Bartolomeu Dias

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Statue of Bartolomeu Dias from the 1930s on the South African Embassy building in London , Trafalgar Square

Bartolomeu Dias , also Bartolomeu Diaz (* around 1450 in the Algarve ; † May 29, 1500 south of the Cape of Good Hope ) was a Portuguese navigator and explorer who in 1487/88 was the first European to sail around the southern tip of Africa .



Little is known about the life of Dias before his voyage of discovery. He was possibly a descendant of João Dias, who in 1434 together with Gil Eanes the Cape Bojador circumnavigated, and the merchant and explorer Dinis Dias , who in 1444 commissioned by Henry the Navigator pushed forward the first European to the westernmost point of continental Africa Set in the present-day Senegal Cabo Verde and discovered the Terra dos Guineus .

Trip to Guinea

In 1481 Bartolomeu Dias took part in an expedition from Diogo de Azambuja to the coast of Guinea .

The journey of discovery: circumnavigating the southern tip of Africa

In search of the sea ​​route from Europe to Asia , Portuguese expeditions had explored the west coast of Africa since the time of Henry the Navigator in the early 15th century. In 1486, King John II of Portugal gave Bartolomeu Dias the top secret order to follow up on the results of Diogo Cão , to find the southern tip of the continent, to sail around it and, if possible, to advance to India .

Dias set sail in the summer (probably at the end of August) 1487 with a fleet of three ships.

The pilot of his flagship, the São Cristóvão caravel , was Pêro de Alenquer. The second caravel in the fleet, the São Pantaleão, was commanded by João Infante . Alvaro Martins was his pilot. A supply ship with the pilot João de Santiago was under the command of the brother of Bartolomeu Dias, Diogo Dias . There were also six Congolese who had been brought to Lisbon by Diogo Cão on board, who had the task of penetrating inland along the coast and looking for trade opportunities as well as for the " Priest King John ".

The fleet sailed along the west coast of Africa to the southernmost point known to the Portuguese at the time on the coast of what is now Namibia . He had previously left his supply ship in the southern Walvis Bay for safety reasons and let the last Africans disembark at the Congo estuary. From Walvis Bay he set out south, passed the Golfo de São Tomé (today's Spencer Bay ) and finally reached Angra Pequena ( Lüderitz Bay ). Here at Cabo da Volta ( Dias tip ) he erected his first stone heraldic pillar ( padrão ) to indicate the occupation for Portugal. On the way, both caravels were driven south over the Cape of Good Hope by strong north winds and storms .

When, after a few days on an easterly course, he had no land contact and the temperature kept falling, he turned north and came across an inhabited bay, which he called Angra dos Vaqueiros because of the herds of cattle grazing there . Today it is assumed that this meant the Mosselbaai on the coast of what is now South Africa . From there he sailed further east and came across the Algoa Bai , where he had another heraldic pillar built on March 12, 1488 at Cape Padrone . Against the will of his crew, who was on the verge of mutiny, he pushed through to the east and reached the mouth of the Great Fish River (Groot-Visrivier), where the coast already clearly runs in a northeastern direction. In honor of his deputy (João Infante) he named the river Rio Infante . Now he realized that he had found the route around Africa he had been looking for for 70 years and that the way to India was now free. His crew, suffering from scurvy, forced him to turn back.

On the way back he sighted the Cape of Good Hope , which he called Cabo Tormentoso (Storm Cape). The promontory probably got its current name from King John, who linked it with the hope of finding the long sought route to India soon. In Table Bay , the large harbor bay of today's Cape Town , he erected his last coat of arms on May 1, 1488. In the southern Walvis Bay, Bartolomeu Dias met his supply ship again, on which only four men were alive. After short stays on the Angolan coast and the island of Príncipe in the Gulf of Guinea to take over fresh water, he returned to Lisbon at the end of December 1488 after more than 16 months.

Bartolomeu Dias Maritime Museum, Mossel Bay , South Africa (2012)

Since there are no written records of the trip due to the prescribed secrecy, many details cannot be clearly documented. It is not clear whether Dias measured the South Cape or Cape Agulhas (needle cape) with the astrolabe. It also remains to be seen whether he stopped in Elmina on the way back and brought the survivors of an expedition led by Duarte Pacheco Pereira back to Lisbon.

After his successful return home, King John II appointed him chief administrator (capitão-mor) of the Casa de Guiné e Mina , the royal trade and tax authority, through which all trade with the newly discovered areas was carried out.

The first expeditions to India

During the preparation of the first Portuguese voyage to India, Dias only acted as a consultant and was responsible for drawing up the nautical charts and equipping the ships. In addition, he accompanied the expedition to the Cape Verde Islands. Why John II's successor, King Manuel I, did not entrust Dias, but Vasco da Gama with the all-important mission in 1497 , has never been clarified.

The fact is that Bartolomeu Dias only took part in the second expedition to India under the command of Pedro Álvares Cabral as one of the captains. During this trip, Brazil was also taken over for Portugal in 1500 . On the crossing from South America to Africa , Dias' ship went down in a storm. He died a sailor's death on May 29, 1500 near the cape, which he was the first European to reach, with his entire crew.

In his honor, the Maritime Museum in Mossel Bay is named, which shows, among other things, a working replica of the caravel with which Bartolomeu Dias made his travels.


Because of the secrecy of the Portuguese king, little was initially known about Bartolomeu Dias' expedition. Duarte Pacheco Pereira referred to them in his work Esmeraldo De Situ Orbis from 1505–1508 . It was not until the chronicler João de Barros that he went into more detail about the events in his work Asia in the middle of the 16th century . Another important source is the Martellus world map from 1489/90, kept in the British Museum in London .

  • Urs Bitterli (ed.): The discovery and conquest of the world . Documents and reports, 2 volumes, Beck , Munich 1980/1981 , ISBN 3-406-07881-8 / ISBN 3-406-07954-7 .
  • Matthias Meyn (ed.): The great discoveries , In: Eberhard Schmitt (ed.): Documents on the history of European expansion . Volume 2, Beck, Munich 1984, ISBN 3-406-09763-4 , pp. 84-88.
  • Siegfried Schmitz (Ed.): Hermes Handlexikon: Great explorers and explorers . A history of the world discovery from antiquity to the 20th century in biographies and pictures, ETB (Econ-Taschenbuch) 10008, Düsseldorf 1983, ISBN 3-612-10008-4 .
  • Donald Wigal: Historical nautical charts . Historical nautical chart expeditions to new worlds 1290 to 1699. Parkstone, New York, NY 2008, ISBN 978-1-84484-421-0 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. The Caravel 'Bartolomeu Dias' ( Memento of April 4, 2013 in the Internet Archive ), v. May 8, 2012