The Most Famous

EXPLORERS from Portugal

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This page contains a list of the greatest Portuguese Explorers. The pantheon dataset contains 405 Explorers, 26 of which were born in Portugal. This makes Portugal the birth place of the 6th most number of Explorers behind France and Russia.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary Portuguese Explorers of all time. This list of famous Portuguese Explorers is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of Portuguese Explorers.

Photo of Ferdinand Magellan

1. Ferdinand Magellan (1480 - 1521)

With an HPI of 93.48, Ferdinand Magellan is the most famous Portuguese Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 154 different languages on wikipedia.

Ferdinand Magellan ( or ; Portuguese: Fernão de Magalhães, IPA: [fɨɾˈnɐ̃w dɨ mɐɣɐˈʎɐ̃jʃ]; Spanish: Fernando de Magallanes, IPA: [feɾˈnando ðe maɣaˈʎanes]; 4 February 1480 – 27 April 1521) was a Portuguese explorer and Hispanic Monarchy's subject from 1518. He is best known for having planned and led the 1519 Spanish expedition to the East Indies across the Pacific to open a maritime trade route in which he discovered the interoceanic passage bearing thereafter his name and achieving the first European navigation from the Atlantic to Asia. This expedition, where Magellan was killed in the Battle of Mactan (present-day Philippines) in 1521, resulted in the first circumnavigation of the Earth when one of the expedition's two remaining ships of five eventually returned to Spain in 1522.Born 4 February 1480 into a family of minor Portuguese nobility, Magellan became a skilled sailor and naval officer and was in service of the Portuguese Crown in Asia. Confronted to some criminal offences and after King Manuel I of Portugal refused to support his plan to reach the Maluku Islands (the "Spice Islands") by sailing westwards around the American continent, Magellan left Portugal and proposed the expedition to King Charles I of Spain who accepted it. For this move, Magellan was henceforth considered by many in Portugal as a traitor and was never to return. He adopted the name of Fernando de Magellanes and settled in Seville where he married and fathered two children; and from where he organised the expedition. In consideration to the allegiance to the Hispanic Monarchy, Magellan was appointed in 1518 admiral of the Spanish Fleet to command the expedition, the five-ships Armada of Molucca, as well as Commander of the Order of Santiago, one of the highest military ranks of the Spanish Empire.Granted with special powers and privileges by the King, he headed the Armada from Sanlucar de Barrameda south through the Atlantic Ocean to the eastern coast of South America down to the Patagonia. Despite a series of storms and mutinies, they made it through the Strait of Magellan into the Mar del Sur which he renamed the "Peaceful Sea" (the modern Pacific Ocean). The expedition reached Guam and shortly after, the Philippine islands, where Magellan was killed during the Battle of Mactan in April 1521. Under the command of captain Juan Sebastian Elcano, the expedition later reached the Spice Islands and, to navigate back to Spain and avoid seizure by the Portuguese, the two remaining ships split, one attempting unsuccessfully to reach New Spain sailing eastwards across the Pacific while the other, commanded by Elcano, sailed westwards via the Indian Ocean and up the Atlantic coast of Africa to finally arrive at the expedition's port of departure, completing the first circuit of the globe. While at the Kingdom of Portugal's service, Magellan had already reached the Malay Archipelago in Southeast Asia on previous voyages traveling east (from 1505 to 1511–1512). By visiting this area again but now travelling west, Magellan achieved a nearly complete personal circumnavigation of the globe for the first time in history.

Photo of Vasco da Gama

2. Vasco da Gama (1460 - 1524)

With an HPI of 92.45, Vasco da Gama is the 2nd most famous Portuguese Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 149 different languages.

Vasco da Gama, 1st Count of Vidigueira (UK: , US: ; European Portuguese: [ˈvaʃku ðɐ ˈɣɐ̃mɐ]; c. 1460s – 24 December 1524), was a Portuguese explorer and the first European to reach India by sea. His initial voyage to India (1497–1499) was the first to link Europe and Asia by an ocean route, connecting the Atlantic and the Indian oceans and therefore, the West and the Orient. This is widely considered a milestone in world history, as it marked the beginning of a sea-based phase of global multiculturalism. Da Gama's discovery of the sea route to India opened the way for an age of global imperialism and enabled the Portuguese to establish a long-lasting colonial empire in Asia. The violence and hostage taking employed by da Gama and those who followed also assigned a brutal reputation to the Portuguese among India's indigenous kingdoms that would set the pattern for western colonialism in the Age of Exploration. Traveling the ocean route allowed the Portuguese to avoid sailing across the highly disputed Mediterranean and traversing the dangerous Arabian Peninsula. The sum of the distances covered in the outward and return voyages made this expedition the longest ocean voyage ever made until then, far longer than a full voyage around the world by way of the Equator.After decades of sailors trying to reach the Indies, with thousands of lives and dozens of vessels lost in shipwrecks and attacks, da Gama landed in Calicut on 20 May 1498. Unopposed access to the Indian spice routes boosted the economy of the Portuguese Empire, which was previously based along northern and coastal West Africa. The main spices at first obtained from Southeast Asia were pepper and cinnamon, but soon included other products, all new to Europe. Portugal maintained a commercial monopoly of these commodities for several decades. It was not until a century later that other European powers, first the Dutch Republic and England, later France and Denmark, were able to challenge Portugal's monopoly and naval supremacy in the Cape Route. Da Gama led two of the Portuguese India Armadas, the first and the fourth. The latter was the largest and departed for India four years after his return from the first one. For his contributions, in 1524 da Gama was appointed Governor of India, with the title of Viceroy, and was ennobled as Count of Vidigueira in 1519. He remains a leading figure in the history of exploration, and homages worldwide have celebrated his explorations and accomplishments. The Portuguese national epic poem, Os Lusíadas, was written in his honour by Luís de Camões. In March 2016 thousands of artifacts and nautical remains were recovered from the wreck of the ship Esmeralda, one of da Gama's armada, found off the coast of Oman.

Photo of Bartolomeu Dias

3. Bartolomeu Dias (1450 - 1500)

With an HPI of 87.21, Bartolomeu Dias is the 3rd most famous Portuguese Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 72 different languages.

Bartolomeu Dias (c. 1450 – 29 May 1500), was a Portuguese mariner and explorer. He was the first European navigator to round the southern tip of Africa in 1488 and demonstrate that the most effective southward course lay in the open ocean well to west of the African coast. His discoveries effectively established the sea route between Europe and Asia.

Photo of Prince Henry the Navigator

4. Prince Henry the Navigator (1394 - 1460)

With an HPI of 82.18, Prince Henry the Navigator is the 4th most famous Portuguese Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 61 different languages.

Dom Henrique of Portugal, Duke of Viseu (4 March 1394 – 13 November 1460), better known as Prince Henry the Navigator (Portuguese: Infante Dom Henrique, o Navegador), was a central figure in the early days of the Portuguese Empire and in the 15th-century European maritime discoveries and maritime expansion. Through his administrative direction, he is regarded as the main initiator of what would be known as the Age of Discovery. Henry was the fourth child of the Portuguese King John I, who founded the House of Aviz.After procuring the new caravel ship, Henry was responsible for the early development of Portuguese exploration and maritime trade with other continents through the systematic exploration of Western Africa, the islands of the Atlantic Ocean, and the search for new routes. He encouraged his father to conquer Ceuta (1415), the Muslim port on the North African coast across the Straits of Gibraltar from the Iberian Peninsula. He learned of the opportunities offered by the Saharan trade routes that terminated there, and became fascinated with Africa in general; he was most intrigued by the Christian legend of Prester John and the expansion of Portuguese trade. He is regarded as the patron of Portuguese exploration.

Photo of Pedro Álvares Cabral

5. Pedro Álvares Cabral (1467 - 1520)

With an HPI of 80.28, Pedro Álvares Cabral is the 5th most famous Portuguese Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 73 different languages.

Pedro Álvares Cabral (European Portuguese: [ˈpeðɾu ˈaɫvɐr(ɨ)ʃ kɐˈβɾaɫ] or Brazilian Portuguese: [ˈpedɾu ˈawvɐɾis kaˈbɾaw]; born Pedro Álvares de Gouveia; c. 1467 or 1468 – c. 1520) was a Portuguese nobleman, military commander, navigator and explorer regarded as the European discoverer of Brazil. In 1500 Cabral conducted the first substantial exploration of the northeast coast of South America and claimed it for Portugal. While details of Cabral's early life remain unclear, it is known that he came from a minor noble family and received a good education. He was appointed to head an expedition to India in 1500, following Vasco da Gama's newly-opened route around Africa. The undertaking had the aim of returning with valuable spices and of establishing trade relations in India—bypassing the monopoly on the spice trade then in the hands of Arab, Turkish and Italian merchants. Although the previous expedition of Vasco da Gama to India, on its sea route, had recorded signs of land west of the southern Atlantic Ocean (in 1497), Cabral led the first known expedition to have touched four continents: Europe, Africa, America, and Asia.His fleet of 13 ships sailed far into the western Atlantic Ocean, perhaps intentionally, and made landfall (April 1500) on what he initially assumed to be a large island. As the new land was within the Portuguese sphere according to the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, Cabral claimed it for the Portuguese Crown. He explored the coast, realizing that the large land mass was probably a continent, and dispatched a ship to notify King Manuel I of the new territory. The continent was South America, and the land he had claimed for Portugal later came to be known as Brazil. The fleet reprovisioned and then turned eastward to resume the journey to India. A storm in the southern Atlantic caused the loss of several ships, and the six remaining ships eventually rendezvoused in the Mozambique Channel before proceeding to Calicut in India. Cabral was originally successful in negotiating trading rights, but Arab merchants saw Portugal's venture as a threat to their monopoly and stirred up an attack by both Muslims and Hindus on the Portuguese entrepôt. The Portuguese sustained many casualties and their facilities were destroyed. Cabral took vengeance by looting and burning the Arab fleet and then bombarded the city in retaliation for its ruler having failed to explain the unexpected attack. From Calicut the expedition sailed to the Kingdom of Cochin, another Indian city-state, where Cabral befriended its ruler and loaded his ships with coveted spices before returning to Europe. Despite the loss of human lives and ships, Cabral's voyage was deemed a success upon his return to Portugal. The extraordinary profits resulting from the sale of the spices bolstered the Portuguese Crown's finances and helped lay the foundation of a Portuguese Empire that would stretch from the Americas to the Far East.Cabral was later passed over, possibly as a result of a quarrel with Manuel I, when a new fleet was assembled to establish a more robust presence in India. Having lost favor with the King, he retired to a private life of which few records survive. His accomplishments slipped mostly into obscurity for more than 300 years. Decades after Brazil's independence from Portugal in the 19th century, Cabral's reputation began to be rehabilitated by Emperor Pedro II of Brazil. Historians have long argued whether Cabral was Brazil's discoverer, and whether the discovery was accidental or intentional. The first question has been settled by the observation that the few, cursory encounters by explorers before him were barely noticed at the time and contributed nothing to the future development and history of the land which would become Brazil, the sole Portuguese-speaking nation in the Americas. On the second question, no definite consensus has been formed, and the intentional discovery hypothesis lacks solid proof. Nevertheless, although he was overshadowed by contemporary explorers, historians consider Cabral to be a major figure of the Age of Discovery.

Photo of Diogo Cão

6. Diogo Cão (1440 - 1486)

With an HPI of 72.38, Diogo Cão is the 6th most famous Portuguese Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 38 different languages.

Diogo Cão (Portuguese pronunciation: [diˈoɣu ˈkɐ̃w̃]), anglicised as Diogo Cam and also known as Diego Cam, was a Portuguese explorer and one of the most notable navigators of the Age of Discovery. He made two voyages sailing along the west coast of Africa in the 1480s, exploring the Congo River and the coasts of the present-day Angola and Namibia.

Photo of Diego Columbus

7. Diego Columbus (1479 - 1527)

With an HPI of 70.29, Diego Columbus is the 7th most famous Portuguese Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 19 different languages.

Diego Columbus (Portuguese: Diogo Colombo; Spanish: Diego Colón; Italian: Diego Colombo; 1479/1480 – February 23, 1526) was a navigator and explorer under the Kings of Castile and Aragón. He served as the 2nd Admiral of the Indies, 2nd Viceroy of the Indies and 4th Governor of the Indies as a vassal to the Kings of Castile and Aragón. He was the elder son of Christopher Columbus and his wife Filipa Moniz Perestrelo.He was born in Portugal, either in Porto Santo in 1479/1480, or in Lisbon in 1474. He spent most of his adult life trying to regain the titles and privileges granted to his father for his explorations and then denied him in 1500. He was greatly aided in this goal by his marriage to María de Toledo y Rojas, niece of the 2nd Duke of Alba, who was the cousin of King Ferdinand.

Photo of Fernão Mendes Pinto

8. Fernão Mendes Pinto (1509 - 1583)

With an HPI of 69.96, Fernão Mendes Pinto is the 8th most famous Portuguese Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 26 different languages.

Fernão Mendes Pinto (Portuguese pronunciation: [fɨɾˈnɐ̃w̃ ˈmẽdɨʃ ˈpĩtu]; c.1509 – 8 July 1583) was a Portuguese explorer and writer. His voyages are recorded in Pilgrimage (Portuguese: Peregrinação) (1614), his autobiographical memoir. The historical accuracy of the work is debatable due to the many events which seem far fetched or at least exaggerated, earning him the nickname "Fernão Mentes Minto" (wordplay with the Portuguese verb mentir 'lie', meaning "Fernão, are you lying? I am lying."). Some aspects of the work can be verified, particularly through Pinto's service to the Portuguese Crown and by his association with Jesuit missionaries.

Photo of Diogo Dias

9. Diogo Dias (1450 - 1500)

With an HPI of 69.83, Diogo Dias is the 9th most famous Portuguese Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 25 different languages.

Diogo Dias, also known as Diogo Gomes, was a 15th-century Portuguese explorer. He was the brother of Bartolomeu Dias and discovered some of the Cape Verde islands together with António Noli.

Photo of Tristão da Cunha

10. Tristão da Cunha (1460 - 1540)

With an HPI of 69.72, Tristão da Cunha is the 10th most famous Portuguese Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 26 different languages.

Tristão da Cunha (sometimes misspelled Tristão d'Acunha; Portuguese pronunciation: [tɾiʃˈtɐ̃w̃ ðɐ ˈkuɲɐ]; c. 1460 – c. 1540) was a Portuguese explorer and naval commander. In 1514, he served as ambassador from King Manuel I of Portugal to Pope Leo X, leading a luxurious embassy presenting in Rome the new conquests of Portugal. He later became a member of the Portuguese privy council.

Pantheon has 26 people classified as explorers born between 1390 and 1846. Of these 26, none of them are still alive today. The most famous deceased explorers include Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco da Gama, and Bartolomeu Dias.

Deceased Explorers

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