India Route Shipwrecks Project

The objective of this project is the study of the Portuguese Indiamen that sailed annually from Lisbon to India, from 1498 to the 17th century, engaged in the commerce of pepper, spices, cotton, and many other goods.


With his successful trip to India, around the Cape of Good Hope, Vasco da Gama opened a maritime route to the Asian markets of spices and exotic goods. The Portuguese crown sought to keep this commerce under state control, and sent a fleet to India almost every year, for over a century.

View of Lisbon with ships from Genealogia do Infante D. Fernando, 1530-34, London, British Library.

These voyages are reasonably well documented, as well as their routes, their ports of call, the names of the ship's captains, the Asian governors, and the notable soldiers.

We know a good deal about the economics of this trade, its impact in 16th-Century Europe, the business networks that were generated and developed in various countries, and the role of the Church in the European expansion to East.

At present we don't know much about the principal vehicle of this expansion: the Portuguese Indiaman. In fact, it is amazing how little is known about the Portuguese naus that plowed the maritime route to India from 1498 to about 1650.

A handful of interesting texts and treatises, a small number of representations in charts, drawings, and paintings, and around twenty shipwrecks are all the clues we have to interpret, in the attempt to understand and reconstruct these ships.We know almost nothing about the standard Portuguese Indiaman, its routes, evolution, and performance at sea.

The India Route

We know very little about the way in which these vessels were conceived and built, and there are enormous gaps in our knowledge about their size, shape, construction details, structural strength, design of upper work, or even basic rigging solutions.

From an estimated total of around 220 shipwrecks, only a few Portuguese naus have been found in the 20th century, and almost all were looted by curious divers or destroyed by treasure hunters.

Very few have been excavated or even surveyed by archaeologists, and the rare scholarly publications that resulted from the archaeological recording of these shipwrecks have become precious, considering the scarcity of information available.

View of Lisbon with ships from the so-called Livro de Horas de D. Manuel, 1517-c.26, MNAA, Lisbon.

This page is intended as a contribution to this understanding, and a guide through the bibliography and other information available pertaining to the Portuguese naus da Índia.

The main objective of this project is to gather, organize, and make easily accessible all available information on Portuguese Indiamen.



List of Portuguese Indiamen Shipwrecks (after Paulo Guinote, Eduardo Frutuoso, and Antonio Lopes)

Portuguese Shipwrecks: Accounts and other Documents (I am greatly indebted to Eng. Paulo Monteiro's support and research for this section)

The nau Nossa Senhora dos Mártires, 1606


Bibliography and Resources

Francisco Contente Domingues Bibliography






Who was who (Paulo Guinote)

Life Aboard (Eduardo Frutuoso and Antonio Lopes)

Problemas de recrutamento para as armadas da Carreira da Índia (Eulália Paulo and Paulo Guinote)

Relação de capitaens mores e naos que vierão do reyno... (AHU Document - Transcription by Eduardo Frutuoso)

Armadas que partiram para a Índia (1509-1640) (BNL Document - Transcription by Paulo Guinote)

Ascensão e declínio da Carreira da Índia (Paulo Guinote)