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portuguese history

The Portuguese Empire (Portuguese: Império Português), also known as the Portuguese Overseas (Ultramar
), was the first global empire in world history. In addition, it was
the longest-lived of the modern European colonial empires, spanning
almost six centuries, from the capture of Ceuta in 1415 to the
handover of Macau in 1999 or the grant of sovereignty to East Timor in 2002. The empire
spread throughout a vast number of territories that are now parts of 60 different sovereign states.
The first
era of the Portuguese empire originated at the beginning of the Age of Discovery. Initiated by the Kingdom of Portugal, it would eventually expand across
the globe. Portuguese sailors began exploring the coast of Africa and the
Atlantic archipelagos in 1418–19, using recent developments in navigation,
cartography and maritime technology such as the caravel, in order that they
might find a sea route to the source of the lucrative spice trade. In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and in 1498, Vasco da Gama reached India. In 1500, either by
an accidental landfall or by the crown’s secret design, Pedro Álvares Cabral discovered Brazil on the South
American coast.
Over the
following decades, Portuguese sailors continued to explore the coasts and
islands of East Asia, establishing forts and factories as they went. By 1571, a string of naval
outposts connected Lisbon to Nagasaki along the coasts of
Africa, the Middle East, India and South Asia. This commercial network brought
great wealth to Portugal.
When Philip II of Spain, I of Portugal, inherited the Portuguese
crown in 1580, this began a 60-year union between Spain and Portugal that has
since been given the historiographic term of the Iberian Union. Though the realms
continued to be administered separately, the Council of Portugal ruled the country and its empire from
Madrid. As the King of Spain was also King of Portugal, Portuguese colonies
became the subject of attacks by three rival European powers hostile to Spain:
the Dutch Republic, England, and France. With its smaller population, Portugal was
unable to effectively defend its overstretched network of trading posts, and
the empire began a long and gradual decline. Eventually, Brazil became the most
valuable colony of the second era until, as part of the wave of independence movements that swept the Americas during the early
19th century, it broke away in 1822.
The third
era represents the final stage of Portuguese colonialism after the
decolonization of the Americas of the 1820s. The colonial possessions had been
reduced to the African coastline (expanded inland during the Scramble for Africa in the late 19th century), Portuguese Timor, and enclaves in
India (Goa) and China (Macau). The disastrous 1890 British Ultimatum led to the contraction of Portuguese ambitions
in Africa.
Under António Salazar, the Second Portuguese Republic made some ill-fated
attempts to hold on to its last remaining colonies and overseas provinces after
the 1961 Indian annexation of Goa, embarking on the Portuguese Colonial War in Africa which lasted until the
final overthrow of the regime in the Carnation Revolution of 1974. Macau was returned to China in 1999.

European empires: 16th century
Since the fall of Rome, there has been no
empire based in Europe which extends outside the continent. This situation
changes abruptly in the 16th century, when Spain and Portugal become the
pioneers in a new era of colonization.

The Iberian peninsula is well poised at the time for this leap into the

In their great voyages of discovery, in the 15th century,
the Portuguese have developed ocean-going skills which are eagerly copied by
their Spanish neighbours. Spain’s internal conflicts of recent centuries have
recently been resolved with the union of Castile and Aragon and then, in 1492,
the conquest of Granada.

Two voyages in the 1490s lay the foundations for the future empires. Columbus, sailing west for Spain, stumbles upon America
in 1492. Vasco da Gama, adventuring south and
east for Portugal, reaches India in 1498.

Portugal’s eastern trade: 1508-1595
The profitable trade in eastern spices is
cornered by the Portuguese in the 16th century to the detriment of Venice, which has previously
had a virtual monopoly of these valuable commodities – until now brought
overland through India and Arabia, and then across the Mediterranean by the
Venetians for distribution in western Europe.

By establishing the sea route round the Cape, Portugal can undercut the
Venetian trade with its profusion of middlemen. The new route is firmly
secured for Portugal by the activities of Afonso de Albuquerque, who takes up
his duties as the Portuguese viceroy of India in 1508.

The early explorers up the east Africa
coast have left Portugal with bases in Mozambique and Zanzibar. Albuquerque
extends this secure route eastwards by capturing and fortifying Hormuz at the
mouth of the Persian Gulf in 1514, Goa on the west coast of India in 1510
(where he massacres the entire Muslim population for the effrontery of
resisting him) and Malacca, guarding the narrowest channel of the route east,
in 1511.

The island of Bombay is ceded to the Portuguese in 1534. An early Portuguese
presence in Sri Lanka is steadily increased during the century. And in 1557
Portuguese merchants establish a colony on the island of Macao. Goa functions
from the start as the capital of Portuguese India.

The beginnings of Portugal’s empire: 15th – 16th
The Portuguese, in their bold exploration along the coasts of
Africa, have an underlying purpose – to sail round the continent to the spice
markets of the east. But in the process they develop a trading interest and a
lasting presence in Africa itself.

On the west coast their interest is in the slave trade, resulting in Portuguese
settlements in both Guinea and Angola. On the east coast they
are drawn to Mozambique and the Zambezi river by news of a local ruler, the
Munhumutapa, who has fabulous wealth in gold.

In their efforts to reach the Munhumutapa,
the Portuguese establish in 1531 two settlements far up the Zambezi – one of
them, at Tete, some 260 miles from the sea. The Munhumutapa and his gold
mines remain beyond the grasp of the intruders. But in this region of east
Africa – as in Guinea and Angola in the west – Portuguese involvement becomes
sufficiently strong to survive into the 20th century.

Throughout the 16th century the Portuguese have no European rivals on the
long sea route round Africa. The situation changes in the early 17th century,
when both the Dutch and the British create East India
companies. the Dutch, in particular, damage
Portugal’s eastern trade.

Portugal and Brazil: 16th – 18th century
The Portuguese, with imperial ambitions
focussed originally on the east Indies, are slower than the Spanish in
setting up any form of administration in America. Brazil is deemed to be part
of their share of the globe, through the accident of the Tordesillas Line. The coast is reached in
1500 by a Portuguese navigator, Pedro Cabral. Vespucci explores the rest of the
Brazilian coastline for the king of Portugal in 1501-2.

But it is not until 1533 that steps are taken to colonize this rich
territory. The Portuguese call it Brazil because of a valuable natural
product – pau-brasil, a red wood much in demand for the dye which can
be extracted from it.

The first attempt to establish a Portuguese
presence in Brazil is made by John III in 1533. His solution is ingenious but
idle. He divides the coastline into fifteen sections, each about 150 miles in
length, and grants these strips of land on a hereditary basis to fifteen
courtiers – who become known as donatários. Each courtier is told that
he and his heirs can found cities, grant land and levy taxes over as much
territory as they can colonize inland from their stretch of coast.

Only two of the donatários make any success of this venture. In the
1540s John III is forced to change his policy. He brings Brazil under direct
royal control (as in Spanish America) and appoints a governor

The first governor general of Brazil
arrives in 1549 and makes his headquarters at Bahia (today known as
Salvador). It remains the capital of Portuguese Brazil for more than two
centuries, until replaced by Rio de Janeiro in 1763.

Colonists gradually move into the interior. Accompanying the first governor
general in 1549 are members of the newly founded order of Jesuits. In their mission to
convert the Indians they are often the first European presence in new regions
far from the coast. They frequently clash with adventurers also pressing
inland (in great expeditions known as bandeiras) to find silver and
gold or to capture Indians as slaves.

These two groups, with their very different
motives, bring a Portuguese presence far beyond the Tordesillas Line. By the late 17th
century the territory of Brazil encompasses the entire basin of the Amazon as
far west as the Andes. At the same time Portuguese colonists are moving down
the coast beyond Rio de Janeiro. A Portuguese town is even established on the
river Plate in 1680, provoking a century of Spanish-Portuguese border
conflicts in the region which is now Uruguay.

Meanwhile the use of the Portuguese language gradually gives the central
region of south America an identity different from that of its Spanish

Bahia and Rio de Janeiro: 16th-18th century
The economic strength of Portuguese Brazil
derives at first from sugar plantations in the north (established as early as
the 1530s by one of the only two successful donatários). But from the late 17th
century Brazil benefits at last from the mineral wealth which underpins
Spanish America. Gold is found in 1693 in the inland region of Minas Gerais,
in the southern part of the colony.

The discovery sets off the first great gold rush of the American continent –
opening up the interior as the prospectors swarm westwards, and underpinning
Brazil’s economy for much of the 18th century. Diamonds are also discovered
in large quantities in the same region in the 18th century.

American mission settlements: 16th – 18th century
In both Spanish and Portuguese colonies of
Latin America the preaching orders of the Roman Catholic church – Franciscans, Dominicans and above all the Jesuits – play a prominent role.

The voyages of conquest have from the start proclaimed one of their main
purposes to be the conversion of heathens to Christianity. Friars take part
in almost every expedition.

In the early years conquest and conversion
go hand in hand rather too easily for the spiritual side to be entirely
convincing. Within ten years of Cortes landing in Mexico, one Franciscan
friar claims to have personally baptized more than 200,000 Indians –
including 14,000 in one day.

As the colonies settle down, the friars establish mission stations where
Indians live as part of a Christian community. The friars also (as
exemplified by the Dominican Bartolomé de Las Casas) become staunch
defenders of the Indians against exploitation by Spanish and Portuguese

Most prominent in these activities are the
Jesuits, the order founded as the spearhead of the spiritual crusade of the Catholic Reformation. In Brazil the efforts
of the Jesuits contribute greatly to extending the province inland, as they
press every further up the rivers to organize and educate the Indians in
self-supporting frontier settlements.

In Paraguay the Jesuit settlements (known as reducciones) are so
numerous and so successful that the order governs a virtually independent
territory, protected by their own army and with a population of about 100,000

power and wealth of the Jesuits arouses much opposition, particularly in
the anti-clerical mood of the later 18th century. They also make enemies by
protecting the Indians against the predatory demands of colonists.

The move against the missions is led by Portugal. The Jesuits are expelled
from Brazil in 1759. Spain follows suit in its American viceroyalties in
1767. The thirty-two reducciones of Paraguay are abandoned and fall
into decay. It is all part of a broader reaction in Europe, leading to the
suppression of the entire Jesuit order in 1773.

Africa: 16th-19th century
after initiating the European slave trade in Africa, plays a decreasing role in it
over the next few centuries. Similarly the Portuguese, although the first
Europeans to establish trading settlements in sub-Saharan Africa, fail later
to consolidate their advantage. Nevertheless they retain a clear presence in
those three regions which received their particular attention during the
original age of exploration.

The closest of these, on the sea journey from Portugal, is Portuguese Guinea
– known also, from its main economic activity, as the Slave Coast.

local African rulers in Guinea, who prosper greatly from the slave trade,
have no interest in allowing the Europeans any further inland than the
fortified coastal settlements where the trading takes place. The Portuguese
presence in Guinea is therefore largely limited to the port of Bissau.

For a brief period in the 1790s the British attempt to establish a rival
foothold on an offshore island, at Bolama. But by the 19th century the
Portuguese are sufficiently secure in Bissau to regard the neighbouring
coastline as their own special territory.

of miles down the coast, in Angola, the Portuguese find it even harder to
consolidate their early advantage against encroachments by Dutch, British and
French rivals. Nevertheless the fortified towns of Luanda (established in
1587 with 400 Portuguese settlers) and Benguela (a fort from 1587, a town
from 1617) remain almost continuously in Portuguese hands.

As in Guinea, the slave trade becomes the basis of the
local economy – with raids carried ever further inland to procure captives.
More than a million men, women and children are shipped from here across the
Atlantic. In this region, unlike Guinea, the trade remains largely in
Portuguese hands. Nearly all the slaves are destined for Brazil.

deepest Portuguese penetration into the continent has been from the east
coast, up the Zambezi, with an early settlement as far inland as Tete. But this is a region of strong and rich
African kingdoms. The coastal area is also much visited by Arabs pressing
south from Oman and Zanzibar. From the 16th to 19th century the
Portuguese and their merchants are just one among many rival groups competing
for the local trade in gold, ivory and slaves.

Nevertheless, even if the Portuguese hold on these three African regions is
tenuous, they are unmistakably the main European presence. It is natural to
assert their claim in all three when the scramble for Africa begins.

military campaigns are required to impose Portuguese control over the
Africans in these territories in the late 19th century. But the arrangements
with rival European powers are more easily resolved.

The boundaries of Portuguese Guinea are agreed in two stages from 1886 with France, the colonial power in neighbouring
Senegal and Guinea. No other nation makes a challenge for the vast and
relatively unprofitable area of Angola. The most likely scene of conflict is Portuguese East Africa, where Portugal’s hope of linking up with
Angola clashes with Britain’s plans for the Rhodesias. There is a diplomatic crisis in 1890. But
the borders between British and Portuguese colonies are agreed by treaty in

The Atlantic
slave trade
or transatlantic slave trade took place across the Atlantic Ocean from the 15th
through 19th centuries. The vast majority of those who were enslaved and transported
to the New World, mainly on the triangular trade
route and its Middle Passage, were West Africans from the central
and western parts of the continent. The numbers were
so great that Africans who came by way of the slave trade became the most
numerous Old World immigrants in both North and South America before the late
18th century. The South Atlantic
and Caribbean economic system centered on producing commodity crops, and
making goods and clothing to sell in Europe, and increasing the numbers of
African slaves brought to the New World. This was crucial to those western
European countries which, in the late 17th and 18th centuries, were vying
with each other to create overseas empires.
Portuguese were the first to engage in the New World slave trade in the 16th
century. Between 1418 and the 1470s, the Portuguese launched a series of
exploratory expeditions that remapped the oceans south of Portugal, charting
new territories that one explorer described as “oceans where none have
ever sailed before.” In 1526, the
Portuguese completed the first transatlantic slave voyage from Africa to the
Americas, and other countries soon followed. Shipowners
regarded the slaves as cargo to be transported to the Americas as quickly and
cheaply as possible, there to be sold
to labour in coffee, tobacco, cocoa, sugar and cotton plantations, gold and silver
mines, rice fields, construction industry, cutting timber for ships, in
skilled labour, and as domestic servants. The first Africans imported to the English colonies were classified as
“indentured servants”, like workers coming from
England, and also as “apprentices for life”. By the middle of the
17th century, slavery had hardened as a racial caste; they and their
offspring were legally the property of their owners, and children born to
slave mothers were slaves. As property, the people were considered
merchandise or units of labour, and were sold at markets with other goods and
The major
Atlantic slave trading nations, ordered by trade volume, were: the Portuguese, the British, the French, the Spanish, and the Dutch Empire. Several had
established outposts on the African coast where they purchased slaves from
local African leaders. These slaves were
managed by a factor who was established on or near the coast to expedite the
shipping of slaves to the New World. Slaves were kept in a factory while
awaiting shipment. Current estimates are that about 12 million Africans were
shipped across the Atlantic, although the
number purchased by the traders is considerably higher. Near the beginning
of the nineteenth century, governments in the Atlantic World acted to ban the
trade, although illegal smuggling still occurred. In the early twenty-first
century, several governments issued apologies for the transatlantic slave

Atlantic travel
The Atlantic slave trade arose after trade
contacts were first made between the continents of the “Old World” (Eurasia and Africa) and those of the “New World” (North America and South America). For
centuries, tidal currents had made ocean travel particularly difficult and
risky for the ships that were then available, and as such there had been very
little, if any, naval contact between the peoples living in these continents. In the 15th century, however, new European
developments in seafaring technologies meant that ships were better equipped
to deal with the problem of tidal currents, and could begin traversing the
Atlantic Ocean. Between 1600 and 1800, approximately 300,000 sailors engaged
in the slave trade visited West Africa. In doing so, they came into contact with societies
living along the west African coast and in the Americas which they had never
previously encountered. Historian Pierre Chaunu termed the consequences of European navigation
“disenclavement”, with it marking an end of isolation for some
societies and an increase in inter-societal contact for most others.

African slavery

Slavery was practiced in
some parts of Africa, Europe, Asia  and the Americas for many centuries
before the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade. There is evidence that
enslaved people from some African states were exported to other states in
Africa, Europe and Asia prior to the European colonization of the Americas. The African slave trade provided a large number of slaves
to Europeans and many more to people in Muslim

17th and 18th centuries

of an African Slave Woman
probably painted by Annibale Carracci in the 1580s

Atlantic slave trade is customarily divided into two eras, known as the First
and Second Atlantic Systems.
The First
Atlantic system was the trade of enslaved Africans to, primarily, South
American colonies of the Portuguese and Spanish empires; it accounted for
slightly more than 3% of all Atlantic slave trade. It started (on a
significant scale) in about 1502 and lasted until
1580 when Portugal was temporarily united with Spain. While the
Portuguese were directly involved in trading enslaved peoples, the Spanish
empire relied on the asiento system, awarding
merchants (mostly from other countries) the license to trade enslaved people
to their colonies. During the first Atlantic system most of these traders
were Portuguese, giving them a near-monopoly during the era. Some Dutch,
English, and French traders also participated in the slave trade. After the union,
Portugal came under Spanish legislation that prohibited it from directly
engaging in the slave trade as a carrier. It became a target for the
traditional enemies of Spain, losing a large share of the trade to the Dutch,
English and French.
The Second
Atlantic system was the trade of enslaved Africans by mostly English,
Portuguese, French and Dutch traders. The main destinations of this phase
were the Caribbean colonies and Brazil, as European
nations built up economically slave-dependent colonies in the New World. Slightly more than
3% of the enslaved people exported from Africa were traded between 1450 and
1600, and 16% in the 17th century.
It is
estimated that more than half of the entire slave trade took place during the
18th century, with the British, Portuguese and French being the main carriers
of nine out of ten slaves abducted in Africa. By the 1690s, the
English were shipping the most slaves from West Africa. They maintained
this position during the 18th century, becoming the biggest shippers of
slaves across the Atlantic.

Triangular trade

The first
side of the triangle was the export of goods from Europe to Africa. A number
of African kings and merchants took part in the trading of enslaved people
from 1440 to about 1833. For each captive, the African rulers would receive a
variety of goods from Europe. These included guns, ammunition and other
factory-made goods. The second leg of the triangle exported enslaved Africans
across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas and the Caribbean Islands. The
third and final part of the triangle was the return of goods to Europe from
the Americas. The goods were the products of slave-labour plantations and included
cotton, sugar, tobacco, molasses and rum. Sir John Hawkins, considered the
pioneer of the British slave trade, was the first to run the Triangular
trade, making a profit at every stop.

Labour and slavery

Atlantic Slave Trade was the result of, among other things, labour shortage, itself in turn
created by the desire of European colonists to exploit New World land and
resources for capital profits. Native peoples were at first utilized as
slave labour by Europeans, until a large number died from overwork and Old World diseases. Alternative
sources of labour, such as indentured servitude, failed to provide a sufficient
workforce. Many crops could not be sold for profit, or even grown, in Europe.
Exporting crops and goods from the New World to Europe often proved to be more
profitable than producing them on the European mainland. A vast amount of
labour was needed to create and sustain plantations that required intensive
labour to grow, harvest, and process prized tropical crops. Western Africa (part of which
became known as “the Slave Coast”), and later Central Africa, became the source
for enslaved people to meet the demand for labour.
The basic
reason for the constant shortage of labour was that, with large amounts of
cheap land available and lots of landowners searching for workers, free
European immigrants were able to become landowners themselves after a
relatively short time, thus increasing the need for workers.[49]
Jefferson attributed the use of slave labour in part to the climate, and the
consequent idle leisure afforded by slave labour: “For in a warm
climate, no man will labour for himself who can make another labour for him.
This is so true, that of the proprietors of slaves a very small proportion
indeed are ever seen to labour.”[50]

African participation in the slave trade

played a direct role in the slave trade, selling their captives or prisoners
of war to European buyers.[21] The prisoners and
captives who were sold were usually from neighbouring or enemy ethnic groups.[citation needed] These captive
slaves were considered “other”, not part of the people of the
ethnic group or “tribe” ; African kings held no particular
loyalty to them. Sometimes criminals would be sold so that they could no
longer commit crimes in that area. Most other slaves were obtained from
kidnappings, or through raids that occurred at gunpoint through joint
ventures with the Europeans.[21] But some African
kings refused to sell any of their captives or criminals. King Jaja of Opobo, a former slave,
refused to do business with the slavers completely

African kingdoms of the era

There were
over 173 city-states and kingdoms in the African regions affected by the
slave trade between 1502 and 1853, when Brazil became the last
Atlantic import nation to outlaw the slave trade. Of those 173, no fewer than
68 could be deemed nation states with political and military infrastructures
that enabled them to dominate their neighbours. Nearly every present-day
nation had a pre-colonial predecessor, sometimes an African Empire with which
European traders had to barter.


different ethnic groups brought to the Americas closely corresponds to the
regions of heaviest activity in the slave trade. Over 45 distinct ethnic
groups were taken to the Americas during the trade. Of the 45, the ten most
prominent, according to slave documentation of the era are listed below.

1.     The BaKongo of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola
2.     The Mandé of Upper Guinea
3.     The Gbe speakers of Togo, Ghana and Benin (Adja, Mina, Ewe, Fon)
4.     The Akan of Ghana and Ivory Coast
5.     The Wolof of Senegal and the Gambia
6.     The Igbo of
southeastern Nigeria
7.     The Mbundu of Angola (includes both Ambundu and Ovimbundu)
8.     The Yoruba of southwestern Nigeria

Port factories

being marched to the coast for sale, enslaved people waited in large forts
called factories. The amount of time in factories varied, but Milton Meltzer’s Slavery: A
World History
states this period resulted in or around 4.5% of deaths
during the transatlantic slave trade.[81] In other words,
over 820,000 people would have died in African ports such as Benguela, Elmina and Bonny, reducing the
number of those shipped to 17.5 million.


1.     “The capture
and sale of slaves”
. Liverpool: International Slavery Museum. Retrieved 14 October 2015.
2.     Curtin, Philip (1969). The
Atlantic Slave Trade. University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 1–58.
3.     Mannix, Daniel
(1962). Black Cargoes. The Viking Press. pp. Introduction–1–5.
4.     1.Deborah Gray White, Mia Bay, and Waldo E.
Martin, Jr., Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans (New
York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013), 11.
5.     Weber, Greta (June
5, 2015). “Shipwreck
Shines Light on Historic Shift in Slave Trade”
. National
Geographic Society. Retrieved June 8, 2015.
6.     Klein, Herbert S., and Jacob Klein. The
Atlantic Slave Trade
. Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 103–139.
7.     Ronald Segal, The Black Diaspora: Five
Centuries of the Black Experience Outside Africa
(New York: Farrar,
Straus and Giroux, 1995), ISBN 0-374-11396-3, p. 4. “It is now estimated that
11,863,000 slaves were shipped across the Atlantic.” (Note in original:
Paul E. Lovejoy, “The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on Africa: A
Review of the Literature”, in Journal of African History 30
(1989), p. 368.)
8.     Eltis, David and Richardson, David,
“The Numbers Game”. In: Northrup, David: The Atlantic Slave
, 2nd edn, Houghton Mifflin Co., 2002, p. 95.

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