Indian Ocean Conflict Documents

Below are a series of vignettes regarding the violent intrusion of the Portuguese into the Indian Ocean world.

Would you describe the collection of events below as a military revolution? Why or why not?

(More from the) Journal of the First Voyage of Vasco Da Gama (1497-99)

These Indians are tawny men; they wear but little clothing and have long beards and long hair, which they braid. They told us that they ate no beef. Their language differs from that of the Arabs, but some of them know a little of it, as they hold much intercourse with them.

On the day on which the captain major went up to the town in the boats, these [not] Christian Indians fired off many bombards [heavy cannons] from their vessels, and when they saw him pass they raised their hands and shouted lustily Christ! Christ! [Probably "Krishna"]

That same night they asked the king's permission to give us a night fete. And when night came they fired off many bombards sent up rockets and raised loud shouts.

Source: See the full text

After the humiliating experience for Da Gama's expedition, the Portuguese returned to the Indian Ocean annually with a series of heavily armed squadrons to establish trading posts with force.


According to Ames (pp 28-35), the shaky nature of relationships with South Asians (and thus access to Indian Ocean trade goods) meant that the Portuguese "decided to embrace open warfare." Encountering several setbacks (see Ames for details), the Portuguese continued to fight to control ports.
Next is a description of a Portuguese counterattack to re-take Goa.

Commentaries of the Great Afonso de Alboquerque (1510)

And now that the great Afonso Dalboquerque had made all arrangements to attack the city [of Goa] on the following day, before morning broke, which was the day of St. Catharine, the 25th day of the month of November, of one thousand five hundred and ten, the captains, who were already prepared, arrived with all their men, and boarded the flag-ship; and they found Afonso Dalboquerque already gone on board his skiff, and a pardo with a hundred and fifty soldiers waiting for them. And after a general confession had been made by all of them, they arranged themselves in three companies ....[to attack the Goan] stockades, each company taking up the position that had been marked out for it.

The Turks [some Ottoman Turks, some Turkic- or Persian-speaking Muslims from Central Asia, but really, like "Moor," just an alternate way of saying "Muslim."], who were stationed therein, defended themselves for a long time, and prevented any entry of the enemy, and Afonso Dalboquerque, with the men he had in his company, on arriving at the palisades which Dinis Fernandez had already cut down, went up along the edge of the ridge at the double. The Turks, because they did not fear any attack from that side, as soon as they felt themselves harassed by people at their back, after making a long resistance, began to retire from the stockades. The captains, when they perceived that the enemy were beginning to become embarrassed with the arrival of Afonso Dalboquerque, fell upon them so valiantly, carrying in their van [front] the Apostle Sanctiago [Saint James the greater], who was going with them as their guide, that in a short space of time they got into the stockades, and with the enemy in flight made their way pell-mell as far as the gates of the city, without looking behind them, killing and maiming many Turks and Rumes [specifically meaning Ottoman Turks], all of them of superior class, and many well attired in silken habits and brocades ...

With this fresh relief our men fell upon the Moors [Muslims] on foot and on horseback, and one and all closed so desperately with them, that they routed them, and all together entered pell-mell through the gates of the fortress; some of our party being left behind already dead or wounded. Manuel de Lacerda, who was marching along wounded in his face by an arrow, just as he entered by the gate encountered a Turk upon a horse, and killed him, and mounted the horse, and performed a great feat in continuing to go on, for he had a piece of broken arrow fixed in his face, and all his armour was smirched in the blood which ran down from it. ...

As soon as the fortress had been abandoned, Afonso Dalboquerque gave orders that the gates should be shut that led to the city, and a good watch kept over them, in order that our men should not follow the Moors, nor disband themselves to plunder. For he feared that as the enemy were very numerous, they would unite together, and bring about another catastrophe like that which befel the Portuguese at Calicut. So he gave orders to all the captains to take up positions in the walls of the fortress. ..

[Dalboquerque] offered up many thanks to our Lord for thus delivering them from the dangers which had been prepared against them, had they operated against the fortress, as the captains had thought they ought to have done. Out of our party, one hundred and fifty soldiers were wounded. ... And seven were killed...

After having commanded the captains to take up their positions and guard the fortress, Afonso Dalboquerque gave permission to the soldiers to sack the city, and free right to keep everything they took; but as for his own share, he cared for nothing more than the contentment derived for having been enabled to keep his word [about avenging earlier losses].

In the city were captured a hundred large guns (bombardas) and a large quantity of smaller artillery, and two hundred horses, and many supplies and munitions of war. All these were ordered to be delivered to the factor for the king. And after the city had been pillaged, Afonso Dalboquerque told the captains to reconnoitre the whole of the island and to put to the sword all the Moors, men, women, and children, that should be found, and to give no quarter to any one of them ; for his determination was to leave no seed of this race throughout the whole of the island. And he did this, not only because it was necessary for the security of the land that there should be none but Hindoos within it, but also as a punishment for the treachery of which the Moors had been guilty when he took the city for the first time. And for four days continuously they poured out the blood of the Moors who were found therein ; and it was ascertained that of men, women, and children, the number exceeded six thousand. ["Hindoos" started their own massacre nearby.]

As soon as the despoiling of the land had been accomplished, Afonso Dalboquerque turned his attention without delay to the fortifications of the city, and ordered that a great quantity of cement should be prepared, and all the sepulchres [tombs] of the Moors thrown down, in order to obtain plenty of stone .... And, as he hoped to establish in Goa the principal seat of the Governors of India, he so arranged the plan, that the palace of the Çabaio remained within the boundary, because the edifices of it were very nobly designed, a work of great beauty and finely built. And by reason of this great diligence, in a very short time he completed the fortress where it now stands, with its towers and ditches, with their breastworks, for the defence of the harbour and anchorage of the ships.

At this time some men were progressing with the destruction of some old walls, in order to get stones for the works of defence, when they discovered in the foundations an image of the crucifix in copper. When the news of this ran through the city, Afonso Dalboquerque came down at once with all the people and clergy who were with him, and they carried the crucifix, with great devotion and many tears, to the church. Great wonder was there that then seized upon all beholders; for within the memory of man there was no record of any Christians [the Portuguese realized by this time that South Asians were not Christian] ever having been at that place, and they believed that oar Lord had sent down that sign from Heaven, in order to shew that it was his will that the kingdom should belong to the King of Portugal and not to the [Sultan], and that their mosques should become houses of prayer, wherein His [the Christian God's] name should be worshipped.

Source: The Commentaries of the Great Afonso de Alboquerque, vol. 3, via Ames, The Globe Encompassed, 56-57

There were, of course, reactions to the Portuguese from South Asians (and East Africans, Arabians, Southeast Asians, and Chinese, too, but we won't read them here). These reactions took a number of forms, as demonstrated below.

A member of Sultan Nasir al-Din Nusrat Shah's (Bengali Sultan before the Mughals conquered it) Court, 1520s

[This is advice to the Sultan regarding a dispute between two factions in the court:] As for what these lords say, that Your Highness should not make peace with the Portuguese, they say this because they have sufficient revenues that Your Highness has given them in grant, and they are [high-ranking nobles], and above all they are [400 miles] inland, where they expect to receive no harm, and they do not remember that the poor [Bengali] merchants, who sail on the sea pay for all these things, because Your Highness should certainly be aware that the Portuguese are so powerful on the sea that nothing can escape them, and that if their very smallest boat ... is placed at the bar of Chatigao or off Satigao, no other ship would be powerful enough to go out or to come in. And if this were to happen, and if the merchants cannot sell the merchandise of the land in it, while at the same time the goods from outside cannot enter the kingdom either, I believe that the governors would be hard put to pay the required to. ...

Source: Sanjay Sunbrahmanyam, From the Tagus to the Ganges (2005), 61.


Tahir Muhammad (ibn 'Imad al-Din Hasan ibn Sultan 'Ali ibn Haji Muhammad Husain Sabzwari) was an Iranian-born man whose family served the Mughal court as officials and poets. He had been sent by Akbar, the Mughal Emperor, to Goa to interact with the Portuguese.

Tahir Muhammad, The Immaculate Garden, ca. 1600

In sum, the community of Firang [Portuguese] wear very fine clothes but they are often very dirty and pimply. They do not like to use water. They bathe very rarely. Amongst them, washing after relieveing onself is considered improper. They are very good at using firearms, and they are particularly brave on ships and in the water. But in contrast to this, they are not so brave on land. The Malabari community, who live near Ceylon, and are Muslims, are about 5000 in the number of their households. Their principal task is to fight [as ghazi] the Franks. Despite their weaknesses, they overcome the Franks.

As in Sahelian Africa (the Songhay Empire), a system of importing horses for military purposes existed in South Asia. As the Portuguese web of global trade expanded, Portuguese horse-traders began to supplement--and sometimes supplant--the existing trade. One of these merchants wrote of his experiences in southern "India."

Chronicle of Fernão Nuniz (ca. 1536)

This King [of Vijayanagar, a large kingdom on the southern tip of India] has continually fifty thousand paid soldiers, amongst whom are six thousand horsemen who belong to the palace guard.... He has also twenty thousand spearmen and shield-bearers, and three thousand men to look after the elephants in the stables; he has sixteen hundred grooms who attend the horses, and also three hundred horse trainers and two thousand artificers, namely blacksmiths, masons, and carpenters, and washermen who wash clothes. These are the people he has and pays every day; he gives them their allowance at the gate of the palace. To the six thousand horsemen the King gives horses free and gives provision for them every month.... The King every year buys thirteen thousand horses of Hurmuz ... and gains much money by them; because after taking out the good Persian horses, he sells those which are country-bred, and [charges] five for a thousand pardaos [~ 5g silver each] .... and with the money so obtained he pays for the Arabs [horses] that he buys of the Portuguese, in such a way that his captains [who pay for their horses] pay the cost of the whole without anything going out of the [Royal] Treasury.

Source: The Vijayanagar Empire, Robert Sewell, ed., 381-82.



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