Portugal is one of the oldest nation states in the world and its territory has been continuously inhabited by humans since prehistoric times. After many invasions, wars and settlements, Portugal was established as a country during the Reconquista, which were a series of campaigns by Christian states to recapture territory from the Moors. The County of Portugal was founded in 868, named after the region’s major port city Portus Cale or modern Porto. At this time, the Counts of Portugal were vassals of the King of Leon.
In 1139, following the Battle of Ourique, the Kingdom of Portugal was proclaimed and independence from Leon was granted under the Treaty of Zamora in 1143. Afonso 1, known also as the Conqueror, was the first King of Portugal. Many historians trace Portugal’s national origin to 24 June 1128, which is the date of the Battle of Sao Mamede when Afonso declared himself Prince of Portugal. However, the Kingdom was not recognised by the Pope until 1179.
By the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal was considered a leading European power along with England, France and Spain. Portugal spearheaded maritime exploration, establishing the the first global empire, monopolising the spice trade and colonising areas of North and South America, Africa and various regions of Asia, ruling over millions of inhabitants in this area. The Portuguese Empire is considered to be one of the largest and longest-lived empires in history, having existed for almost six centuries, since the capture of Ceuta in 1415 to to the handover of Portuguese Macau to China in 1999. You can learn more about the history of the Portuguese in Africa reading this article here.
However, after the 16th century, Portugal’s wealth, and power began to decrease and it seemed the glory days of the Empire may have been over. While Portugal was officially an autonomous state, in voluntarily entered a dynastic union with the Spanish Crown between 1580 and 1640. This meant the enemies of Spain became the enemies of Portugal and as as result Portugal relations with England deteriorated, leading to the loss of Hormuz, strategic trading post located between Iran and Oman.
When Portugal regained its independence (recognised by Spain in 1668), it was in decline but its fortunes were restored when gold was discovered in Brazil. However, by the early 19th century, the loss of Brazil and the Napoleonic invasion left Portugal impoverished and the people divided between Absolutists and Constitutionalists. The 1910 Portuguese Republican Revolution overthrew the monarchy and installed a republican government in Portugal.
The economy under the republic was weak and a military coup led to a long period of dictatorship under Antonio Salazar, from 1928 to 1968. Under Salazar, all opposition was banned. However, in 1974 a bloodless left-wing military coup, called the Carnation Revolution, ended the dictatorship, restored democracy and led the way for the independence of the overseas territories in Africa and Asia.
Portugal entered the European Union in 1986 and is now considered a modern Western European state.