Discoveries Portuguese Mariner - Henry the Navigator, Fernando Magellan ...

Departure into the unknown of Portuguese sailors

Discoveries of Portugal

Henry the Navigator

The history of Portuguese navigators began in 1415 with the capture of the city of Ceuta in Morocco. The peace treaty between Castile and Portugal in 1411 had made it impossible for the princes of Portugal to gain honor in battle with their neighbors. Knight games were not enough to win battle honor. So the princes looked for another destination. At that time, Ceuta was a pirates' nest in which many prisoners began their ordeal as slaves. Heinrich, the fourth son of King John I of Portugal, organized an invasion fleet with ships from Portugal in 1415. Ceuta was able to conquer this without any problems. The beginning of the Portuguese seafaring.

Heinrich had had enough of striving for honor in battle. He became increasingly interested in the question of what was beyond the Sahara. The capture of Ceuta had given the Portuguese maps from the Mallora cartography school. In this, Jews recorded the knowledge they had acquired on their way through northern Africa, where they could move much more freely. Their cards were more true than the cards of Christians, which were based only on rumors and legends.

Heinrich sent expeditions along the west coast of Africa. An attempt to bypass the Muslim trade routes. These Portuguese seafarers moved slowly and cautiously south for fear of the dangers that traders from Arabia were spreading rumors about in order to deter this very competition from Europe. It was feared that the waters around the equator would boil, that sailors' skin would turn black, and that sea monsters would devour ships. Heinrich promoted navigation as well as research in astronomy and cartography.

First discoveries

With that, Europe became interested in discovering new worlds. Soon, gold finds and the early slave trade brought first riches to Portugal. 1492 discovers Christopher Columbus at 12. October the island of Guanahani off the coast of America. 1494 shares Pope Alexander VI. (Rodrigo Borgia) in the Treaty of Tordesillas, the world in half. Portugal is awarded all land east of a demarcation line that lies 370 Leguas west of the Cape Verde Islands. Spain is assigned the discovery of the areas west of it. The time of Portuguese sailors has come.

Vasco da Gama

At that time, there was no idea of ​​the existence of America and its outlines. Therefore, no one knew that the Tordesillas Treaty had given the eastern part of the Brazilian mainland access to Portuguese territory. 1498 finally began the heyday of Portuguese mariners when Vasco da Gama found the sea route to India. Soon, Portugal controlled the whole Indian Ocean and spice trade. By contrast, Portuguese engagement in the New World began rather by accident.


Sight of Portuguese seafarers
Sight of Portuguese seafarers on the coast of Newfoundland



Joao fernandes

In 1499, Manuel I. Joao Fernandes, a small landowner from the Azores, granted a charter that guaranteed him governorship for all the islands he was to discover. He probably came to Greenland, which was founded in the 10th century Vikings had been settled, of which, however, no traces were left.

The name that the Portuguese gave this island - "Tiera del Lavrador" - was later transferred to the northeastern part of Canada, which is still called Labrador. Fernandes later came to Bristol, where he received another charter from Henry VII, and after that his trail is lost. This shows how far the routes of Portuguese seafarers in search of wealth and a quick route to India went to the north. It was only when the circumnavigation of the Cape of Good Hope became known that their efforts focused on the southern route.

Gaspar Corte-Real

We know about the adventures of the Gaspar Corte-Real through a report by Italian cartographer Alberto Cantino, who was in Lisbon when he came back from one of his trips with two ships. He reports that the ships were prevented from traveling by drift ice, and that they melted ice on board to get drinking water. This report mentions the wealth of Newfoundland's wildlife and forest nature. And he says that Corte-Real brought fifty Indians from northern Canada to the Portuguese court, who were probably Beothukindians.

His next trip did not survive Gaspar Corte-Real, a frequent fate of Portuguese sailors. Of the three ships in his fleet, the flagship on which he was commander went under. His brother Miguel was also after 1502 Newfoundland set out and never came back from there. It was to these trips that Portugal was to trace back its claim to Newfoundland in the world map made by Cantino. These trips by Portuguese seafarers are an example of how all the exploring nations of the time tried to be at the forefront of the division of the world. It was only when the Portuguese realized that half of the world that had fallen to them in the Treaty of Tordesillas was extremely profitable that they concentrated their efforts on these areas.


The first Portuguese exploration voyages to the north of America had had the goal of finding a passage through the unknown land mass in the north to the riches of Southeast Asia. Failure to do so lessened Portuguese interest in these regions, especially as it turned out that the other world regions awarded to them in the Treaty of Tordesillas were much more profitable.

The Portuguese fishing fleet alone regularly visited the rich cods off Newfoundland. But this group of Portuguese sailors had to come to terms with the fact that they had strong competition in the English and French fishermen.



As described in many books, Brazil was not discovered by the Portuguese Pedro Cabral. It was probably Amerigo Vespucci who became the first European to touch the Brazilian coast in July 1499. The next was the Spaniard Vicente Yaez Pinzon, who sailed past the east coast of South America in 1499 and also crossed Brazilian coastal waters. He was a Portuguese navigator who, as captain of the "Nina", commanded one of the ships that accompanied Columbus on his first voyage.

Pedro Alvares Cabral, who is mostly mentioned as the discoverer of Brazil, was given a rather dubious honor because his trip had a completely different goal. King Manuel I of Portugal sent another expedition there after Vasco da Gama returned from India in 1500, and Cabral became its commander. He was supposed to pass the Canary and Cape Verde Islands, circumnavigate the Gulf of Guinea to the west and then sail towards the Cape of Good Hope. However, he first landed on the Brazilian coast. Perhaps the prevailing winds have driven him off his route.

There, the Portuguese established friendly relations with the Tupinamba Indians, with whom they exchanged goods and celebrated festivals. However, they were disappointed with the lack of gold and other treasures. But one believed in a possible proselytizing of the unspoiled natives. These reports of Brazil brought Cabral his king after an adventurous trip to the Malabar Coast.

Exploring the land

Manuel I had little interest in a country that did not promise riches, as the Spice Islands did. At most, Brazil offered itself for the construction of a stage station on the way to India. Therefore, in May 1501, he sent three more ships under Gonçalo Coelho, who was accompanied by Amerigo Vespucci. At that time he was still convinced that he would follow the east coast of Asia - it was only later that he gave the new continent its name. What the two brought home from their more than a thousand miles of coastal voyage along Brazil's coast - parrots, monkeys, and some colored wood - did nothing to fuel the desire for rapid development of the country. However, originated at the beginning of the 16th century
Portuguese seafarers' bases along the coast - Pernambuco (Recife), Bahia (Salvador) and Cabo Frio were founded, through which a modest trade in wood was conducted. However, no one thought of spreading into the interior.

Competition and development

French sailors cruised along the Brazilian coast and a Dutch fleet conquered Bahia in 1624 and founded a colony near Pernambuco called "New Holland", which lasted until 1654. This and the study of tropical nature finally sparked the Portuguese 's interest in developing the interior. In 1530 King John III sent over four hundred soldiers and settlers under the command of Martim Afonso de Sousa to Brazil. Hopes of finding gold and silver were dashed quickly, and so the agricultural settlement of Piratininga was founded near today's Sao Paulo.

In 1534, the Portuguese crown introduced the system of "Capitanias", land donations under land law, which were intended to arouse interest in the settlement. Nobles were given property titles such as
"Capitan" or "Donatario" and had to manage and develop lands that served primarily sugar production on large plantations. Sugar remained Brazil's main product until the 18th century. The Portuguese used all means that served the purpose of sugar production: - Conversion, cooperation, threats and violence.

In 1549 a royal government was established in Brazil. Six Jesuits were sent along, whose main goal was the conversion of the natives. This turned out to be difficult, however, and they began to settle the semi-nomadic Indians in mission villages, so-called "aldeias", which over time became a kind of outpost for civilization in Sertao.

"Bandeirantes": adventurers, hunters and slave traders

The most important contribution to the development of the Brazilian hinterland was made by the so-called "bandeirantes", adventurers, hunters and also slave traders who moved inland in search of precious metals and fertile land. The majority of these groups consisted of Indians and sometimes black slaves, who were used as scouts, porters or interpreters. They were led by young Portuguese and mestizo, the "mamelucos". They often stayed in the hinterland for years and brought Indian prisoners on their return
with whom they sold as slaves to sugar plantations. This brought them the opposition of the Jesuits, for whom the security of the natives was important. Their “aldeias” were often the target of raids by the adventurers.

On their prey and conquests, they reached far into the interior of Brazil and thus contributed to the discovery of the inner regions of this colony. With the importation of black slaves, which increased in the middle of the 17th century, the Brazilian slave hunt became less important and the "bandeirantes" concentrated more on the search for gold and precious stones. This caused a rush to Minas Gerais, where gold was found. The south and west were also developed in this way. Brazil had become a colony that delivered treasures to the mother country.


Fernando Magellan, Portuguese sailor
Fernando Magellan, sailor from Portugal Guillaume Baviere, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0


Ferdinand Magellan

Portugal's lost son

Fernao de Magalhaes was born around 1480 either in the Portuguese province of Tras os Montes or in the port city, which recent research indicates. He came from the nobility, a family originally from Normandy. With the first Portuguese Viceroy Francisco de Almeida he went 1505 to India and was involved in the establishment of the Portuguese Empire in the first front.

Seven years later he returned to Portugal. Perhaps he was already thinking of finding a faster route to India around the western half of the earth. Balboas and Solis
Advance to the Pacific could give him this idea already. After a brief involvement in clashes with a Moroccan Berber prince, Magellan settled in Lisbon, where he tried with King Manuel to get support for his plan of achieving a westward voyage to India. It is known that this Magellan did not appreciate and therefore rejected him.

At about the same time, Magellan met Rui Faleiro, a man who knew his way around geography and astrology and had also been rejected by the king. Both talked about Magellan's plans and decided to bring them to the Spanish King.

Captain in the service of Spain

1517 left Magellan after a rather cool farewell to King Manuel to Spain. There he had more success with his request to the royal family. As we know, 1520 finally managed to sail the Strait of Magellan and continue to the Pacific Ocean. Thus, the Portuguese ruling house had refused not only Christopher Columbus a good thirty years earlier support, but another great explorer, his own compatriot Ferdinand Magellan. This should not experience the end of the first circumnavigation. He fell victim to natives in the Philippines. His helmsman, Juan Sebastian Delcano, brought the remaining ships back to Spain. Portugal turned Magellan's betrayal into Spanish services into a betrayal, and it is no wonder that in the light of a mutiny aboard the fleet, his enormous achievement was long not recognized as the success it was, the discovery of a Southwest Passage around the American continent.


Monument of Portuguese sailors in Lisbon
Monument to the seafarers in Lisbon Andreas Gniffke, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0


Participation of Portugal in the discovery of the world

Portugal was involved in several ways in the discovery of the New World. Although this part of the world was not the ultimate goal of his policy during the Great Discoveries, Portugal's involvement there highlights some aspects of that time.

The rivalry between the maritime powers of Europe

Portugal's activities in North America show that the new maritime powers tried to get their share of the total cake from a very early stage. After the first great discoveries of Portuguese seafarers, other countries such as Holland, England or France began to join rivals for the riches of the world, and the two provisional winners of the race - Portugal and Spain - did everything they could to avoid this race to fall behind.

Expeditions and sea voyages to all parts of the world - including the repellent north of our earth - are the result. Portugal was not the only country that lost people in this race. That's the price you have to pay for big discoveries.

This rivalry could take other forms. Magellan had first heard his Spanish neighbor's plans for his plans. In his motherland he was considered a Portuguese traitor for centuries, and therefore he is not praised in world history as he deserves. Only in recent years has the historian's view of his performance changed, and he is seen as the discoverer of the first rank he is in truth.

Slave trade - legacy of the discovery of Brazil

One of the tragic consequences of Portuguese involvement in the discovery of the New World was the slave trade, which spread from there to the entire American continent. A regrettable consequence of the discoveries of Portuguese sailors.

Slavery was nothing new. She had been known in Europe since the Roman Empire. Constant wars between Muslims and Christians on the Iberian Peninsula ensured that new slaves were always available on both sides. Slavery was also known in Africa. Under African law, slaves were the only form of private property that produced income. Land there belonged to the chief, who could give and take it to his subjects. Africa already knew a complex system of slave trade before the Portuguese got there. They just had to take advantage of this.

What was new was that the slaves were now distributed not only on African territory, but throughout the Atlantic world. In Brazil, when they first tried to squeeze the native Indians to work in the sugar plantations, the Portuguese colonists soon realized that black slaves from Africa were better off doing so. And with that began one of the tragedies of world history. African slaves were shipped to the other side of the world in narrow ships in inhumane conditions. End of the 16. At the turn of the century, the transatlantic slave trade had become a fixed industry that brought in profits. Lisbon became the port of export of slaves to the New World.


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Source: own research on the history of Portuguese sailors

Text: Copyright Monika Fuchs, TravelWorldOnline
Photos: Copyright Monika Fuchs, TravelWorldOnline, and as indicated in the captions

Discoveries Portuguese Mariner - Henry the Navigator, Fernando Magellan ...
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