History of Portugal

The history of Portugal dates back to the Early Middle Ages. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal ascended to the status of a world power during Europe's "Age of Discovery" as it built up a vast empire, including possessions in South America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. Over the following two centuries, Portugal kept most of its colonies, but gradually lost much of its wealth and status as the Dutch, English, and French took an increasing share of the spice and slave trades by surrounding or conquering the widely scattered Portuguese trading posts and territories.

Signs of military decline began with two disastrous battles: the Battle of Alcácer Quibir in Morocco in 1578 and Spain's abortive attempt to conquer England in 1588 by means of the Spanish Armada – Portugal was then in a dynastic union with Spain and contributed ships to the Spanish invasion fleet. The country was further weakened by the destruction of much of its capital city in an earthquake in 1755, occupation during the Napoleonic Wars and the loss of its largest colony, Brazil, in 1822. From the middle of the 19th century to the late 1950s, nearly two million Portuguese left Portugal to live in Brazil and the United States.[1]

In 1910, there was a revolution that deposed the monarchy. Amid corruption, repression of the church, and the near bankruptcy of the state, a military coup in 1926 installed a dictatorship that remained until another coup in 1974. The new government instituted sweeping democratic reforms and granted independence to all of Portugal's African colonies in 1975.

Portugal is a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). It entered the European Economic Community (now the European Union) in 1986.


The word Portugal derives from the Roman-Celtic place name Portus Cale. Cale was the name of an early settlement located at the mouth of the Douro River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean in the north of what is now Portugal. Around 200 BC, the Romans took the Iberian Peninsula from the Carthaginians during the Second Punic War, and in the process conquered Cale and renamed it Portus Cale (Port of Cale). During the Dark Ages, the region around Portus Cale became known by the Suebi and Visigoths as Portucale.

The name Portucale evolved into Portugale during the 7th and 8th centuries, and by the 9th century, that term was used extensively to refer to the region between the rivers Douro and Minho, the Minho flowing along what would become the northern Portugal-Spain border. By the 11th and 12th centuries, Portugale was already referred to as Portugal.

The etymology of the name Cale is somewhat mysterious, although the most plausible origin points to Cale[2] being a Celtic name, like many others found in the region. The word cale or cala meant "port", an "inlet" or "harbour", and implied the existence of an older Celtic harbour.[3] This sounds like a plausible origin as for instance the Gaelic word for harbour is indeed "Cala".[4] Others argue it is the stem of Gallaecia. Another theory claims it derives from the word Caladunum.[5]

In any case, the particle Portu in the word Portucale was used as the basis of Porto, the modern name for the city located on the site of the ancient city of Cale at the mouth of the Douro River. And port became the English name of the wine actually produced further inland, in the Upper Douro Valley region, but exported through Porto. The name Cale is today reflected in Gaia (Vila Nova de Gaia), a city on the left bank of the river.

Early history


Main article: Prehistoric Iberia

The region of present-day Portugal was inhabited by Neanderthals, and then by Homo sapiens, who roamed the northern Iberian peninsula.[6] Neanderthals probably arrived 100,000 years BP. A Neanderthal tooth found at Nova da Columbiera cave in Estremadura is one of the oldest human fossils so far discovered. Homo sapiens sapiens arrived in Portugal in around 35,000 years ago and spread rapidly throughout the country.[7]

Pre-Celtic tribes inhabited Portugal leaving a remarkable cultural footprint. The Cynetes developed a written language, leaving many stelae, which are mainly found in the south of Portugal.

Early in the first millennium BC, several waves of Celts invaded Portugal from Central Europe and intermarried with the local populations to form several different ethnic groups, with many tribes. The Celtic presence in Portugal is traceable, in broad outline, through archaeological and linguistic evidence. They dominated much of northern and central Portugal; but in the south they were unable to establish their stronghold, which retained its non-Indo-European character until the Roman conquest.[8] In southern Portugal, some small, semi-permanent commercial coastal settlements were also founded by Phoenician-Carthaginians.

Ancient history

Main article: Ancient Portugal
The main language areas in Iberia, circa 300 BC.

Numerous pre-Roman peoples of the Iberian Peninsula inhabited the territory when a Roman invasion occurred in the 3rd century BC. The Romanization of Hispania took several centuries. The Roman provinces that covered present-day Portugal were Lusitania in the south and Gallaecia in the north.

Numerous Roman sites are scattered around present-day Portugal. Some of the urban remains are quite large, such as Conímbriga and Miróbriga. Several works of engineering, such as baths, temples, bridges, roads, circuses, theatres, and layman's homes are preserved throughout the country. Coins, sarcophagi, and ceramics are also numerous.

Following the fall of Rome, the Kingdom of the Suebi and the Visigothic Kingdom controlled the territory between the 5th and 7th centuries.


The Roman Provinces Lusitania and Gallaecia, after the reorganization of Diocletian AD 298

Romanization began with the arrival of the Roman army in the Iberian Peninsula in 218 BC during the Second Punic War against Carthage. The Romans sought to conquer Lusitania, a territory south of the Douro river and Spanish Estremadura, with its capital at Emerita Augusta (now Mérida, Spain).[9]

Mining was the primary factor that made the Romans interested in conquering the region: one of Rome's strategic objectives was to cut off Carthaginian access to the Iberian copper, tin, gold, and silver mines. The Romans intensely exploited the Aljustrel (Vipasca) and Santo Domingo mines in the Iberian Pyrite Belt which extends to Seville.[10]

While the south of what is now Portugal was relatively easily occupied by the Romans, the conquest of the north was achieved only with difficulty due to resistance from Serra da Estrela by Celts and Lusitanians led by Viriatus, who managed to resist Roman expansion for years.[9] Viriatus, a shepherd from Serra da Estrela who was expert in guerrilla tactics, waged relentless war against the Romans, defeating several successive Roman generals, until he was assassinated in 140 BC by traitors bought by the Romans. Viriatus has long been hailed as the first truly heroic figure in proto-Portuguese history. Nonetheless, he was responsible for raids into the more settled Romanized parts of Southern Portugal and Lusitania that involved the victimization of the inhabitants.[9][11]

The conquest of the Iberian Peninsula was complete two centuries after the Roman arrival, when they defeated the remaining Cantabri, Astures and Gallaeci in the Cantabrian Wars in the time of Emperor Augustus (19 BC). In 74 CE, Vespasian granted Latin Rights to most municipalities of Lusitania. In 212 CE, the Constitutio Antoniniana gave Roman citizenship to all free subjects of the empire and, at the end of the century, the emperor Diocletian founded the province of Gallaecia, which included modern-day northern Portugal.[9]

As well as mining, the Romans also developed agriculture, on some of the best agricultural land in the empire. In what is now Alentejo, vines and cereals were cultivated, and fishing was intensively pursued in the coastal belt of the Algarve, Póvoa de Varzim, Matosinhos, Troia and the coast of Lisbon, for the manufacture of garum that was exported by Roman trade routes to the entire empire. Business transactions were facilitated by coinage and the construction of an extensive road network, bridges and aqueducts, such as Trajan's bridge in Aquae Flaviae (now Chaves).[12]

Roman rule brought geographical mobility to the inhabitants of Portugal and increased their interaction with the rest of the world as well as internally. Soldiers often served in different regions and eventually settled far from their birthplace, while the development of mining attracted migration into the mining areas.[11]

The Romans founded numerous cities, such as Olisipo (Lisbon), Bracara Augusta (Braga), Aeminium (Coimbra) and Pax Julia (Beja),[13] and left important cultural legacies in what is now Portugal. Vulgar Latin (the basis of the Portuguese language) became the dominant language of the region, and Christianity spread throughout Lusitania from the third century.

Germanic invasions

Iberian Peninsula c. 560. Suebi territory with its capital in Braga (blue); Visigothic territory with its capital in Toledo (green)
Visigothic Hispania and its regional divisions in 700, prior to the Muslim conquest.

In 409, with the decline of the Roman Empire, the Iberian Peninsula was occupied by Germanic tribes that the Romans referred to as barbarians.[14] In 411, with a federation contract with Emperor Honorius, many of these people settled in Hispania. An important group was made up of the Suebi and Vandals in Gallaecia, who founded a Suebi Kingdom with its capital in Braga. They came to dominate Aeminium (Coimbra) as well, and there were Visigoths to the south.[15] The Suebi and the Visigoths were the Germanic tribes who had the most lasting presence in the territories corresponding to modern Portugal. As elsewhere in Western Europe, there was a sharp decline in urban life during the Dark Ages.[16]

Roman institutions disappeared in the wake of the Germanic invasions with the exception of ecclesiastical organizations, which were fostered by the Suebi in the fifth century and adopted by the Visigoths afterwards. Although the Suebi and Visigoths were initially followers of Arianism and Priscillianism, they adopted Catholicism from the local inhabitants. St. Martin of Braga was a particularly influential evangelist at this time.[15]

In 429, the Visigoths moved south to expel the Alans and Vandals and founded a kingdom with its capital in Toledo. From 470, conflict between the Suebi and Visigoths increased. In 585, the Visigothic King Liuvigild conquered Braga and annexed Gallaecia. From that time, the Iberian Peninsula was unified under a Visigothic Kingdom.[15]

With the Visigoths settled in the newly formed kingdom, a new class emerged that had been unknown in Roman times: a nobility, which played a tremendous social and political role during the Middle Ages. It was also under the Visigoths that the Church began to play a very important part within the state. Since the Visigoths did not learn Latin from the local people, they had to rely on Catholic bishops to continue the Roman system of governance. The laws established during the Visigothic monarchy were thus made by councils of bishops, and the clergy started to emerge as a high-ranking class.

Middle Ages and the Reconquista (711–1249)

Mértola's mosque was transformed into a church in 1238.

During the caliphate of the Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid I, the Berber commander Tariq ibn-Ziyad led a small force that landed at Gibraltar on 30 April 711, ostensibly to intervene in a Visigothic civil war. After a decisive victory over King Roderic at the Battle of Guadalete on 19 July 711, Tariq ibn-Ziyad, joined by the Arab governor Musa ibn Nusayr of Ifriqiya, brought most of the Visigothic kingdom under Muslim occupation in a seven-year campaign. The Visigothic resistance to this invasion was ineffective, though sieges were required to sack a couple of cities. The main reason the cities were overwhelmed so easily is not easily explained, since the only surviving sources were Muslims whose accounts were anecdotal.[17] The Visigothic territories included what is today Spain, Portugal, Andorra, Gibraltar, and the southwestern part of France known in ancient times as Septimania. The invading Moors wanted to conquer and convert all of Europe to Islam, so they crossed the Pyrenees to use Visigothic Septimania as a base of operations.

Muslims called their conquests in Iberia 'al-Andalus' and in what was to become Portugal, they mainly consisted of the old Roman province of Lusitania (the central and southern regions of the country), while Gallaecia (the northern regions) remaining unsubdued. Until the Berber revolt in the 730s, al-Andalus was treated as a dependency of Umayyad North Africa. Subsequently, links were strained until the caliphate was overthrown in the late 740s.[18]

The invading Medieval Muslim Moors, who conquered and destroyed the Christian Visigothic kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula, were mainly Berbers from North Africa, but they were joined by Arabs from the Middle East.

Beginning of the Reconquista

Monument of Pelagius at Covadonga where he won the Battle of Covadonga and initiates the Christian Reconquista of Iberia from the Islamic Moors.

In 718 AD, a Visigothic noble named Pelagius was elected leader by many of the ousted Visigoth nobles. Pelagius called for the remnant of the Christian Visigothic armies to rebel against the Moors and re-group in the unconquered northern Asturian highlands, better known today as the Cantabrian Mountains, a small mountain region in modern northwestern Spain adjacent to the Bay of Biscay. He planned to use the Cantabrian Mountain range as a place of refuge and protection from the invaders and as a springboard to reconquer lands from the Moors. After defeating the Moors in the Battle of Covadonga in 722 AD, Pelagius was proclaimed king to found the Christian Kingdom of Asturias and start the war of reconquest known in Portuguese (and Spanish) as the Reconquista.[19]

Currently, historians and archaeologists generally agree that northern Portugal between the Minho and the Douro rivers kept a significant share of its population, a social and political Christian area that until the late 9th century had no acting state powers. However, in the late 9th century, the region became part of a complex of powers, the Galician-Asturian, Leonese and Portuguese power structures.[20]

Creation of the County of Portugal

Vímara Peres

Equestrian statue of Vímara Peres in Porto
First Count of Portucale
Reign 868–873
Successor Lucídio Vimaranes
Born 820
A Coruña, Kingdom of Galicia
Died 873
Guimarães, County of Portugal

At the end of the 9th century, a small minor county based in the area of Portus Cale was established by Vímara Peres on the orders of King Alfonso III of León, Galicia and Asturias. After annexing the County of Portugal into one of the several counties that made up its realms, King Alfonso III named Vímara Peres as its first count. Since the rule of Count Diogo Fernandes, the county increased in size and importance and, from the 10th century onward, with Count Gonçalo Mendes as Magnus Dux Portucalensium (Grand Duke of the Portuguese), the Portuguese counts started using the title of duke, indicating even larger importance and territory. The region became known simultaneously as Portucale, Portugale, and Portugalia — the County of Portugal.[21] The Kingdom of Asturias was later divided as a result of dynastic disputes; the northern region of Portugal became part of the Kingdom of Galicia and later part of the Kingdom of León.

Suebi-Visigothic arts and architecture, in particular sculpture, had shown a natural continuity with the Roman period. With the Reconquista, new artistic trends took hold, with Galician-Asturian influences more visible than the Leonese. The Portuguese group was characterized by a general return to classicism. The county courts of Viseu and Coimbra played a very important role in this process. Mozarabic architecture was found in the south, in Lisbon and beyond, while in the Christian realms Galician-Portuguese and Asturian architecture prevailed.[20]

As a vassal of the Kingdom of León, Portugal grew in power and territory and occasionally gained de facto independence during weak Leonese reigns; Count Mendo Gonçalves even became regent of the Kingdom of Leon between 999 and 1008. In 1070, the Portuguese Count Nuno Mendes desired the Portuguese title and fought the Battle of Pedroso on 18 February 1071 with Garcia II of Galicia, who gained the Galician title, which included Portugal, after the 1065 partition of the Leonese realms. The battle resulted in Nuno Mendes' death and the declaration of Garcia as King of Portugal, the first person to claim this title.[22] Garcia started to styled himself as "King of Portugal and Galicia" (Garcia Rex Portugallie et Galleciae). Garcia's brothers, Sancho II of Castile and Alfonso VI of Leon, united and annexed Garcia's kingdom during that same year. They agreed to split it among themselves; however, the king of Castille was killed by a noble in that same year. Alfonso took Castile for himself and Garcia recovered his kingdom of Portugal and Galicia; but, in 1073, Alfonso VI gathered all power and started to style himself as Imperator totius Hispaniæ (Emperor of All Hispania) since 1077. When the emperor died, the Crown was left for his daughter Urraca, while Teresa inherited the County of Portugal and, in 1095, Portugal broke away from the Kingdom of Galicia. Its territories, consisting largely of mountains, moorland and forests, were bounded on the north by the Minho River, and on the south by the Mondego River.

Foundation of the Kingdom of Portugal

Afonso I
King of Portugal
Reign 26 July 1139 – 6 December 1185
Coronation 26 July 1139
Successor Sancho I
Count of Portugal
Reign 1112–1139
Predecessor Henry, Count of Portugal
Born 25 June 1109
Coimbra, Guimarães or Viseu, County of Portugala[]
Died 6 December 1185 (aged 76)
Coimbra, Kingdom of Portugal
Burial Santa Cruz Monastery, Coimbra, District of Coimbra, Portugal
Consort Mafalda of Savoy
among others ...
Urraca, Queen of León
Sancho I of Portugal
Theresa, Countess of Flanders
House House of Burgundy
Father Henry, Count of Portugal
Mother Theresa, Countess of Portugal
Religion Roman Catholicism

At the end of the 11th century, the Burgundian knight Henry became count of Portugal and defended its independence by merging the County of Portugal and the County of Coimbra. His efforts were assisted by a civil war that raged between León and Castile and distracted his enemies.

Henry's son Afonso Henriques took control of the county upon his death. The city of Braga, the unofficial Catholic centre of the Iberian Peninsula, faced new competition from other regions. Lords of the cities of Coimbra and Porto fought with Braga's clergy and demanded the independence of the reconstituted county.

Portugal traces its national origin to 24 June 1128, the date of the Battle of São Mamede. Afonso proclaimed himself Prince of Portugal after this battle and in 1139, he assumed the title King of Portugal. In 1143, the Kingdom of León recognised him as King of Portugal by the Treaty of Zamora. In 1179, the papal bull Manifestis Probatum of Pope Alexander III officially recognised Afonso I as king. After the Battle of São Mamede, the first capital of Portugal was Guimarães, from which the first king ruled. Later, when Portugal was already officially independent, he ruled from Coimbra.

Affirmation of Portugal

The Algarve, the southernmost region of Portugal, was finally conquered from the Moors in 1249, and in 1255 the capital shifted to Lisbon.[23] Neighboring Spain would not complete its Reconquista until 1492, almost 250 years later.[24]

Portugal's land boundaries have been notably stable for the rest of the country's history. The border with Spain has remained almost unchanged since the 13th century. The Treaty of Windsor (1386) created an alliance between Portugal and England that remains in effect to this day. Since early times, fishing and overseas commerce have been the main economic activities.

Naval exploration and Portuguese Empire (15th–16th centuries)

Portuguese discoveries and explorations: first arrival places and dates; main Portuguese spice trade routes in the Indian Ocean (blue); territories of the Portuguese Empire under King John III rule (1521–1557) (green). The disputed discovery of Australia is not shown.

During the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal became a leading European power that ranked with England, France and Spain in terms of economic, political and cultural influence. Though not dominant in European affairs, Portugal did have an extensive colonial trading empire throughout the world backed by a powerful thalassocracy.

The beginnings of the Portuguese Empire can be traced to 25 July 1415, when the Portuguese Armada set sail for the rich Islamic trading center of Ceuta in North Africa. The Armada was accompanied by King John I, his sons Prince Duarte (a future king), Prince Pedro, and Prince Henry the Navigator, and the legendary Portuguese hero Nuno Álvares Pereira.[25] On 21 August 1415, Ceuta was conquered by Portugal, and the long-lived Portuguese Empire was founded.[26]

The conquest of Ceuta was facilitated by a major civil war that had been engaging the Muslims of the Maghreb (North Africa) since 1411.[26] This civil war prevented a re-capture of Ceuta from the Portuguese, when the king of Granada Muhammed IX, the Left-Handed, laid siege to Ceuta and attempted to coordinate forces in Morocco and attract aid and assistance for the effort from Tunis.[27] The Muslim attempt to retake Ceuta was ultimately unsuccessful and Ceuta remained the first part of the new Portuguese Empire.[27] Further steps were taken that would soon expand the Portuguese Empire much further.

In 1418, two of Prince Henry the Navigator's captains, João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira, were driven by a storm to an island that they called Porto Santo ("Holy Port") in gratitude for their rescue from the shipwreck. In 1419, João Gonçalves Zarco disembarked on the Island of Madeira. Uninhabited Madeira was colonized by the Portuguese in 1420.[27]

Between 1427 and 1431, most of the Azores were discovered and these uninhabited islands were colonized by the Portuguese in 1445. Portuguese expeditions may have attempted to colonize the Canary Islands as early as 1336, but the Crown of Castile objected to any Portuguese claim to them. Castile began its own conquest of the Canaries in 1402. Castile expelled the last Portuguese from the Canary islands in 1459, and they would eventually become part of the Spanish Empire.[28]

In 1434, Gil Eanes passed Cape Bojador, south of Morocco. The trip marked the beginning of the Portuguese exploration of Africa. Before this event, very little was known in Europe about what lay beyond the cape. At the end of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th, those who tried to venture there became lost, which gave birth to legends of sea monsters. Some setbacks occurred: in 1436 the Canaries were officially recognized as Castilian by the pope – earlier they had been recognized as Portuguese; in 1438, the Portuguese were defeated in a military expedition to Tangier.

These setbacks did not deter the Portuguese from pursuing their exploratory efforts. In 1448, on the small island of Arguim off the coast of Mauritania, an important castle was built to function as a feitoria, or trading post, for commerce with inland Africa. Some years before, the first African gold was brought to Portugal that circumvented the Arab caravans that crossed the Sahara. Some time later, the caravels explored the Gulf of Guinea, which led to the discovery of several uninhabited islands: Cape Verde, Fernão Póo, São Tomé, Príncipe and Annobón.[29]

On 13 November 1460, Prince Henry the Navigator died.[30] He had been the leading patron of maritime exploration by Portugal and immediately following his death, exploration lapsed. Henry's patronage had shown that profits could be made from the trade that followed the discovery of new lands. Accordingly, when exploration commenced again, private merchants led the way in attempting to stretch trade routes further down the African coast.[30]

In the 1470s, Portuguese trading ships reached the Gold Coast.[30] In 1471, the Portuguese captured Tangier, after years of attempts. Eleven years later, the fortress of São Jorge da Mina in the town of Elmina on the Gold Coast in the Gulf of Guinea was built. Christopher Columbus set sail aboard the fleet of ships taking materials and building crews to Elmina in December 1481. In 1483, Diogo Cão reached and explored the Congo River.

Discovery of the sea route to India and the Treaty of Tordesillas

In 1484, Portugal officially rejected Columbus' idea of reaching India from the west, because it was seen as unfeasible. Some historians have claimed that the Portuguese had already performed fairly accurate calculations concerning the size of the world and therefore knew that sailing west to reach the Indies would require a far longer journey than navigating to the east. However, this continues to be debated. Thus began a long-lasting dispute that eventually resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Tordesillas with Castile in 1494. The treaty divided the (largely undiscovered) New World equally between the Portuguese and the Castilians,along a north-south meridian line 370 leagues (1770 km/1100 miles) west of the Cape Verde islands, with all lands to the east belonging to Portugal and all lands to the west to Castile.

Map of Brazil issued by Portuguese explorers in 1519.

With the expedition beyond the Cape of Good Hope by Bartolomeu Dias in 1487,[31] the richness of India was now accessible. Indeed, the cape takes its name from the promise of rich trade with the east. Between 1498 and 1501, Pêro de Barcelos and João Fernandes Lavrador explored North America. At the same time, Pêro da Covilhã reached Ethiopia by land. Vasco da Gama sailed for India and arrived at Calicut on 20 May 1498, returning in glory to Portugal the next year.[30] The Monastery of Jerónimos was built, dedicated to the discovery of the route to India.

At the end of the 15th century, Portugal expelled some local Sephardic Jews, along with those refugees who had come from Castile and Aragon after 1492. In addition, many Jews were forcibly converted to Catholicism and remained as conversos. Many Jews remained secretly Jewish, in danger of persecution by the Portuguese Inquisition. In 1506, 3,000 New Christians were massacred in Lisbon.[32]

In the spring of 1500, Pedro Álvares Cabral set sail from Cape Verde with 13 ships and crews and nobles such as Nicolau Coelho; the explorer Bartolomeu Dias and his brother Diogo; Duarte Pacheco Pereira (author of the Esmeraldo); nine chaplains; and some 1,200 men.[33] From Cape Verde, they sailed southwest across the Atlantic. On 22 April 1500, they caught sight of land in the distance.[33] They disembarked and claimed this new land for Portugal. This was the coast of what would later become the Portuguese colony of Brazil.[33]

The real goal of the expedition, however, was to open sea trade to the empires of the east. Trade with the east had effectively been cut off since the Conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Accordingly, Cabral turned away from exploring the coast of the new land of Brazil and sailed southeast, back across the Atlantic and around the Cape of Good Hope. Cabral reached Sofala on the east coast of Africa in July 1500.[33] In 1505, a Portuguese fort was established here and the land around the fort would later become the Portuguese colony of Mozambique.[34]

Cabral's fleet then sailed east and landed in Calicut in India in September 1500.[35] Here they traded for pepper and, more significantly, opened European sea trade with the empires of the east. No longer would the Muslim Ottoman occupation of Constantinople form a barrier between Europe and the east. Ten years later, in 1510, Afonso de Albuquerque, after attempting and failing to capture and occupy Zamorin's Calicut militarily, conquered Goa on the west coast of India.[36]

João da Nova discovered Ascension Island in 1501 and Saint Helena in 1502; Tristão da Cunha was the first to sight the archipelago still known by his name in 1506. In 1505, Francisco de Almeida was engaged to improve Portuguese trade with the far east. Accordingly, he sailed to East Africa. Several small Islamic states along the coast of MozambiqueKilwa, Brava and Mombasa – were destroyed or became subjects or allies of Portugal.[37] Almeida then sailed on to Cochin, made peace with the ruler and built a stone fort there.[37]

The arrival of the Portuguese in Japan, the first Europeans who managed to reach it, initiating the Nanban ("southern barbarian") period of active commercial and cultural exchange between Japan and the West.

Portuguese Empire

Further information: Portuguese Empire

By the 16th century, the two million people who lived in the original Portuguese lands ruled a vast empire with many millions of inhabitants in the Americas, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. From 1514, the Portuguese had reached China and Japan. In the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, one of Cabral's ships discovered Madagascar (1501), which was partly explored by Tristão da Cunha (1507); Mauritius was discovered in 1507, Socotra occupied in 1506, and in the same year, Lourenço de Almeida visited Ceylon.

In the Red Sea, Massawa was the most northerly point frequented by the Portuguese until 1541, when a fleet under Estevão da Gama penetrated as far as Suez. Hormuz, in the Persian Gulf, was seized by Afonso de Albuquerque in 1515, who also entered into diplomatic relations with Persia. In 1521, a force under Antonio Correia conquered Bahrain and ushered in a period of almost 80 years of Portuguese rule of the Persian Gulf archipelago[38]

On the Asiatic mainland, the first trading stations were established by Pedro Álvares Cabral at Cochin and Calicut (1501). More important were the conquests of Goa (1510) and Malacca (1511) by Afonso de Albuquerque, and the acquisition of Diu (1535) by Martim Afonso de Sousa. East of Malacca, Albuquerque sent Duarte Fernandes as envoy to Siam (now Thailand) in 1511 and dispatched to the Moluccas two expeditions (1512, 1514), which founded the Portuguese dominion in Maritime Southeast Asia.[39]

The Portuguese established their base in the Spice Islands on the island of Ambon.[40] Fernão Pires de Andrade visited Canton in 1517 and opened up trade with China, where, in 1557, the Portuguese were permitted to occupy Macau. Japan, accidentally reached by three Portuguese traders in 1542, soon attracted large numbers of merchants and missionaries. In 1522, one of the ships in the expedition that Ferdinand Magellan organized in the Spanish service completed the first circumnavigation of the globe.

1580 succession crisis, Iberian Union and decline of the Empire

On 4 August 1578, while fighting in Morocco, young King Sebastian died in the Battle of Alcácer Quibir without an heir.[41] The late king's elderly great-uncle, Cardinal Henry, then became king.[42] Henry I died a mere two years later, on 31 January 1580.[43][44] The death of the latter, without any appointed heirs, led to the Portuguese succession crisis of 1580.[45] Portugal was worried about the maintenance of its independence and sought help to find a new king.

One of the claimants to the throne, António, Prior of Crato, a bastard son of Infante Louis, Duke of Beja, and only grandson through the male line of king Manuel I of Portugal, lacked support from the clergy and most of the nobility, but was acclaimed as king in Santarém and in some other towns in June 1580.[46][47]

Philip II of Spain, through his mother Isabella of Portugal, also a grandson of Manuel I, claimed the Portuguese throne and did not recognize António as king of Portugal. The king appointed Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, 3rd Duke of Alba, as captain general of his army.[48] The duke was 73 years old and ill at the time,[49] but Fernando mustered his forces, estimated at 20,000 men,[50] in Badajoz, and in June 1580 crossed the Spanish-Portuguese border and moved towards Lisbon.

The Duke of Alba met little resistance and in July set up his forces at Cascais, west of Lisbon. By mid-August, the Duke was only 10 kilometers from the city. West of the small brook Alcântara, the Spanish encountered a Portuguese force on the eastern side of it, commanded by António, Prior of Crato (a grandson of King Manuel I of Portugal who had proclaimed himself king), and his lieutenant Francisco de Portugal, 3rd Count of Vimioso. In late August, the Duke of Alba defeated António's force, a ragtag army assembled in a hurry and composed mainly of local peasants, and freed slaves at the Battle of Alcântara.[51] This battle ended in a decisive victory for the Spanish army, both on land and sea. Two days later, the Duke of Alba captured Lisbon, and on 25 March 1581, Philip II of Spain was crowned King of Portugal in Tomar as Philip I. This cleared the way for Philip to create an Iberian Union spanning all of Iberia under the Spanish crown.[52]

Philip rewarded the Duke of Alba with the titles of 1st Viceroy of Portugal on 18 July 1580 and Constable of Portugal in 1581. With these titles, the Duke of Alba represented the Spanish monarch in Portugal and was second in hierarchy only after King Philip in Portugal. He held both titles until his death in 1582.[53]

The Portuguese and Spanish Empires came under a single rule, but resistance to Spanish rule in Portugal did not come to an end. The Prior of Crato held out in the Azores until 1583, and he continued to seek to recover the throne actively until his death in 1595. Impostors claimed to be King Sebastian in 1584, 1585, 1595 and 1598. "Sebastianism", the myth that the young king will return to Portugal on a foggy day, has prevailed until modern times.

Decline of the Portuguese Empire under the Philippine Dynasty

After the 16th century, Portugal gradually saw its wealth and influence decrease. Portugal was officially an autonomous state, but in actuality, the country was in a personal union with the Spanish crown from 1580 to 1640.[54] The Council of Portugal remained independent inasmuch as it was one of the key administrative units of the Castilian monarchy, legally on equal terms with the Council of the Indies.[55]

The joining of the two crowns deprived Portugal of a separate foreign policy, and the enemies of Spain became the enemies of Portugal. England had been an ally of Portugal since the Treaty of Windsor in 1386, but war between Spain and England led to a deterioration of the relations with Portugal's oldest ally and the loss of Hormuz in 1622. From 1595 to 1663, the Dutch–Portuguese War led to invasions of many countries in Asia and competition for commercial interests in Japan, Africa and South America. In 1624, the Dutch seized Salvador, the capital of Brazil;[56] in 1630, they seized Pernambuco in northern Brazil.[56] A treaty of 1654 returned Pernambuco to Portuguese control, however.[57] Both the English and the Dutch continued to aspire to dominate both the Atlantic slave trade and the spice trade with the Far East.

The Dutch intrusion into Brazil was long-lasting and troublesome to Portugal. The Dutch captured the entire coast except that of Bahia and much of the interior of the contemporary Northeastern Brazilian states of Bahia, Sergipe, Alagoas, Pernambuco, Paraíba, Rio Grande do Norte and Ceará, while Dutch privateers sacked Portuguese ships in both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

Beginning with a major Spanish–Portuguese military operation in 1625, this trend was reversed, and it laid the foundations for the recovery of remaining Dutch-controlled areas. The other smaller, less developed areas were recovered in stages and relieved of Dutch piracy in the next two decades by local resistance and Portuguese expeditions. After the dissolution of the Iberian Union in 1640, Portugal would re-establish its authority over some lost territories of the Portuguese Empire.

Portuguese Restoration War (1640–1668)

At home, life was calm and serene under the first two Spanish kings, Philip II and Philip III. They maintained Portugal's status, gave excellent positions to Portuguese nobles in the Spanish courts, and Portugal maintained an independent law, currency and government. It was even proposed to move the Spanish capital to Lisbon. Later, Philip IV tried to make Portugal a Spanish province, and Portuguese nobles lost power.

Because of this, as well as the general strain on the finances of the Spanish throne as a result of the Thirty Years' War, the Duke of Braganza, one of the great native noblemen and a descendant of King Manuel I, was proclaimed King of Portugal as John IV on 1 December 1640, and a war of independence against Spain was launched. The governors of Ceuta did not accept the new king; rather, they maintained their allegiance to Philip III. Although Portugal had substantially attained its independence in 1640, the Spanish continued to try to re-assert their control for the next 28 years, only recognizing the new Portuguese dynasty in 1668.

In the 17th century, many Portuguese emigrated to Brazil. From 1709, John V prohibited emigration, since Portugal had lost a sizable proportion of its population. Brazil was elevated to a vice-kingdom.

Pombaline era

In 1738, Sebastião de Melo, the talented son of a Lisbon squire, began a diplomatic career as the Portuguese Ambassador in London and later in Vienna. The Queen consort of Portugal, Maria Anna of Austria, was fond of Melo; and after his first wife died, she arranged the widowed de Melo's second marriage to the daughter of the Austrian Field Marshal Leopold Josef, Count von Daun. King John V of Portugal, however, was not pleased and recalled Melo to Portugal in 1749. John V died the following year, and his son Joseph I of Portugal was crowned. In contrast to his father, Joseph I was fond of de Melo, and with the Maria Anna's approval, he appointed Melo as Minister of Foreign Affairs. As the king's confidence in de Melo increased, he entrusted him with more control of the state.

By 1755, Sebastião de Melo was made prime minister. Impressed by British economic success he had witnessed while ambassador, he successfully implemented similar economic policies in Portugal. He abolished slavery in Portugal and in the Portuguese colonies in India; reorganized the army and the navy; restructured the University of Coimbra; and ended discrimination against different Christian sects in Portugal.

This 1755 copper engraving shows the ruins of Lisbon in flames and a tsunami overwhelming the ships in the harbor.

But Sebastião de Melo's greatest reforms were economic and financial, with the creation of several companies and guilds to regulate every commercial activity. He demarcated the region for production of port to ensure the wine's quality, and this was the first attempt to control wine quality and production in Europe. He ruled with a strong hand by imposing strict law on all classes of Portuguese society, from the high nobility to the poorest working class, along with a widespread review of the country's tax system. These reforms gained him enemies in the upper classes, especially among the high nobility, who despised him as a social upstart.

Disaster fell upon Portugal in the morning of 1 November 1755, when Lisbon was struck by a violent earthquake with an estimated Richter scale magnitude of 9. The city was razed to the ground by the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami and fires. De Melo survived by a stroke of luck and then immediately embarked on rebuilding the city, with his famous quote: "What now? We bury the dead and feed the living."

Despite the calamity, Lisbon suffered no epidemics and within less than one year was already being rebuilt. The new downtown of Lisbon was designed to resist subsequent earthquakes. Architectural models were built for tests, and the effects of an earthquake were simulated by marching troops around the models. The buildings and big squares of the Pombaline Downtown of Lisbon still remain as one of Lisbon's tourist attractions: they represent the world's first quake-proof buildings. Sebastião de Melo also made an important contribution to the study of seismology by designing an inquiry that was sent to every parish in the country.

Following the earthquake, Joseph I gave his prime minister even more power, and Sebastião de Melo became a powerful, progressive dictator. As his power grew, his enemies increased in number, and bitter disputes with the high nobility became frequent. In 1758, Joseph I was wounded in an attempted assassination. The Távora family and the Duke of Aveiro were implicated and executed after a quick trial. The Jesuits were expelled from the country and their assets confiscated by the crown. Sebastião de Melo showed no mercy and prosecuted every person involved, even women and children. This was the final stroke that broke the power of the aristocracy and ensured the victory of the minister against his enemies. Based upon his swift resolve, Joseph I made his loyal minister Count of Oeiras in 1759.

Following the Távora affair, the new Count of Oeiras knew no opposition. Made "Marquis of Pombal" in 1770, he effectively ruled Portugal until Joseph I's death in 1779. However, historians also argue that Pombal’s "enlightenment", while far-reaching, was primarily a mechanism for enhancing autocracy at the expense of individual liberty and an apparatus for crushing opposition, suppressing criticism, furthering colonial economic exploitation, intensifying book censorship and consolidating personal control and profit.[58]

The new ruler, Queen Maria I of Portugal, disliked the Marquis (See Távora affair), and forbade him from coming within 20 miles of her, thus curtailing his influence.

Portuguese-led invasion of Spain in 1707

In 1707, as part of the War of the Spanish Succession, a joint Portuguese, Dutch, and British army, led by the Marquis of Minas, António Luís de Sousa, conquered Madrid and acclaimed the Archduke Charles of Austria as King Charles III of Spain. Along the route to Madrid, the army led by the Marquis of Minas was successful in conquering Ciudad Rodrigo and Salamanca. Later in the following year, Madrid was reconquered by Spanish troops loyal to the Bourbons.[59]

The Ghost War

In 1762, France and Spain tried to urge Portugal to join the Bourbon Family Compact by claiming that Great Britain had become too powerful due to its successes in the Seven Years' War. Joseph refused to accept and protested that his 1704 alliance with Britain was no threat.

In spring 1762, Spanish and French troops invaded Portugal from the north as far as the Douro, while a second column sponsored the Siege of Almeida, captured the city, and threatened to advance on Lisbon. The arrival of a force of British troops helped the Portuguese army commanded by the Count of Lippe by blocking the Franco-Spanish advance and driving them back across the border following the Battle of Valencia de Alcántara. At the Treaty of Paris in 1763, Spain agreed to hand Almeida back to Portugal.

Crises of the nineteenth century

In 1807, Portugal refused Napoleon Bonaparte's demand to accede to the Continental System of embargo against the United Kingdom; a French invasion under General Junot followed, and Lisbon was captured on 8 December 1807. British intervention in the Peninsular War helped in maintaining Portuguese independence; the last French troops were expelled in 1812. The war cost Portugal the town of Olivença,[60] now governed by Spain.

Rio de Janeiro in Brazil was the Portuguese capital between 1808 and 1821. In 1820, constitutionalist insurrections took place at Oporto (24 August) and Lisbon (15 September). Lisbon regained its status as the capital of Portugal when Brazil declared its independence from Portugal in 1822.

The death of King John VI in 1826 led to a crisis of royal succession. His eldest son, Pedro I of Brazil, briefly became Pedro IV of Portugal, but neither the Portuguese nor the Brazilians wanted a unified monarchy; consequently, Pedro abdicated the Portuguese crown in favor of his 7-year-old daughter, Maria da Glória, on the condition that when she came of age she would marry his brother, Miguel. Dissatisfaction at Pedro's constitutional reforms led the "absolutist" faction of landowners and the church to proclaim Miguel king in February 1828. This led to the Liberal Wars in which Pedro eventually forced Miguel to abdicate and go into exile in 1834 and place his daughter on throne as Queen Maria II.

The 1890 British Ultimatum was delivered to Portugal on 11 January of that year, an attempt to force the retreat of Portuguese military forces in the land between the Portuguese colonies of Mozambique and Angola (most of present-day Zimbabwe and Zambia). The area had been claimed by Portugal, which included it in its "Pink Map", but this clashed with British aspirations to create a railroad link between Cairo and Cape Town, thereby linking its colonies from the north of Africa to the very south. This diplomatic clash lead to several waves of protest and prompted the downfall of the Portuguese government. The 1890 British Ultimatum was considered by Portuguese historians and politicians at that time to be the most outrageous and infamous action of the British against her oldest ally.[61]

After 1815, the Portuguese expanded their trading ports along the African coast, moving inland to take control of Angola and Mozambique. The slave trade was abolished in 1836, in part because many foreign slave ships were flying the Portuguese flag. In Portuguese India, trade flourished in the colony of Goa, with its subsidiary colonies of Macau, near Hong Kong on the China coast, and Timor, north of Australia. The Portuguese successfully introduced Catholicism and the Portuguese language into their colonies, while most settlers continued to head to Brazil.[62][63]

The First Republic (1910–1926)

The First Republic has, over the course of the recent past, been neglected by many historians in favor of the Estado Novo. As a result, it is difficult to attempt a global synthesis of the republican period in view of the important gaps that still persist in our knowledge of its political history. As far as the 5 October 1910 Revolution is concerned, a number of valuable studies have been made,[64] first among which ranks Vasco Pulido Valente’s polemical thesis. This historian posited the Jacobin and urban nature of the revolution carried out by the Portuguese Republican Party (PRP) and claimed that the PRP had turned the republican regime into a de facto dictatorship.[65] This vision clashes with an older interpretation of the First Republic as a progressive and increasingly democratic regime that presented a clear contrast to António de Oliveira Salazar's ensuing dictatorship.[66]


The First Republic was intensely anti-clerical. It was secularist and followed the liberal tradition of disestablishing the powerful role that the Catholic Church once held. Historian Stanley Payne points out, "The majority of Republicans took the position that Catholicism was the number one enemy of individual list middle-class radicalism and must be completely broken as a source of influence in Portugal."[67] Under the leadership of Afonso Costa, the justice minister, the revolution immediately targeted the Catholic Church: churches were plundered, convents were attacked and clergy were harassed. Scarcely had the provisional government been installed when it began devoting its entire attention to an anti-religious policy, in spite of the disastrous economic situation. On 10 October – five days after the inauguration of the Republic – the new government decreed that all convents, monasteries and religious orders were to be suppressed. All residents of religious institutions were expelled and their goods confiscated. The Jesuits were forced to forfeit their Portuguese citizenship.

A series of anti-Catholic laws and decrees followed each other in rapid succession. On 3 November, a law legalizing divorce was passed and then there were laws to recognize the legitimacy of children born outside wedlock, authorize cremation, secularize cemeteries, suppress religious teaching in the schools and prohibit the wearing of the cassock. In addition, the ringing of church bells to signal times of worship was subjected to certain restraints, and the public celebration of religious feasts was suppressed. The government also interfered in the running of seminaries, reserving the right to appoint professors and determine curricula. This whole series of laws authored by Afonso Costa culminated in the law of Separation of Church and State, which was passed on 20 April 1911.


A republican constitution was approved in 1911, inaugurating a parliamentary regime with reduced presidential powers and two chambers of parliament.[68] The Republic provoked important fractures within Portuguese society, notably among the essentially monarchist rural population, in the trade unions, and in the Church. Even the PRP had to endure the secession of its more moderate elements, who formed conservative republican parties like the Evolutionist Party and the Republican Union. In spite of these splits, the PRP, led by Afonso Costa, preserved its dominance, largely due to a brand of clientelist politics inherited from the monarchy.[69] In view of these tactics, a number of opposition forces were forced to resort to violence in order to enjoy the fruits of power. There are few recent studies of this period of the Republic’s existence, known as the ‘old’ Republic. Nevertheless, an essay by Vasco Pulido Valente should be consulted (1997a), as should the attempt to establish the political, social, and economic context made by M. Villaverde Cabral (1988).

The PRP viewed the outbreak of the First World War as a unique opportunity to achieve a number of goals: putting an end to the twin threats of a Spanish invasion of Portugal and of foreign occupation of the African colonies and, at the internal level, creating a national consensus around the regime and even around the party.[70] These domestic objectives were not met, since participation in the conflict was not the subject of a national consensus and since it did not therefore serve to mobilise the population. Quite the opposite occurred: existing lines of political and ideological fracture were deepened by Portugal’s intervention in the First World War.[71] The lack of consensus around Portugal's intervention in turn made possible the appearance of two dictatorships, led by General Pimenta de Castro (January–May 1915) and Sidónio Pais (December 1917 – December 1918).

Sidonismo, also known as Dezembrismo ("Decemberism"), aroused a strong interest among historians, largely as a result of the elements of modernity that it contained.[72][73][74][75][76][77] António José Telo has made clear the way in which this regime predated some of the political solutions invented by the totalitarian and fascist dictatorships of the 1920s and 1930s.[78] Sidónio Pais undertook the rescue of traditional values, notably the Pátria ("Homeland"), and attempted to rule in a charismatic fashion.

A move was made to abolish traditional political parties and to alter the existing mode of national representation in parliament (which, it was claimed, exacerbated divisions within the Pátria) through the creation of a corporative Senate, the founding of a single-party (the National Republican Party), and the attribution of a mobilising function to the leader. The state carved out an economically interventionist role for itself while, at the same time, repressing working-class movements and leftist republicans. Sidónio Pais also attempted to restore public order and to overcome some of the rifts of the recent past, making the republic more acceptable to monarchists and Catholics.

Political instability

The vacuum of power created by Sidónio Pais's murder[79] on 14 December 1918, led the country to a brief civil war. The monarchy’s restoration was proclaimed in the north of Portugal (known as the Monarchy of the North) on 19 January 1919, and four days later a monarchist insurrection broke out in Lisbon. A republican coalition government, led by José Relvas, coordinated the struggle against the monarchists by loyal army units and armed civilians. After a series of clashes the monarchists were definitively chased from Oporto on 13 February 1919. This military victory allowed the PRP to return to government and to emerge triumphant from the elections held later that year, having won the usual absolute majority.

Official portrait of President António José de Almeida, by Henrique Medina.

It was during this restoration of the ‘old’ republic that an attempted reform was carried out in order to provide the regime with greater stability. In August 1919 a conservative president was elected António José de Almeida (whose Evolutionist party had come together in wartime with the PRP to form a flawed, because incomplete, Sacred Union) – and his office was given the power to dissolve parliament. Relations with the Holy See, restored by Sidónio Pais, were preserved. The president used his new power to resolve a crisis of government in May 1921, naming a Liberal government (the Liberal party being the result of the postwar fusion of Evolutionists and Unionists) to prepare the forthcoming elections.

These were held on 10 July 1921, with victory going, as was usually the case, to the party in power. However, Liberal government did not last long. On 19 October a military pronunciamento was carried out during which – and apparently against the wishes of the coup’s leaders – a number of prominent conservative figures, including Prime Minister António Granjo, were assassinated. This event, known as the ‘night of blood’[80] left a deep wound among political elites and public opinion. There could be no greater demonstration of the essential fragility of the Republic’s institutions and proof that the regime was democratic in name only, since it did not even admit the possibility of the rotation in power characteristic of the elitist regimes of the nineteenth century.

A new round of elections on 29 January 1922 inaugurated a fresh period of stability: the PRP once again emerged from the contest with an absolute majority. Discontent with this situation had not, however, disappeared. Numerous accusations of corruption, and the manifest failure to resolve pressing social concerns wore down the more visible PRP leaders while making the opposition’s attacks more deadly. At the same time, moreover, all political parties suffered from growing internal factionalism, especially the PRP itself. The party system was fractured and discredited.[69][81]

This is clearly shown by the fact that regular PRP victories at the ballot box did not lead to stable government. Between 1910 and 1926, there were forty-five governments. The opposition of presidents to single-party governments, internal dissent within the PRP, the party’s almost non-existent internal discipline, and its desire to group together and lead all republican forces made any government’s task practically impossible. Many different formulas were attempted, including single-party governments, coalitions, and presidential executives, but none succeeded. Force was clearly the sole means open to the opposition if the PRP wanted to enjoy the fruits of power.[82][83]

Evaluation of the republican experiment

Historians have emphasized the failure and collapse of the republican dream by the 1920s. Sardica summarizes the consensus of historians:

within a few years, large parts of the key economic forces, intellectuals, opinion-makers and middle classes changed from left to right, trading the unfulfilled utopia of a developing and civic republicanism for notions of "order," "stability" and "security". For many who had helped, supported or simply cheered the Republic in 1910, hoping that the new political situation would repair the monarchy’s flaws (government instability, financial crisis, economic backwardness and civic anomie), the conclusion to be drawn, in the 1920s, was that the remedy for national maladies called for much more than the simple removal of the king....The First Republic collapsed and died as a result of the confrontation between raised hopes and meager deeds.[84]

Sardica, however, also points out the permanent impact of the republican experiment:

Despite its overall failure, the First Republic endowed twentieth-century Portugal with an insurpassable and enduring legacy—a renewed civil law, the basis for an educational revolution, the principle of separation between State and Church, the overseas empire (only brought to an end in 1975), and a strong symbolic culture whose materializations (the national flag, the national anthem and the naming of streets) nobody has dared to alter and which still define the present-day collective identity of the Portuguese. The Republic’s prime legacy was indeed that of memory.[85]

28 May 1926 coup d'état

Gomes da Costa and his troops march victorious into Lisbon on 6 June 1926.

By the mid-1920s the domestic and international scenes began to favour another authoritarian solution, wherein a strengthened executive might restore political and social order. Since the opposition’s constitutional route to power was blocked by the various means deployed by the PRP to protect itself, it turned to the army for support. The political awareness of the armed forces had grown during the war, and many of their leaders had not forgiven the PRP for sending them to a war they did not want to fight.[86]

They seemed to represent, to conservative forces, the last bastion of ‘order’ against the ‘chaos’ that was taking over the country. Links were established between conservative figures and military officers, who added their own political and corporative demands to the already complex equation. The 28 May 1926 coup d'état enjoyed the support of most army units and even of most political parties. As had been the case in December 1917, the population of Lisbon did not rise to defend the Republic, leaving it at the mercy of the army.[86]

There are few global and up-to-date studies of this turbulent third phase of the Republic’s existence.[87][88][89] Nevertheless, much has been written about the crisis and fall of the regime and the 28 May movement.[83][90][91][92][93][94] The First Republic continues to be the subject of an intense debate. A historiographical balance sheet by Armando Malheiro da Silva (2000) identifies three main interpretations. For some historians the First Republic was a progressive and increasingly democratic regime. For others it was essentially a prolongation of the liberal and elitist regimes of the 19th century. A third group chooses to highlight the regime’s revolutionary, Jacobin and dictatorial nature.

Estado Novo (1933–1974)

Portuguese colonies in Africa by the time of the Colonial War.

Salazar dictatorship

Political chaos, several strikes, harsh relations with the Church, and considerable economic problems aggravated by a disastrous military intervention in the First World War led to the military 28 May 1926 coup d'état. This coup installed the "Second Republic", which started as the Ditadura Nacional (National Dictatorship) and became the Estado Novo (New State) in 1933, led by economist António de Oliveira Salazar. He transformed Portugal into a sort of Fascist regime that evolved into a single-party corporative regime. Portugal, although neutral, informally aided the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War (1936–39).

Salazar's policy after the war was to provide a certain level of liberalization in politics, in terms of organized opposition with more freedom of the press. Opposition parties were tolerated to an extent, but they were also controlled, limited, and manipulated, with the result that they split into factions and never formed a united opposition.[95]

World War II

Portugal was officially neutral in World War II, but in practice Salazar collaborated with the British and sold them rubber and tungsten.[96] In late 1943 he allowed the Allies to establish air bases in the Azores to fight German U-boats. He helped Spain avoid German control. Tungsten was a major product, and he sold to Germany until June 1944, when the threat of a German attack on Portugal was minimal.[97] He worked to regain control of East Timor after the Japanese seized it.[98] He admitted several thousand Jewish refugees. Lisbon maintained air connections with Britain and the U.S. Lisbon was a hotbed of spies and served as the base for the International Red Cross in its distribution of relief supplies to POWs.


In 1961, the Portuguese army was involved in armed action in its colony in Goa against an Indian invasion (see Operation Vijay). The operations resulted in a humiliating Portuguese defeat and the loss of the colonies in India. Independence movements also became active in Portuguese Angola, Portuguese Mozambique and Portuguese Guinea; the Portuguese Colonial War started. Portugal, during this period, was never an outcast, and was a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

After the death of Salazar in 1970, his replacement by Marcelo Caetano offered a certain hope that the regime would open up, the primavera marcelista (Marcelist spring). However the colonial wars in Africa continued, political prisoners remained incarcerated, freedom of association was not restored, censorship was only slightly eased and the elections remained tightly controlled.

The regime retained its characteristic traits: censorship, corporativeness, with a market economy dominated by a handful of economical groups, continuous surveillance and intimidation of several sectors of society through the use of a political police and techniques instilling fear (such as arbitrary imprisonment, systematic political persecution and even assassination of anti-regime insurgents).

The Third Republic (1974–)

The "Carnation Revolution" of 1974, an effectively bloodless left-wing military coup, installed the "Third Republic". Broad democratic reforms were implemented. In 1975, Portugal granted independence to its Overseas Provinces (Províncias Ultramarinas in Portuguese) in Africa (Portuguese Mozambique, Portuguese Angola, Portuguese Guinea, Portuguese Cape Verde and Portuguese São Tomé and Príncipe). Nearly 1 million Portuguese or persons of Portuguese descent left these former colonies as refugees.[99]

In that same year, Indonesia invaded and annexed the Portuguese province of Portuguese Timor (East Timor) in Asia before independence could be granted. The massive exodus of the Portuguese military and citizens from Angola and Mozambique, would prompt an era of chaos and severe destruction in those territories after independence from Portugal in 1975. From May 1974 to the end of the 1970s, over a million Portuguese citizens from Portugal's African territories (mostly from Portuguese Angola and Mozambique) left those territories as destitute refugees – the retornados.[100][101]

The newly independent countries were ravaged by brutal civil wars in the following decades – the Angolan Civil War (1975–2002) and Mozambican Civil War (1977–1992) – responsible for millions of deaths and refugees. The Asian dependency of Macau, after an agreement in 1986, was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1999. Portugal applied international pressure to secure East Timor's independence from Indonesia, as East Timor was still legally a Portuguese dependency, and recognized as such by the United Nations. After a referendum in 1999, East Timor voted for independence, which Portugal recognized in 2002.

With the 1975–76 independence of its colonies (apart from Macau), the 560-year-old Portuguese Empire effectively ended. Simultaneously, 15 years of war effort also came to an end; many Portuguese returned from the colonies (the retornados) and came to comprise a sizeable proportion of the population: approximately 580,000 of Portugal's 9.8 million citizens in 1981.[102] This opened new paths for the country's future just as others closed. In 1986, Portugal entered the European Economic Community and left the European Free Trade Association which had been founded by Portugal and its partners in 1960. The country joined the euro in 1999. The Portuguese Empire ended de facto in 1999 when Macau was returned to China, and de jure in 2002 when East Timor became independent.

From 1974 through 2014, Portugal experienced 25 governments. The Portuguese economy once again declined, exacerbated by external debt, as well as financial and budgetary problems. Portugal has since resorted to three economic programmes seeking international financial aid from the IMF. In 1977-78, Portugal requested assistance to mitigate deficits and sharp increases in unemployment. In 1983, Portugal again requested IMF support to cope with a recession, high interest rates abroad, trade imbalances, and high deficits. In 2009, Portugal's budget deficit hit a record 9.3 per cent of GDP. In 2011, the Portuguese economy collapsed sparking a sharp rise in borrowing costs, forcing Lisbon to seek a bailout. Portugal then agreed a three-year, 78-billion-euro ($116 billion) bailout with the European Union and IMF. In 2013, Portugal recorded all-time high debt levels, 129 per cent of the country's GDP.

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  60. Livermore (1969), pp. 299–306
  61. Gervase Clarence-Smith, The Third Portuguese Empire, 1825–1975: A Study in Economic Imperialism (1985)
  62. Wheeler, 1972
  63. Pulido Valente, 1982
  64. Oliveira Marques, 1991
  65. Payne, A history of Spain and Portugal (1973) 2: 559
  66. Miranda, 2001
  67. 1 2 Lopes, 1994
  68. Teixeira, 1996a
  69. Ribeiro de Meneses, 2000
  70. José Brandão, 1990
  71. Ramalho, 1998
  72. Ribeiro de Meneses, 1998
  73. Armando Silva, 1999
  74. Samara, 2003
  75. Santos, 2003
  76. Teixeira, 2000, pp. 11–24
  77. Medina, 1994
  78. Brandão, 1991
  79. João Silva, 1997
  80. Schwartzman, 1989
  81. 1 2 Pinto, 2000
  82. José Miguel Sardica, "The Memory of the Portuguese First Republic throughout the Twentieth Century" (2011) E-Journal of Portuguese History (Summer 2011) 9#1 pp 1–27. online
  83. José Miguel Sardica, "The Memory of the Portuguese First Republic throughout the Twentieth Century" (2011)
  84. 1 2 Ferreira, 1992a
  85. Marques, 1973
  86. Telo, 1980
  87. Telo, 1984
  88. Cruz, 1986
  89. Cabral, 1993
  90. Rosas, 1997
  91. Martins, 1998
  92. Afonso, 2001
  93. Dawn L. Raby, "Controlled, Limited and Manipulated Opposition Under a Dictatorial Regime: Portugal, 1945-9," European History Quarterly (1989) 19#1 pp 63-84. doi: 10.1177/026569148901900103
  94. William Gervase Clarence-Smith, "The Portuguese Empire and the 'Battle for Rubber' in the Second World War," Portuguese Studies Review (2011), 19#1 pp 177–196
  95. Douglas L. Wheeler, "The Price of Neutrality: Portugal, the Wolfram Question, and World War II," Luso-Brazilian Review (1986) 23#1 pp 107–127 and 23#2 pp 97–111
  96. Sonny B. Davis, "Salazar, Timor, and Portuguese Neutrality in World War II," Portuguese Studies Review (2005) 13#1 pp 449–476.
  97. Portugal – Emigration, Eric Solsten, ed. Portugal: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1993.
  98. Flight from Angola, The Economist (August 16, 1975).
  99. Dismantling the Portuguese Empire, Time (Monday, July 7, 1975).
  100. Andrea L. Smith (August 1, 2002). Europe's Invisible Migrants. ISBN 905356571X. Thus among the 580,000 Portuguese enumerated in the 1981 census who had lived in the African colonies prior to 1975, 60 percent had been born in Portugal.


  • Brown, Colin (2003). A Short History of Indonesia: The Unlikely Nation. Crows Nest, Australia: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 9781865088389. 
  • Disney, A. R. (2009). A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire, vol. 1: Portugal. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521603973. 
  • Elliott, J. H. (2002). Imperial Spain 1469–1716. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-100703-6. 
  • Hallett, Robin (1970). Africa to 1875: a Modern History. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. 
  • Livermore, Harold V. (1969). A New History of Portugal. Cambridge University Press. 
  • Ribeiro, Ângelo; Hermano, José (2004). História de Portugal I — a Formação do Território [History of Portugal – the Formation of the Territory] (in Portuguese). QuidNovi. ISBN 989-554-106-6. 

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