History of Portugal

The history of Portugal stretches back 500,000 years and is intrinsically linked to that of Spain, as together they form the Iberian Peninsula. Palaeolithic paintings near Vila Nova de Foz Côa are believed to date back 20,000 years and the 'citanias' in Minho are hilltop forts built by Celtic peoples in 700BC, a tradition that began in Neolithic Portugal in 5500BC.

The Romans arrived in 210BC and the south of Portugal was quickly colonized; central Portugal resisted for a further 50 years. In 60BC Julius Caesar made his capital Olisipo (Lisbon) and the Roman influence on the history of Portugal is evident in the changes to agriculture (wheat, olives and vines were introduced to the south), the Latin-based language and the road system. After the decline of the Romans the Suevi arrived from Germany in 409AD, changing the face of northern Portugal in particular as they established a court at Portucale (modern Porto).

In 711 the Moors had a great influence on Portugal but only as far north as Aveiro, above which the Germanic influence is evident. The Moors named the south the al-gharb (Algarve) and improved agricultural methods as well as promoting city life, establishing Lisbon and Évora as important conurbations.

Although the Moors allowed freedom of religion to Jews and Christians, the Christian Reconquista expanded and over two centuries took in the lands of Portucale. Afonso Henriques resisted this new country's amalgamation with Galicia and, having made Guimarães his capital in 1128, he extended his kingdom southwards. In 1143 he became the first official King of Portugal, and his successor Afonso III completed the task, establishing Lisbon as capital of Portugal.

Then followed 257 years of Burgundian kings, of which Dom Dimis (1279-1325) stands out as the one who established the frontiers with Spain (1297) and allegiance with England (1308). When the last Burgundian king, Fernando I, died in 1383 his wife Leonor nearly handed Portugal to her Galician lover. However, João (an illegitimate Portuguese heir) defeated the Spanish with the support of the English and then married John of Gaunt's daughter, Philippa of Lancaster (1387). The two countries remained allies right through to the 20th century.

João's son Henry conducted expansive maritime exploration and, at a time when it was still believed that the earth was flat, he sailed out to Madeira (1419) and the Azores (1427) and other undiscovered places. In 1500 Brazil was awarded to Portugal as a result of the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas in which Spain and Portugal divided the New World up between them. Thus began a Golden Age in the history of Portugal when gold and slaves from Africa, spices from India and treasures from the Orient and Brazil lined Portugal's coffers.

Portugal's history with Spain


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