Ten years elapsed between Dias’ discovery of the seaway into the Indian Ocean and Vasco de Gama’s arrival in India. The delay was probably due to political uncertainties, and to the illness and death of John II, who was succeeded by Manoel “the Fortunate” in 1495; but incidentally it allowed time for the collection of valuable information. In the 1480’s a number of explorer-ambassadors were sent from Portugal to various places in the Near and Middle East, both to discover what they could about India, and to establish relations with any Christian princes they might encounter on the way there. The most successful of these Portuguese travelers was Pedro da Covilhã, who left Lisbon in 1487, the same year in which Dias sailed for the Cape. Covilhã was a picaresque individual who had formerly been employed as a spy in Spain and Morocco. He traveled disguised as a Muslim merchant—he spoke Arabic—via Cairo and Suakin to Aden, where he shipped in an Arab dhow to Calicut. There he made a reconnaissance of the ports of the Malabar coast, including Goa, the terminus of the Arabian horse trade to India. From Malabar he sailed to Ormuz, the great commercial entrepôt of the Persian Gulf; and from there to Sofala, where he carried out a corresponding survey of the Arab trade along the East African coast. He then returned to Cairo, arriving there late in 1490.
KeywordsIndian Ocean Palm Sugar Holy Water East African Coast Great Trade
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