Niccolò Da Conti

Niccolò Da Conti

Niccolò Da Conti (also Nicolò de' Conti) (1395–1469) was a Venetian merchant and explorer, born in Chioggia, who traveled to India and Southeast Asia during the early 15th century.

Da Conti departed from Venice about 1419 and established himself in Damascus, Syria, where he studied Arabic. Over a period of 25 years, he traveled as a Muslim merchant to numerous places in Asia. Da Conti's familiarity with the languages and cultures of the Islamic world allowed him to travel to many places, onboard ships owned by Islamic merchants.


Da Conti first crossed the desert to reach Baghdad and from there sailed down the Tigris to Basra. He then sailed through the Persian Gulf and went to Iran where he learned Persian.

He then crossed the Arabian sea to Cambay, in Gujarat. He travelled in India to "Pacamuria", "Helly" and Vijayanagar, capital of the Deccan before 1555. It was in India that he coined the phrase 'Italian of the East' to refer to the Telugu language, which he found had words ending with vowels, similar to Italian. He went to "Maliapur" on the east coast of India (probably modern-day Mylapore, in Chennai), where he visited the tomb of St. Thomas, who in Christian tradition is recorded to have founded a Christian community there.

About 1421, Da Conti crossed to "Pedir" in northern Sumatra, where he spent a year, gaining local knowledge, particularly on the gold and spice trade. He then continued after sailing 16 days to Tenasserim on the Malay peninsula. He then sailed to the mouth of the Ganges, visited Burdwan (in West Bengal, India), then went overland to Arakan (in Burma). After traveling through Burma, he left for Java where he spent nine months, before going to Champa (in modern Vietnam).

Da Conti described South-East Asia as "exceeding all other regions in wealth, culture and magnificence, and abreast of Italy in civilization".

Around 1440 Da Conti sailed back to India (Quilon, Kochi, Calicut, Cambay) and then to the Middle-East (Socotra, Aden, Berbera in Somalia, Jidda in Egypt), from where he travelled overland via Mt. Sinai to Cairo.

Da Conti had been traveling all along with his family. However his wife, whom he had met in India, and two of his four children died in Egypt following an epidemic. He continued to Italy with his remaining children.

Niccolò Da Conti returned to Venice in 1444, where he remained as a respected merchant.

Account of his voyages

Throughout his travels, he had abandoned Christianity for Islam, and he was requested by Pope Eugene IV, as a penance, to relate his travels to the papal secretary Poggio Bracciolini. Poggio's recording of Niccolò's account, made in 1439, constitute one of the best accounts of the East by a 15th century traveler. They were included in the Book IV of his "DeVarietate Fortunae" (The Vicissitudes of Fortune).

Niccolò Da Conti's travels, which first circulated in manuscript form, are said to have profoundly influenced the European geographical understanding of the areas around the Indian Ocean during the middle of the 15th century. They were the first accounts to detail the Sunda Islands and Spice Islands since the accounts of Marco Polo. His accounts probably encouraged the European travels of exploration of the end of the century.

He also influenced 15th century cartography, as can be seen on the Genoese Map (1447-1457), and in the work of the mapmaker Fra Mauro, whose influential Fra Mauro map (1457) offered one of the clearest depiction of the Old World. In these two maps, many new location names, and several verbatim descriptions, were taken directly from Da Conti's account. The "trustworthy source" whom Fra Mauro quoted in writing in his map about the travels of a "junk from India" (lit. "Zoncho de India"), beyond the Cape of Good Hope into the Atlantic Ocean around 1420, confirming that it was possible to sail around Africa through the south, is thought to have been Niccolò Da Conti himself.

In his descriptions of East Asia, Da Conti matter-of-factly describes huge junks of about 2,000 tons, more than four times the size of 16th century Western galleons:: "They make ships larger than ours, about 2,000 tons in size, with five sails and as many masts. The lower part is made of three decks, so as to better resist storms, which occur frequently. These ships are separated into several compartments, so that if one is touched during a storm, the others remain intact."Fact|date=November 2007

Niccolò Da Conti's book was used by several explorers and travels writers, such as Ludovico di Varthema (1510), and Antonio Pigafetta, who traveled around the world with Magellan's expedition.


The first printed edition of Conti’s account was made in 1492 in the original Latin by Cristoforo da Bollate and dedicated to Pietro Cara, who was going on a journey to India.

Various translations followed, into Portuguese (1502) and Spanish (1503).

The first Italian-language edition appears to have been translated from the Portuguese edition, and was made a part of the collection of travellers’ accounts published in 1550 by Giovanni Battista Ramusio.

The first English edition was translated from the Spanish, and printed in 1579 by John Frampton, using a combination of Marco Polo's and Da Conti's narrations.


* Bracciolini, Poggio: "De varietate fortunae", book iv [c.1445] (ed. by Abbé Oliva, Paris 1723).
*Major, R.H. (ed.). "India in the fifteenth century: Being a collection of narratives of voyages to India in the century preceding the Portuguese discovery of the Cape of Good Hope, (Works issued by the Hakluyt Society)" (English trans. by J. Winter Jones, Hakluyt Society, London 1857). Republished by Asian Educational Services (June 30, 1992) ISBN 8120607686
* J. H. Parry, "The European Reconnaissance: Selected Documents". London, Macmillan, 1968
* Niccolò Da Conti, Chandeigne (ed.), "Le voyage aux Indes" (in French), 2004, ISBN 2906462861

External links

* [ Niccolò da Conti]

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