Pilot (seafaring)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

As pilots were in seafaring on the Iberian Peninsula and in other Romance countries from the 15th to 17th centuries, the men referred to their task and responsibility was to her seamanship crew to bring passengers, cargo and ship to the targeted destination .

This article focuses on Portuguese pilots and pilots from other nations ( Galicians , Catalans , Genoese , Venetians, etc.) who were in the service of the Portuguese kings , as they were the first to acquire extensive knowledge in order to master the seafaring in the Atlantic . They became the real protagonists of the voyages of discovery in search of the sea ​​route to India around the Cape of Good Hope . In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Portuguese pilots in particular were, due to their knowledge, a small seafaring elite that was in great demand in Europe .


The pilot, who was often assigned a sota-piloto (auxiliary pilot) as an assistant on the larger ships , had to lead the ship. The term does not only refer to the skipper, but mainly the person on board who stands for seamanship , as the Portuguese captains of that time were very often not seamen. It was the pilots who had the nautical knowledge to bring ships and crew to the destination of the voyage. Piloto should be left untranslated, because the navigator , helmsman , pilot or master of the ship may apply, but only ever cover parts of the tasks of a pilot .


The pilotos were not only selected by the Portuguese crown, but also received extensive nautical training in their service . This included

Great emphasis was placed on the practical training of future pilots on the ships, whereby knowledge of stowing cargo or assessing the trim , assessing the sails required in various situations or determining the course and assessing the wind speed and weather conditions were conveyed.

The importance of training in the 16th century is illustrated, for example, by the fact that one of the tasks of such well-known astronomers as Pedro Nunes or Tomás da Orta was to impart their astronomical knowledge to pilots.

Confidentiality Obligation

The crown obliged its pilots to make so-called rediros , which are records in which the new coastlines and the adjacent waters, special landmarks (mountains, cliffs, estuaries, etc.) as well as shallows, sandbanks, natural harbors, etc., but also the respective currents - and wind conditions as well as the corresponding sailing instructions were precisely noted on a trip.

It can be assumed that between the circumnavigation of the southern tip of Africa under Bartolomeu Dias (1487-88) and the discovery of the sea route to India under Vasco da Gama (1497-99) , the Portuguese pilots intensively studied the wind and current conditions of the South Atlantic on several voyages explored and probably also reached Brazil , which was later occupied . The courses of Vasco da Gama (1497–99) and Pedro Álvares Cabral (1500–1502) on their trips to India (ie to the east), which take advantage of the best sailing conditions, suggest a precise knowledge of the conditions in the South Atlantic. However, it has not yet been possible to make a clear and source-based statement, as the Lisbon earthquake in 1755 destroyed the records of the Casa da Índia and the port of Lisbon as well as other archives from this period.

The Portuguese pilots paid for the opportunity to acquire extensive nautical knowledge by stipulating a strict confidentiality policy (Política de Sigilo nas Navegações) in the interests of the Portuguese crown. Without their consent, it was hardly possible for the pilots to offer their services outside of Portugal, as they exposed themselves to the persecution of the Portuguese king.

Differentiation from the captain

The pilots differed significantly from the captains of the ships of this time, who were the top commanders on the ship due to their noble lineage and / or their connections to the Portuguese royal family, but, with a few exceptions (including Bartolomeu Dias), exclusively as military and political as well as administrative leaders acted. The post of captain at this time is better to be compared to a medieval benefice and source of income than to a modern ship's captain .

Of the 900 or so captains who made about 1,400 voyages between Portugal and India in the 16th and 17th centuries, only about 50 made three or more voyages. The exceptions here are again merchants, such as Vicente Gil , who, as ship owners, also acquired the appropriate seamanship to command their ships.

Portuguese pilots from the 15th to 17th centuries

The most important Portuguese pilots of the 15th to 17th centuries include:

Pedro (Pêro) Escobar, also: Escovar or Escolar (15th century)

He was one of the best and most experienced pilots in Portugal. In the chronicles, Pêro Escobar is mentioned for the first time together with João de Santarém in 1471/72 when both explored the West African waters in the service of the Portuguese merchant Fernão Gomes and u. a. discovered the islands of São Tomé , Ano Bom or Annobón and São Antão (later Príncipe ). Between 1482 and 1485 he went as a pilot under Diogo Cão and was also on his second voyage (1485-1487) leader in the discovery and exploration of the Congo involved muzzle. On the stone of Ielala , rediscovered in 1883 , his name (as "Escolar") was engraved immediately after that of Diogo Cão. In December 1490 he ran out with the fleet under Gonçalo de Sousa in the direction of the Congo.

In 1497, Pêro Escobar is mentioned in the chronicles as the pilot of the "Bérrio" (50 t), either a small Nao or a cross- sailing caravel , under its captain Nicolao Coelho as a participant in Vasco da Gama's first trip to India. Together with Coelho he returned to Portugal in August 1499 before Vasco da Gama.

From February 18, 1500, a royal charter has come down to us, according to which Escobar received an annual pension of 4000 Réis from King Manuel I for his services to the exploration of the African coasts and the discovery of India .

On the trip to take possession of Brazil for the Portuguese king under Pedro Álvares Cabral, he drove as a pilot on a Nao commanded by Sancho de Tovar and, together with the pilot of the flagship Cabrals, Afonso Lopes , was the main person responsible for a successful journey. Whether Escobar found death on this trip is open. His name is not mentioned after 1500.

Pêro de Alenquer (2nd half of the 15th century)

He was one of the most sought-after pilots of his time and took part in a number of the most important journeys of the Portuguese explorers. In 1483 he was raised to the nobility by D. João II as Escudeiro because of his achievements . Alenquer was one of the pilots of Bartolomeu Dias, on whose voyage from 1487-88 it was possible to conquer the Cape of Good Hope .

In 1490 he led a ship on its way to the Congo in the fleet under Gonçalo de Sousa , who was appointed as the ambassador of the Portuguese king . 1498 he became the pilot of the flagship " São Gabriel " (90-100 t) Vasco da Gama on his first trip to India while the main pilot ( piloto-mor appointed) the entire fleet. Alenquer probably died after da Gamas returned from India, as his son Rodrigo received a donation of 6,000 Réis from King Manuel I in 1499 because of the death of his father.

João de Santiago (2nd half of the 15th century)

He took part as a pilot on the second voyage (1485–87) Diogo Cãos, which is passed down to us by the engraving of his name on the "Stone of Ielala". He also participated as a pilot of the transport ship in Bartolomeu Dias's voyage to circumnavigate the Cape of Good Hope.

João de Lisboa (born at the beginning of the 2nd half of the 15th century until 1526)

Like all pilots of his time, João de Lisboa received the basics of his training on board the Portuguese ships on their voyages in the Atlantic. Whether he took part in the trips of Vasco da Gama and Álvaro Cabral is not clearly proven. However, his presence is likely during a trip to Brazil in 1501 under Gonçalo Coelho , since on several maps of the 16th century ( Lázaro Luís and Fernão Vaz Dourado ) a river in northern Brazil was named after João de Lisboa.

In 1506 he traveled to India as a pilot in the Tristão da Cunha fleet . Around 1513 he was appointed the main pilot (piloto-mor) of Portugal and probably took part in this function in D. Jaimes , the Duke of Bragança's campaign against the Moroccan Azamor.

He probably summed up his diverse nautical experiences in 1514 in his “Tratado da agulha de marear” (a treatise on the use of the ship's compass), which soon became widespread. In 1518 he traveled to India again as a pilot with the fleet of the new governor, Diogo Lopes de Sequeira . In the same year he received a donation of 10,000 Réis from the Portuguese crown for his various services, which in 1522 the new ruler João III. confirmed and in 1523 awarded him a further donation of 4,000 Réis.

After the death of Gonçalo Álvares , João de Lisboa was appointed the new “piloto mor da navegação da Índia e mar oceano” in January 1525 (main pilot of navigation in India and the oceanic sea). He probably died in 1526 on another trip to India, as Fernão de Afonso was appointed the new "piloto mor da navegação da India e mar oceano" in November 1526 .

João de Coimbra (turn of the 15th to the 16th century)

He is known to have participated as a pilot of the Nao (90–100 t) “São Rafael” under Paulo da Gama on Vasco da Gama's first trip to India, which led to the discovery of the sea route to India. In 1521 he is mentioned again as the main pilot (piloto-mor) of the Portuguese in India.

Pêro Anes or Annes (turn of the 15th to the 16th century)

His name can also be found on the "Stone of Ielala" as a participant in the second journey (1485–87) Diogo Cãos. In recognition of his many years of service, King Manuel appointed him “Lord of the Navigation of India and the Oceanic Sea” in 1505 ( Patrão da navegação da Índia e mar oceano ). As the main pilot of the fleet of Lourenço de Almeida Pêro Anes was killed together with it in the naval battle of Chaul in January 1508th

Gaspar Ferreira Reimão (second half of the 16th century to February 1626)

He was not only one of the most important pilots on the Portuguese route to India, the Carreira da Índia , in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, but also distinguished himself as the author of a number of important rediros (such as sea manuals) for this trip. He came from the lower nobility and as a cavaleiro-fidalgo belonged to the Portuguese royal court. He was also a member of the Portuguese Santiago Knights .

In 1579 he was first employed as a sota-piloto (auxiliary pilot) for Nao "S. Tomé ”mentioned. He then made a large number of trips on the India route and was named the kingdom's main pilot in 1608 in recognition of his services. During this time he processed his diverse knowledge and experience in a whole series of roteiros and nautical treatises, which he wrote either alone or together with Manuel Monteiro. With these writings he became known beyond Portugal as a connoisseur of seafaring on the Carreira da Índia .


  • Joaquim Bensaude: L'astronomie nautique au Portugal à l'époque des grandes decouvertes. Bern 1912 (contains a reprint of the first surviving navigation textbook Regimento do estrolabio e do quadrante from 1509)
  • Hans Schomburg: Iberian helmsman's art in the age of discovery. In: Wolfgang Koberer (Ed.): The right foundation of seafaring. German contributions to the history of navigation . Hoffmann and Campe, Hamburg 1982, ISBN 3-455-03980-4 , pp. 222-254.
  • António Henrique de Oliveira Marques : History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 385). Translated from the Portuguese by Michael von Killisch-Horn. Kröner, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-520-38501-5 .
  • Luís de Albuquerque, Francisco Contente Domingues (ed.): Dicionário de História dos Descobrimentos Portugueses. 2 volumes. Ed. Caminho, Lisboa 1994, ISBN 972-21-0924-3 , 972-21-0925-1
  • Luís de Albuquerque: Ciência e experiência nos descobrimentos portugueses. Instituto de Cultura e Língua Portuguesa , Lisboa 1983.
  • Manuel Fernandes Costa: As navegações atlânticas no século XV. Instituto de Cultura Portuguesa, Lisboa 1979. Online

Web links

See also