Portugal was a kingdom on the Iberian peninsula that gained independence from the kingdom of Leon in the 12th century. Through localized crusades against the Muslims it was able to double its land area and complete its portion of the reconquest. Following this religious fervor and a need by the country to find a source of income lead naturally to the sea. The Portuguese explored the seas for 4 reasons. First to establish trade, second to spread Christianity, third to gain power to be independent of Castille which would form Spain, and fourth for individual profit.
Henry the Navigator was the third prince of Portugal and is mainly responsible of the expansion and promotion of Portuguese naval, maritime, and exploration capabilities. he lived from 1394 to 1460 and was directly responsible for the official finding or claiming of the Azores and Canaries. He also sponsored the fleets that reached the western most tips of Africa in 1445. Without his influence Portugal would have taken longer to realize or grasp the wealth and power it would eventually attain. He was also responsible for spreading the tales of pastor John of Africa and was the one who pushed his father to take the Moroccan port of Ceuta which was the African counter part of Gibraltar. This was significant because it meant that Portugal and Spain could, and did together, block of the Mediterranean states from exploring, trading, and colonizing themselves.
Christopher Columbus was the explorer who first, after the vikings, discovered North America and the New World. He had for a long time stated that traveling west into the barren Atlantic may lead to East Asia. He was a citizen of Genoa, but was trained by the Portuguese and had also become a Portuguese noble by marrying the daughter of the governor of Madeira. When he first when to the Portuguese king with the idea he was refused because they already were traversing Africa and already had invested into reaching India. So he then turned to Castille and Aragon which would form Spain and their Queen and King Isabella and Ferdinand sponsored his voyages. What was significant here was that due to his Portuguese connections his discoveries in the new world actually reached the Portuguese before it reached Spain prompting the Portuguese to also invest in sailing west which would later cause the treaty of Tordesillas.
Portugal explored for several reasons. A major one was to gain resources and power since it was a small nation. That is why they focused on trade rather than conquest when dealing with the Africans, Indians, and Asians. Though they did follow the same conquest style methods of the Spanish when involved in South America. Another reason was to spread Christianity and find Pastor John the rumored Christian King in Africa. Another reason was a sense of religious/war/restless fervor caused by the recently ended Reconquesta. This lead to many attacks on the Moroccan Muslims.
The boundary set by the treaty of Tordesillas by the pope between Spain and Portugal.
The treaty of Tordesillas was signed in 1494. It was pushed by the current pope because he didn't want two of his major supporters to wage war over the recently discovered new world. When looking at the map it is hard to realize that Portugal actually got a far better deal then did Spain. Portugal didn't have the capability to send too many colonists so Brazil ended up being a steal. But the real reason Portugal got the better end of the stick is because the pope gave them claim over Africa and Asia and not Spain. This meant for a very long time Portugal would have sole access to the spice trade and would have a monopoly in the east which lead to it being a major power for 2 centuries until it was usurped by the dutch.
Vasco da Gama was a Portuguese explorer and was the first European to sail a fleet around the horn of Africa and into India where he reached Calcutt in 1498. His landing there started the age of global imperialism and marked the beginning of the Portuguese golden age. This is because Portugal could now bypass the Italians and Arabs and deal directly with the Indians for spices such as pepper. This made Portugal extremely rich.
Portuguese Colonies and Trade posts
In 1500 Portugal established colonies in Brazil and in 1542 had reached japan. By this point Portuguese traders were in almost all trading zones of the world. They had colonies or territory on all continents except North America and Antarctica. they also had trading posts in Africa, North and South America, the Middle east, India, and Asia. They formed monopolies on whole regions including the Malay peninsula, the Indonesian Archipelago, and the Moluccas. In 1555 they were the first Europeans to set up control of parts of china and establish trade there when they took over Macao.
Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese explorer who under Spain's flag was the first to circumvent the globe. Though he was actually dead alongside with most of his crew when the last of his crew completed the journey.
Dutch trade posts 2 centuries after the Portuguese arrived in the region.
When the Treaty of Tordesillas was signed it meant that Portugal would have a monopoly on the spice trade for over 200 years. That is because Spain the only other major exploratory nation at the time was barred by the treaty from heading east. But this monopoly ended when the dutch entered the fray themselves and defeated the Portuguese taking over many of the regions and trade networks Portugal once had. This lead to further defeat when Britain also entered the region and soon Spain seeing Portugal no longer powerful enough to stop them also entered Asia. One clear difference and reason for their defeat to the dutch is because the dutch took a more conquest style route and were able to subjugate the native peoples and use them to their advantage against the Portuguese by using them as manpower or forcing rulers to end trade deals with Portugal and make ones with the dutch.