The Portuguese Empire (Portuguese: Império Português), also known as the Portuguese Overseas Empire (Ultramar Português) or the Portuguese Colonial Empire (Império Colonial Português), was the first global empire in 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. The empire spread throughout a vast number of territories that are now part of 53 different sovereign states.
Portuguese sailors began exploring the coast of Africa in 1419, 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, by an accidental landfall on the South American coast for some, by the crown’s secret design for others, Pedro Álvares Cabral discovered Brazil. 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 outposts connected Lisbon to Nagasaki along the coasts of Africa, the Middle East, India, and Asia. This commercial network brought great wealth to Portugal.
Between 1580 and 1640 Portugal became the junior partner to Spain in the union of the two countries’ crowns. Though the empires continued to be administered separately, Portuguese colonies became the subject of attacks by three rival European powers hostile to Spain and envious of Iberian successes overseas: the Netherlands, Britain 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.
Significant losses to the Dutch in Portuguese India and Southeast Asia during the 17th century brought an end to the Portuguese trade monopoly in the Indian Ocean. Brazil became Portugal’s most valuable colony until, as part of the wave of independence movements that swept the Americas during the early 19th century, it broke away in 1822. Portugal’s Empire was reduced to its colonies on the African coastline (which were expanded inland during the Scramble for Africa in the late 19th century), East Timor, and enclaves in India and Macau.
After World War II, Portugal’s leader, António Salazar, attempted to keep what remained of the pluricontinental Empire intact at a time when other European countries were beginning to withdraw from their colonies. In 1961 the handful of Portuguese troops garrisoned in Goa were unable to prevent Indian troops marching into the colony. Salazar began a long and bloody war to quell anti-colonialist forces in the African colonies. The unpopular war lasted until the overthrow of the regime in 1974. The new government immediately changed policy and recognised the independence of all its colonies, except for Macau, which by agreement with the Chinese government was returned to China in 1999, thereby marking the end of the Portuguese Empire. Currently, the Azores and Madeira archipelagos are the only territories overseas that remain politically linked to Portugal.
The Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) is the cultural successor of the Empire.
The origins of the Portuguese Empire, and of Portugal itself, lay in the reconquista: the gradual Christian reconquest of the Iberian peninsula from the Moors. After establishing itself as a separate kingdom in 1139, Portugal completed its reconquest of Moorish territory by reaching Algarve in 1249, but its independence continued to be threatened by neighbouring Castile until the signing of the Treaty of Ayllón in 1411.
Free from threats to its existence and unchallenged by the wars fought by other European states, Portuguese attention turned overseas and towards a military expedition to the Muslim lands of North Africa. There were several probable motives for their first attack, on the Marinid Sultanate (in present-day Morocco): it offered the opportunity to continue the Christian crusade against Islam; to the military class, it promised glory on the battlefield and the spoils of war; and finally, it was also a chance to expand Portuguese trade and to address Portugal’s economic decline.
In 1415 an attack was made on Ceuta, a strategically located North African Muslim enclave along the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the terminal ports of the trans-Saharan gold and slave trades. The conquest was a military success, and marked one of the first steps in Portuguese expansion beyond the Iberian Peninsula, but it proved costly to defend against the Muslim forces that soon besieged it. The Portuguese were unable to use it as a base for further expansion into the hinterland, and the trans-Saharan caravans merely shifted their routes to bypass Ceuta and/or used alternative Muslim ports.
Age of Discovery (1415–1542)
Although Ceuta proved to be a disappointment for the Portuguese, the decision was taken to hold it while exploring along the Atlantic African coast.] A key supporter of this policy was Infante Dom Henry the Navigator, who had been involved in the capture of Ceuta, and who took the lead role in promoting and financing Portuguese maritime exploration until his death in 1460. At the time, Europeans did not know what lay beyond Cape Bojador on the African coast. Henry wished to know how far the Muslim territories in Africa extended, and whether it was possible to reach Asia by sea, both to reach the source of the lucrative spice trade and perhaps to join forces with the fabled Christian kingdom of Prester John that was rumoured to exist somewhere in the “Indies”. Under his sponsorship, soon the Atlantic islands of Madeira (1420) and Azores (1427) were reached and started to be settled producing wheat to export to Portugal.
Fears of what lay beyond Cape Bojador, and whether it was possible to return once it was passed, were assuaged in 1434 when it was rounded by one of Infante Henry’s captains, Gil Eanes. Once this psychological barrier had been crossed, it became easier to probe further along the coast. In 1443 Infante Dom Pedro, Henry’s brother, granted him the monopoly of navigation, war and trade in the lands south of Cape Bojador. Later this monopoly would be enforced by the Papal bulls Dum Diversas (1452) and Romanus Pontifex (1455), granting Portugal the trade monopoly for the newly discovered lands. A major advance which accelerated this project was the introduction of the caravel in the mid-15th century, a ship that could be sailed closer to the wind than any other in operation in Europe at the time. Using this new maritime technology, Portuguese navigators reached ever more southerly latitudes, advancing at an average rate of one degree a year. Senegal and Cape Verde Peninsula were reached in 1445.
A 16th century map of the western Africa showing Portuguese claims: “Guine” (Guinea) and “Amina,” (the Mina Coast along the Gulf of Guinea).
The first feitoria trade post overseas was established in 1445 on the island of Arguin off the coast of Mauritania, to attract Muslim traders and monopolize the business in the routes traveled in North Africa. In 1446, António Fernandes pushed on almost as far as present-day Sierra Leone and the Gulf of Guinea was reached in the 1460s.
Expansion of sugarcane in Madeira started in 1455, using advisers from Sicily and (largely) Genoese capital to produce the “sweet salt” rare in Europe. Already cultivated in Algarve, the accessibility of Madeira attracted Genoese and Flemish traders keen to bypass Venetian monopolies. Slaves were used, and the proportion of imported slaves in Madeira reached 10% of the total population by the 16th century. “By 1480 Antwerp had some seventy ships engaged in the Madeira sugar trade, with the refining and distribution concentrated in Antwerp. By the 1490s Madeira had overtaken Cyprus as a producer of sugar.” The success of sugar merchants such as Bartolomeo Marchionni would propel the investment in future travels.
In 1469, after prince Henry’s death and as a result of meager returns of the African explorations, King Afonso V granted the monopoly of trade in part of the Gulf of Guinea to merchant Fernão Gomes. Gomes, who had to explore 100 miles (160 km) of the coast each year for five years, discovered the islands of the Gulf of Guinea, including São Tomé and Príncipe and found a thriving alluvial gold trade among the natives and visiting Arab and Berber traders at the port then named Mina (the mine), where he established a trading post. Trade between Elmina and Portugal grew throughout a decade. In 1481, the recently-crowned João II decided to build São Jorge da Mina in order to ensure the protection of this trade, which was held again as a royal monopoly. The Equator was crossed by navigators sponsored by Fernão Gomes in 1473 and the Congo River by Diogo Cão in 1482. In 1486, Cão continued to Cape Cross, in present-day Namibia, near the Tropic of Capricorn.
Illustration of the pillar Diogo Cão erected at Cape St. Mary, in what is today Angola.
In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa, proving false the view that had existed since Ptolemy that the Indian Ocean was land-locked. Simultaneously Pêro da Covilhã, traveling secretly overland, had reached Ethiopia, suggesting that a sea route to the Indies would soon be forthcoming.
As the Portuguese explored the coastlines of Africa, they left behind a series of padrões, stone crosses engraved with the Portuguese coat of arms marking their claims, and built forts and trading posts. From these bases, they engaged profitably in the slave and gold trades. Portugal enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the African seaborne slave trade for over a century, importing around 800 slaves annually. Most were brought to the Portuguese capital Lisbon, where it is estimated black Africans came to constitute 10 per cent of the population.
Tordesillas division of the world (1492)
In 1492 Christopher Columbus’s discovery for Spain of the New World, which he believed to be Asia, led to disputes between the Spanish and Portuguese. These were eventually settled by the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, which divided the world outside of Europe in an exclusive duopoly between the Portuguese and the Spanish along a north-south meridian 370 leagues, or 970 miles (1,560 km), west of the Cape Verde islands. However, as it was not possible at the time to correctly measure longitude, the exact boundary was disputed by the two countries until 1777.
The completion of these negotiations with Spain is one of several reasons proposed by historians for why it took nine years for the Portuguese to follow up on Dias’s voyage to the Cape of Good Hope, though it has also been speculated that other voyages were in fact taking place in secret during this time. Whether or not this was the case, the long-standing Portuguese goal of finding a sea route to Asia was finally achieved in a ground-breaking voyage commanded by Vasco da Gama.
Portuguese enter the Indian Ocean (1497–1542)
The squadron of Vasco da Gama left Portugal in 1497, rounded the Cape and continued along the coast of East Africa, where a local pilot was brought on board who guided them across the Indian Ocean, reaching Calicut (the capital of the native kingdom ruled by Zamorins) in south-western India in May 1498. The second voyage to India was dispatched in 1500 under Pedro Álvares Cabral. While following the same south-westerly route as Gama across the Atlantic Ocean, Cabral made landfall on the Brazilian coast. This was probably an accidental discovery, but it has been speculated that the Portuguese secretly knew of Brazil’s existence and that it lay on their side of the Tordesillas line. Cabral recommended to the Portuguese King that the land be settled, and two follow up voyages were sent in 1501 and 1503. The land was found to be abundant in pau-brasil, or brazilwood, from which it later inherited its name, but the failure to find gold or silver meant that for the time being Portuguese efforts were concentrated on India.
Profiting from the rivalry between the ruler of Kochi and the Zamorin of Calicut, the Portuguese were well received and seen as allies, getting a permit to build a fort (Fort Manuel) and a trading post that were the first European settlement in India. In 1505 King Manuel I of Portugal appointed Francisco de Almeida first Viceroy of Portuguese India, establishing the Portuguese government in the east. That year the Portuguese conquered Kannur where they founded St. Angelo Fort. Lourenço de Almeida arrived in Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka), where he discovered the source of cinnamon.
In 1506 a Portuguese fleet under the command of Tristão da Cunha and Afonso de Albuquerque, conquered Socotra at the entrance of the Red Sea and Muscat in 1507, having failed to conquer Ormuz, following a strategy intended to close the entrances to the Indian Ocean. That same year were built fortresses in the Island of Mozambique and Mombasa on the Kenyan coast. Madagascar was partly explored by Tristão da Cunha and in the same year Mauritius was discovered.
In 1509, the Portuguese won the sea Battle of Diu against the combined forces of the Ottoman Sultan Beyazid II, Sultan of Gujarat, Mamlûk Sultan of Cairo, Zamorin of Kozhikode, Venetian Republic, and Ragusan Republic (Dubrovnik). The Portuguese victory was critical for its strategy of control of the Indian Sea: Turks and Egyptians withdrew their navies from India, leaving the seas to the Portuguese, setting its trade dominance for almost a century, and greatly assisting the growth of the Portuguese Empire. It also marked the beginning of the European colonial dominance in Asia. A second Battle of Diu in 1538 finally ended Ottoman ambitions in India and confirmed Portuguese hegemony in the Indian Ocean.
Diu fortress in Portuguese India.
Under the government of Albuquerque, Goa was taken from the Bijapur sultanate in 1510 with the help of Hindu privateer Timoji. Coveted for being the best port in the region, mainly for the commerce of Arabian horses for the Deccan sultanates, it allowed to move on from the guest stay in Kochi. Despite constant attacks, it became the headquarters of the Portuguese state in India, with its conquest triggering compliance of neighbor kingdoms: Gujarat and Calicut sent embassies, offering alliances and grants to fortify. Albuquerque began that year in Goa the first Portuguese mint in India, taking the opportunity to announce the achievement.
Initially king Manuel I and his council in Lisbon had tried to distribute power in the Indian Ocean, creating three areas of jurisdiction: Albuquerque was sent to the Red Sea, Diogo Lopes de Sequeira to Southeast Asia, seeking an agreement with the Sultan of Malacca, and Jorge de Aguiar followed by Duarte de Lemos were sent to the area between the Cape of Good Hope and Gujarat. However, such posts were centralized by Afonso de Albuquerque and remained so in subsequent ruling.
Southeast Asia and the spice trade
In 1505, Portuguese traders reached Ceylon; their initial forays were against Kotte, which enjoyed a lucrative monopoly on the spice trade, which was also of interest to the Portuguese. Although Cankili I of Jaffna initially resisted contact with them, the Jaffna kingdom came to the attention of Portuguese officials soon after for their resistance to missionary activities as well as logistical reasons due to its proximity with Trincomalee harbour among other reasons. In April 1511 Albuquerque sailed to Malacca in Malaysia, the most important east point in the trade network where Malay met Gujarati, Chinese, Japanese, Javanese, Bengali, Persian and Arabic traders, among others, described by Tomé Pires as of invaluable richness. The peninsula of Malacca became then the strategic base for Portuguese trade expansion with China and Southeast Asia, under the Portuguese rule with its capital at Goa. To defend the city was erected a strong gate which, called the “A Famosa”, still remains. Knowing of Siamese ambitions over Malacca, Albuquerque sent immediately Duarte Fernandes on a diplomatic mission to the kingdom of Siam (modern Thailand), where he was the first European to arrive, establishing amicable relations between both kingdoms. In November that year, getting to know the location of the so-called “Spice Islands” in the Moluccas, he sent an expedition led by António de Abreu to find them, arriving in early 1512. Abreu went by Ambon while deputy commander Francisco Serrão came forward to Ternate, where a Portuguese fort was allowed. That same year, in Indonesia, the Portuguese took Makassar, reaching Timor in 1514. Departing from Malacca, Jorge Álvares came to southern China in 1513. This visit was followed the arrival in Guangzhou. From 1516 on Portuguese traders established in Shangchuan Island, until in 1557 the Ming court gave consent for a permanent official Portuguese trade base at Macau.
The Portuguese empire expanded into the Persian Gulf as Portugal contested control of the spice trade with the Ottoman Empire. In 1515, Afonso de Albuquerque conquered the Huwala state of Hormuz at the head of the Persian Gulf, establishing it as a vassal state. Aden, however, resisted Albuquerque’s expedition in that same year, and another attempt by Albuquerque’s successor Lopo Soares de Albergaria in 1516, before capturing Bahrain in 1521, when a force led by Antonio Correia defeated the Jabrid King, Muqrin ibn Zamil. In a shifting series of alliances, the Portuguese dominated much of the southern Persian Gulf for the next hundred years. With the regular maritime route linking Lisbon to Goa since 1497, the island of Mozambique become a strategic port, and there was built Fort São Sebastião and an hospital. In the Azores, the Islands Armada protected the ships en route to Lisbon
In 1525, after Fernão de Magalhães’s expedition (1519–1522), Spain under Charles V sent an expedition to colonize the Moluccas islands, claiming that they were in his zone of the Treaty of Tordesillas, since there was not a set limit to the east. García Jofre de Loaísa expedition reached the Moluccas, docking at Tidore. The conflict with the Portuguese already established in nearby Ternate was inevitable, starting nearly a decade of skirmishes. An agreement was reached only with the Treaty of Zaragoza (1529), attributing the Moluccas to Portugal and the Philippines to Spain.
In 1534 Gujarat was occupied by the Mughals and the Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat was forced to sign the Treaty of Bassein (1534) with the Portuguese, establishing an alliance to regain the country, giving in exchange Daman, Diu, Mumbai and Bassein. In 1538 the fortress of Diu is again surrounded by Ottoman ships. Another siege failed in 1547 putting an end to the Ottoman ambitions, confirming the Portuguese hegemony.
Portuguese eastern trade routes from Lisbon to Nagasaki (green), and Spanish Manila galleon route (gold))(16th–17th centuries)
In 1542 Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier arrived in Goa at the service of King John III of Portugal, in charge of an Apostolic Nunciature. At the same time Francisco Zeimoto and other traders arrived in Japan for the first time. According to Fernão Mendes Pinto, who claimed to be in this journey, they arrived at Tanegashima, where the locals were impressed by firearms, that would be immediately made by the Japanese on a large scale. The Portuguese explorer Simão de Andrade started bad relations with China, due to his pirate activities, raiding Chinese shipping, attacking a Chinese official and kidnappings of Chinese. He based himself at Tamao island in a fort. The Chinese claimed that Simão kidnapped Chinese boys and girls to be molested and cannibalized. As a result, the Chinese posted an edict banning men with caucasian features from entering Canton. The Chinese responded by killing multiple Portuguese in Canton and drove the Portuguese back to sea. After the Sultan of Bintan detained several Portuguese under Tomás Pires, the Chinese then executed 23 Portuguese and threw the rest into prison where they resided in squalid, sometimes fatal conditions. The Chinese then massacred Portuguese who resided at Ningbo and Fujian trading posts in 1545 and 1549, due to extensive and damaging raids by the Portuguese along the coast, which irritated the Chinese. As Portugal increased its presence along China’s coast, they began trading in slaves. Many Chinese slaves were sold to Portugal. Since the 16th century Chinese slaves existed in Portugal, most of them were Chinese children and a large amount were shipped to the Indies. Chinese prisoners were sent to Portugal, where they were sold as slaves, they were prized and regarded better than moorish and black slaves. The first known visit of a Chinese person to Europe dates to 1540, when a Chinese scholar, enslaved during one of several Portuguese raids somewhere on the southern China coast, was brought to Portugal. Purchased by João de Barros, he worked with the Portuguese historian on translating Chinese texts into Portuguese.
Chinese children were kidnapped in China, and through Macau were brought to Portugal and sold as slaves either in Macau or overseas.
Mocquet noted that a lot of the Chinese in Portuguese India were slaves from Macau, since the Portuguese preferred Chinese as domestic household workers. Goa, Manila, and Malacca received slaves from Macau. Many different peoples were found in Goa, among the slaves, including those from Macau.
Most slaves from Macau sent to Goa or Malacca were children. The King of Portugal in 1624 issued a decree forbidding people to take Chinese as slaves. A 1571 law was passed by Portugal banning people from having Chinese slaves.
The Portuguese viceroy of Goa in 1595 issued a law which punished Portuguese who traded in Chinese slaves by making them pay 1,000 cruzados/ducats if they bought or sold Chinese, after he issued a decree stating that Chinese were lodging complaints to him about Chinese slaves being traded by many Macao Portuguese either to be sold abroad or to be used domestically as servants. The price for one girl or boy from China was 15 or 20 ducats.
The King of Portugal again banned slavery for Chinese in 1724, forbidding the purchase of Chinese children as slaves. Most Chinese in India were slaves concentrated in Portuguese Goa
In 1557 the Chinese authorities allowed the Portuguese to settle in Macau through an annual payment, creating a warehouse in the triangular trade between China, Japan and Europe. In 1570 the Portuguese bought a Japanese port where they founded the city of Nagasaki, thus creating a trading center for many years was the port from Japan to the world. A first expedition, led by Viceroy Dom Constantino de Bragança in 1560, failed to subdue Jaffna, but captured Mannar Island. By June 1619, despite sharp resistance from Cankili II of Jaffna, there were two Portuguese expeditions; a naval expedition that was repulsed by the Malabari corsairs and another expedition by Phillippe de Oliveira and his land army of 5000, which defeated Cankili and conquered Jaffna, strengthening Portuguese control of shipping routes through the Palk Strait.
Portugal established trading ports at far-flung locations like Goa, Ormuz, Malacca, Kochi, the Maluku Islands, Macau, and Nagasaki. Guarding its trade from both European and Asian competitors, Portugal dominated not only the trade between Asia and Europe, but also much of the trade between different regions of Asia, such as India, Indonesia, China, and Japan. Jesuit missionaries, such as the Basque Francis Xavier, followed the Portuguese to spread Roman Catholic Christianity to Asia with mixed success.
First efforts of colonization in Brazil
Portuguese map (1574), showing the 15 hereditary captaincies of Brazil.
In 1534, promoting settlement to overcome the need to defend the territory, John III organized the colonization of Brazil through land grants. As of 1520, the Portuguese had realized that Brazil was likely to be disputed, with Francis I of France challenging the Treaty of Tordesillas and supporting privateers. The increase in brazilwood smuggling pressed this effort to effective occupation of the territory, although since 1503 an expedition under the command of Gonçalo Coelho reported French raids on the Brazilian coasts and, in the same year, Martim Afonso de Sousa went to patrol the whole Brazilian coast, banish the French and create some of the first colonial towns: São Vicente ( 1532 ) and São Paulo ( 1554 ).
Fifteen longitudinal tracks, ranging from the coast to the Tordesillas limit, were created. This vast lands were donated in form of hereditary captaincies (Capitanias Hereditárias) to grantees rich enough to support settlement, as had been done successfully in Madeira and Cape Verde islands. Each captain-major should build settlements, grant allotments and administer justice, being responsible for developing and taking the costs of colonization, although not being the owner: he could transmit it to offspring, but not sell it. Twelve recipients came from Portuguese gentry who become prominent in Africa and India and senior officials of the court, such as João de Barros and Martim Afonso de Sousa.
Of the fifteen original captaincies (a two-month trip from Portugal), only two, Pernambuco and São Vicente, prospered. Both dedicated to the crop of sugar cane and the settlers managed to maintain alliances with Native Americans. The establishment of the sugar cane industry demanded intensive labor which would be met with native American and, later, African slaves.
Deeming the capitanias system ineffective, the king decided to centralize the government of the colony, in order to “give help and assistance” to grantees. In 1548 he created the first General Government, sending in Tomé de Sousa as first governor and rescuing the captaincy of the Bay of All Saints, making it a royal captaincy, seat of the Government. This measure did not entailed the extinction of captaincies. Tomé de Sousa built the capital of Brazil, Salvador at the Bay of All Saints. The first Jesuits arrived the same year. From 1565 through 1567 Mem de Sá, a Portuguese colonial official and the third Governor General of Brazil, successfully destroyed a ten year-old French colony called France Antarctique, at Guanabara Bay. He and his nephew, Estácio de Sá, then founded the city of Rio de Janeiro in March 1567.
Iberian Union and rivalry with the Dutch (1580–1663)
Map of the Spanish-Portuguese Empire in 1598.
Territories administered by the Council of Castile
Territories administered by the Council of Aragon
Territories administered by the Council of Portugal
Territories administered by the Council of Italia
Territories administered by the Council of the Indies
In 1580, King Philip II of Spain invaded Portugal after a crisis of succession brought about by King Sebastian of Portugal’s death during a disastrous Portuguese Ksar El Kebir attack on Morocco in 1578. At the Cortes of Tomar in 1581, Philip was crowned Philip I of Portugal, uniting the two crowns and overseas empires under Spanish Habsburg rule in a dynastic Iberian Union. At Tomar, Philip promised to keep the empires legally distinct, leaving the administration of the Portuguese Empire to Portuguese nationals, with a Viceroy of Portugal in Lisbon seeing to his interests. All the Portuguese colonies accepted the new state of affairs except for the Azores, which held out for António, a Portuguese rival claimant to the throne who had garnered the support of Catherine de Medici of France in exchange for the promise to cede Brazil. Spanish forces eventually captured the island in 1583.
The union with Spain entailed both benefits and drawbacks as far as the Portuguese Empire was concerned. Spanish imperial trade networks were opened to Portuguese merchants, which was particularly lucrative for Portuguese slave traders who could now sell slaves in Spanish America at a higher price than could be fetched in Brazil.
The Tordesillas boundary between Spanish and Portuguese control in South America was then increasingly ignored by the Portuguese, who pressed beyond it into the heart of Brazil, allowing to expand the territory to the west. Exploratory missions were carried out both ordered by the government, the “entradas” (entries), and by private initiative, the “bandeiras” (flags), by the “bandeirantes”. These expeditions lasted for years venturing into unmapped regions, initially to capture natives and force them into slavery, and later focusing on finding gold, silver and diamond mines.
However, the union meant that Spain dragged Portugal into its conflicts with England, France and the Dutch Republic, countries which were beginning to establish their own overseas empires. The primary threat came from the Dutch, who had been engaged in a struggle for independence against Spain since 1568. In 1581 the Seventeen Provinces gained independence from the Habsburg rule, leading Philip II to prohibit commerce with Dutch ships, including in Brazil where Dutch had invested large sums in financing sugar production.
In 1592, during the war with Spain, an English fleet captured a large Portuguese carrack off the Azores, the Madre de Deus. Loaded with 900 tons of merchandise from India and China, estimated at half a million pounds (nearly half the size of English Treasury at the time). This foretaste of the riches of the East galvanized English interest in the region. That same year, Cornelis de Houtman was sent by Dutch merchants to Lisbon, to gather as much information as he could about the Spice Islands. In 1595, merchant and explorer Jan Huyghen van Linschoten, having traveled widely in the Indian Ocean at the service of the Portuguese, published a travel report in Amsterdam, the “Reys-gheschrift vande navigatien der Portugaloysers in Orienten” (“Report of a journey through the navigations of the Portuguese in the East”). This included vast directions on how to navigate between Portugal and the East Indies and to Japan. Dutch and English interest fed on new information led to a movement of commercial expansion, and the foundation of the English East India Company, in 1600, and Dutch East India Company(VOC), in 1602, allowing the entry in of chartered companies in the so-called East Indies.
The Dutch took their fight overseas, attacking Spanish and Portuguese colonies and shipping, allying in turn with rival local leaders, and dismantling the Portuguese trade monopoly in Asia. The Portuguese Empire, consisting primarily of exposed coastal settlements vulnerable to being picked off one by one, proved to be an easier target than the Spanish Empire.
View of the Portuguese liberation of Salvador from the Dutch, João Teixeira Albernaz, o velho, 1631.
The Dutch–Portuguese War began with an attack on São Tomé and Príncipe in 1597 and lasted until 1663. The war was waged by the Dutch East India Company (established in 1602) and its West India counterpart (1621), commercial ventures whose aim was to take over the trade networks that the Portuguese had established in Asian spices, West African slaves and Brazilian sugar In Asia, the Dutch captured the Spice Islands (1605), Malacca (1641), Colombo (1656), Ceylon (1658), Nagappattinam (1660), Cranganore and Cochin (1662). Although Goa, the capital of Portuguese Asia, Diu and Macau were successfully defended, the expulsion of the Portuguese from Japan in 1639 excluded Portuguese merchants from the highly profitable China-Japan trade. Having successfully prevented the French from gaining a foothold in Portuguese Brazil at France Équinoxiale in 1615, Salvador da Bahia was lost to the Dutch in 1624 (though recaptured by a joint Spanish-Portuguese force the following year) and Pernambuco in 1630. In need of slaves for the sugar producing regions they had captured in Brazil, the Dutch began attacks on the Portuguese trading posts on the west coast of Africa, successfully taking Elmina (1638), Luanda (1641) and Axim (1642). By 1654, Portugal had succeeded in expelling the Dutch from Brazil and Luanda, though its preeminent position in Asia had been lost forever.
Imperial decline (1663–1822)
The loss of colonies was one of the reasons that contributed to the end of the personal union with Spain. In 1640 John IV was proclaimed King of Portugal and the Portuguese Restoration War began. In 1661 the Portuguese offered Bombay and Tangier to England as part of a dowry, and over the next hundred years the English gradually became the dominant trader in India, gradually excluding the trade of other powers. In 1668 Spain recognized the end of the Iberian Union and in exchange Portugal ceded Ceuta to the Spanish crown.
At the end of confrontations with the Dutch, Portugal was able to cling onto Goa and several minor bases in India, and managed to regain territories in Brazil and Africa, but lost forever to prominence in Asia as trade was diverted through increasing numbers of English, Dutch and French trading posts. Thus, throughout the century, Brazil gained increasing importance to the empire, which exported Brazilwood and sugar.
From 1693 the focus was in a Brazilian region that become known as Minas Gerais, where gold was discovered. Major discoveries of gold and, later, diamonds in Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso and Goias led to a “gold rush”, with a large influx of migrants. The village founded in 1696, became the new economic center of the empire, with rapid settlement and some conflicts. This gold cycle led to the creation of an internal market and attracted a large number of immigrants. The population grew 750% between 1650 to 1770 and quickly became the largest in Brazil, contributing to the settlement of the interior. 78% of this population being of black people and mestizos, and also New Christians from the north of Portugal and the Azores and Madeira, who settled as important trade agents in the villages around Ouro Preto and Mariana.
The gold rush considerably increased the revenue of the Portuguese crown, who charged a fifth of all the ore mined, or the “fifth”. Diversion and smuggling were frequent, so a whole set of bureaucratic controls were instituted. The gold production would have increased from 2 tonnes per year in 1701 to 14 tonnes in the 1750s but then began to decline sharply until exhausting before the end of the century. Gold surpassed the earnings of other products from the colonies and this trade brought prosperity to Rio de Janeiro and the kingdom.
In 1755 Lisbon suffered a catastrophic earthquake, which together with a subsequent tsunami killed more than 100,000 people out of a population of 275,000. This sharply checked Portuguese colonial ambitions in the late 18th century.
Unlike Spain, Portugal did not divide its colonial territory in America. The captaincies created there were subordinated to a centralized administration in Salvador which reported directly to the Crown in Lisbon. The 18th century was marked by increasing centralization of royal power throughout the Portuguese empire, with the power of the Jesuits, protective of the Indians against slavery, brutally suppressed by the Marquis of Pombal, leading to the dissolution of this religious order under ground Portuguese in 1759. In 1774, the two states of Brazil and the Grão-Pará and Maranhão merged into a single administrative entity.
The settlers began to express some dissatisfaction with the authorities in Lisbon as the decline of mining made it difficult to pay the taxes demanded by the Crown. In 1789, when it announced a tax of 20% of the gold removed, revolt broke out in Ouro Preto. Encouraged by the example of the United States of America, which had won its independence from Britain (1776–1781), the attempt centred in the colonial province of Minas Gerais was made in 1789 to achieve the same objective. However, the Inconfidência Mineira failed, the leaders arrested and, of the participants of the insurrections the one of lowest social position, Tiradentes, was hanged.
In 1808, Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Portugal, and Dom João, Prince Regent in place of his mother, Dona Maria I, ordered the transfer of the royal court to Brazil. In 1815 Brazil was elevated to the status of Kingdom, the Portuguese state officially becoming the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves (Reino Unido de Portugal, Brasil e Algarves), and the capital was transferred from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, the only instance of a European country being ruled from one of its colonies. There was also the election of Brazilian representatives to the Cortes Constitucionais Portuguesas (Portuguese Constitutional Courts), the Parliament that assembled in Lisbon in the wake of the Liberal Revolution of 1820.
Although the royal family returned to Portugal in 1821, the interlude led to a growing desire for independence amongst Brazilians. In 1822, the son of Dom João VI, then prince-regent Dom Pedro I, proclaimed the
Consolidation in Africa (1822–1951)
At the height of European colonialism in the 19th century, Portugal had lost its territory in South America and all but a few bases in Asia. During this phase, Portuguese colonialism focused on expanding its outposts in Africa into nation-sized territories to compete with other European powers there. Portuguese territories eventually included the modern nations of Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Guinea-Bissau, Angola, and Mozambique.
The Pink Map – Portugal’s claim of sovereignty over the land between Portuguese Angola and Portuguese Mozambique.
Portugal pressed into the hinterland of Angola and Mozambique, and explorers Serpa Pinto, Hermenegildo Capelo and Roberto Ivens were among the first Europeans to cross Africa west to east. The project to connect the two colonies, the Pink Map, was the Portuguese main objective in the second half of the 19th century. However, the idea was unacceptable to the British, who had their own aspirations of contiguous British territory running from Cairo to Cape Town. The British Ultimatum of 1890 was imposed upon King Carlos I of Portugal and the Pink Map came to an end. The King’s reaction to the ultimatum was exploited by republicans. In 1908 King Carlos and Prince Luís Filipe were murdered in Lisbon. Luís Filipe’s brother, Manuel, became King Manuel II of Portugal. Two years later Portugal became a republic.
In the wake of World War II, decolonization movements began to gain momentum in the empires of the European powers. The ensuing Cold War also created instabilities among Portuguese overseas populations, as the United States and Soviet Union vied to increase their spheres of influence. Following the granting of independence to India by Britain in 1947, and the decision by France to allow its enclaves in India to be incorporated into the newly independent nation, pressure was placed on Portugal to do the same. This was resisted by António de Oliveira Salazar, who had taken power in 1933. Salazar rebuffed a request in 1950 by India’s Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, to return the enclaves, viewing them as integral parts of Portugal. The following year, the Portuguese constitution was amended to change the status of the colonies to overseas provinces. In 1954, a local uprising resulted in the overthrow of the Portuguese authorities in the Indian enclave of Dadra and Nagar Haveli. The existence of the remaining Portuguese colonies in India became increasingly untenable and Nehru enjoyed the support of almost all the Indian domestic political parties as well as the Soviet Union and its allies. In 1961, shortly after an uprising against the Portuguese in Angola, Nehru ordered the Indian Army in to Goa, Daman and Diu, which were quickly captured and formally annexed the following year. Salazar refused to recognize the transfer of sovereignty, believing the territories to be merely occupied. The Province of Goa continued to be represented in the Portuguese National Assembly until 1974.
The outbreak of violence in February 1961 in Angola was the beginning of the end of Portugal’s empire in Africa. Portuguese army officers in Angola held the view that it would be incapable of dealing militarily with an outbreak of guerilla warfare and therefore that negotiations should begin with the independence movements. However, Salazar publicly stated his determination to keep the empire intact, and by the end of the year, 50,000 troops had been stationed there. The same year, the tiny Portuguese fort of São João Baptista de Ajudá in Ouidah, a remnant of the West African slave trade, was annexed by the new government of Dahomey (now Benin) that had gained its independence from France. Unrest spread from Angola to Guinea, which rebelled in 1963, and Mozambique in 1964.
The rise of Soviet influence among the Movimento das Forças Armadas’s military (MFA) and working class, and the cost and unpopularity of the Portuguese Colonial War (1961–1974), in which Portugal resisted to the emerging nationalist guerrilla movements in some of its African territories, eventually led to the collapse of the Estado Novo regime in 1974. Known as the “Carnation Revolution”, one of the first acts of the MFA-led government which then came into power – the National Salvation Junta (Junta de Salvação Nacional) – was to end the wars and negotiate Portuguese withdrawal from its African colonies. These events prompted a mass exodus of Portuguese citizens from Portugal’s African territories (mostly from Angola and Mozambique), creating over a million Portuguese refugees – the retornados. Portugal’s new ruling authorities also recognized Goa and other Portuguese India’s territories invaded by India’s military forces, as Indian territories. Benin’s claims over São João Baptista de Ajudá, were also accepted by the Portuguese, and diplomatic relations were restored with both India and Benin.
Handover Ceremony of Macau
Civil wars in both independent Mozambique and Angola promptly broke out, with incoming communist governments formed by the former rebels (and backed by the Soviet Union, Cuba, and other communist countries) fighting against insurgent groups supported by nations like Zaire, South Africa, and the United States.
East Timor also declared independence at this time (1975), making an exodus of many Portuguese refugees to Portugal, also known as retornados. However, East Timor was almost immediately invaded by neighbouring Indonesia, which occupied it until 1999. A United Nations-sponsored referendum that year resulted in East Timorese choosing independence, which was achieved in 2002.
The transfer of the sovereignty of Macau to China on December 20, 1999, under the terms of an agreement negotiated between People’s Republic of China and Portugal twelve years earlier marked the end of the Portuguese overseas empire. Nevertheless, the Portuguese language remains co-official with Chinese (Cantonese) in Macau.
Seven of the former colonies of Portugal have Portuguese as their official language. Together with Portugal, they are now members of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, which when combined total 10,742,000 km², or 7.2% of the Earth’s landmass (148 939 063 km²). Equatorial Guinea, which adopted Portuguese as its third official language in 2007, is currently an associate observer of the CPLP, along with Mauritius and Senegal. Moreover, twelve candidate countries or regions have applied for membership to the CPLP and are awaiting approval.
Today, Portuguese is one of the world’s major languages, ranked sixth overall with approximately 240 million speakers around the globe It is the third most spoken language in the Americas, mainly due to Brazil, although there are also significant communities of lusophones in nations such as Canada, the USA and Venezuela. In addition, there are numerous Portuguese-based creole languages, including the one utilized by the Kristang people in Malacca.
In cyberspace, Portuguese is estimated to be the seventh most widely used Internet language, and on Wikipedia it currently has the ninth largest number of articles published.