A brief history of Portugal

The history of Portugal as an independent nation dates back to the Early Middle Ages but the land itself has been inhabited by humans for thousands of years.

The region of present day Portugal was originally inhabited by Neanderthals before they were displaced by modern humans. Early in the first millennium BC the Iberian Peninsula was invaded by several waves of Celtic tribes from central Europe. These peoples formed many tribes with the main Portuguese tribes being the Gallaeci, Lusitanians, Alentejo and the Cynetes of the Algarve.

In 219BC the Romans invaded Iberia ousting the Carthaginians and within 200 years the entire region was under Roman control. The conquest of Portugal took several decades after the legions met stiff resistance from the Lusitanian tribes. Portugal remained a part of the Roman Empire until the early 5th century when the Germanic tribes overran the Western half of the Empire. These tribes included the Vandals, Sarmatians and Alans.

In 711AD the Islamic Moors swept up from North Africa conquering most of the Iberian Peninsula and forcing the ousted Christian peoples to take refuge in the unconquered north of the Asturian highlands. It was from there that they launched their war to retake the lands lost to them, thus beginning the Reconquista. In 868 Count Vimara Peres captured the region between the Minho and Dourno rivers called Portucale. The region then fell under the control of the Kingdom of Leon before briefly winning independence as Portugal in 1065. The region was known as a county until the 12th century when Afonso Henriques proclaimed himself the first King of Portugal in 1139. In 1143 the new kingdom was officially recognised by the Pope and other kingdoms.

The boundaries of modern day Portugal were not established until 1250 when the Algarve was conquered by Portuguese knights, ending Portugal’s Reconquista. It would take Spain another 250 years before its own was done. Portugal’s land-based boundaries have been notably stable in history. The border with Spain has remained almost unchanged since the 13th century. The Treaty of Windsor in 1386 (the oldest diplomatic alliance in the world which is still in force) created an alliance between Portugal and England that remains in effect to this day.

Henry the Navigators interest in exploration together with some technological developments in navigation made Portugal’s expansion possible and led to great advances in geographic, mathematical, scientific knowledge and technology, more specifically naval technology.

In the 15th and 16th centuries Portugal became a leading European power on par with the likes of France and England in terms of economic and cultural influence. In 1415 the Portuguese Empire was formed when Portuguese forces conquered part of North Africa and began its golden ‘Age of Discovery’. Parts of Africa, the Americas, India and Asia all came under the rule of the Portuguese crown; it’s most important and wealthy colony being Brazil.

In 1755 the country’s capital Lisbon was devastated by a violent earthquake registering 9 on the Richter scale. The city was completely destroyed by the quake, fire and a massive tsunami. Prime minister Sebastião de Melo survived by a stroke of luck and then immediately embarked on rebuilding the city, with his famous quote: “What now? We bury the dead and feed the living.”

In 1807 Portugal defied Napoleon Bonaparte and as a result the country was invaded by the French. The Portuguese enacted the treaty of Windsor and Britain sailed to her defence. The peninsula war raged until 1812 with Britain and Portugal the victors, the country was saved. Whilst under French occupation Portugal’s capital was transferred to Rio de Janerio in Brazil.

1910 saw a revolution against the crown and the establishment of the first republic and the beginning of a troubled period for the country. When World War one broke out Portugal was a neutral state but it wasn’t long before it went to war with Germany. U-boats harassed Portuguese shipping and the Portuguese government was angered by the Germans attempted blockade of Britain and their incursions into African colonies.

In 1933 the First Republic was overthrown by the pro-fascist Antonio de Olivira Salazar beginning the dark days of dictatorship for Portugal. In 1974 the people held a relatively bloodless revolution called the Carnation Revolution. With the end of the dictatorship the Portuguese granted independence to most of its former colonies. 2002 saw the end of the Portuguese empire with independence being granted to East Timor.  Portugal joined the EU in 1999 and became one of the Euro zones leading players.