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Portuguese navigator and explorer, 1450-1500. Explored the coasts of western Africa for kings John II and Manuel I. His surname is also spelled Diaz.

His descent is not known but believed to be quite humble. Unlike other famous seafarers of the time, he was not a freelancer but spent his life in the service of the Portuguese court.

His first major assignment was the exploration of the Gold Coast in western Africa. In August 1487 he set sail for another exploratory voyage down the African coast and ended up rounding the southern tip of the continent in February 1488 after being blown off course by a storm. This voyage paved the way for Vasco da Gama to discover the complete sea route to India nine years later. Dias himself did not have the supplies and his men were tired so he did not continue all the way to India.

Dias died in a storm in the South Atlantic while commanding a vessel on its way to India. During the fatal voyage, he had become one of the first Europeans to see Brazil although, at the time, they thought it was an island.

His voyages and those of others gave Portugal the edge in the "spice race" to open sea routes to India after the Turkish conquest of Constantinople and closure of the overland route to Asia. The Cape of Good Hope which he first saw was named thus by John II, hoping it would lead to the riches of the orient. Dias, having first-hand experience, had named it the Cape of Storms.

Having made several voyages from Portugal down the west coast of Africa, Bartholomeu Dias was recognized as one of the most knowledgeable of the Portuguese explorers on the subject of the waters off of the Dark Continent when, in August of 1487, he was tapped by the Crown to open a trans-African trade route to India.

Six months after starting out, he made history by landing on the southeast coast of Africa -- the first European to do so. It seemed that he was well on his way to fulfilling his charter, but after making more progress, the crew of his two ships, not only losing faith but also having lost their separate supply ship, encouraged Dias to turn back prematurely, leaving a spot in the history books open for Vasco da Gama to reach India and lay the foundation for trade some 10 years later.

Upon his return to Lisbon in December of 1488, he reported to the court and to the public the details of his journey. In the audience, paying close attention, and furiously taking notes, was another accomplished seaman, from Genoa, Italy, by the name of Cristoforo Colombo.

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