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Brazil Old History


Several millions of people lived scattered in today's Brazil when the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century. Large sections of the indigenous population were killed or died of diseases brought by Europeans. The Portuguese colony declared itself an independent empire in 1822, but after a military revolt in 1889, Brazil became a republic. A 1930 revolt brought Getúlio Vargas to power. During his dictatorial and populist rule, Brazil was modernized. Vargas was deposed in a military coup in 1945.

  • AbbreviationFinder.org: Comprehensive guide to and popular abbreviations of Brazil, covering history, economy, and social conditions.

In 1494, the Spanish and Portuguese regents, under the supervision of the Pope, signed a treaty, the so-called Tordesillas Treaty, which gave Africa and India to Portugal, while the newly discovered continent of America would fall to Spain. But the boundary between the two spheres of interest was drawn in the middle of the Atlantic along a line that cuts straight across the then undiscovered South America, roughly from the mouth of the Amazon River and south. The eastern part of Latin America therefore came by chance to end up on the Portuguese side.

When the Europeans came to Brazil, there were no formations of state equivalent to the Incas on the west side of the Andes or the Aztec civilization in present-day Mexico. The Brazilian indigenous people lived partly in the Amazon and partly along the coasts, which were then completely forested. They lived as nomads or semi-nomads and their estimates vary between 5 million and 12 million.

Sailor Pedro Álvares Cabral from Portugal is believed to have been the first European to reach the coast of Brazil in 1500. He then believed that he had come to an insignificant island. However, there are scientists who claim that a Spaniard was there before Cabral.

On the newly discovered continent's coast, there did not appear to be gold or other riches that attracted Europeans. In Portugal, rumors also spread about how whites ended up in indigenous pans. The only desirable raw material seemed to be a dye-rich type of wood, which in Africa was called "Brazil wood" and was named for the area. The colony lived a thinning life until the French took an interest in the Brazil tree. In order to discourage the French, Portugal strengthened its grip on the area and in 1549 appointed a general governor of Salvador da Bahia, which became Brazil's capital.

Old History of Brazil

Sugar Plantations

The first European settlers in Brazil were Portuguese-made prisoners. They were followed by Jews, who were converted to Christianity and moved to freely exercise their true faith. With the help of Dutch capital, Jews in northeastern Brazil built up profitable sugar crops. In 1600 there were over 100 factories supplying Europe with sugar.

The indigenous people had helped with tree felling but did not want to work on the sugar plantations. When the Portuguese tried to enslave them, the groups came into closer contact with each other and many urinals died in European diseases. The colonizers then began to fetch slaves from Africa. The African west coast is relatively close to Brazil's northeastern corner and over 4 million people were shipped as slaves to Brazil. More than a third of all Africans were brought to the American continents from the 16th century to the 19th century.

When Portugal joined Spain in 1580, the Tordesillas Treaty lost its importance and the Portuguese could continue west in Brazil, across the assigned border. The Union was dissolved in 1640 and a little over a century later, after many disputes, Portuguese and Spaniards set the boundaries of today's Brazil. When Europeans invaded the country during the following centuries, most of Brazil's people were exterminated (see Population and Languages).

In 1693, gold was discovered in the current Brazilian state of Minas Gerais and during the 18th century Brazil was the world's largest gold producer, but sugar remained the largest export commodity. Rio de Janeiro was the export port for the gold and became the capital of 1763.


In 1808, the Portuguese regent, João VI, fled to Rio de Janeiro from the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. João VI then ruled Portugal for 13 years from his exile in Brazil. Portugal's commercial monopoly was abolished, Rio de Janeiro opened to all shipping and Brazil raised to the kingdom, equivalent to the mother country of Portugal. When João VI returned to Portugal in 1821, he left his son Pedro as regent. Lisbon again wanted to make Brazil a colony, but Pedro declared Brazil independent in 1822 and made himself an emperor. This construction satisfied both the Republican groups 'demands for independence and the conservatives' desire to maintain the monarchy.

The Constitution of 1824 allowed Emperor Pedro I to distribute land and political records. He thus tried to balance the interests of different groups and regions, but nevertheless experienced several regional uprisings before he abdicated in 1831 in favor of his son Pedro, who was only five years old. A guardianship took over until the younger Pedro was declared in 1840 and the following year crowned to Emperor Pedro II. Pedro reigned for over 40 years and his reign is usually referred to as a golden age in Brazil's history. He was personally popular and the country's economy progressed.

During the 19th century, large livestock farms emerged in southern Brazil. Coffee was also grown there, which became an important export commodity. In the north, rubber tapping provided huge revenue, and Manaus in the Amazon became one of the world's richest cities. Sugar exports increased as the population grew in the Europe of industrialism and cotton exports gained a boost as the civil war in the United States stopped shipping of cotton from there. Tobacco, leather and cocoa also became major export goods. But above all, it was coffee that brought success. Brazil accounted for more than half of the world's coffee production since 1850.


That year largely ended the slave trade, although Brazil formally abolished slavery only in 1888. Gradually, many European immigrants came to the coffee districts. Republicans grew in number. After a military revolt in 1889, a republican regime was established and Pedro II abdicated. São Paulo was the nation's richest state and required extensive regional self-government in the new federal constitution that was adopted in 1891. In practice, the wealthiest states also governed federal policy. The right to vote was limited to a few percent of the population.

In the early 1900s, wealth grew even more. Coffee income was invested in textile factories and laid the foundation for industrialization in the São Paulo area, while sugar plantations were merged into larger units. However, prosperity reached only a small part of the population. The farm workers became poorer. Drought haunted the country and protests in poor states led to several riots. In 1930, when there was economic depression in the world, Getúlio Vargas led a major revolt and ended the so-called First Republic. With Vargas as president, a new era began in Brazilian politics. The power of the states was cut, communists were persecuted and the union was put under state control. Industrialization was accelerated and a social insurance system was introduced. Brazil was partially inspired by Europe's fascist regimes, and Vargas gave himself dictatorial power. At the same time, he sent soldiers to Italy to fight against Nazi Germany in World War II and had the Allies build military bases in northeastern Brazil.

Eventually, coffee prices fell and the state budget went into deficit. Vargas invested even harder on industrialization and attracted foreign capital. However, under growing popular dissatisfaction with the single-government regime, the military forced Vargas to resign in 1945.



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