Gama, Vasco, da (1460?-1524), a Portuguese navigator. Da Gama was of noble descent and early acquired a reputation as a brave and able sea commander. When the king of Portugal decided to send an expedition in search of a passage south of Africa to India, Vasco da Gama was selected to command. After confessing and receiving absolution after the manner of those going to their death, Vasco and his companions set out with four ships July 8, 1497. In spite of storms and tempests, May 20th of the following year they reached Calicut, India, and set up a marble pillar in evidence of their arrival in the country. In September, 1499, they anchored at home, bringing the king a glowing account of the prospects of trade with India. A fleet of thirteen ships was sent out at once to establish a factory for trade with India. Leaving a colony behind, the ships returned in due time, heavily laden with rich shawls, silks, spices, precious gems, and other wares of the Indies, bringing great gain into the king's coffers.
Acting at the instigation of Moorish merchants who did not want to see the Portuguese in that country, the Indians put to death these first settlers. Vasco had not been treated very well himself by the king of Calicut. "I feel in my heart a great desire and inclination to go and make great havoc of him," said he. In 1502 he was sent accordingly with a fleet to the coast of India. He bombarded Calicut and treated the inhabitants with a great degree of cruelty. He was made Portuguese viceroy of India, with the lofty title of Lord of the Conquest of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia, and India. He was instrumental in making Portugal for a time the leading commercial nation of Europe. He died in India, and was buried in a monastery, but his remains were subsequently brought home and interred with pomp and ceremony.