Portugal & the Age of Exploration

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Mark Cartwright
published on 28 July 2021

The Portuguese built an empire from 1420 onwards that was largely composed of trade centres dotted around the coasts of three continents. This colonial enterprise was driven by a search for African gold, Asian spices, and Christian kingdoms in the east. The curiosity and expertise of Portuguese mariners like Vasco da Gama resulted in the exploration of new sea routes down the coast of West Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope and across the Indian Ocean to India and beyond. By the time Portuguese Brazil was created, it had truly become the first global, inter-continental empire.

In this collection of resources, we examine the process by which the empire was built and maintained, its key colonies, and its impact on local peoples, environments and trade networks. The Age of Exploration led to a new, more violent and disruptive world where colonial powers carved up the globe as they jostled to extract precious resources from wherever they might be found and to enslave and transport millions of people for use as free labour. This Age of Empires, as we might call it, still has consequences today wherever colonial powers once imposed their language, culture and religion upon indigenous peoples worldwide.

Articles & Definitions



Questions & Answers

Why did Portugal enter the Age of Exploration?

Portugal entered the Age of Exploration to find new territory and resources.

What countries did Portugal explore during the Age of Exploration?

During the Age of Exploration, Portugal explored the North Atlantic islands, the coast of West Africa, the east and west coasts of southern Africa, the west coast of India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the southern coast of China. Major Portuguese colonies included Madeira, Cochin, Goa, Malacca, Brazil, Mozambique, and Angola.

What was the impact on Portugal from the Age of Exploration?

The impact on Portugal from the Age of Exploration was to enrich the ruling class from new resources and trade routes. For more ordinary Portuguese, the empire gave the opportunity to emigrate and start a new life. Another benefit was the availability of exotic goods like silk and spices.

What was Spain and Portugal doing during the Age of Exploration?

During the Age of Exploration, Spain and Portugal were both looking for new resources and trade opportunities. Sometimes in direct competition, the two countries agreed to separate the world into two halves to avoid any conflict with each other.
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About the Author

Mark Cartwright
Mark is a full-time writer, researcher, historian, and editor. Special interests include art, architecture, and discovering the ideas that all civilizations share. He holds an MA in Political Philosophy and is the WHE Publishing Director.

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