Bartolomeu Diaz (or Bartolomeu Dias) was born in 1450. Some historians and most of the people believe that he was born in the Algarve, Portugal. It is know that he had a jewish ancestry, but there is very little information about his family. About his antecesors it´s only know that a family member, Dinis Diaz e Fernandez, navigator and sqire of John I, led several maritime expeditions along the cost of North Africa during the 15th century, having visited the Cape Verde Islands in the year 1445. He also had a brother called Diogo Diaz.
Bartolomeu Diaz

Glogster about Bartolomeu Diaz.
Here you can see a map about Bartolomeu Diaz´s voyage.
Here you can see a video about Bartolomeu Diaz.

In his childhod, Bartolomeu recived classes of mathematics and astronomy in the university of Lisbon. He had navigational skills to determine a place's coordinates and to face strong storms.

In 1481 Diaz traveled with the navigator Diego de Azambuja in an expedition to the Gold Coast (Western Coast of Africa, current Ghana). After this voyage, he was named superintendent of the royal warehouses.

Bartolomeu Diaz´s first exploration

In 1486, the king João II (also Juan or John) gave Bartolomeu Diaz the command of a small fleet to surround Africa in the south, with the public intention of finding out more about the mythical Christian kingdom of Prestor John, with whom the king wanted to start a friendship. The undeclared intention of the expedition was investigating a sea route to India.

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The ships

The expedition left from Lisbon at the end of July or at the beginning of August of 1487, with two caravels with 50 tones of armaments each and a navy with supplies.
  • São Cristóvão, a caravel, commanded by Bartolomeu Diaz and piloted by Pêro de Alenquer
  • S. Pantaleão, a caravel, commanded by João Infante and piloted by Álvaro Martins
  • A ship with supplies, commanded by Pêro Diaz, Bartolomeu Diaz’s brother, and piloted by João de Santiago.

In the expedition there were also two black men and four black women caught by Diogo Cão in the western coast of Africa, who serve as interpreters and would explain the local villages the greatness of the Portuguese.

The route

The fleet first sailed south, along the western coast of Africa towards the mouth of river Congo. They went the whole length of the coast of Angola, and the 8th December they arrived to the current Namibia, the furthest point in the south charted by Diogo Cão’s expedition. At the end of December of 1487 they reached a place near Orange River. Then, they continued sailing south until they reached the current country of South Africa. In January of 1488, the two ships got caught in a strong storm, and they crossed the Cape of Good Hope without realising it, while they struggled with the strength of the wind and the sea. Then, they continued sailing east, charting the coast of the current South Africa until Algoa bay (700 km in the east of the Cape of Good Hope). Diaz’s expedition reached its furthest point in the Indian Ocean the 12th March of 1488, near the mouth of Bushman River. Bartolomeu Diaz wanted to continue sailing, but his crew refused to, due to the lack of supplies and the deterioration of the ships because of the storm. They returned to Portugal following the coast towards the west, and found the "Cabo das Tormentas" (Cape of Storms), now Cape of Good Hope.
In December of 1488, after several stopovers, they returned to Lisbon, finishing a trip of 16 months and 17 days.
King João II renamed the cabo das Tormentas as "cabo da Boa Esperança" (Cape of Good Hope), because it is the place where a new route towards the east to get to India started.
Diaz had explored in this trip about 2,030 km of unknown African coast, but the success of his discovery of the sea route to India was not rewarded.


The discovery of the sea route around Africa was important because it meant that, for the first time, Europeans could travel directly to India and other parts of Asia without using the route through the middle east of Europe, which was more expensive because of the Islamic Empire. However, the official report of the exepedition has been lost.

Route of spices by land (called the route of silk)

This video explains Bartolomeu Diaz's sea route along the African coast:

Other explorations

After his first expedition, Diaz´s career as navigator declined. The king had taken into consideration other Portuguese explorers to lead a large scale expedition, expected to reach India by bordering the southern tip of Africa and continuing east.

In 1494, king Manuel I appointed Bartolomeu Diaz to supervise the construction of two square-rigged ships for Vasco da Gama´s expedition to circumnavigate the Cape of Good Hope and continue the route to India. Dias only took part in the first part of the Gama's voyage, as far as Cape Verde Islands.

Square-rigged ship
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Diaz was also one of the captains and sailors of the second Indian expedition, lead by Pedro Alvares Cabral. On the 14th of May of 1500, when the expedition reached the Cape of Good Hope, a terrible storm made four ships of the fleet sink, in one of which Dias travelled. All the sailors died, including Bartolomeu Diaz. During this expedition, the objective of which India was, the fleet had also suffered a deviation which had made it arrive at the coast of Brazil. It is not konwn if this was an accident or Cabral's intention was, in fact, visiting the American lands which had been asigned to Portugal by the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494).

His legacy

The discovery made by Bartolomeu Dias marked the end of the project established by Prince Henry the Navigator in the 1410s to find the southern tip of Africa, search for India and establish a trading route between Europe and Asia. This route would be safer than the one across the Mediterranean sea. Indeed, his trip contributed to the establishment of the Portuguese Empire in the begining of the 16th century, that would lead to an increase in trade in Africa and Asia with Portugal.
He appears in the Portuguese bills of 2,000 shields.

Bill of 2,000 shields