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1. Portugal: the origins

2. The birth of a nation

3. The miracle of the Battle of Ourique

4. Conquerors: how Portugal forged the first global empire

Portugal: the origins

In about 800 BC, the Celts invaded the Iberian peninsula, and they settled in the north and in the west. The Iberians, a brave and independent people, dominated the south. Eventually, the two cultures fused into the Celtiberians.

Source: house

During the Punic Wars (264 BC to 146 BC), the central and western area of the peninsula was occupied by various tribes.

The Lusitanians are recognized as the ancestors of the current-day Portuguese culture. They were skilled workers and fighters, had their own language and an advance culture.

They first clashed with the Romans in 194 BC and joined the Celtiberians in a war against the Roman presence that lasted until 179 BC.

Under the leadership of Viriatus, an excellent strategist who managed to unite many Celtiberian tribes, the Lusitanians inflicted a series of defeats on Roman troops from their military camp on the Hill of Venus.

At its peak, Lusitania comprised the areas between the Douro and Tagus River.

In about 700 AD, the Islamic Moors, who were mostly Berbers and Arabs from the Maghreb, invaded the peninsula from North Africa and conquered all but the Asturias area.

What is now Portugal first became part of the Emirate of Córdoba.


According to national legend, Lisbon, the capital city, was founded by the ancient Greek warrior Odysseus.

He arrived at a rocky headland near what is the present-day city after leaving his homeland to wander the world, and stayed there for a while

His departure broke the heart of the nymph Calypso, who, the legend goes, turned herself into a snake, her coils becoming the seven hills of Lisbon.




The birth of a nation

In 1109 the baby who would become the first king of Portugal was born. D. Afonso Henriques was a courageous and brave fighter who endured many battles to obtain the independence of Condado Portucalense and conquer land to the Moors. Thats why he remains famous in history under the nickname “The Conqueror”.

In the 9th century, the name Portucale was used to refer to the region between the rivers Douro and Minho, the Minho flowing along what would become the northern border with Spain.

By the 11th century, Portucale was already known as Portugal.

Henry of Burgundy helped king Alfonso VI of Castile conquer Galicia from the Moors. As a reward, he was given the hand of Teresa de Leon, and became Count of Portugal.

Henry and Teresa had several sons, but the only one to survive childhood was Afonso Henriques. He was three years old when his father died.

Teresa ruled the county for sixteen years, but her loyalty to the Spanish king led to a rebellion.

Afonso Henriques was set out to take control of the county, and proclaimed himself Prince of Portugal after the Battle of São Mamede.

He defeated his mother near the town of Guimarães, in June of 1128. Countess Teresa was imprisoned and exiled. She died in 1130.

In 1139, Afonso Henriques won a battle over the Moors, and declared Portugal a separate kingdom, with himself as king.

In October 5, 1143, Portugal was officially recognized as an independent kingdom.

Afonso Henriques continued to conquer land from the Moors, and by 1147 he recapture Lisbon with the help of English, Flemish, German, and French crusaders.

Évora was retaken in 1166, and the Algarve in 1249. At this point, Portugal’s conquest was complete, and Portugal became Europe’s first state to reach the limits of its territorial expansion, which remain unchanged to this day.

In 1385, João Mestre de Avis, with the help of legendary supreme constable Nuno Álvares Pereira, defeated the Castilians at Aljubarrota battle, where the Castilians outnumbered the Portuguese 6:1.

D. João I was crowned King of Portugal. Along with his sons, Duarte, Henry The Navigator, and Afonso started the «Golden Decades» of worldwide discoveries, in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Source: PACHECO, Rita - D. Afonso Henriques. Didáctica, 2009.



The miracle of the Battle of Ourique

In 1139, Afonso I won the Battle of Ourique and was able to impose tribute on his Muslim neighbours.

Some years later, the idea of a miraculous intervention by Saint James in favour of the Portuguese appeared in the chronicles of the battle. Later interpretations replaced Saint James with Jesus Christ.

In the legend, Afonso Henriques is visited before the battle by an old man who saw in a dream that he would be victorious because God would intervene in his favour. He advised the nobleman to leave the encampment alone when he heard the bell of the local chapel. Riding off he was surprised by a ray of light that showed him the sign of the cross and Jesus Christ on a crucifix.

Afonso Henriques knelt in its presence and heard the voice of Christ, who told him he would defeat the Moors, which he, through courage and his faith, succeeded the following day.

The legend of the miracle of the Battle of Ourique served thus as a political instrument to defend Portuguese independence as divine will.



Conquerors: how Portugal forged the first global empire

Em agosto de 1415, uma frota portuguesa atravessou o Estreito de Gibraltar e atacou o porto muçulmano de Ceuta, em Marrocos, um dos pontos mais fortificados e estratégicos de todo o Mediterrâneo. A tomada de Ceuta surpreendeu a Europa.

In August 1415, a Portuguese fleet sailed across the Strait of Gibraltar and stormed the Muslim port of Ceuta, in Morocco, one of the most strategic strongholds in the whole Mediterranean. Its capture astonished Europe.

No início do século XV, a população de Portugal não era superior a um milhão de habitantes. Os reis eram demasiado pobres para cunhar as suas próprias moedas de ouro. A pesca e a agricultura de subsistência eram os pilares da economia, mas só a ambição igualava o nível de pobreza do país.

At the start of the 15th century, Portugal’s population numbered no more than a million. Its kings were too poor to mint their own gold coins. Fishing and subsistence farming were staples of the economy, but the nation’s poverty was matched only by aspiration.

D. João I, o fundador da casa de Avis, tomou a coroa em 1385 e afirmou a independência em relação a Castela, o país vizinho. O ataque a Ceuta foi planeado para absorver a energia inquieta da nobreza; foi uma campanha que combinou o espírito medieval da cavalaria com a paixão pelas cruzadas.

King João I, founder of the ruling house of Aviz, snatched the country’s crown in 1385 and asserted the country’s independence from neighbouring Castile. The assault on Ceuta was designed to soak up the restless energies of the noble class in a campaign that combined the spirit of medieval chivalry with the passions of crusade.

Três dias de saques e massacres transformaram um sítio outrora descrito como «a flor de todas as cidades de África». Este golpe surpreendente avisou os rivais europeus que este reino pequeno era autoconfiante, energético e estava pronto para a ação.

Three days of pillage and massacre had ransacked a place once described as «the flower of all other cities in Africa». This stunning coup served notice to European rivals that the small kingdom was self-confident, energetic ‒ and on the move.

Em Ceuta, os portugueses vislumbraram, pela primeira vez, a riqueza de África e do Oriente. A cidade era o ponto de chegada das caravanas que traziam ouro pelo deserto do Sara, do rio Senegal e dos entrepostos mais a ocidente do comércio islâmico de especiarias com a Índia.

In Ceuta, the Portuguese were afforded a first glimpse of the wealth of Africa and the Orient. The city was the roadhead for the caravans trafficking gold across the Sahara from the Senegal River, and a depot of the Islamic spice trade with the Indies.

Ceuta foi o início da expansão portuguesa, o limiar de um mundo novo.

Ceuta marked the beginning of Portuguese expansion, the threshold of a new world.

Em 163 anos, os portugueses desbravaram mais caminho e mais rapidamente do que qualquer outro povo. Do seu ponto de partida, avançaram para baixo, pela costa ocidental de África, contornaram o Cabo e chegaram à Índia em 1498, acostaram no Brasil em 1500, chegaram à Índia em 1513 e ao Japão em 1543.

In 163 years, the Portuguese pushed faster and farther across the world than any people in history. From a standing start they worked their way down the west coast of Africa, rounded the Cape, and reached India in 1498; they touched Brazil in 1500, China in 1514, and Japan in 1543.

No século XV, Lisboa estava na vanguarda da exploração, sendo um laboratório para testar ideias acerca do mundo.

In the 15th century, Lisbon was the frontier of exploration, a laboratory for testing ideas about the world.

Por toda a Europa, astrónomos, cientistas, cartógrafos e mercadores olhavam para Portugal para obter a informação mais recente acerca da forma do continente africano. Matemáticos judeus, mercadores genoveses e cartógrafos alemães eram atraídos para o reboliço das ruas deste país, com o seu horizonte marítimo infindável além da foz do Tejo, ao qual voltavam as caravelas portuguesas carregadas de escravos negros, papagaios de cores brilhantes, pimenta e mapas desenhados à mão.

Across Europe, astronomers, scientists, mapmakers, and merchants looked to Portugal for the latest information about the shape of Africa. Jewish mathematicians, Genoese merchants, and German cartographers were being attracted to the hubbub of its streets, its vistas of boundless ocean beyond the mouth of the River Tejo, from where Portuguese caravels returned with black slaves, brilliantly coloured parrots, pepper, and handmade maps.

Os portugueses foram impelidos por um desejo de realizar grandes feitos. Os reis e os seus filhos viviam, lutavam e morriam segundo um código de honra que acompanharia os portugueses pelo mundo fora.

The Portuguese were impelled by a desire to do great deeds. The kings and their sons lived, fought, and died by an honour code that would accompany the Portuguese across the world.

Sources: CROWLEY, Roger ‒ Conquerors: how Portugal forged the first global empire. Random House.

CROWLEY, Roger ‒ Conquistadores: como Portugal criou o primeiro império global. Presença.

PIRES, José; CALADO, Nuno ‒ A viagem de Pedro Álvares Cabral. Terramar.




Emirate: a political territory that is ruled by a dynastic Islamic monarch, an emir.

Lusitanians: an Iberian people living in what is now Portugal who resisted Roman arrival in the 2nd century BC.

Moors: the Muslims who invaded the Iberian peninsula in the 8th century and established a civilization in Andalusia that lasted until the late 15th century.

Odysseus: also known by the Latin name Ulysses, Odysseus was a legendary Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homers epic poem the Odyssey. He also plays a key role in Homers Iliad and other works in that same epic cycle.



Escola Básica e Secundária de Muralhas do Minho, Valença