The area that today constitutes Portugal was
united in the 13th century under a ruler. Over time, the
Kingdom developed into a major shipping nation and
colonial power. In 1903 the king was overthrown and
Portugal became a republic. A military coup was carried
out in 1926 and seven years later a fascist-inspired new
state was proclaimed under the dictator António de
Comprehensive guide to and popular abbreviations of Portugal, covering history, economy, and social conditions.
The oldest traces of man in the area that today make
up Portugal are about half a million years old. Along
the river Tejo, tribes have been feeding on hunting and
fishing from the 7th century BC, and agriculture began
to be practiced about 4,000 years later. Between the
16th century and the 11th century BC several groups of
people moved to the area: Liguras, Iberians, Phoenicians
and later Celts and Greeks.
From 27 BC until the AD 400, the area was a Roman
province, called Lusitania. Subsequently, Western Goths
ruled from the end of the 500s to 711, when the area was
invaded by Moors (Arabs and Islamized Berbers). In the
1000s, the Arab empire began to weaken, while several
kingdoms on the Iberian Peninsula, including Portucale
near present-day Porto, united under the King of León
and Castile, Alfonso VI.
French crusader Henry of Burgundy got the counties of
Coimbra and Portucale (who named Portugal) through
marriage to Alfonso's daughter Teresa. Their son Afonso
Henriques was proclaimed king of Afonso in 1139. Just
over a hundred years later, the king's descendants
conquered the Moorish kingdom of the Algarve in the
south. The food thus dominated almost the entire area
that is today's Portugal.
A trade and shipping nation
During the 13th century, Portugal's development into
the shipping nation was founded. In 1303, an agreement
was entered into with England which granted Portuguese
ships access to English ports and provided Portuguese
merchants with trade privileges. New King became João I,
leader of the Order of Knights Aviz, and a year later an
alliance between Portugal and England was concluded.
Under Henrik "The Mariner", son of João I, Portugal
grew as a shipping nation. The Portuguese built ever
better ships, developed navigation instruments and set
out to "discover" the world. In 1415, the Portuguese
entered the city of Ceuta in North Africa. They soon
found their way to the then uninhabited islands of
Madeira, the Azores and Cape Verde that were colonized.
One goal of the trips was to find the sea route to India
in order to control the spice trade and spread
Christianity. In 1487, Bartolomeu Dias rounded the
southern tip of Africa, and just over ten years later
Vasco da Gama reached India.
After the Europeans "discovered" America, the Pope
divided the "new world" for Europe between the colonial
empires of Spain and Portugal in 1494. Brazil became
Portuguese and the rest of America was Spanish.
Initially, the Portuguese concentrated on controlling
the spice trade from India. It succeeded until the 1590s
when Holland and England began to take over trade with
Asia. The African areas "discovered" on the road to
India became trading stations where the Portuguese
bought slaves. In Brazil, sugarcane was planted, which
among other things made spirits. The beverage was used
as payment in Africa for slaves who were then sent to
the sugar plantations in Brazil.
Large investments in trade trips
The profits from trade trips did not benefit the
population. Instead, they invested heavily in new and
expensive expeditions abroad. In addition, the royal
family received a fifth of their earnings and
strengthened their position. Agriculture at home in
Portugal was neglected and food shortages ensued. In the
16th century, the Catholic Jesuit order also gained
great power. Among other things, it controlled all
education. During the Inquisition (the Pope's
counter-offensive to the Protestant Reformation),
heretics were persecuted (Christians whose faith
diverged from the Pope's teachings, sometimes converted
When King Sebastião died on the battlefield in North
Africa in 1578, Portugal stood without an heir to the
throne. Two years later, Spain entered the country.
After a rebellion in 1640, Portugal regained its
independence and the Duke of Bragança was appointed King
João IV. At the same time, during the 17th century, the
country lost parts of its colonial rule to the
Netherlands and England. Portugal then tied close ties
with England. In 1703, the countries concluded the
Methuen Treaty, which gave the English strong influence
over Portuguese trade.
Lisbon was hit in 1755 by a devastating earthquake.
The marquee of Pombal, which in effect ruled the
country at this time, was influenced by the ideas of the
Enlightenment. A modernization of the administration and
education system was implemented and the country's
finances were restored. The awning also drove the
Jesuits out of the country.
Portugal becomes a republic
In the early 19th century, French Emperor Napoleon
attacked Portugal and King João VI fled to Brazil. The
country was defended with the United Kingdom's help and
then came to be effectively governed by British envoy
Lord Beresford. At the same time, liberal ideas began to
take root in Portugal. The Portuguese rose against the
British in 1820 and the king returned home from Brazil.
Two years later, a new constitution was adopted which
was influenced by the ideas of the French Revolution.
The period up to the 1850s became uneasy with party
struggles between liberals and royalists. A Republican
party, formed in 1878, gradually gained more followers.
Following a 1901 voting reform, the Republican
opposition rose in strength. In 1908 King Carlos I was
assassinated and two years later the monarchy was
overthrown; Portugal became a republic.
The first time in the Republic was marked by
political unrest. During the first 16 years, the country
had 45 different governments.
Portugal joins in the First World War
At the end of the 19th century, the Portuguese sought
control over the whole of southern Africa. They feared,
however, that the Germans wanted to join the battle for
the region and therefore entered World War I in
1914–1918 on the part of Britain and France - something
that devastated the country's already poor finances.
In 1926, the democratically elected government was
overthrown in a military coup. The economist António de
Oliveira Salazar became finance minister in 1928 and was
given wide powers. He was appointed prime minister in
1932. The new state, Estado Novo, which was proclaimed
in 1933, had a constitution influenced by the Italian
fascists. Elections to the National Assembly and the
head of state were allowed, but all political
organizations except Salazar's National Union were
banned. In practice, Salazar became dictator. The
security police PIDE supervised the opposition and
checked that the harsh censorship was complied with.
Portugal was neutral during the Spanish Civil War
(1936-1939; see Spain, Modern History), although Salazar
sent a special force to Franco's aid. Portugal remained
formally neutral even during the Second World War but
secretly sold the important metal tungsten to Nazi
Germany and at the same time from 1943 allowed the
Allies to use an air base in the Azores.
Agreement on the Lisbon Treaty
At a special summit in Lisbon, a number of European leaders decide on a "new
constitution" for the EU, the Lisbon Treaty.
Portugal becomes EU President
Portugal will take over the EU presidency for six months.
Abortion legislation is liberalized
Portugal's abortion legislation is loosened. A new law allows abortion during
the first ten weeks of pregnancy. Previously, the procedure was only allowed if
the mother's life was in danger, if the pregnancy was the result of rape or if
the fetus was at risk of serious injury. The change in the law is the result of
a consensus spirit and good cooperation between President Cavaco Silva and the
government. The president signs the law "against his own conviction".
Demonstrations against austerity policy
The largest demonstrations in several years are being held in protest of the
government's economic reforms and austerity policies.