A Short History of Portugal

Portugal came into being as an independent country in 1143 during the reign of King Alfonso Henriques. However, its history prior to that was rather checkered. The earliest inhabitants were the Celts, who settled on the Iberian Peninsula around 700 BC. However, they later came under attack from the Romans who in turn were routed by the Moors from North Africa. It wasn’t until the 11th century that Ferdinand de Leon y Castilla drove them out and set out the borders that are recognized today.

It took until 1385 to expel the Castilians after defeat at the hands of João of Aviz, who later became King João I, at the Battle of Aljubarotta. This begun a golden period for Portugal, as arts and culture flourished, and the country become wealthy by undertaking a ambitious overseas colonial expansion at a time when the two Iberian countries led the way in expanding frontiers of exploration. Its sailors discovered a route around Africa, Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas and Portugal claimed its own chunk of territory in the form of Brazil.

By the end of the 16th century however, its power had faded and celts-956410_960_720eventually Spain’s Felipe II claimed the throne. The former dominant European power reached its low point when the capital had to be moved to Brazil for a few years to keep away from Napoleon’s rampant ambitions. The French never fully controlled Portugal, being forced out by an Anglo-Portuguese alliance. In the 19th century the economy weakened and republicanism soon took over.

After World War I the monarchy was dissolved and a democratic republic was founded, but a military coup in 1926 installed the dictatorial leader António de Oliveira Salazar who ruled until 1968. His moderate successor, Marcello Caetano was left to grapple with Portugal’s increasingly troublesome African colonies and ensuing financial problems leading to another coup in April 1974. An immediate abandonment of its colonies lead to a massive influx of refugees, further straining the economy.