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The Correct Way to Sail from Lisbon to Calicut

A Newsletter Published at Nuremberg in 1505

The history of commerce records few events equal in significance to the establishment of direct trade relations between western Europe and Asia at the close of the fifteenth century. The Cape of Good Hope route to the Indies was followed by the Portuguese, Dutch, English, and French in the building of their Eastern empires. It brought eventual decline to the great commercial centers of the Mediterranean, for Venice, Genoa, and the other Italian entrepôts had grown rich on the goods that came overland from Asia and through the Red Sea from India and the islands beyond.

The new route to the East had serious implications for other European cities also, since the distribution of the spices, drugs, dyes, and cloth from the Orient involved many merchants in addition to those of Italy. Foremost in trade among the inland centers were the south German towns of Augsburg, Frankfurt, and Nuremberg, all of which received their Eastern wares from Italian distributors. From these points such prominent merchants as the Fuggers, Welsers, Imhofs, Hirschvogels, Vöhlins, Hochstetters, and Gossenbrots sent the Eastern goods to the Channel towns of England, the Low Countries, Norway, the Hanseatic cities of north Germany, and far-off Novgorod in Russia.

Nuremberg's participation in this trade made it one of the wealthiest and most famous cities of Europe by the middle of the fifteenth century. Not only was it noted for its commerce, but also for the art and learning which flourished there. In 1471 Johannes Muller, one of the great mathematicians of the period, established himself in Nuremberg saying, "I have chosen Nuremberg for my place of residence, because there I find without difficulty all the peculiar instruments necessary for astronomy, and there it is easiest for me to keep in touch with the learned of all countries, for Nuremberg, thanks to the perpetual journeyings of her merchants, may be counted the center of Europe."

It is not surprising, therefore, that the first printed instructions on the use of the Cape of Good Hope route, together with a map to show that route, should have come from Nuremberg, for her merchants and scientists had followed closely the explorations of the Portuguese along the west coast of Africa in the fifteenth century. One such person was Martin Behaim, educated in science and commerce, who went to Lisbon in 1484 to become ultimately a member of the Junta dos Mathematicos, an advisory body on navigational matters to King John II.

This foreigner in Lisbon was only one of many Germans in the city. As early as the thirteenth century a German brother¬hood had been established there, and another was founded early in the fifteenth century. Joao de Barros, the Portuguese historian, reported the employment of Germans by Prince Henry the Navigator in the exploration of the west coast of Africa which he directed from 1418 to 1460.

The return of Portuguese ships from explorations of Africa with gold, ivory, slaves, and melegueta pepper attracted the attention of merchants from many cities, and the increasing imports of wine and sugar from Portuguese colonies in the Azores, Madeiras, and Cape Verde Islands helped to establish Lisbon as one of the rising commercial centers of western Europe in the last quarter of the fifteenth century. That Nuremberg was participating in the African trade of Lisbon is attested to by Jeronimo Münzer, a German physician, who visited Lisbon in 1495 and who noted "varied wares of Nuremberg" among the goods being exported to Guinea. As the Portuguese discovered more of the African coast with each voyage, it must have been obvious to the German observers in Lisbon that India, not Africa, was the ultimate goal.

When Vasco da Gama finally reached India, and returned to Lisbon in 1499, the potential value of the new route to the East lured major German investments to Lisbon. By 1503 the Weiser firm from Augsburg had Simon Seitz stationed at the Portuguese capital to bargain with Manuel I for a favorable commercial arrangement. They maintained a warehouse in Lisbon, and had an investment of 20,000 ducats in the spice fleet. Manuel welcomed this German interest in the spice trade and in 1504 concluded an agreement with Lukas Rem, a Weiser agent, whereby the Portuguese would allow German personnel and products to be sent to India in the spice fleet on a profit-sharing basis. He also granted special legal protection to Germans in Lisbon.

These concessions increased the desire of German merchants to participate and by 1505 the Fugger house had also established a permanent resident factor in Lisbon. A subsequent order by Manuel in 1505 decreeing that all pepper must be sold through the royal monopoly was to cause a diversion of some of this German interest, but the fleet sent out in 1506 which is referred to in the news tract reproduced here carried substantial Welser investments, and moderate Fugger and Imhof investments as well.

The representatives of these commercial companies who traveled between Lisbon and Nuremberg, undoubtedly carried to their colleagues in Germany news of the most recent developments in the Eastern trade as reported to them by seamen back from voyages to Africa and India. That some of this news should get into print is not to be wondered at, for the city's numerous printers could count upon a lively sale for publications dealing with these voyages, which were of vital interest to the economy of Nuremberg. It is highly probable that the commercial firms themselves were instrumental in the publication of favorable news on the India trade. Toward the close of 1505, on the eve of Portugal's greatest commercial opportunity, the interest of Nuremberg in Lisbon's trade, the desire for news of the latest happenings in an exciting age, and a Nuremberg printer believed to be Johann Weissenburger combined to produce a newsletter informing the reader of the correct way to sail from Lisbon to Calicut, and of the bright prospects for Portuguese trade in India.

The major value of this newsletter does not lie in the accuracy of its contents, for while it contains remarkably good information on the forthcoming voyage of Afonso de Albuquerque and Tristão da Cunha, it also contains numerous errors. It is, however, the earliest known example of promotional literature published in central Europe on the commercial possibilities of India to include a map outlining the newly found Cape of Good Hope route to the East. Although the place and date of publication of this tract are not stated, it can be attributed to Nuremberg from the placing of that city on the map, which would otherwise be uncalled for. Reference to the departure of two caravels and a ship for India on November 19, together with a subsequent allusion to the failure of two ships to return "as of this present year of 1505," indicates that it was printed toward the end of 1505.

By that date Vasco da Gama had made two voyages to India, and Pedro Álvares Cabral, João da Nova, and Afonso de Albuquerque had also returned from the East commanding fleets sent there by King Manuel of Portugal. The accounts of early voyages to newly discovered parts of the earth were frequently made known to the public in newsletters of this type, and their rarity indicates that they were widely read. This tract is known in two variants, one printed by Johann Weissenburger, the other by Georg Stuchs. Of the former two copies are known, the copy in the James Ford Bell Collection and another in the British Museum. Of the latter three copies are recorded. It is most difficult to establish which variant was printed first, but the following facts tend to favor the Weissenburger printing: The Stuchs version has the more refined grammatical construction indicating that the Weissenburger variant could not have been derived from it. The woodcut on the title page of the Stuchs printing lacks most of the tree in the lower right corner, and has other less notable alterations, indicating a later use of it. Stuchs printed three other pamphlets of a similar nature in 1508 in which he used the same font of type as is used in his printing of this pamphlet. Proctor's Index of German Books in the British Museum records no other use by Stuchs of the type used in the text before 1508. Two missals printed in Schneeberg by Stuchs in April 1506 indicate that in the months before that date he must have been engaged in moving his equipment and setting type for these books rather than working in Nuremberg on this tract. Weissenburger, on the other hand, appears to have continued printing in Nuremberg from 1505 to 1507 during which time he printed two other tracts dealing with the Portuguese, using the same types as are employed in his printing of this pamphlet. In view of these facts, it seems likely that the Stuchs variant belongs to 1508, and that Weissenburger was the original printer.

The inaccuracies in the original text, in addition to the desirability of identifying as closely as possible certain persons and places referred to, made it necessary to add a number of notes to the translation, and we believe that the end paper maps designed by Mary Nakasone will also aid the reader in locating important points on the route from Lisbon to Calicut.

John Parker, Curator; James Ford Bell Collection, University of Minnesota

U of M Catalog Record of Original Pamphlet

Den rechte[n]weg ausz zu faren von Liszbona gen Kallakuth vo[n] meyl zu meyl. Auch wie der kunig von Portigal yetz newlich vil galeen v[o]n naben wider zu ersuchen und bezwingen newe land unnd insellen, durch
Kallakuth in Indien zu faren. Durch sein haubtman also bestelt als hernach getruckt stet gar von seltzsamen
dingen. Nuremberg: Georg Stuchs, ca. 1505. [7] p. : ill. (2 identical woodcuts, 1 col.), 1 map ; 20 cm.

TC Wilson Library Bell 1505 Re Non-circulating

Credits

James Ford Bell Library. From Lisbon to Calicut. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1956