The Portuguese empire, commonly referred as the Portuguese colonial or overseas empire, was among the first global empires in world history (Newitt 54). The empire also registered the longest duration of dominion among the colonial empires of Europe. It ran for about six centuries, starting with the overthrow of Ceuta during 1445 to the liberation of Macau in 1999. It was followed by the events when East Timor was allowed sovereignty in 2002 (Bethencourt and Curto 75). During its dominion, the empire had spread across various territories. In 1949, Portuguese sailors had started touring the African coast in search of the routes that were meant to help them to participate in the trade of spices. In the late 1480s, Dias had reached the Cape of Good Hope. On the other hand, Vasco da Gama arrived in India by the late 15th century. During 1500, Pedro Cabral discovered Brazil, and in the decades that followed, Portuguese sailors toured East Asia building factories and forts (Newitt 113).
In early 1570s, Nagasaki and Lisbon were linked through the African coast, India, Middle East, and Asia. The network brought immense wealth to Portugal. Between 1580 and the 1640, Portugal entered into a partnership with Spain, which resulted in rivalry between them and France, Britain, and the Netherlands (Bethencourt and Curto 120). Following the rivalry of the three strong empires and the relatively small population of the Portuguese empire, Portugal could not defend the network of trading points. Thus, the empire experienced a gradual and long decline. The empire lost business to the Dutch during the 17th century, which resulted in the end of their monopoly in Indian Ocean trade. During the 19th century, Portugal’s empire expanded into the inland of Africa during the scramble for Africa (Bethencourt and Curto 135). After WWII, Antonio Salazar fought hard to keep the empire intact. However, other countries were pulling out. The regime was overthrown in 1974 leading to liberalization of all colonies except Macau, which was handed over to China in 1999. This resulted in the end of the Portuguese Empire. From there on, Madeira and Azores remained the only territories that were politically affiliated to Portugal (Newitt 147).
Portuguese Empire in the 16th Century
The start of the century was marked by the second voyage of the Portuguese to India, in 1500 under the rule of Pedro Cabral. The voyage followed the same route taken by Vasco da Gama, which ran across the Atlantic Ocean. During the voyage, Cabral made a landfall on the coast of Brazil, probably accidental, leading to the discovery of the territory. However, it is hypothesized that the Portuguese knew of the land, and this arguably lies besides the Tordesillas line (McAlister 72). Cabral opined to the Portuguese King that the territory should be captured, and that the Portuguese should settle there. Therefore, between 1501 and 1503, the King sent two voyages to survey the territory. Following the voyages, the Portuguese found that the land had plenty of Brazil woods (from which the country got its name). However, the territory did not have silver of gold deposits, which shifted their attention back to the Indian Territory. The Portuguese were received well in India, thus they received a permit to develop a trading center and Fort Manuel, which were the first European habitations in India. During 1505, King Manuel I selected Almeida as the first Viceroy to head Portuguese India – later instituting a Portuguese regime at the east. During the same year, the Portuguese took over Kannur where they built the St. Angelo Fort. Later, Almeida arrived at the then Srilankan region, referred to as Ceylon where he discovered the origin of Cinnamon (Scammell 35).
In the first decade of the 16th century, a Portuguese convoy led by Afonso and Tristao da Cunha overthrew Socotra. The strategy was aimed at blocking the entry-point into the Indian Ocean. During the same year, the Portuguese built ports at Mombasa on the coast of Kenya and the Island of Mozambique. Tristao explored Madagascar partly, and during the same year, he led a crew that discovered Mauritius. During 1509, the Portuguese forces won the battle of Diu where they were fighting against the combined forces of different groups: Sultan of Gujarat, Sultan Beyazid II (Ottoman), the Zamorin of Kozhikode, Cairo’s Mamluk Sultan, Ragusan republic and the Venetian Republic. The victory of the Portuguese was a major milestone in increasing their power of the Indian sea. Furthermore, the Egyptians and the Turks withdrew their forces from India, leaving the seas under the command of the Portuguese. Their dominance in trade within the region lasted for almost a whole century fostering the growth of the Portuguese empire (Scammell 43). During the era, the Europeans started to rule Asia. In 1538, the second battle of Diu was fought leading to the end of the Ottoman involvement of the region particularly India. The withdrawal of Ottoman interference resulted in the Portuguese domination of the Indian Ocean.
In 1510, Goa was compelled to quit commanding the Bijapur sultanate when the Albuquerque government reigned. The move was facilitated by the Timoji, a Hindu privateer. Goa was also coveted as the most values port in the region. This was the place where the trade of Arabian horses that was supported by the Deccan sultanates took place. The takeover of Goa was followed by constant attacks. However, Goa was later set as the headquarters of the Indian-Portuguese state. The conquest of Goa resulted in the compliance of the kingdoms neighboring it including Calicut, Gujarat. Albuquerque started the first Portuguese mint based in India at Goa marking further achievement for the empire. During April of 1511, Albuquerque went to Malacca in Malaysia by sea. This marked a very crucial point in the Portuguese trade network. At that point, Malay met Chinese, Gujarati, Javanese, Japanese, Persians, Bengali, and Arabic traders among other business groups. The Malacca peninsula grew into the strategic point where the trade of the Portuguese expanded to South East Asia and China (Scammell 72). During 1515, Afonso conquered Hormuz, the Huwala setting it as a Vassal state.
Bahrain was overthrown by the Portuguese in 1521 after a troop led by Antonio won over Muqrin, the Jabrid King. During 1525, after the Fernao expedition of 1519 and 1522, Spain (following the directives of Charles V) went on a mission to conquer the Moluccas Island in protest against the rule of the Portuguese. The conflict was resolved in 1529 after the two sides entered into the treaty of Zaragoza. This left Moluccas to the rule of the Portuguese and Philippines was left to the Spanish. During 1534, Gujarat was taken by the Mughals and Shah of Gujarat was compelled to enter into the Treaty of Bassein. This led to a coalition that was meant to recover the country, but in exchange gave Diu, Daman, Bassein, and Mumbai. In 1538, the Ottomans attempted to capture the Diu fortress. Another blockade of 1547 failed, and this led to the end of Ottoman ambitions in the region. This marked the dominance of the Portuguese. During the period between 1545 and 1549, the Chinese mass murdered the Portuguese that resided at Fujian and Ningbo trading points. This was after the Portuguese had raided the Chinese at the coast that triggered their attack. During 1624, the king of Portugal issued a directive stopping the slavery of Chinese, which were sent to Malacca and Goa. During 1557, the Portuguese were allowed to reside at Macau on the basis of an annual compensation (Scammell 46). In 1560, efforts by Constantino de Braganca to overthrow Jaffna failed. They managed to subdue Mannar Islands. During 1619, the Portuguese subdued Jaffna after killing Cankili II, which enforced the Portuguese dominance of the shipping ways across the Palk Strait.
Prince Henry and his Navigation School at Sagres
Prince Henry came into Sagres during the 15th century, with the aim of working on his obsession of pushing the boundaries of the known world. The effort resulted in the stage of Portuguese history referred to as the discoveries (Russell 1-3). Prince Henry was a prince, warrior, politician, and a Grandmaster in the order of Christ (Randles 22). However, he earned his fame through the enormous contributions he made in geographical discoveries including the exposure of cultural links and trade between the East and Europe (Russell 1-3). When he came to the Algarve and become governor, he was a young man in his 20s (Scammell 75). He was regarded as a veteran following the Ceuta incursion. While still at Ceuta, Prince Henry had known from about the gold routes established across the Sahara desert from traders of the time (Randles 21-24). The gold routes were believed to have their origin in Guinea, which is located on the Western coast of Africa. His search for gold, pursuit for power, and the need to find Prester John, who was famed for wealth at Orient or Africa fueled his way into Sagres (Boxer 72).
The precise locality where Henry’s navigation school was built remains unknown. Notably, the headquarters was located at Sagres, where he had developed a settlement in an area given to him by the crown (Russell 1-3). This was later named Prince’s town or Vila do Infante. Nonetheless, the exact location is speculated to have been at the peninsula between the Forteleza walls (Randles 27). A plainly built church at the confines of the fortress was the only feature that was left behind during the time of Prince Henry. Prince Henry’s school of navigation was a major attraction to the best intellectuals. During the time of Prince Henry, a group of intelligent scholars had come into the school to study and teach nautical knowledge (Boxer 67). The school relied on the information accumulated and given by nautical experts, especially the captains that had gone out on successful voyages to different areas across the globe (Randles 21-28). The field of cartography was advanced following the use of the newly developed navigation tools. For instance, maps were continually extended and updated to cover new areas and navigation features (Randles 25). During the age of the school, an innovative navigation vessel, the caravel was developed and successfully used by navigators.
During the end of the second decade of the 15th century, Prince Henry was in charge of operations at Lagos and Sagres. At this time, sailors feared going to Cape Bojador (Boxer 145). Despite the superstitions of the region, including the tales of monsters and seething serpents, the area was very dangerous for navigation. This was due to the violent nature of its currents and waves, the frequent mists, as well as the perfidious nature of the shallows there (Russell 1-3). The dangerous nature fueled the thought that, in case a navigator rounded the cape, he or she will not return. During 1434, the Portuguese overcame the barrier despite the countless and unsuccessful attempts made previously. Gil Eanes was the first of all European captains to navigate around Cape Bojador successfully. The heroic expedition was the best achievement of the school and Henry’s time (Boxer 57). Henry lived in the Sagres area for the longer part of his life and died at the age of 66 in 1460. By the time of his death, he had paved the way for the successes of navigation. However, he did not live long to witness the accomplishments of Bartolommeo Dias who navigated around the Good Hope Cape in 1448. He was also not able to witness the accomplishment of Vasco da Gama who used the sea route and navigated to India in 1498 (Randles 28).
Eanes was initially the shield bearer of Henry and a household servant. He was sent out on different voyages along the Northwestern coast of Africa and later succeeded in rounding Cape Bajador. At the time, the cape was thought to be the boundary of the known world. Navigation along the coastline was particularly very difficult. The Cape was conquered after Henry sent Eannes to circle the cape, but was unable to circle it after reaching Gran Canaira and Madeira. Later, he was sent by Henry on a second voyage, and was encouraged to do so using the promises of rewards (Russell 1-3). During the second voyage, Eanes – under the directives of Henry – circled the cape. He also reported to Prince Henry that he had not seen evidence of habitation in areas beyond the Cape particularly towards the South (Randles 27). Later, the school organized a voyage that went through Madeira to a point as far as 50 leagues ahead of Cape Bojador (Boxer 72). The Crew settled on the African Coast in a place called Angra dos Ruivos, where they saw the footprints of camels and men, showing them that the region was inhabitable.
The Portuguese Empire was among the first global empires to expand their rule to overseas territories. The empire ran for about six centuries, starting with the overthrow of Ceuta during 1445 to the liberation of Macau during 1999. The empire ventured in the creation trade networks around the world establishing trade points and forts at the different territories. Prince Henry was a warrior, prince and politician, who sought to search for undiscovered lands.
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