‘The sea without end is Portuguese.’ Fernando Pessoa


In 1497, Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope and became the first European to sail to India. This feat came off the back of sixty years of coherent effort by the Portuguese to find a way out of the Atlantic Ocean. Then they set about conquering the world.


As remarkable as Columbus and the conquistador expeditions, the history of Portuguese exploration is now almost forgotten. But Portugal's navigators cracked the code of the Atlantic winds, launched Gama’s expedition and beat the Spanish to the spice kingdoms of the East - then began creating the first long-range maritime empire. Driven by crusading fever and the lure of the spice trade, a few thousand Portuguese, equipped with a new technology – ship-borne bronze cannon – joined up the oceans and surprised the world. In an astonishing blitz of thirty years, a handful of visionary and utterly ruthless empire builders, with few resources but breathtaking ambition, attempted to seize the Indian Ocean, destroy Islam and take control of global trade.


This is narrative history at its most vivid - an epic tale of navigation, trade and technology, money and religious zealotry, political diplomacy and espionage, sea battles and shipwrecks, endurance, courage and terrifying brutality. Drawing on extensive first-hand accounts, many of which have never been available in English before, it brings to life the exploits of an extraordinary band of conquerors - men such as Afonso de Albuquerque, the first European since Alexander the Great to found an Asian empire - who set in motion five hundred years of European colonisation and unleashed the forces of globalisation that shape the modern world.



UK edition

US edition

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