• Omer Haq

The Conquest of Goa

Updated: Jan 13

On November 4, 1509, Alfonso de Albuquerque succeeded Dom Francisco de Almeida as Governor of the Portuguese State of India, after the arrival of the Marshal of Portugal Dom Fernando Coutinho in India sent by King Manuel to enforce the orderly succession of Albuquerque to office.

Alfonso de Albuquerque

Unlike Almeida, Albuquerque realized that the Portuguese could take a more active role in breaking Muslim supremacy in the Indian Ocean trade by taking control of three strategic checkpoints – Aden, Hormuz and Malacca. Albuquerque also understood the necessity of establishing a base of operations in lands directly controlled by the Portuguese crown and not just in territory granted by allied rulers such as Cochin and Cannanore. He eyed Goa. By taking Goa, Afonso de Albuquerque became the second European to conquer land in India since Alexander the Great. Although Albuquerque had intended Goa to be the centre of the Portuguese Empire in Asia, it was only in 1530 that Governor Nuno da Cunha transferred the viceregal court from Cochin to Goa, thus officially making Goa the capital of the Portuguese State of India until 1961.

The Portuguese conquest of Goa occurred under the command of Viceroy Alphonso Albuquerque who was successful in capturing the city in 1510. Goa was not among the cities that Albuquerque had received orders to be captured. He had only been ordered by the Portuguese king to capture Hormuz, Aden and Malacca.

A source narrates that Albuquerque’s concord of Goa was on the advice of Timmiyah when Albuquerque had declared intention to proceed to the Red Sea region in order to

seek the fleet of the Sultan of Egypt and destroy it. It is here that Timmiyah met Albuquerque on his own in Mirjaan, one of the parts in North Canara.

Here, Timmiyah advised Albuquerque to attack Goa instead of sailing to Egypt . To get the Portuguese admiral to attack Goa he pointed out that one of the Egyptian captains was in Goa and that he was preparing to attack the Portuguese ships and port with the help of Yusuf Adil Shahi who was helping the Egyptian in preparing his warships.

Now, who is Timmiyah?

Timmiyah was regarded by the Portuguese as a corsair and a man of low status, while in reality, he was a privateer who served the Vijayanagar Empire for a Commission Of War. He was employed by the King of Vijayanagar to attack and loot those merchantmen who insisted on sailing to Goa which was then under the rule of Bahamani and also the other port of the enemy. Albuquerque was not the first Portuguese to be acquainted with Timmiyah. Francis Ko Almeida shed a close relationship with this privateer. Both of them had entered into a commercial engagement and transaction along with valuable information about their common enemy, but why did Tim ask the Portuguese to attack an Indian ruler?

Portuguese and Christian women of India
Portuguese and Christian women of India

Timmiyah had good reason to advise Albuquerque to conquer Goa. The Emperor of Vijaynagar had an eye for the territory since they had lost it to the Bahamanis in 1472. Attempts had been made by the emperor to recover this piece of strategic land, but all in vain. As a matter of fact, Timmaiyah had imperial instruction to weaken Goa by depriving it of its commerce. It is believed that Tim belonged to Goa himself and that many of the local Hindu leaders and heads had written to him requesting him to attack and liberate it from the Bahamani rule in the region. He himself made attempts to capture and loot the port on his own, but failed. It must have occurred to him that he could have made use of the Portuguese who were by then known for their naval might. He believed that once the Portuguese were done helping him in the conquest of Goa, he would take the position of the Governor-General of Goa and that he would at the most, be obligated to pay the Portuguese an annual tribute. But that was not what was running in the mind of Albuquerque. He had plans of his own. He realized that Goa was strategically placed for defense and valuable for his future conquest and that Timmiyah had to remain satisfied with the lesser administrative position under the Portuguese for the time being.

But Did Albuquerque take Goa on the advice of Timmiyah? The sources point otherwise. It seems like the Portuguese were already planning to capture Goa way before Timmiyah suggested the act.

Evidence suggests that the Portuguese King and Albuquerque had conceived this idea in 1510. For about two decades now, before 1510, the Portuguese had been collecting information on Goa, its central and strategic position on western coasts of India, its island character, its commercial importance, and so on. A Portuguese national, Joao, had been sent by the King of Portugal to explore India. The man knew Arabic and traveled from the conventional route by land up to Aden and took a ship from there to Malabar, and frequently sent reports to the King about his correspondence in India. In 1948, Vasco Da Gama who was on the Anjadeva Island, south-west of Goa, captured a Jew on the island. The Jew was in service of the Muslim Governor of Goa, who had been reportedly been sent by the governor to spy on Vasco De Gama and to ascertain the strength of the Portugal fleet. The Jew’s mission misfired and he got caught and taken to Portugal. He was converted to Christianity and named ‘Gasper of India.’ It is speculated that much detail of the region must have been gathered from him. There was a sense of revenge that grew amongst the Portuguese since their defeat in the hands of Adil Shah in the island of Anjediva, which compelled the predecessor of Albuquerque to demolish the fort they had built there. In 1509 when Adil Shah, the Sultan of Egypt, made an allied attack on the Portuguese fleet again, they were successful in defeating this alleged attack, following which the Portuguese targeted every Egyptian fleet that passed by the island. The Shahi’s ever since had provided refuge and sheltered the Egyptians in Goa and helped them rebuild their fleets.

King  Manuel I of Portugal (inset)
King Manuel I of Portugal (inset)

An order was issued by the Portugal King to Albuquerque ordering him to move towards Goa and conquer it. The order was handed over to the Governor through Marshal Fernando who arrived at Malabar in October 1509. Albuquerque, however, was not in a position to carry out the order immediately, as he had suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Zamorin of Calicut. In early January of 1510, he would dare not risk another such defeat by attacking Goa soon after. He preferred naval battles where he was supreme. And it was here that he decided to sail to the Red Sea to seek the Egyptian fleet and destroy it. It was here that Timoji mentioned to him the support Shah was offering the destroyed Egyptian fleet in Goa and that Goa was now especially vulnerable as the locals were unhappy with the rule and taxation policies of the Shahis and had many times requested Timoji to liberate them from their rule.

During the siege of Calicut, Marshall Fernando was killed leaving Albuquerque in charge of all Portuguese forces which were of 23 ships, 1200 Portuguese soldiers, 400 Portuguese sailors, 220 Malabarese auxiliaries from Cochin and 3000 "combat slaves" strong.

On February 16, the Portuguese armada sailed into the deep waters of the Mandovi river. Supported by 2000 men of Timoji, the Portuguese landed troops commanded by Dom António de Noronha and assaulted the fort of Panjim (now the capital of Goa Panaji) which was defended by a Turkish mercenary, Yusuf Gurgij, and a force of 400 men. Yusuf was wounded and retreated to the city and the Portuguese captured the fort along with several iron artillery pieces. At Panjim, Albuquerque received envoys from the most important figures of Goa, and proposed religious freedom and lower taxes doing so they would accept Portuguese sovereignty. Thereafter, they declared their full support towards the Portuguese and Albuquerque formally occupied Goa on February 17, 1510, with close to no resistance.

Albuquerque reaffirmed that the city was not to be sacked and that the inhabitants were not to be harmed, under the penalty of death.

In the city, the Portuguese found over 100 horses belonging to the ruler of Bijapur, 25 elephants, and partially finished new ships, confirming Timoji's information about the enemy's preparations. For his assistance, he was nominated tanadar-mor (the chief tax-collector and representative) of the Hindus of Goa. The Muslims on their part were allowed to live by their laws under their own Muslim magistrate, Coje Bequia.

Expecting retaliation from the Sultan of Bijapur, Albuquerque began organizing the city's defenses. The city's walls were repaired, the moat was expanded and filled with water, and storehouses for weapons and supplies were built. The ships were to be finished and pressed into Portuguese service, and the five fording points into the island were defended by Portuguese and Malabarese troops, supported by several artillery pieces.

At the same time, Albuquerque sent Friar Luiz do Salvador ahead of an embassy to the court of the neighboring Hindu Vijayanagara Empire, hoping to secure an alliance against Bijapur.

Unbeknownst to Albuquerque, the Adil Shah had just agreed on a truce with the Vijayanagara Empire and could divert many more troops into recapturing the city than expected.

To that effect, he sent a Turkish general, Pulad Khan, with 40,000 troops, which included many experienced Persian and Turkic mercenaries, that defeated Timoja's troops on the mainland. Ismail Adil Shah then set up his royal tent by the Banastarim fort, waiting for the monsoon to trap the Portuguese before giving Pulad Khan the order to assault the island.

Albuquerque was informed of this plan through a Portuguese renegade, João Machado, who was now a prestigious captain in the Adil Shah's service, though he remained Christian. He was sent to convince his fellow countrymen to surrender or flee. Trusting the strength of his defensive position, Albuquerque rejected Machado's propositions. Machado also told Albuquerque that the Muslims within the city kept Ismail informed of Portuguese numbers and movements.

Depiction of Market Place in Goa
Depiction of Market Place in Goa

With the coming of the monsoon rains, however, the Portuguese situation became critical: the tropical weather claimed a great number of Portuguese lives, foodstuffs deteriorated and the Portuguese were stretched too thin to hold back the Muslim army. Under these conditions, Pulad Khan launched a major assault on May 11, across the Banastarim ford at low tide amidst a heavy storm, quickly overwhelming the small number of Portuguese troops. As defenses crumbled, a Muslim revolt broke out in the outskirts of Goa, in blatant disregard for the agreement with Albuquerque, which he would remember in the future; the Portuguese hurriedly retreated into the city walls, with the aid of their Hindu allies, but abandoned several artillery pieces by the riverside.

The following day, Pulad Khan ordered an assault against the city but was repelled. Only now did Albuquerque learn from Friar Luiz of the truce between Bijapur and Vijayanagara, and he spent the rest of May preparing a retreat. Albuquerque refused to set fire to the city since this would announce their retreat to the besiegers and instead ordered a great number of spices and copper to be scattered on the streets to delay the enemy's advance. Before leaving, however, he had Timoji with fifty of his men execute the Muslim inhabitants within the citadel, but also took several women that had belonged to Adil Khan's harem onto his ship, to later offer them as maids-in-waiting to Queen Maria.

Before the daybreak of May 31, the remaining 500 Portuguese embarked under enemy fire, covered by a small number of Portuguese soldiers holding back the advance of enemy troops that breached the city walls. Ismail then solemnly retook possession of the city, at the sound of trumpets.

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