Portuguese Empire
(1415–1808)
   In the nineteenth century, the empire of Portugal was already in advanced decay. From the fifteenth century, Portugal had been a leading maritime power, advantaged by its location to play a precocious role in the European exploration and exploitation of Africa, India, and South America. Portugal also established the Atlantic slave trade, linking the longstanding slave trade within the African continent with the demand for labor in South America in particular. By the seventeenth century, Brazil, formally a Portuguese possession since 1500, was absorbing more than 40 percent of all slaves shipped to the Western Hemisphere. In addition Portuguese traders played a dominant role in the early spice trade linking Cape Verde with Mozambique, India, China, and Japan. Portugal’s vulnerabilities in maintaining a far-flung colonial empire were twofold. The country’s comparatively small population hampered its capacity to settle the interior of many of the territories to which it laid claim. Plain bad luck played a role here, when in 1755 the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 killed more than 100,000 of a city population of 275,000. Moreover, Portugal itself was vulnerable to constant threat from other continental powers and was as often the object of the rivalries of England, France, and Spain as it was master of its own destiny. Napoleon Bonaparte ’s invasion and occupation of Portugal in 1807 marked the beginning of the Peninsular War and the end of the empire that had begun with the Portuguese conquest of Ceuta across the Strait of Gibraltor in 1415. In 1808, the Portuguese court was transferred to Brazil, and in 1815 the colony was made the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and Algarves. The court did not return to Portugal until 1821 by which time the self-confidence of the Brazilians had built an unstoppable appetite for independence, which they secured under Dom Pedro I in 1822. The loss of Brazil to Portugal marked a decline as symbolic as Britain’s loss of India in 1947. In the nineteenth century Portugal therefore concentrated on consolidating and expanding its holdings in Africa - Cape Verde, São Tomé and Principe, Guinea-Bissau, Portuguese West Africa (Angola), and Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique) -but at a time of intensifying competition among the other European power on that continent. The attempt to link Portuguese Angola and Mozambique across the continent east-to-west was blocked in 1890 by Britain’s project to link Egypt with South Africa north-to-south. Portugal’s last major imperial gambit, therefore, was to participate as a loser in the great Scramble for Africa.
   See also <>; <>; <>; <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Birmingham, David. Portugal and Africa. New York: St. Martin’s, 1999;
    Boxer, C. R. The Portuguese Seaborne Empire. London: Hutchinson, 1969;
    Russell-Wood, A.J.R. The Portuguese Empire, 1415–1808. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1998.
   CARL CAVANAGH HODGE

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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