Portuguese Exploration beginning with Henry the Explorer

Spain and Portugal pioneered oceanic vessels to circumnavigate Africa hoping to find riches in the East. Additionally, the ships would transport spices for food preservation.

Replica of a ship from Portugal

Prince Henry the Navigator (son of John I) was instrumental in propelling Portugal forward in the field of navigation and sea travel. He is best known for his nautical knowledge and for capturing Cueta on the Strait of Gibraltar in 1415 CE.

Prince Henry the Navigator Monument in Lisbon.

Prince Henry is also known for creating an observatory in Lisbon and for preparing advanced navigational tables and maps (cartography).

Cartography example

He commissioned sailors to find the mythical Prester John (legendary Christian patriarch) in Africa as well as the path to Indian Ocean spice trade.

The Portuguese are known for identifying the western coastline of Africa, making maps as they closely hugged the coast as they traveled southward. This strategy allowed the ships to resupply themselves as necessary.

Bartholomew Dias arrives at the tip of Africa (the Cape of Good Hope) by 1488 CE.

Vasco Da Gama arrives in India by 1497/1498 CE. His discovery introduced Europeans to the Indian Ocean trade network.

Map of Portuguese trade routes.

Due to a hurricane, some ships were blown off course. This led the Portuguese to South America and they laid claim to Brazil.

In modern times, Brazil is the only South American country that speaks Portuguese.

Portugal to Brazil

Along their expeditions, the Portuguese captured and enslaved the people of Sao Tome, an island off the coast of central Africa. This would be very critical because the people of Sao Tome knew how to grow and harvest sugar cane. The first European sugar cane planation would be on Sao Tome utilizing African slavery.

Location of Sao Tome
Sugar Cane field on Sao Tome

African slave labor began by warring tribes selling their captives to the Europeans. African tribes were complicit in the slave trade also.

Due to Portugal's explorations, they are known as the "trading post empire" because they did not try to conquer places they found and grew rich by trading with the established kingdoms.

The Portuguese captured other merchant ships and forced them to purchase a cartaz, which was a permit to trade in the Indian Ocean region, without it the merchants could not trade in any of the towns Portugal controlled.

Christopher Columbus (an Italian) received much of his training in chart making in Portugual, but could not secure financing from King John of Portugual, therefore he went to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain to finance his voyage.

Christopher Columbus

Because of multiple explorations, the Pope tried to divide the world at 100° west between Portugal and Spain. This would be known as the Treaty of Tordisilla; claiming new lands for the Catholic Church and defusing any problems between Spain and Portugal.

Credits: Zimmerman, Todd. Portuguese and Spanish Explorations Lecture. April 2017.

Columbus, de Gama, and Zheng He! 15th Century Mariners. Crash Course: World History #21. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjEGncridoQ April 2017.


Created with images by Zorro4 - "sailors monument discoverers monument portugal" • pedrosimoes7 - "Sailing ship"

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