese Empire. Portugal would become the first global empire with colonies throughout India, South America and coastal areas of Africa. They would open trade with India for the first time since the Ottomans captured Constantinople. Once opened up they became one of the wealthiest nations in Europe.

Explorations and Death

Dias was a Knight in the royal court and a sailing master of the man-of-war, Saint Christopher. It would be in the Saint Christopher that King John II appointed him the head of the expedition to sail to the tip of Africa. King John also ordered him to search for the lands ruled by Prester John. Prester John was a legendary King that was believed to rule near the top of Africa.

Dias formed his team and set sail from Lisbon in 1487 with three ships. The expedition sailed south along the African coast. Provisions were to be picked up at the Portuguese fortress, Sao Jorge de Mina. After picking up provisions continued to the Cape of Good Hope, which was the top of Africa. He would round the cape  on February 3, 1488. He would reach the end of his mission at Kwaaihoek on March 12, 1488.

Dias returned to Portugal in December of that year. He was the first European to ever make it that far around Africa. Although the official report has been lost, it is believed the he found the passage that would make it possible for Portugal to trade with India. This was important for their economy since it would be quicker than going over land and they would be able to avoid the expensive middlemen.

Dias would originally name the Cape of Good Hope the “Cape of Storms.”

After Dias’ journey Portugal did not send another expedition for 10 years. He helped construct two ships for the upcoming journey. The first was the Sao Gabriel and its sister as the Sao Rafael. Dias would sail in the Gabriel while fellow seamen Vasco da Gama would sail in the Rafael. During this voyage Dias only participated in the first leg of the voyage. He sailed up to the Cape Verde Islands and then returned to Portugal. Vasco da Gama continued to India. He took part in a second expedition in which he reached the coast of Brazil in 1500.

After taking possession of the coast Dias sailed east towards the Cape of Good Hope. It would be here that his name for the Cape of Good Hope, The Cape of Storms would be proven correct. Four ships encountered a huge storm and Dias died during it. It is believed that Dias died on May 29, 1500.

The Cape of Storms was renamed the Cape of Good Hope by King John II because it represented the opening of a passageway to India.