Key Events in Portuguese History

This list breaks down the long history of Portugal — and the areas which make up modern Portugal — into bite-sized chunks to give you a quick overview.

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Romans Begin Conquest of Iberia 218 BCE

The Fight between Scipio Africanus and Hannibal, c. 1616-1618. Artist: Cesari, Bernardino (1565-1621)
The Fight between Scipio Africanus and Hannibal, c. 1616-1618. Artist: Cesari, Bernardino (1565-1621).

Heritage Images/Getty Images

As the Romans fought the Carthaginians during the Second Punic War, Iberia became a field of conflict between the two sides, both aided by local natives. After 211 BCE the brilliant general Scipio Africanus campaigned, throwing Carthage out of Iberia by 206 BCE and beginning centuries of Roman occupation. Resistance continued in the area of central Portugal until locals were defeated c140 BCE.

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"Barbarian" Invasions Begin 409 CE

Euric (c. 440- 484). King of the Visigoths. Portrait. Engraving. Colored.
Euric (c. 440- 484). King of the Visigoths. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

With Roman control of Spain in chaos due to civil war, German groups the Sueves, Vandals, and Alans invaded. These were followed by the Visigoths, who invaded first on behalf of the emperor to enforce his rule in 416, and later that century to subdue the Sueves; the latter were confined to Galicia, a region partly corresponding to the modern north of Portugal and Spain.

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Visigoths Conquer the Sueves 585

Visigoth King Liuvigild
Visigoth King Liuvigild.

Juan de Barroeta/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The Kingdom of the Sueves was fully conquered in 585 CE by the Visigoths, leaving them dominant in the Iberian Peninsula and in full control of what we now call Portugal.

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Muslim Conquest of Spain Begins 711

The battle of Guadalete
The battle of Guadalete by the Spanish painter Martinez Cubells.

Salvador Martínez Cubells/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

A Muslim force comprised of Berbers and Arabs attacked Iberia from North Africa, taking advantage of a near instant collapse of the Visigothic kingdom (the reasons for which historians still debate, the “it collapsed because it was backward” argument having been now firmly rejected); within a few years the south and centre of Iberia was Muslim, the north remaining under Christian control. A flourishing culture emerged in the new region which was settled by many immigrants.

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Creation of Portucalae 9th Century

Coat of arms of the Kingdom of Leon
Coat of arms of the Kingdom of Leon.

Ignacio Gavira, traced by B1mbo/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-3.0

The kings of Leon in the very north of the Iberian Peninsula, fighting as part of a Christian reconquest dubbed the Reconquista, repopulated settlements. One, a river port on the banks of the Douro, became known as Portucalae, or Portugal. This was fought over but remained in Christian hands from 868. By the early tenth century, the name had come to identify a broad swathe of terrain, ruled by the Counts of Portugal, vassals of the Kings of Leon. These counts had a large degree of autonomy and cultural separation.

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Afonso Henrique Becomes King of Portugal 1128-1179

King Alfonso I of Portugal
King Alfonso I of Portugal. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

When Count Henrique of Portucalae died, his wife Dona Teresa, daughter of the King of Leon, took the title of Queen. When she married a Galician nobleman the Portucalense noblemen revolted, afraid of being subject to Galicia. They rallied around Teresa’s son, Afonso Henrique, who won a “battle” (which might have just been a tournament) in 1128 and expelled his mother. By 1140 he was calling himself the King of Portugal, aided by the King of Leon now calling himself Emperor, thus avoiding a clash. During 1143-79 Afonso dealt with the church, and by 1179 the Pope was also calling Afonso king, formalizing his independence from Leon and right to the crown.

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Struggle for Royal Dominance 1211-1223

King Afonso II
King Afonso II.

Pedro Perret/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

King Afonso II, son of the first King of Portugal, faced difficulties in extending and consolidating his authority over Portuguese nobles used to autonomy. During his reign he fought a civil war against such nobles, needing the papacy to intervene to aid him. However, he did institute the first laws to affect the whole region, one of which barred people from leaving any more land to the church and got him excommunicated.

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Triumph and Rule of Afonso III 1245-1279

King Alfonso III of Portugal, in a 16th-century miniature.
King Alfonso III of Portugal.

Antonio de Hollanda/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

As nobles seized back power from the throne under the ineffective rule of King Sancho II, the Pope deposed Sancho, in favor of the ex- king's brother, Afonso III. He went to Portugal from his home in France and won a two-year civil war for the crown. Afonso called the first Cortes, a parliament, and a period of relative peace ensued. Afonso also finished the Portuguese part of the Reconquista, seizing the Algarve and largely setting the country’s borders.

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Rule of Dom Dinis 1279-1325

King Denis of Portugal, in a 16th-century miniature.
King Denis of Portugal.

Antonio de Hollanda/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Nicknamed the farmer, Dinis is often the most highly regarded of the Burgundian dynasty, for he began the creation of a formal navy, founded the first university in Lisbon, promoted culture, founded one of the first insurance institutions for merchants and broadened trade. However, tensions grew among his nobles and he lost the Battle of Santarém to his son, who took the crown as King Afonso IV.

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Murder of Inês de Castro and the Pedro Revolt 1355-1357

The murder of Inês de Castro
Assassínio de Dona Inês de Castro.

Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

As Afonso IV of Portugal tried to avoid being drawn into Castile’s bloody wars of succession, some Castilians appealed to Portuguese Prince Pedro to come and claim the throne. Afonso reacted to a Castilian attempt to exert pressure through Pedro’s mistress, Inês de Castro, by having her killed. Pedro rebelled in anger against his father and war ensued. The result was Pedro taking the throne in 1357. The love story has influenced a good deal of Portuguese culture.

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War Against Castile, Start of the Avis Dynasty 1383-1385

Monument in bronze dedicated to Joao I in Lisboa, Portugal
Joao I monument. LuismiX / Getty Images

When King Fernando died in 1383, his daughter Beatriz became queen. This was deeply unpopular, because she was married to King Juan I of Castile, and people rebelled fearing a Castilian takeover. Nobles and merchants sponsored an assassination which in turn triggered a revolt in favor of former king Pedro’s illegitimate son Joao. He defeated two Castilian invasions with English aid and won the backing of the Portuguese Cortes, which ruled Beatriz was illegitimate. He thus became King Joao I in 1385 signed a perpetual alliance with England which still exists, and began a new form of monarchy.

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Wars of the Castilian Succession 1475-1479

The hero Duarte de Almeida holds the Portuguese royal standard during the Battle of Toro (1476), even though his hands have been cut off.
Duarte de Almeida holds the Portuguese royal standard during the Battle of Toro.

José Bastos/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Portugal went to war in 1475 to support the claims of King Afonso V of Portugal’s niece, Joanna, to the Castilian throne against the rival, Isabella, wife of Ferdinand of Aragon. Afonso had one eye on supporting his family and another on trying to block the unification of Aragon and Castile, which he feared would swallow Portugal. Afonso was defeated at the Battle of Toro in 1476 and failed to gain Spanish help. Joanna renounced her claim in 1479 in the Treaty of Alcáçovas.

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Portugal Expands Into an Empire 15th-16th Centuries

Prince Henry of Portugal, known as the Navigator
Prince Henry of Portugal. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

While attempts at expanding into North Africa met limited success, Portuguese sailors pushed their frontiers and created a global empire. This was partly due to direct royal planning, as military voyages evolved into journeys of exploration; Prince Henry "the Navigator" was perhaps the single greatest driving force, founding a school for sailors and encouraging outward journeys to discover wealth, spread Christianity and sate curiosity. The empire included trading posts along the East African coasts and the Indies/Asia — where the Portuguese struggled with Muslim traders — and conquest and settlement in Brazil. The main hub of Portugal’s Asian trade, Goa, became the nation’s “second city.”

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Manueline Era 1495-1521

Manuel The Fortunate
Manuel The Fortunate. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Coming to the throne in 1495, King Manuel I (known, perhaps wryly, as ‘the Fortunate’) reconciled the crown and the nobility, which had been growing apart, instituted a nationwide series of reforms and modernized the administration including, in 1521, a revised series of laws which became the basis for the Portuguese legal system into the nineteenth century. In 1496 Manuel expelled all Jews from the kingdom and ordered the baptism of all Jewish children. The Manueline Era saw Portuguese culture flourish.

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The “Disaster of Alcácer-Quibir” 1578

The Battle of Alcácer Quibir, 1578.
The Battle of Alcácer Quibir.

Author Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Upon reaching his majority and taking control of the country, King Sebastiáo decided to make war upon the Muslims and crusade in North Africa. Intending to create a new Christian empire, he and 17,000 troops landed in Tangiers in 1578 and marched to Alcácer-Quibir, where the King of Morocco butchered them. Half of Sebastiáo’s force was killed, including the king himself, and the succession passed to a childless Cardinal.

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Spain Annexes Portugal / Start of the "Spanish Captivity" 1580

Portrait of Philip II (1527-1598) on Horseback, 1628. Found in the collection of the Museo del Prado, Madrid.
Philip II. Heritage Images/Getty Images

The ‘disaster of Alcácer-Quibir’ and the death of King Sebastiáo left the Portuguese succession in the hands of an elderly and childless Cardinal. When he died the line passed to King Philip II of Spain, who saw a chance to unite the two kingdoms and invaded, defeating his main rival: António, Prior of Crato, illegitimate child of a former prince. While Philip was welcomed by nobility and merchants seeing opportunity from the merger, many of the populace disagreed, and a period called the “Spanish Captivity” began.

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Rebellion and Independence 1640

Portrait of John IV of Portugal
Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

As Spain began to decline, so did Portugal. This, coupled with growing taxes and Spanish centralization, fermented revolution and the idea of a new independence in Portugal. In 1640, after Portuguese nobles were ordered to crush a Catalan rebellion on the other side of the Iberian peninsula, some organized a revolt, assassinated a minister, stopped Castilian troops from reacting and placed João, Duke of Braganza, on the throne. Descended from the monarchy, João took a fortnight to weigh his options and accept, but he did, becoming João IV. War with Spain followed, but this larger country was drained by European conflict and struggled. Peace and recognition of Portugal’s independence from Spain came in 1668.

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The Revolution of 1668

Afonso VI
Afonso VI.

Giuseppe Duprà/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

King Afonso VI was young, disabled and mentally ill. When he married, a rumor went around that he was impotent and nobles, afraid for the future of the succession and a return to Spanish dominion, decided to back the king’s brother Pedro. A plan was hatched: Afonso’s wife persuaded the king to sack an unpopular minister, and she then fled to a convent and had the marriage annulled, whereupon Afonso was persuaded to resign in favor of Pedro. Afonso’s former queen then married Pedro. Afonso himself was given a large stipend and deported, but later returned to Portugal, where he lived in isolation.

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Involvement in the War of the Spanish Succession 1704-1713

The Battle of Malaga
The Battle of Malaga. Print Collector / Getty Images

Portugal initially sided with the French claimant’s side in the War of the Spanish Succession, but shortly after entered into the “Grand Alliance” with England, Austria and the Low Countries against France and her allies. Battles took place along the Portuguese-Spanish border for eight years, and at one point an Anglo-Portuguese force entered Madrid. Peace brought expansion for Portugal in their Brazilian holdings.

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Government of Pombal 1750-1777

Monument of Marques de Pombal against sky, Pombal square, Lisbon, Portugal
Monument of Marques de Pombal. Danita Delimont / Getty Images

In 1750 a former diplomat best known as the Marquês de Pombal entered the government. The new king, José, effectively gave him free rein. Pombal instituted massive reforms and changes in the economy, education, and religion, including expelling the Jesuits. He also ruled despotically, filling prisons with those who challenged his rule, or that of the royal authority which backed him up. When José became ill, he arranged for the regent who followed him, Dona Maria, to change course. She took power in 1777, starting a period known as the Viradeira, the Volte-face. Prisoners were released, Pombal removed and exiled and nature of Portuguese government slowly changed.

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Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars in Portugal 1793-1813

The Battle of Vimeiro
The Battle of Vimeiro. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Portugal entered into the wars of the French Revolution in 1793, signing agreements with England and Spain, who aimed to restore the monarchy in France, In 1795 Spain agreed to peace with France, leaving Portugal stuck between its neighbor and its agreement with Britain; Portugal tried to pursue friendly neutrality. There were attempts to coerce Portugal by Spain and France before they invaded in 1807. The government fled to Brazil, and war began between Anglo-Portuguese forces and the French in a conflict known as the Peninsular War. Victory for Portugal and the expulsion of the French came in 1813.

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Revolution of 1820-1823

Portuguese Cortes 1822
Portuguese Cortes 1822.

Oscar Pereira da Silva/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

An underground organization set up in 1818 called Sinédrio attracted the support of some of Portugal’s military. In 1820 they enacted a coup d’état against the government and assembled a “Constitutional Cortes” to create a more modern constitution, with the king sub-ordinate to parliament. In 1821 the Cortes summoned the king back from Brazil, and he came, but a similar call to his son was refused, and the man instead became emperor of an independent Brazil.

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War of the Brothers / Miguelite Wars 1828-1834

Half-length painted portrait of a brown-haired man with mustache and beard, wearing a uniform with gold epaulettes and the Order of the Golden Fleece on a red ribbon around his neck and a striped sash of office across his chest
Pedro IV of Portugal.

Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In 1826 the King of Portugal died and his heir, the Emperor of Brazil, refused the crown so as not to slight Brazil. Instead, he submitted a new Constitutional Charter and abdicated in favor of his underage daughter, Dona Maria. She was to marry her uncle, Prince Miguel, who would act as regent. The charter was opposed by some as too liberal, and when Miguel returned from exile he declared himself absolute monarch. Civil War between supporters of Miguel and Dona Maria followed, with Pedro abdicating as emperor to come over and act as regent to his daughter; their side won in 1834, and Miquel was banned from Portugal.​

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Cabralismo and Civil War 1844-1847

Engraving depicting public flogging of a civilian by Government troops during the Portuguese civil war of 1846-1847

Author Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain PD-US

In 1836–38. the September Revolution had led to a new constitution, one somewhere between the 1822 Constitution and Charter of 1828. By 1844 there was public pressure to return to the more monarchist Charter, and the Minister of Justice, Cabral, announced its restoration. The next few years were dominated by the changes Cabral wrought — fiscal, legal, administrative and educational — in an era known as the ​Cabralismo. However, the minister made enemies and he was forced into exile. The next lead minister suffered a coup, and ten months of civil war followed between supporters of the 1822 and 1828 administrations. Britain and France intervened and peace was created in the Convention of Gramido in 1847.

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The First Republic Declared 1910

The Republican revolution, José Relvas proclaims the Republic from the balcony of the of City Hall
José Relvas proclaims the Republic from the balcony of the of City Hall.

Joshua Benoliel/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

By the end of the nineteenth century, Portugal had a growing republican movement. Attempts by the king to counter it failed, and on February 2, 1908, he and his heir were assassinated. King Manuel II then came to the throne, but a succession of governments failed to calm events. On October 3, 1910, the Republican revolt occurred, as part of the Lisbon garrison and armed citizens rebelled. When the navy joined them Manuel abdicated and left for England. A republican constitution was approved in 1911.

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Military Dictatorship 1926-1933

António Óscar Fragoso Carmona appears on a postage stamp
António Óscar Fragoso Carmona.

I, Henrique Matos/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

After unrest in internal and world affairs produced a military coup in 1917, the assassination of the head of government, and more unstable republican rule, there was a feeling, not uncommon in Europe, that only a dictator could calm things. The full military coup took place in 1926; between then and 1933 Generals headed up the governments.

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Salazar's New State 1933-1974

Portuguese dictator Antonio De Oliveira Salazar (1889 - 1970) reviews troops about to embark for the African colonies of the Portuguese Republic, circa 1950.
Antonio De Oliveira Salazar. Evans / Getty Images

In 1928 the ruling generals invited a Professor of Political Economy called António Salazar to join the government and solve a financial crisis. He was promoted to Prime Minister in 1933, whereupon he introduced a new constitution: the New State. The new regime, the Second Republic, was authoritarian, anti-parliament, anti-communist and nationalistic. Salazar ruled from 1933–68 when illness forced him to retire, and Caetano from 68–74. There was censorship, repression, and colonial wars, but industrial growth and public works still earn some supporters. Portugal remained neutral in World War 2.

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The Third Republic Born 1976 – 78

Two Portuguese soldiers reading a newspaper to find out the latest on the coup.
Corbis/VCG via Getty Images / Getty Images

Growing upset in the military (and society) at Portugal’s colonial struggles led to a disgruntled military organization called the Armed Forces movement causing a bloodless coup on April 25, 1974. The following president, General Spínola, then saw a power struggle between the AFM, communists and left-wing groups which led him to resign. Elections were held, contested by new political parties, and the Third Republic Constitution was drawn up, aiming to balance president and parliament. Democracy returned, and independence was granted to African colonies.

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Wilde, Robert. "Key Events in Portuguese History." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Wilde, Robert. (2023, April 5). Key Events in Portuguese History. Retrieved from Wilde, Robert. "Key Events in Portuguese History." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).