Portuguese India Armadas
November 29, 2019 3:28 PM   Subscribe

The Wikipedia article on the Portuguese India Armadas contains a wealth of information on the establishment of a trade route which, starting in 1497, transformed the world for better and for worse. For almost a century, the Portuguese were able to keep the details of their path to India secret, until a chance piratical action on the way back from the Singeing the King of Spain's Beard and the work of a Dutch spy revealed the secret to the rest of Europe.
posted by clawsoon (12 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
On the plus side, it introduced the chili pepper to Asia.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 3:51 PM on November 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

The armada article seems remarkably thorough. For the 2nd armada, the one that chanced upon Brazil, there's a relatively readable first-person account here.
posted by Wobbuffet at 4:29 PM on November 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

Wobbuffet: The armada article seems remarkably thorough.

I loved details like this:
To avoid the worst consequences of doubling Cape Correntes, India ships stayed as far from the African coast as possible but not so close to Madagascar to run into its traps. To find the ideal middle route through the channel, pilots tended to rely on two dangerous longitude markers – the Bassas da India and the Europa rocks. Although conveniently situated in the middle of the channel, they were not always visible above the waves, so sailors often watched for hovering clusters of seabirds, which colonized these rocks, as an indicator of their location. Unfortunately, this was not a reliable method, and many an India ship ended up crashing on those rocks.
It's almost as though the Wikipedia article authors wanted to record enough detail to be able to make the trip themselves.
posted by clawsoon at 5:12 PM on November 29, 2019 [7 favorites]

Are you trying to bait out an eponysterical comment from me or Fiasco da Gama? Because I, for one, will not fall for it.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:32 PM on November 29, 2019 [11 favorites]

Wikipedia on Keumalahayati- woman admiral of Aceh sounds pretty awesome too- she's the one who fought the Dutch spy listed above.
posted by freethefeet at 9:33 PM on November 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

Also this is great thanks for sharing!
posted by freethefeet at 11:50 PM on November 29, 2019

Great post. It reminded me of the Spanish cross-Pacific ships, the Manila Galleons.
posted by Marky at 12:57 AM on November 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

This is the kind of rabbit hole I can go down for years... I don’t know what it is about nautical history, but it fascinates me. I love books about shipwrecks, the crazy early arctic & antarctic explorers, whaling, the discovery & colonization of Australia (The Brutal Shore is fantastic) the Spanish conquistadors ( successful & unsuccessful, like Cabeza de Vaca) everything, and this is a specific topic I hadn’t run across at all. Fantastic stuff!
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:59 AM on November 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

The wikipedia article just throws down 'doubling the cape' 9 times as if everyone knows what that means. I had to look it up, it means passing the same attitude in 2 directions, or 'going around'
posted by rodlymight at 8:11 AM on November 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

Worth a mention that the Portuguese ventures marked the beginning of the end of the Ottomans (and the Venetians) as middlemen for the spice trade. Moreover, the advent of the Manila Galleons coincides with the high tide of Ottoman sea power on the Mediterranean, 1565 being the same year they lost the siege of Malta. (Exciting stuff, the latter. I wrote a book on the subject.)

At least one Ottoman knew what was coming. Writing in 1580, Emir Mehmet ibn-Emir es-Su'udi observed:

"The Europeans have discovered the secret of oceanic travel. They are lords of the new world and of the gates of India The people of Islam are without the latest information in the science of geography and do not understand the menace of the capture of the sea trade by the Europeans.”

There was naval warfare between the two powers in the Indian ocean thereafter, not enough to turn back the clock.
posted by BWA at 10:00 AM on November 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

it means passing the same attitude lattitude in 2 directions, or 'going around'

posted by rodlymight at 12:50 PM on November 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Well, as the nautical historian Jimmy Buffet tells us, changes in latitudes are changes in attitudes.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:45 PM on November 30, 2019 [8 favorites]

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