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In 1488, Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias (c. 1450-1500) became the first European mariner to round the southern tip of Africa, opening the way for a sea route from Europe to Asia. Dias’ ships rounded the perilous Cape of Good Hope and then sailed around Africa’s southernmost point, Cabo das Agulhas, to enter the waters of the Indian Ocean. Portugal and other European nations already had long-established trade ties to Asia, but the arduous overland route had been closed in the 1450s due to the Ottoman Empire’s conquest of the remnants of the Byzantine Empire. A major maritime victory for Portugal, Dias’ breakthrough opened the door to increased trade with India and other Asian powers. It also prompted Genoan explorer Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), then living in Portugal, to seek a new royal patron for a mission to establish his own sea route to the Far East.
An Ambitious Plan
Almost nothing is known about the life of Bartolomeu de Novaes Dias before 1487, except that he was at the court of João II, or King John II of Portugal (1455-1495), and was a superintendent of the royal warehouses. He likely had much more sailing experience than his one recorded stint aboard the warship São Cristóvão. Dias was probably in his mid- to late-30s in 1486 when King João II appointed him to head an expedition in search of a sea route to India.
King João II was entranced by the legend of Prester John, a mysterious and probably apocryphal 12th-century leader of a nation of Christians somewhere in Africa whose kingdom included the Fountain of Youth. King João II sent out a pair of explorers, Afonso de Paiva (c. 1460-c. 1490) and Pêro da Covilhã (c. 1450-c. 1526), to search overland for the Christian kingdom in Ethiopia. King João II also wanted to find a way around the southernmost point of Africa’s coastline, so just a few months after dispatching the overland explorers, he sponsored Dias in an African expedition.
In August 1487, Dias’ trio of ships departed from the port of Lisbon, Portugal. Dias followed the route of 15th-century Portuguese explorer Diogo Cão (c. 1486), who had followed the coast of Africa as far as present-day Cape Cross, Namibia. Dias’ cargo included the standard “padrões,” the limestone markers used to stake Portuguese claims on the continent. Padrões were planted at the shoreline and served as guideposts to previous Portuguese explorations of the coast.
Dias’ expedition party included six Africans who had been brought to Portugal by earlier explorers. Dias dropped off the Africans at different ports along the coastline of Africa with supplies of gold and silver and messages of goodwill from the Portuguese to the indigenous people. The last two Africans were left at a place the Portuguese sailors called Angra do Salto, probably in modern Angola, and the expedition’s supply ship was left there under guard of nine men.
The Expedition Around South Africa
In early January 1488, as Dias’ two ships sailed off the coast of South Africa, storms blew them away from the coast. Dias is thought to have ordered a turn to the south of about 28 degrees, probably because he had prior knowledge of southeasterly winds that would take him around the tip of Africa and keep his ships from being dashed on the notoriously rocky shoreline. João and his predecessors had obtained navigational intelligence, including a 1460 map from Venice that showed the Indian Ocean on the other side of Africa.
Dias’ decision was risky, but it worked. The crew spotted landfall on February 3, 1488, about 300 miles east of present-day Cape of Good Hope. They found a bay they called São Bras (present-day Mossel Bay) and the much warmer waters of the Indian Ocean. From the shoreline, indigenous Khoikhoi pelted Dias’ ships with stones until an arrow fired by either Dias or one of his men felled a tribesman. Dias ventured further along the coastline, but his crew was nervous about the dwindling food supplies and urged him to turn back. As mutiny loomed, Dias appointed a council to decide the matter. The members came to the agreement that they would permit him to sail another three days, then turn back. At Kwaaihoek, in present-day Eastern Cape province, they planted a padrão on March 12, 1488, which marked the easternmost point of Portuguese exploration.
On the journey back, Dias observed the southernmost point of Africa, later called Cabo das Agulhas, or Cape of Needles. Dias named the rocky second cape Cabo das Tormentas (Cape of Storms) for the tempestuous storms and strong Atlantic-Antarctic currents that made ship travel so perilous.
Back in Angra do Salto, Dias and his crew were aghast to find that only three of the nine men left guarding the food ship had survived repeated attacks by locals; a seventh man died on the journey home. In Lisbon, after 15 months at sea and a journey of nearly 16,000 miles, the returning mariners were met by triumphant crowds. In a private meeting with the king, however, Dias was forced to explain his failure to meet up with Paiva and Covilhã. Despite his immense achievement, Dias was never again put in a position of authority. King João II ordered that henceforth, maps would show the new name for Cabo das Tormentas: Cabo da Boa Esperança, or Cape of Good Hope.
Advisor to Vasco da Gama
Following his expedition, Dias settled for a time in Guinea in West Africa, where Portugal had established a gold-trading site. João’s successor, Manuel I (1469-1521), ordered Dias to serve as a shipbuilding consultant for the expedition of Vasco da Gama (c. 1460-1524). Dias sailed with the da Gama expedition as far as the Cape Verde Islands, and then returned to Guinea. Da Gama’s ships reached their goal of India in May 1498, nearly a decade after Dias’ historic trip around the tip of Africa. Afterward, Manuel sent out a massive fleet to India under Pedro Álvares Cabral (c. 1467-c. 1520), and Dias captained four of the ships. They reached Brazil in March 1500, then headed across the Atlantic toward South Africa and, further ahead, the Indian subcontinent. At the feared Cabo das Tormentas, storms struck the fleet of 13 ships. In May 1500, four of the ships were wrecked, including Dias’, with all crew lost at sea. Bartolomeu Dias died on May 29, 1500 off the Cape of Good Hope. He is remembered as a pioneering explorer during the Age of Exploration who opened the sea route to Asia via the Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean.
He was the first European explorer to sail around the tip of Africa, proving the Atlantic Ocean connects to the Indian Ocean, which opened opportunities for a new trade route to India.
Name: Bartolomeu Dias [bahr-too-loo-me-oo] [dee-ahs (Portuguese) dee-uh sh]
Birth/Death: 1450 CE - 1500 CE
Bartolomeu Dias - HISTORY
Bartolomeu Dias born in 1451 and he became a Portuguese nobleman and explorer. He was the sailing master of the man-of-war Saint Christopher from 1487 and 1488. He also led a three-ship expedition that made the first recorded rounding of the southern tip of Africa.
Very little is known of Bartolomeu’s life before the year 1487. The only thing known about him is that he was at a court of Joao II, the King of Portugal, between 1455 and 1495. He was also the superintendent of royal warehouses. In 1846, when he was in his late 30s, Joao appointed him to lead an expedition to search for a sea route to India.
Joao was sent to go out with two explorers. The three were to look overland for a Christian kingdom located in Ethiopia. Joao also wished to find a route around Africa’s southern coast. Just few months after the overland explorers were went out, he decided to sponsor Dias in one African expedition.
Sailing around Africa
In August of 1487, Dias’ trio of ships took off from port of Lisbon in Portugal. He followed a route of Diogo Cao, a 15th century Portuguese explorer. Diogo had followed this African coast as far as Cape Cross in Namibia. His expedition party included six Africans that had earlier been brought to the land of Portugal by some earlier explorers.
He dropped the Africans at various different ports just along the African coastline. He left them with supplies of silver and gold from the Portuguese to all the indigenous communities. The last two Africans were dropped at a place that Portuguese sailors had named Angra do Salto (now Angola). The expedition’s supply ship was actually left there under a guard of nine men.
South African Expedition
In the early part of 1488, Dias’ two ships were sailing off the coast of South Africa. Storms had pushed them away from coast. Dias then ordered the ships to turn south at 28 degrees because he had known of the southeasterly winds that helped him around the tip of Africa.
This also helped him keep the ships from getting dashed on rocky shoreline. Joao and other people had already obtained navigational intelligence that included one 1460 map all the way from Venice showing the Indian Ocean on the other side of the African continent. They found one bay and named it Sao Bras (now Mossel Bay).
Making the Right Decision
The decision made by Dias was very risky, but it worked. The team spotted landfall on February 3, 1488, about 300 miles on the eastern side of Cape of Good-Hope. This bay had warmer waters compared to the rest of the Indian Ocean. From this shoreline, the Khoikhoi pelted all the Dias ships with stones. This continued until one arrow fired by Dias felled a tribesman.
Bartolomeu Dias decided to venture further along this coastline. However, his crew was very nervous about the reducing food supplies and therefore urged him to return. As mutiny loomed, he appointed a council to work on the matter. All the council members agreed that they would let him sail three more days and then turn back.
Naming Some Provinces
At Kwaaihoek (now the Eastern Cape Province), the team planted a padrao on March 12, 1488. This marked the easternmost point of the Portuguese exploration. On his way back, Dias crossed the southernmost point of Africa, now called the Cape of Needles. He named the rocky second cape Cabo das Tormentas because of the strong storms and Atlantic and Antarctic currents which made the ship travel perilous.
A Disaster for Dias
In Angra do Salto, Bartolomeu and his team was devastated to find out that only three of the nine men left to guard their food ship had made it. After being in the sea for 15 months and having traveled a journey of about 16,000 miles, the mariners were actually met by some triumphant crowds. Despite his great achievements, Dias was never given another position of authority.
Working with Vasco da Gama
After his expedition, Dias decided to settle in Guinea in the western part of Africa. Here, he served as a consultant for an expedition of the famous Vasco da Gama. He sailed with the Vasco expedition all the way to the Cape Verde Islands and then went back to Guinea. The ships reached their main goal getting to India in May of 1498. Later, Dias captained four ships that reached Brazil in 1500. The crew then headed across the Atlantic towards South Africa. Unfortunately, their journey was cut short in May of 1500 when four ships were wrecked due to the notorious storms. The entire crew was lost at sea, including Dias.
Bartolomeu Dias - HISTORY
Bartolomeu Dias was born in Portugal in 1457. He was born into a noble family. His father was a member of the royal court. Dias was well educated and received the title of "Master of the Portuguese Man-of-War", Sao Cristovao. In 1481, Dias joined Diogo d'Azambuja to explore the Gold Coast of Africa.
On October 10th, 1486 King John II of Portugal appointed Dias the leader of an expedition to sail around the Southern Tip of Africa and make contact with the Christian leader of Ethiopia. After preparing for ten months, Dias set sail in August 1847, with two armed caravels and a supply ship. The expedition made its way down the coast of Africa. In January 1488, Dias unknowingly, in the midst of strong storm sailed around the Cape of Good Hope.
On February 3, 1488, after traveling North Dias anchored in Mossel Harbor two hundred and thirty miles east of today's Cape Town. Dias continued North along the coast for three hundred miles to the mouth of the Great Fish River and into Algoa Bay. Dias wanted to go on into the Indian Ocean and to India, but his crew would have none of it. They were short on supplies and worn out. Dias agreed to return to Lisbon. In December 1488 he returned to Lisbon. He had proved that it was possible to circle Africa.
Bartolomeu Dias was born in Portugal around 1450. His family had a maritime background and one of his ancestors, Dinis Dias e Fernandes, explored the African coast in the 1440s and discovered the Cape Verde islands in 1444. 
Little is known of his early life and his biography is complicated by the existence of several contemporary Portuguese seafarers with the same name.  He was clearly a seaman of considerable experience and may have been trading for ivory along the Guinea coast as early as 1478. In 1481 Dias accompanied an expedition led by Diogo de Azambuja to construct a fortress and trading post called São Jorge da Mina in the Gulf of Guinea.  Indirect evidence also points to his possible participation in Diogo Cão's first expedition (1482-1484) down the African coast to the Congo River. 
After Diogo Cão's second voyage failed to reach the end of the African coastline, King John II remained determined to continue the effort. In October, 1486, he commissioned Dias to lead an expedition in search of a trade route around the southern tip of Africa. Dias was also charged with searching for Prester John, a legendary figure believed to be the powerful Christian ruler of a realm somewhere beyond Europe, possibly in the African interior. Dias was provided with two caravels of about 50 tons each and a square-rigged supply ship captained by his brother Diogo. He recruited some of the leading pilots of the day, including Pêro de Alenquer and João de Santiago, who had previously sailed with Cão.  
No contemporary documents have been found detailing this historic voyage. Much of the available information comes from sixteenth-century historian João de Barros who wrote about the voyage some sixty years later. 
The small fleet left Lisbon around July 1487. Like his predecessor, Cão, Dias carried a set of padrãos, carved stone pillars to be used to mark his progress at important landfalls. Also onboard were six Africans who had been kidnapped by Cão and taught Portuguese.They were to be dropped off at points along the African coast so they could testify to the grandeur of the Portuguese kingdom and make inquiries into the possible whereabouts of Prester John. 
The expedition sailed directly to the Congo and from there proceeded more carefully down the African coast, often naming notable geographic features after the saints being honored on the Catholic Church calendar. When they reached modern-day Porto Alexandre, Angola, Dias left behind the supply ship to await their return voyage. By December, Dias passed the farthest point reached by Cão, arriving at the Golfo da Conceicão (Walvis Bay in modern Namibia) on 8 December 1487. After making slow progress along the Namibian coast, the two ships turned southwest away from land. Historians have debated whether they were driven offshore by a storm or whether it was a deliberate attempt to find more favorable winds. In either case, the manoeuvre was successful: their course traced a broad arc around the tip of Africa and on 4 February 1488, after 30 days on the open ocean, they entered what would eventually become known as Mossel Bay. 
At Mossel Bay, Dias realized they had finally reached Portugal's long-sought goal to round the southern cape of Africa. The ships continued east for a time and confirmed that the coast gradually trended to the northeast. Dias's expedition reached its furthest point on 12 March 1488, when it anchored at Kwaaihoek, near the mouth of the Boesmans River and erected the Padrão de São Gregório. By then, the crew had become increasingly restless and urged Dias to turn around. Supplies were low, the ships were battered, and the rest of the officers unanimously favored returning to Portugal. Although Dias wanted to continue, he agreed to turn back. It was only on the return voyage that they actually encountered the Cape of Good Hope, in May 1488. Tradition says that Dias originally named it the Cape of Storms (Cabo das Tormentas) and King John II later renamed it the Cape of Good Hope (Cabo da Boa Esperança) because it represented the opening of a route to the east.  
At the cape, Dias erected the last of their padrãos and then headed northward. They reached their supply ship in July, after nine months absence and found that six of the nine crewman had died in skirmishes with the natives. The vessel was rotten with worms so they emptied it of needed supplies and burnt it on the beach. Few details are known regarding the remainder of the voyage. The ships made stops at Príncipe, the Rio do Resgate (in the present Liberia), and the Portuguese trading post of São Jorge da Mina. Dias returned to Lisbon in December 1488, after an absence of 16 months.  
The Dias expedition had explored an additional thousand miles of African coastline, ultimately rounded the southern tip of the continent and demonstrated that the most effective southward course lay in the open ocean well to west of Africa - a route that would be followed by generations of Portuguese sailors. Despite these successes, Dias' reception at court was muted. There were no official proclamations and Dias received little in recognition of his accomplishments. 
Dias was later ennobled for his accomplishments and by 1494 he was serving as a squire in the court of King John II. He also served as superintendent of the royal warehouses from 1494 to 1497. 
Following the return of Dias, the Portuguese took a decade-long break from Indian Ocean exploration. King John was beset by numerous problems including the death of his only son, war in Morocco, and failing health. It was not until 1498 that another voyage was commissioned and Dias was asked provide assistance.  Using his experience with maritime exploration, Dias contributed to the design and construction of the São Gabriel and its sister ship the São Rafael. These were two of the ships used in 1498 by Vasco da Gama to sail around the Cape of Good Hope and continue to India. Dias participated in the first leg of da Gama's voyage but stayed behind after reaching the Cape Verde Islands. 
Two years later he was one of the captains of the second Indian expedition, headed by Pedro Álvares Cabral. This flotilla was the first to reach Brazil, landing there on 22 April 1500, and then continuing east to India. Dias perished near the Cape of Good Hope that he presciently had named Cape of Storms. Four ships, including Dias's, encountered a huge storm off the cape and were lost on 29 May 1500. 
Dias was married and had two sons, Simão Dias de Novais and António Dias de Novais.  His grandson, Paulo Dias de Novais, was the first governor of Portuguese Angola and founder of São Paulo de Luanda in 1576. 
The Portuguese government erected two navigational beacons, Dias Cross and da Gama Cross, to commemorate Dias and Vasco da Gama, who were the first modern European explorers to reach the Cape of Good Hope. When lined up, these crosses point to Whittle Rock, a large, permanently submerged shipping hazard in False Bay.
The Southern Tip of Africa
Landfall was a few hundred miles east from the Cape, but there was little time to explore as tribesmen attacked with stones. Eventually, one of Dias’s men killed a tribesman, after which resistance ceased. Though Dias wanted to push on along the coastline, their food was running out, and the threat of mutiny hung in the air. Eventually, an agreement was reached that a maximum three more days of sailing would be allowed. This brought them to Kwaaihoek in the Eastern Cape, which proved to be the eastern extent of their travels.
During the return journey, Dias saw the extreme southernmost tip of Africa. He named it the Cape of Storms. He chose the name for the treacherous mixture of strong currents and frequent storms that combined in the area. Upon arriving home, large crowds greeted the explorers when they got to Lisbon.
Why look for a water route to India?
Overland travel is significantly more expensive, and since the Byzantine Empire fell a few years ago it’s significantly more dangerous to travel through. Also, as I said in From Plato to Sir Francis Drake, they were all convinced there was a Christian king somewhere in Africa they needed to help.
(This lesson was inspired by The Mystery of History 3*, and the author was right, this lesson is so much easier if you have a hand map, which leads me to…)
Epic World History
Bartolomeu Dias, sometimes spelled Bartholomew Diaz, was an explorer for the Portuguese. He is best known for being the first European to round the southern tip of Africa, thereby establishing a sea trading route between Western Europe and Asia.
Very little is known about Dias’s early life. Unproven tradition holds that he descended from one of Prince Henry the Navigator’s pilots. In the early 1470s, Portugal expanded trade with Guinea and other parts of Africa’s western coast.
In 1481, voyages were ordered to ascertain the southern boundary of the African continent and stake claims. In 1487, Dias was ordered by King João II to reach the southern end of Africa to determine whether ships could reach Asia by sailing around Africa.
Dias’s fleet of three ships, which left in August 1487, reached Walvis Bay on December 8 and Elizabeth Bay on December 26. Storms prevented him from proceeding along the coast during January 1488, so he sailed out of sight of land for several days. When he turned back toward land, no land was spotted. He turned north and sighted land on February 3. Dias unknowingly rounded the southern tip of Africa.
It was clear India could be reached by sailing around Africa, so Dias turned back. Little is known of the return journey or of his reception by King João II. After his return, Vasco da Gama was authorized to continue along Dias’s route by King Manuel I, whom Dias accompanied for a time.
On his return to Portugal, Dias commanded a ship that was part of a fleet commanded by Pedro Cabral. However, Dias did not survive the journey, as he died on May 29, 1500, near the Cape of Good Hope.
Bartolomeu Dias of Portugal was one of the most important European explorers before Christopher Columbus. He led the first European expedition around the southern tip of Africa. This opened the way for sea trade between Europe and Asia.
Bartolomeu Dias (also spelled Bartholomew Diaz) was born in about 1450 near Lisbon, Portugal. In August 1487 Dias took three ships in search of the southern tip of Africa. In January 1488 he passed the tip, but he did not see it. It was very stormy at the time. After he turned around and reached the southern coast of Africa he realized what had happened.
Dias wanted to go on to India, but his crew would go no farther. Upon rounding the tip of Africa again, Dias named it the Cape of Storms because of the weather he had battled on the voyage out. It was later renamed the Cape of Good Hope. Dias returned to Portugal in December 1488. In 1497 another Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, continued along the same route and reached India.
In 1500 Dias commanded a ship in an expedition led by Pedro Álvares Cabral. Cabral’s fleet veered far from Africa and landed on the eastern shore of South America. The explorers claimed the land that is now Brazil for Portugal. Dias died at the Cape of Good Hope in May 1500, when his ship sank in a storm.
Did You Know?
Bartolomeu Dias’s grandson was the founder of the first European city in southern Africa.