Bloomberg News

Vasco Da Gama Torched a Muslim Pilgrim Ship: Lewis Lapham

September 08, 2012

Nigel Cliff

Nigel Cliff is the author of "The Last Crusade: The Epic Voyages of Vasco da Gama." Photographer: Marcus Harris via Bloomberg

Vasco da Gama is celebrated for leading the first expedition to sail directly from Europe to India in 1498. He was also a fierce Christian crusader.

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A subsequent voyage by a fleet of 15 heavily armed Portuguese ships reached India in October 1502, and da Gama then set about capturing Arab vessels.

The Miri was a pilgrim ship coming home from Mecca with many of the wealthiest Calicut merchants on board. They tried to negotiate their freedom with gold and spices but were refused.

Desperate Muslim women held up their infants and toddlers and pleaded for mercy. After looting the ship, da Gama spared only 17 children, who were forcibly baptized.

As screams rent the air, the Miri was then burned with the rest of the 300 people on board, “very cruelly and without the slightest pity,” according to one eyewitness.

I spoke with Nigel Cliff, author of “The Last Crusade: The Epic Voyages of Vasco da Gama,” on the following topics:

1. Anti-Islam Sentiment

2. Open Spice Trade

3. Creating Enemies

4. Destruction of Miri

5. Freeing Asian Seas

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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

Muse highlights include Zinta Lundborg on Weekend Best and Jeremy Gerard on theater.

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at lhl@laphamsquarterly.org.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.


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