Bartolomeu Dias

Bartolomeu Dias[1] (c. 1450 – 29 May 1500), was a Portuguese mariner and explorer. He was the first European navigator to round the southern tip of Africa in 1488 and demonstrate that the most effective southward course lay in the open ocean well to west of the African coast. His discoveries effectively established the sea route between Europe and Asia.

Bartolomeu Dias
Bartolomeu Dias, South Africa House (cut).JPG
Died( 1500 -05-29)29 May 1500 (aged approximately 50)
South Atlantic Ocean, near the Cape of Good Hope
Other namesBartholomew Diaz
OccupationNavigator and explorer
Known forBeing the first European mariner to round the southern tip of Africa

Early lifeEdit

Bartolomeu Dias was born in Portugal around 1450. His family had a maritime background and one of his ancestors, Dinis Dias e Fernandes, explored the African coast in the 1440s and discovered the Cape Verde islands in 1444.[2]

Little is known of his early life and his biography is complicated by the existence of several contemporary Portuguese seafarers with the same name.[3] He was clearly a seaman of considerable experience and may have been trading for ivory along the Guinea coast as early as 1478. In 1481 Dias accompanied an expedition led by Diogo de Azambuja to construct a fortress and trading post called São Jorge da Mina in the Gulf of Guinea.[4] Indirect evidence also points to his possible participation in Diogo Cão's first expedition (1482-1484) down the African coast to the Congo River.[5]

Voyage around AfricaEdit

After Diogo Cão's second voyage failed to reach the end of the African coastline, King John II remained determined to continue the effort. In October, 1486, he commissioned Dias to lead an expedition in search of a trade route around the southern tip of Africa. Dias was also charged with searching for Prester John, a legendary figure believed to be the powerful Christian ruler of a realm somewhere beyond Europe, possibly in the African interior. Dias was provided with two caravels of about 50 tons each and a square-rigged supply ship captained by his brother Diogo. He recruited some of the leading pilots of the day, including Pêro de Alenquer and João de Santiago, who had previously sailed with Cão.[6][7]

No contemporary documents have been found detailing this historic voyage. Much of the available information comes from sixteenth-century historian João de Barros who wrote about the voyage some sixty years later.[8]

An illustration of the São Cristóvão and São Pantaleão

The small fleet left Lisbon around July 1487. Like his predecessor, Cão, Dias carried a set of padrãos, carved stone pillars to be used to mark his progress at important landfalls. Also onboard were six Africans who had been kidnapped by Cão and taught Portuguese.They were to be dropped off at points along the African coast so they could testify to the grandeur of the Portuguese kingdom and make inquiries into the possible whereabouts of Prester John.[9]

The expedition sailed directly to the Congo and from there proceeded more carefully down the African coast, often naming notable geographic features after the saints being honored on the Catholic Church calendar. When they reached modern-day Porto Alexandre, Angola, Dias left behind the supply ship to await their return voyage. By December, Dias passed the farthest point reached by Cão, arriving at the Golfo da Conceicão (Walvis Bay in modern Namibia) on 8 December 1487. After making slow progress along the Namibian coast, the two ships turned southwest away from land. Historians have debated whether they were driven offshore by a storm or whether it was a deliberate attempt to find more favorable winds. In either case, the manoeuvre was successful: their course traced a broad arc around the tip of Africa and on 4 February 1488, after 30 days on the open ocean, they entered what would eventually become known as Mossel Bay.[10]

At Mossel Bay, Dias realized they had finally reached Portugal's long-sought goal to round the southern cape of Africa. The ships continued east for a time and confirmed that the coast gradually trended to the northeast. Dias's expedition reached its furthest point on 12 March 1488, when it anchored at Kwaaihoek, near the mouth of the Boesmans River and erected the Padrão de São Gregório. By then, the crew had become increasingly restless and urged Dias to turn around. Supplies were low, the ships were battered, and the rest of the officers unanimously favored returning to Portugal. Although Dias wanted to continue, he agreed to turn back. It was only on the return voyage that they actually encountered the Cape of Good Hope, in May 1488. Tradition says that Dias originally named it the Cape of Storms (Cabo das Tormentas) and King John II later renamed it the Cape of Good Hope (Cabo da Boa Esperança) because it represented the opening of a route to the east.[11][12]

At the cape, Dias erected the last of their padrãos and then headed northward. They reached their supply ship in July, after nine months absence and found that six of the nine crewman had died in skirmishes with the natives. The vessel was rotten with worms so they emptied it of needed supplies and burnt it on the beach. Few details are known regarding the remainder of the voyage. The ships made stops at Príncipe, the Rio do Resgate (in the present Liberia), and the Portuguese trading post of São Jorge da Mina. Dias returned to Lisbon in December 1488, after an absence of 16 months.[13][14]

The Dias expedition had explored an additional thousand miles of African coastline, ultimately rounded the southern tip of the continent and demonstrated that the most effective southward course lay in the open ocean well to west of Africa - a route that would be followed by generations of Portuguese sailors. Despite these successes, Dias' reception at court was muted. There were no official proclamations and Dias received little in recognition of his accomplishments.[15]

Later yearsEdit

Dias was later ennobled for his accomplishments and by 1494 he was serving as a squire in the court of King John II. He also served as superintendent of the royal warehouses from 1494 to 1497.[16]

Following the return of Dias, the Portuguese took a decade-long break from Indian Ocean exploration. King John was beset by numerous problems including the death of his only son, war in Morocco, and failing health. It was not until 1498 that another voyage was commissioned and Dias was asked provide assistance.[17] Using his experience with maritime exploration, Dias contributed to the design and construction of the São Gabriel and its sister ship the São Rafael. These were two of the ships used in 1498 by Vasco da Gama to sail around the Cape of Good Hope and continue to India. Dias participated in the first leg of da Gama's voyage but stayed behind after reaching the Cape Verde Islands.[18]

Two years later he was one of the captains of the second Indian expedition, headed by Pedro Álvares Cabral. This flotilla was the first to reach Brazil, landing there on 22 April 1500, and then continuing east to India. Dias perished near the Cape of Good Hope that he presciently had named 'Cape of Storms'. Four ships, including Dias's, encountered a huge storm off the cape and were lost on 29 May 1500.[19]

Personal lifeEdit

Dias was married and had two sons, Simão Dias de Novais and António Dias de Novais.[20] His grandson, Paulo Dias de Novais, was the first governor of Portuguese Angola and founder of São Paulo de Luanda in 1576.[21]


The Portuguese government erected two navigational beacons, Dias Cross and da Gama Cross, to commemorate Dias and Vasco da Gama, who were the first modern European explorers to reach the Cape of Good Hope. When lined up, these crosses point to Whittle Rock, a large, permanently submerged shipping hazard in False Bay.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ ˈPronunciation:
    English: di əs; Portuguese ˈdi əʃ; "Dias". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary
  2. ^ Oakley 2003
  3. ^ Dutra 2007
  4. ^ Ravenstein 2010 pp. 1-2
  5. ^ Ravenstein 2010 p 6
  6. ^ Oakley 2003
  7. ^ Crowley 2015, pp. 17-19
  8. ^ Crowley 2015, pp. 17-19
  9. ^ Crowley 2015, pp. 17-19
  10. ^ Ravenstein 1900, pp. 644-645
  11. ^ Ravenstein 1900, pp. 644-645
  12. ^ Crowley 2015, pp. 21-23
  13. ^ Ravenstein 1900, p. 648
  14. ^ Crowley 2015, pp. 21-23
  15. ^ Crowley 2015, p. 24
  16. ^ Dutra 2007
  17. ^ Crowley 2015, p. 26
  18. ^ Livermore 2021
  19. ^ Livermore 2021
  20. ^ Ravenstein 2010, p. 1
  21. ^ Livermore 2021


  • Campbell, Gordon (2003). The Oxford Dictionary of the Renaissance. Oxford University Press.
  • Crowley, Roger (2015). Conquerors : How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire (First ed.). New York. ISBN 978-0-8129-9400-1. OCLC 904967943.
  • Dutra, Francis A. (2007). "Dias, Bartholomew". The Oxford Companion to World Exploration. Oxford University Press.
  • Livermore, Harold V. (2021). "Bartolomeu Dias". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 4 May 2021.
  • Oakley, Robert (2003). "Dias, Bartolomeu". In Gerli, E. Michael (ed.). Medieval Iberia : an encyclopedia. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-93918-6. OCLC 50404104.
  • Ravenstein, Ernst Georg (2010). Bartolomeu Dias. William Brooks Greenlee, Pero Vaz de Caminha. England: Viartis. ISBN 978-1-906421-03-8. OCLC 501399584.
  • Ravenstein, E. G. (1900). "The Voyages of Diogo Cão and Bartholomeu Dias, 1482-88". The Geographical Journal. 16 (6): 625–655. doi:10.2307/1775267. hdl:2027/mdp.39015050934820. ISSN 0016-7398.

External linksEdit

  Media related to Bartolomeu Dias at Wikimedia Commons