Bartolomeu Dias

1450 CE - 1500 CE

Portugal

Primary Goal:
To find the country of legendary Christian king Prester John and sail the southern end of Africa in hopes of finding a route to Asia.
Achievement:
First European to sail around the tip of Africa, opened the way to India, and was on a voyage that led to the discovery of Brazil.

Bartolomeu Dias was 50 when he died in 1500 in a violent storm off the coast of Africa. As an experienced sailor, Dias left Lisbon in August 1487 after ten months of preparing for this important voyage. His three ships were two armed caravels of fifty tons each and a supply ship. They carried six Africans from Angola and Guinea, two men and four women, who had been taken to Portugal. The plan was for the ships to drop the Africans off along the coast with samples of gold, silver, and spices, as well as orders to inquire where such products were to be found. They were also told to praise the King of Portugal and explain to the local chiefs and kings that the King of Portugal wanted to establish relations with Prester John (a legendary medieval Christian priest and king) and discover a sea route to India.

Dias sailed for the mouth of the Congo River, then followed the coast and entered Walvis Bay, an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean on the western coast of Namibia. But Dias lost sight of the coast at 29° south latitude when his ship was caught in a storm for 13 days. When the weather finally cleared, Dias sailed in an easterly direction, hoping to once again see land. When that didn’t happen, he turned northward, landing in Mossel Bay on February 3, 1488. What he didn’t realize was that they had already rounded the southern coast of Africa. In May 1488, on his return voyage to Portugal, Dias finally discovered the Cape of Good Hope. Dias originally named the Cape of Good Hope the Cape of Storms because of all the violent storms in the area. King John II later renamed the area so it wouldn’t sound so foreboding; he wanted to encourage others to travel in that direction.