Portugal – GENERAL INFORMATION – History


LusitaniaIn the early first millennium BC, several waves of Celts invaded Portugal from Central Europe and intermarried with local peoples, the Iberians, forming the Celt-Iberians. Early Greek explorers named the region “Ophiussa” (Greek for “land of serpents”) because the natives worshipped serpents. In 238 BC, the Carthaginians occupied the Iberian coasts. In this period several small tribes occupied the territory, the main tribes were the Lusitanians, who lived between the Douro and Tagus rivers, and the Callaeci who lived north of the Douro river among some other tribes. The Conii, influenced by Tartessos, were established in southern Portugal for a long time. The Celtici, a later wave of Celts, settled in Alentejo.

In 219 BC, the first Roman troops invaded the Iberian Peninsula, driving the Carthaginians out in the Punic Wars. The Roman conquest of Portugal started from the south, where they found friendly natives, the Conii. Over decades, the Romans increased their sphere of control. But in 194 BC a rebellion began in the north, the Lusitanians successfully held off the Romans, took back land and ransacked Conistorgis, the Conii capital, because of their alliance with Rome. Viriathus, the Lusitanian leader, drove the Roman forces out. Rome sent numerous legions, but success was only achieved by bribing Lusitanian officials to kill their own leader. During this period, a process of Romanization was carried out, leading Lusitania to gain Latin Right in 73 AD.

“Marquis of Pombal Square” is the intersection of some of Lisbon’s main avenues. Parque Eduardo VII in the background

The kingdom
The Battle of São Mamede took place nearby inunconquered north Asturian highlands. From there they aimed to reconquer their lands from the Moors. In 868, Count Vímara Peres reconquered and governed the region between the Minho and Douro rivers. The county became known as Portucale (i.e. Portugal), due to its most important city, Portucale (today’s Porto) and founded a villa with his name – Vimaranes (today’s Guimarães) where he choose to live.While a dependency of the Kingdom of Leon, Portugal occasionally gained de facto independence during weak Leonese reigns, but it lost its autonomy in 1071 due to one of these attempts, ending the rule of the counts of the House of Vímara Peres. Then 20 years later, Count Henry from Burgundy was appointed Count of Portugal as a payment for military services to Leon, and with the purpose of expanding the territory southwards. The Portuguese territory included only what is now northern Portugal, with its capital in Guimarães.Henry declared Portugal independent[2] while a war raged between Leon and Castile. Henry died and his son, Afonso Henriques (Afonso I), took control of the county. The city of Braga, the Catholic centre of the Iberian Peninsula, faced new competition from other regions. The lords of the cities of Coimbra and Porto, together with the clergy of Braga, demanded the independence of the county.Portugal traces its emergence as a nation to 24 June 1128, with the Battle of São Mamede by Afonso I. On 5 October 1143 Portugal was formally recognized. Afonso, aided by the Templar Knights, continued to conquer southern lands from the Moors. In 1250 the Portuguese Reconquista ended when it reached the southern coast of Algarve.In an era of several wars when Portugal and Castile tried to control one another, King Ferdinand was dying with no male heirs. His only child, a single daughter, married King John I of Castile who would therefore be the King of Portugal after Fernando’s death. However, the impending loss of independence to Castile was not accepted by the majority of the Portuguese people, which led to the 1383-1385 Crisis. A loyalist faction led by John of Aviz (later John I), with the help of Nuno Álvares Pereira, finally defeated the Castilians in Portugal’s most historic battle of Portugal, the Battle of Aljubarrota. The victorious John was then acclaimed as king by the people.

In the meantime, the Black Death reached Portugal.

The 10th-century Castle of Guimarães, a national symbol, is known as the “Cradle of Portugal”

The first Portuguese flag, of D. Afonso Henriques

The Portuguese discoveries
In the following decades, Portugal created the conditions that would make it the pioneer in the exploration of the world, since most of the nobles had supported the King of Spain and with the victory of John I, the nobles either fled or were executed. Hence the Portuguese middle class who had supported and helped the victorious King suddenly rose up in the social ranks of Portugal, creating a new dynamic generation which allowed the discoveries to proceed. On 25 July 1415, the Portuguese Empire began when a Portuguese fleet, with King John I and his sons Duarte, Pedro, Henry the Navigator, and Afonso, along with the Portuguese supreme constable Nuno Álvares Pereira departed to besiege and conquer Ceuta in North Africa, a rich Islamic trade centre. On 21 August the city fell.In 1418 two captains of Prince Henry the Navigator, were driven by a storm to an island which they called Porto Santo, or Holy Port, in gratitude for their rescue from the shipwreck. Also in early 15th century, Madeira Island and the Azorean islands were discovered. Henry the Navigator’s interest in exploration, together with some technological developments in navigation, made Portugal’s expansion possible and led to great advances in geographic knowledge. The discoveries were financed by the wealth of the Order of Christ, an order founded by King Denis for the Templar knights, who found refuge in Portugal after being pursued all over Europe. The Templars had their own objective, searching for the legendary Christian Kingdom of Prester John.In 1434, Gil Eanes rounded Cape Bojador, south of Morocco. The trip marked the beginning of the Portuguese exploration of Africa. Before this voyage very little information was known in Europe about what lay beyond it. At the end of the 13th and the beginning of the 14th centuries, those who tried to venture there became lost, giving birth to legends of sea monsters. Fourteen years later, on a small island known as Arguim off the coast of Mauritania a castle was built, working as a feitoria (a trading post) for commerce with inland Africa thus, circumventing the Arab caravans that crossed the Sahara. Some time later, the caravels explored the Gulf of Guinea, leading to the discovery of several uninhabited islands and reaching the Congo River.Belém Tower was built in 1514 in the place were the Great Vessel (Grande Nau) was usually anchored, thus perpetuating it.A remarkable achievement was the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope by Bartholomew Dias in 1487. By then the spices of India were nearby, hence the name of the cape. In the last decade of the 15th century, Pêro de Barcelos and João Fernandes Lavrador explored North America , Pêro da Covilhã reached Ethiopia, searching for the mythical kingdom of Prester John, and Vasco da Gama sailed to India. In 1500, Pedro Álvares Cabral landed on the Brazilian coast. Ten years later, Afonso de Albuquerque conquered Goa, in India.

In 1578, the young King Sebastian decided to enlarge Portuguese possessions in northern Africa and, despite having no son and heir to the throne, decided to go into battle personally, where he was slain. Because Philip II of Spain was the son of a Portuguese princess, the Spanish ruler became Philip I of Portugal in 1581. Some men claimed to be King Sebastian between 1584 and 1598, originating the Sebastian myth. Portugal formally maintained its independent law, currency, colonies, and government, under a personal union between Portugal and Spain. New empires had emerged and started to assault the Portuguese Empire. The third Spanish king, Philip III tried to further enforce integration, openly attacking the Portuguese nobility that was not in his favour. In 1 December 1640, the Duke of Bragança, of the Portuguese Royal Family, John IV, was acclaimed after a revolutionary turmoil, and a Restoration War was fought for a few more years.

Sculpture on the Discoveries Age and Portuguese Navigators in Lisbon, Portugal

The 1755 Lisbon earthquake and tsunami, which killed more than a third of the capital’s population and devastated the Algarve as well, had a profound effect on domestic politics and on European philosophical thought. From 1801, the country was occupied during the Napoleonic Wars. The Portuguese Court fled to Brazil. Shortly after, Brazil proclaimed its independence, under the rule of the Portuguese King Pedro IV (Emperor Pedro I of Brazil), who abdicated from the Portuguese Crown and left his daughter D. Maria I as Queen in a liberal regime.

Portuguese 19th Century is marked by the Liberalism. The divisions between king Pedro IV – liberal – and his brother, King Miguel, a conservative who overthrew Queen Maria I, led to the civil war between 1832 and 1834 and the signing of the new constitution in 1836. The political and social evolution in the late 19th century was marked by instability.

Palace of Pena in Sintra, over big mountain top rocks, is a mixture of neo-gothic, neo-manueline, neo-islamic, and neo-renaissance styles. (courtesy IPPAR)

The republicsA 1910 revolution deposed the Portuguese monarchy starting the First Republic. Political chaos, strikes, harsh relations with the Church, and considerable economic problems aggravated by a disastrous military intervention in the First World War led to a military coup d’état in 1926, installing the Second Republic that would later become the Estado Novo in 1933, led by António de Oliveira Salazar, an authoritarian right-wing dictatorship, which later evolved into a type of single party corporate regime. Later, Portugal became a founding member of NATO and EFTA, as well as OECD, despite concerns over her human rights record. India invaded and annexed Portuguese India in 1961. Independence movements also became active in Angola, Mozambique and Portuguese Guinea, and a series of colonial wars started.The burden of the many colonial overseas wars and the lack of political and civil freedoms led to the end of the regime after the Carnation Revolution in April 25 of 1974, an effectively bloodless left-wing military coup, that promised to install a new democratic regime. In 1975, Portugal had its first free multi-party elections since 1926 and granted independence to its colonies in Africa. In the same year Indonesia invaded and annexed the Portuguese province of Timor in Asia before legal recognition of its independence by Portugal. In 1999, the Asian dependency of Macau, was returned to Chinese sovereignty, a process considered a success by China and Portugal. After a UN sponsored referendum endorsed by Indonesia and Portugal, in 1999, East Timor voted for independence, which materialised in 2002, this time recognised by both de facto ruler (Indonesia) and de jure (Portugal), after a UN administration period.

In 1986, Portugal entered the EEC (and left EFTA), which was later transformed into the European Union, where it is today one of the 25 current member states.