Short history of Portugal

The rise and fall of a global power

Short history of Portugal

Portugal’s often unknown history is highly interesting, considering it was the first global empire and that it used to be one of the biggest empires in the world.

Pre-Roman history, 400 BC - 140 BC

It is said that Lisbon, one of the oldest European capitals, was founded 400 years before the Roman era. Remnants of Celtic and other tribes have been found on Portuguese territory, indicating that this assertion could be true. Also, settlements in coastal areas that were founded by Phoenicians-Carthaginians have been located.

Roman era, 140 BC - 452 AD

When Romanization took place, what we know as Portugal was known as Lusitania, which is why speakers of Portuguese are still known as lusophones. The Romans occupied Lusitania from approximately 140 BC and made it a province famous for mining and agriculture, especially the production of a sweet wine. The region Lusitania is actually said to owe its name to the Roman god Lusus, son of Bacchus, the god of wine. Romans also brought Latin to Lusitania and thereby laid the foundation for the future national language.

Middle Ages, 452 - 1279

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Germanic tribe of Visigoths took over the Iberian Peninsula. They established the strong institution of the Church in their kingdom, still an important part of Portuguese culture. Soon after that came the Arabic invasion and occupation, a time in which many Arabic words entered and formed Portuguese. The peninsula was occupied by Moors for more than 800 years, of which Portugal was occupied for approximately 500 (711-1249). After the partial peninsular Reconquista, Portugal finally became a kingdom independent of Spain in 1279. The borders established then are still the same today.

Imperial era, 1279 - 1578

Portugal evolved into a powerful nation and naval power during this period. Famous explorers are Vasco da Gama (discovered the route to India), Fernando Magellan (circumnavigated the world), and Bartolome Dias (sailed around Africa). Portugal made many discoveries and established colonies all over the world. The most famous one is Brazil, but it also established colonies in Africa, such as Mozambique and Angola, and on other continents. Portugal also developed into the first global power and one of the biggest empires at that time, with Spain being one of its biggest rivals.

Decline and Restoration

In 1578, King Sebastian I died in a war in Africa without leaving an heir. This led to a two-year crisis that was followed by a steady decline of the Portuguese empire. Portugal had to fight many wars in Europe and at the same time suppress resistance movements in its colonies.

From 1640-1668 Portugal fought the Restoration War, which resulted in the restoration of the King and fending off the Spanish king trying to take over Portugal. Portugal began to regain some of its power.

Napoleon and the First Republic

Portugal had always maintained a good relationship with the British Empire and when Portugal refused to give in to Napoleon, which resulted in a military attack and assumption, the British helped restore Portuguese independence in 1812. Many crises followed, which is why during the 19th century the ruler of Brazil became the King of Portugal, and Rio de Janeiro Portugal’s capital for 13 years (1808-1821). In 1910, the First Portuguese Republic was established after a Republican revolution that also brought on the King’s resignation. It was ended in 1926, in a coup d’etat that resulted in a military dictatorship.

Dictatorship and the Carnation Revolution

In 1933, the Second Republic, also known as Estado Novo (New State), was established by António Oliveira de Salazar. Salazar’s dictatorship was marked by nationalism and isolation (his motto: “Proudly alone”) which saved Portugal from taking part in both World Wars. He always tried to keep Portugal’s colonies under his rule and many Portuguese had to fight Portugal’s Colonial Wars. This led to the end of Salazar’s dictatorship on April 25, 1974, when the peaceful Carnation Revolution, a military coup d’état, took place.

Democracy and EU membership

Portugal was led into democracy, the first elections took place in 1975. In 1986, Portugal joined the European Union (EU). José Barroso, one of Portugal’s most popular politicians and former Prime Minister, presided over the European Commission from 2004 to 2014.

Further reading

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