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Key Events in Portuguese History

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

1. Romans Begin Conquest of Iberia 218 BCE

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.

2. "Barbarian" Invasions Begin 409 CE

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.

3. Visigoths Conquer the Sueves 585

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.

4. Muslim Conquest of Spain Begins 711

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.

5. Creation of Portucalae 9th Century

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.

6. Afonso Henrique becomes King of Portugal 1128 – 1179

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.

7. Struggle for Royal Dominance 1211 – 1223

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 anymore land to the church and got him excommunicated.

8. Triumph and Rule of Afonso III 1245 - 79

As nobles seized back power from the throne under the ineffective rule of King Sancho II, the Pope deposed Sanco, in favour 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.

9. Rule of Dom Dinis 1279 - 1325

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.

10. Murder of Inês de Castro and the Pedro Revolt 1355 - 57

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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