Bartolomeu Dias - Portuguese Explorer

Bartolomeu Dias - Portuguese Explorer

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.