Discovery of the Maritime Route to India, the Strategy »
Portuguese discovery on the Maritime Route to India

Discovery of the Maritime Route to India, the Strategy

Portugal's strategic objective, with the discovery of the sea route to India, was to be able to trade spices that were controlled by land and Mediterranean routes. It was the saga of the Portuguese Discoveries.

Trade routes between Europe and the East

The main trade routes from East to West were controlled in the Mediterranean Sea, through which spices (China, Persia, Japan and India) were introduced into the mercantilist nations of Europe, such as Venice.

Venice played a crucial role in trade between the East and Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

With the end of the Crusades, the Spice Route was created, which crossed the Middle East and reached Europe from Venetian traders.

The Arabs had a monopoly on this route and Venice became the center of European trade.

Furthermore, the conquest of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, led by Venice, contributed to the resurgence of trade between the West and the East.

The Portuguese mercantile bourgeoisie found in the strategy of D. João I, and the so-called “Ínclita Geração”, a way of investing in new commercial ventures, with a view to reducing the high prices charged by intermediaries and thus increasing the profitability of this trade.

It would therefore be important to find new maritime routes that would make direct contact with eastern producers and traders.

The Portuguese Discoveries

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One of D. João I's sons, Infante D. Henrique, brought together several navigators, cartographers, cosmographers and seafarers in the Sagres region, which became a major center of maritime technology at the time.

Many of these new techniques were secret, but there were always attempts to uncover these secrets. O Cantino planisphere Today kept in Italy, it was an Italian spy who managed to obtain it and it contained the Portuguese discoveries until 1502.

In February 1488, three Portuguese ships, captained by the navigator Bartolomeu Dias, passed the Cape of Storms (currently the Cape of Good Hope), which until then was one of the limits of the known World.

The discovery of the sea route from Europe to India through the Atlantic Ocean and circumnavigating the African continent was made under the command of the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama, during the reign of D. Manuel I, in 1497.

This discovery consolidated the maritime presence and dominance of maritime trade routes to the East by the Portuguese and made it necessary to control the ports through which these spices were exported.

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Pássaro no Ombro

It was, therefore, necessary for the Portuguese fleets to control the ocean around the ports, as well as the ships that sailed there and that had to pay for a trade license.

Trade in the Indian Ocean was thus allowed to continue as long as a tribute was paid to the Viceroy. Portugal excluded other European peoples from this permission, but did not colonize the interior of the lands where spices were produced, in particular.

The New Portuguese Maritime Routes and India’s Career

Indian Ocean trade routes linking Southeast Asia, India, Arabia and East Africa began at least as early as the XNUMXrd century BC.

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This vast international network of routes linked all of these areas, as well as East Asia (particularly China). Long before Europeans “discovered” the Indian Ocean, traders in Arabia, Gujarat, and other coastal areas used dhows with triangular sails to take advantage of the seasonal monsoon winds.

The discovery of several routes through the Oceans allowed the Portuguese to establish several important trade routes between Europe and Asia during the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, which served to transport numerous goods between the two continents, especially spices, metals and silk.

Pedro Álvares Cabral's fleet, which discovered Brazil in 1500, was the second sent to India and consisted of 13 ships.

The “Carreira da India” was a maritime route that went directly from Lisbon to Goa in India, passing through the Cape of Good Hope.

It was the most important maritime route controlled by the Portuguese and, between 1497 and 1650, there were 1033 ships leaving Lisbon for the “Carreira da India”.

Portuguese ships were able to carry loads of more than a thousand tons and take on board almost a thousand people.

Portugal survived independent of Spain always at the cost of military victories and, therefore, hired the best gunsmiths from an early age.

The Portuguese boats were equipped with breech-loading cannons, which were much faster than muzzle-loading ones.

In the XNUMXth century, in the naval battle between the English and the French, the cannons on boats were still muzzle-loading.

The shooting power of the Portuguese boats was in fact excellent compared to that of their opponents.

China, for example, granted Portugal the territory where the city of Macau was located for the help it provided to put an end to the piracy that existed off its coast.

This explains how Portugal, a small territory with few people, managed to end the monopoly on trade from the Far East to the rest of the world, through Venice.

It was also created the world's first global currency, called “The Portuguese” which facilitated trade between different countries.

Military Confrontations in the East

After the discovery of the sea route to India, Portugal's hegemony was only possible with several wars and clashes, with the Battle of Diu and Oman being very relevant.

The Battle of Diu

The Battle of Diu took place on February 3, 1509, and was a naval confrontation between the Portuguese Empire and a joint fleet of the Burji Sultanate (Egypt), the Ottoman Empire, the Zamorin of Calicut (India) and the Sultan of Gujarat (India). ).

Battle of Diu Credito Francisco Loureiro De Araújo, via Wikimedia Commons
Battle of Diu; Credit: Francisco Loureiro de Araújo, via Wikimedia Commons

The Portuguese victory in this battle had several important implications:

1. Maritime Dominion: The victory consolidated the naval power of the Portuguese navies, which remained invincible for several decades. This battle marked the beginning of European domination of the Eastern seas, which lasted until the Second World War.

2. Territorial Expansion: After the battle Portugal quickly captured several important ports in the Indian Ocean, including Goa, Ceylon, Malacca, Bombay and Hormuz.

3. Political Impact: The battle catapulted the growth of the Portuguese Empire and established its political dominance for more than a century. Furthermore, the defeat of the Egyptian armada accelerated the ruin and fall of the Cairo sultanate.

4. Psychological Effect: The psychological effect of this victory was annihilating, as it showed the Indians that the Portuguese navy was not only invincible for them, but also for the Arabs and Venetians whose alliance, until then, had controlled oceanic trade.

Battle of Diu 1509 Credito Crenelator Diagram via Wikimedia Commons
Diagram of the Battle of Diu 1509; Credit: Crenelator via Wikimedia Commons

Battle of Oman

Later, in August 1554, another major naval battle took place in the Gulf of Oman, between a Portuguese armada commanded by D. Fernando de Meneses and the “Indian Ocean fleet” of the Ottoman Empire, commanded by Seydi Ali Reis.

The Portuguese fleet was made up of 6 galleons, 6 caravels, 25 fustas and 1200 men. On the other hand, the Ottoman fleet consisted of 15 galleys and 1500 men.

Portuguese ambush against the galleys of Seydi Ali Reis in the Indian Ocean, August 1554 Credit Lisuarte de Abreu, via Wikimedia Commons
Portuguese ambush against the galleys of Seydi Ali Reis in the Indian Ocean, August 1554 Credit: Lisuarte de Abreu, via Wikimedia Commons

Since the Siege of Diu in 1538, the Ottoman Empire sought to counter Portuguese influence in the Indian Ocean.

In 1552, the Ottoman admiral Piri Reis led a series of expeditions around Arabia against the Portuguese with some success.

At the end of 1553, Sultan Suleiman appointed Seydi Ali Reis as admiral of the Ottoman naval forces in Basra (present-day Iraq).

In February 1554, the Portuguese dispatched a squadron from Goa made up of six galleons, six caravels and twenty-five fustas.

The Portuguese squadron commanded by D. Fernando de Meneses had the following mission:

  • firstly, capture the ships that at this time of year used to return to the Red Sea, leaving from the Bay of Bengal or Aceh;
  • secondly, to combat the Turkish galleys stationed in Basra, if they went out to sea again.

The Turks set sail from Basra in early August.

The Portuguese forces in Muscat were immediately warned of the movement of the Turks and set out for Cape Mussandão to confront them.

The battle resulted in a Portuguese victory with the loss of all the Ottoman galleys.

These two battles, Diu and Oman, were crucial in the expansion and consolidation of the Portuguese Empire.

The Discovery of the Sea Route to India

Thus, step by step, the maritime route to India was discovered and mapped, aiming to control the spice trade routes, but with the maritime experience gained, Brazil was discovered and China and Japan were reached.

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1 thought on “Discovery of the Maritime Route to India, the Strategy”

  1. I found the part that talks about naval battles interesting, as it was detailed, with some information that I didn't know.
    Regarding the motivations for establishing a route to the Indian Ocean, there are historians who agree that the objective was not just commercial, but geostrategic: the fall of Constantinople had had enormous repercussions in Christian Europe, and the advance of the Turks in the Mediterranean constituted an enormous threat. . Domination of the Indian Ocean by a Christian power would be a “rearguard attack” that would deprive the Turks (the Mamluks of Egypt, later the Ottomans throughout the Middle East) of substantial resources. The famous search for “Preste João” was part of this strategy. But as at the time it was described mainly in religious terms (“the expansion of the Christian faith”), this component of the expansion strategy ended up being seen as an argument that was not very credible in light of current values.
    Finally, there are no traces that give credibility to the physical existence of a “Sagres School”… in Sagres or its surroundings. This “school” was most likely a “network” of knowledge (cartography, astronomy, navy, etc.) with centers in Lisbon, Lagos and other ports, laboriously recruited and financed by Infante D. Henrique and, according to some historians, by Infante D. Pedro, especially suited for this due to his relationships throughout Europe.

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