Portuguese Empire

global empire centered in Portugal

The Portuguese Empire (Portuguese: Império Português), was composed of the overseas colonies, factories, and the later overseas territories governed by Portugal. It was one of the longest-lived empires in European history, lasting almost six centuries from the conquest of Ceuta in North Africa in 1415, to the handover of Portuguese Macao to China in 1999. The empire began in the 15th century, and from the early 16th century it stretched across the globe, with bases in North and South America, Africa, and various regions of Asia and Oceania.

Flag of Portugal (1667-1707).
Areas of the world that were once part of the Portuguese Empire


  • Arms and the Heroes, who from Lisbon's shore,
    Through Seas where sail was never spread before,
    Beyond where Ceylon lifts her spicy breast,
    And waves her woods above the watery waste,
    With prowess more than human forced their way
    To the fair kingdoms of the rising day:
    What wars they waged, what seas, what dangers past,
    What glorious empire crowned their toils at last!
  • The Commercial Revolution of Columbus’ time cleared the routes and prepared the way for the Industrial Revolution. Discoverers refound old lands, opened up new ports, and brought to the ancient cultures the novel products and ideas of the West. Early in the sixteenth century the adventurous Portuguese, having established themselves in India, captured Malacca, sailed around the Malay Peninsula, and arrived with their picturesque ships and terrible guns at Canton (1517). “Truculent and lawless, regarding all Eastern peoples as legitimate prey, they were little if any better than . . . pirates”; and the natives treated them as such. Their representatives were imprisoned, their demands for free trade were refused, and their settlements were periodically cleansed with massacres by the frightened and infuriated Chinese.
  • The Portuguese have the worst record of engaging in slavery-like practices, and they too have been repeatedly condemned by international public opinion. One peculiar characteristic Portuguese colonialism was the provision of forced labor not only for its own citizens but also for capitalists outside the boundaries of Portuguese colonies. Angolans and Mozambicans were exported to the South African mines to work for subsistence, while the capitalists in South Africa paid the Portuguese government a certain sum for each laborer supplied.
  • Portugal was the lowliest of the colonizing powers in Africa, and its was nothing in Europe without its colonies: so much so that it came to insist that Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea were integral parts of Portugal, just like any province of the European country named Portugal.
  • The Portuguese stand out because they boasted the most and did the least. Portugal boasted that Angola, Guinea, and Mozambique have been their possessions for five hundred years, during which time a “civilizing mission” has been going on. At the end of five hundred years of shouldering the white man’s burden of civilizing “African natives,” the Portuguese had not managed to train a single African doctor in Mozambique, and the life expectancy in eastern Angola was less than thirty years. As for Guinea-Bissau, some insight into the situation there is provided by the admission of the Portuguese themselves that Guinea-Bissau was more neglected than Angola and Mozambique!,

See also

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