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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Maritime history of Calicut - the Annual Dilli Conference

It was a proud moment for Calicut Heritage Forum when our member Dr. Oliver Noone - our resident expert on the history warfare and weaponry - was invited to present a paper at the annual 'Dilli' series INA Seminar on Naval Weaponry through the Ages held at the Indian Naval Academy, Ezhimala on 16-17 October 2015.. (The INA christened the Annual Seminar as the "Dilli" series in tune with the Mt Dilli Lighthouse at Ezhimala which has been a witness to the developments of maritime history of the region.)

Dr. Noone's paper dealt with the historic Battle of Calicut 1503 which, according to him, was the first battle where ships were used to target the rivals, rather than as a means of transporting warriors.  In naval history it is  the first recorded sea battle fought to a prearranged pattern as a stand-off artillery action by squadrons sailing in close-hauled line ahead. It was fought between Vasco da Gama and an Indo-Arab fleet of Zamorin of Calicut.
Historians are yet to recognise the significance of the Battle of Calicut, 1503. Vasco da Gama's first voyage was one of pure exploration, seeking to find pepper and the mythical Prestor John and his fleet. In many ways it ws part of

'The Last Crusade', as described by Nigel Cliff in his book of that title. The Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494 had given Portugal the rights to all lands to the east of the line passing roughly between the Cape Verde Islands and West Indies which Columbus had already discovered. This had the blessings of the Papal envoy who was present at the signing. Thus, the world had been divided between Spain and Portugal and it was the religious duty of Portugal to`usher in a new global age of Christianity'. 
Thus, the first voyage of da Gama was more of a religious expedition in the tradition of the Crusades. This is reflected even in such minor details as the naming of the two new ships built for the expedition - Sao Gabriel and Sao Rafael - after saints. Before embarking, the sailors assembled at the small chapel in the village of Belem from where the great armada had once sailed for Ceuta. The 'priest received a general confession and absolved the departing Crusaders of penance for their sins, and the full company rowed out to the ships'. The anonymous chronicler on board Paulo da Gama made his first entry on July 8, 1497 : 'May God our Lord permit us to accomplish this voyage in his service.Amen!'
In contrast, the second voyage of da Gama which sailed out of Lisbon on February 10, 1502 was designed to instil terror with a fleet of twenty ships, financed and manned by English, French, German, Genoese, Venetian, Spanish, Flemish and Florentine crew. The instructions were very clear : apart from shoring up Portuguese factories, force more African and Indian cities to agree to trade monopolies, it was 'deal with the truculent Zamorin of Calicut'. The strongly armed sub fleet of Vincente Sodre was to stay behind and escalate the war against Islam.
Thus, the battle of Calicut was the first battle which displayed the superior strategy and fire power of the European for which the Indo-Arab defence was no match.


  1. Most of you would not have been lucky enough to listen to Dr Noone - When he speaks about these topics, you can see the passion and fervor in his eyes and the eagerness in the tone, as he narrates the story. I have sat and listened to his stories a few times and enjoyed them immensely. For a doctor of Medicine to find time to dally on such hobbies is commendable. When you do get a chance or want to discuss later medieval malabar history, give him a call. I am sure he will be delighted to launch into the topic!!

  2. It was a great a read about the heritage of Calicut. Appreciate the eagerness and commitment and passion of Dr. Noone.

  3. Thank you Ajay La for visiting our site and for the kind comments. Please keep visiting.


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