The Formation of the Portuguese Colonial Empire


In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. The Formation of the Portuguese Colonial Empire is Number 115 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The book is a political history of the formation and expansion of the Portuguese Empire, beginning with the discovery and colonization of the Atlantic islands (the Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands, and the Cape Verde Islands) in the 15th century and continuing with Portuguese expansion in West Africa, East Africa, India and the Indian Ocean, the Far East, and Brazil in subsequent centuries. It discusses Portugal’s rivalry with the Ottoman Turks for the control of trade routes to the Far East, its remarkable achievement in the 16th century of establishing effective control over the Indian Ocean, and the period of decline that began in the next century as a result of rivalries and wars with other European powers, notably the Dutch and the Spanish, as well as losses to powerful local actors such as the Arabs of Oman and the Mahrattas, or Marathas, of India. The study concludes by noting that despite its losses, Portugal still “possesses certain very valuable regions in Africa and three groups of islands in the Atlantic which, under present conditions, have enormous value.” It adds that imperialist circles in Germany had intended to annex Portuguese colonies in Africa (Angola and Mozambique) as part of a plan to create the vast German colonial empire of “Mittelafrika.”

Last updated: February 4, 2016