Portuguese Empire Timeline



The Portuguese Empire was the first modern European empire to be established, and also the longest-lasting of these empires. Early fifteenth century Portuguese exploration was largely motivated by the empire’s desire to gain a foothold in the eastern spice trade, but their religious motives – spreading Christianity to the world – quickly became a main priority in colonial efforts too. The Portuguese empire was ambitious in their naval exploration, and was the first European empire to navigate around the Cape of Good Hope, which was an imperative step to reaching the east and taking part in the lucrative spice trade from which all other European empires would eventually benefit.


1415:Henry the Navigator, a Portuguese Prince, explores coastal Africa. The Battle of Ceuta is fought, during which the Portuguese captured the city of Ceuta on the North coast of Africa from the Moors. Ceuta was the Portuguese empire’s first colony.

1420s-1440s:Portuguese explorers reach the archipelago of Madeira, the Azores, Cape Verde and Senegal. 

1446:Portugal claims the region of Guinea, which would eventually become the centre of their slave trade in Africa.

1488:Bartolomeu Dias, under orders from the King of Portugal, is the first European navigator to successfully navigate around the Cape of Good Hope; an enormous step towards developing trading relations in the east.

1493:Pope Alexander VI divides the zones of exploration and conquest between the Portuguese and Spanish Empire by creating a north-south line just west of the Cape Verde Islands (Bulls of Donation). According to this model, Spain would be entitled to all of the New World (the Americas), while Portugal would be allotted Africa and almost all of Asia. 

1494:The prior model for dividing the world between the Portuguese and Spanish empires was not accepted, and the Treaty of Tordesillas established a new demarcation line that was shifted further west, granting Portugal access to eastern Brazil. 

1498:Vasco da Gama reaches Calicut on the southern coast of India.

1500:Pedro Cabral arrives in Brazil with a fleet of thirteen ships. In this same year, the Portuguese establish trading posts on the coast of Mozambique, at which time a number of small Islamic states were destroyed.

1502:Cabral launches a devastating war in Calicut, in an attempt to gain economic control and expel Muslims from the area. Much of the early and mid-sixteenth century Portuguese presence in India is characterized by wars, destruction, and massacres. 

1505:The Portuguese establish a place in the lucrative cinnamon trade in Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

1510:The empire seizes Goa and makes it the capital of their empire in India. Goa would eventually become the empire’s headquarters in all of Asia in 1530.

1511-1534:The Portuguese drastically expand their presence in Asia and its trade network, taking control of Malacca (present-day Malaysia), establishing treaties for the trade of spices in the Moluccas (now Indonesia), and capturing Hormuz (now Iran) and Bombay (Mumbai).

1542:Missionaries from the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) arrive in Goa. Missionary presence from numerous orders is strong in Goa, and many Hindu and Muslim temples are destroyed in the sixteenth century. Catholic churches are built in this colony at an accelerated pace, with the goals of proselytizing large portions of Asia.

1549:Brazil is made a Portuguese royal province. This means that a central Portuguese government was established in the colony and the colony was overseen by a governor general (an appointed official from Portugal).

1557:A trading post is established at Macao, China.

1578:A battle ensues when the Portuguese lead a crusade into Morocco, and event known as the Battle of the Three Kings, during which King Sebastian of Portugal is killed. The crown is handed to Henry of Portugal who dies in 1580. Since he had no heirs to the throne, King Phillip II of Spain invaded the country and claimed the throne.

1580 -1640:The Portuguese crown is held by the Habsburg Kings of Spain.

1601-1661:The Dutch-Portuguese War is fought between Dutch forces – including the Dutch East and West Indies Companies – and the Portuguese empire. Portugal was victorious in taking all of Brazil from the Dutch, and in Africa they recaptured Angola. The Dutch were successful in taking-over trade in much of Asia, including the Moluccas, Malacca, Ceylon, parts of India, and Japan, where they were the only Europeans allowed to trade.

1622:After occupying Iranian territory for about a decade, Portuguese efforts to colonize Iran were defeated when Shah Abbas I of Persia – with help from the British East India Company – battled the Portuguese for the territory.

1640:John IV is made King of Portugal and the Restoration War begins in efforts to regain Portuguese autonomy from Spain.

1661:Bombay and Tangier are given to the British Empire. The Portuguese lose almost all control in India, save for Goa, Daman, and Diu.

1668:Spain recognizes Iberian autonomy and is ceded Ceuta for doing so.

1693:Gold deposits are discovered in Minas Gerais, Brazil. In addition to sugar and coffee, gold begins to make the Portuguese empire extremely wealthy. Eventually, diamonds are also discovered in areas of Brazil under Portuguese rule. Portugal imports hundreds of thousands of West African slaves to work in the mines and in agricultural areas in the northeast—ten times as many as in the United States.

1755:A catastrophic earthquake hits Lisbon, and together with the Tsunami that followed, more than one third of the population is killed. This constituted a serious blow to Portuguese colonial efforts in the eighteenth century, as both people and resources were running thin.

1763:Despite weakened presence in Asia, the Portuguese hold on Brazil is strong, and the capital of the Portuguese empire in Brazil is moved from Bahia (Salvador) to Rio de Janeiro. The slave-trade from Africa under Portuguese control continues to rise.

1788:A rebellion against Portuguese rule in Brazil occurs in Minas Gerais as part of a Brazilian Revolutionary Movement known as the Inconfidência Mineira inspired by the French Enlightenment. The rebellion fails miserably, and the leaders are caught and severely punished.

1815:Due to Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal in 1808, Brazil was elevated to the status of a Kingdom and the Portuguese capital was moved from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro. This is the only time a country was ruled from one of its colonies and the only time a European royal family moved to the Americas.

1822:Dom (King) Pedro declares Brazilian Independence. In comparison with Spanish colonies in South America, the Brazilian Independence movement was less violent. Dom Pedro is crowned Emperor of Brazil. With no control or colonies in Brazil, and very few colonies left in Asia, Portugal shifts their focus to their African colonies.

1875:Slavery is made illegal in the Portuguese empire.

1888:Slavery abolished in Brazil along with the Brazilian Empire.

1961:During the decolonization efforts after the Second World War, Goa is the first colony to gain independence from Portugal.

1950s-1970s:A number of Independence Movements break out in Portuguese colonies in Africa. With the Cardinal Revolution of 1974 – in which António de Oliveira Salazar’s authoritarian Regime ended – Portugal removes its presence from many African countries, as well as from East Timor.

1999:Macau is handed over to the People’s Republic of China, effectively ending the

Portuguese overseas empire.