The Portuguese empire (1415-1999) was the first and the last of the empires of western Europe. It sold black pepper from the Spice Islands and black men from Africa. It helped to spread the Catholic faith, especially to Africa and Asia, and made Portuguese a language spoken by more people than French. The empire gave birth to Brazil, Angola, Mozambique and other countries.
At one time or other Portugal ruled parts or all of Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Indonesia, East Timor, Bahrain, Barbados, Nagasaki in Japan, Tanzania, Kenya, Yemen, Morocco, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, Goa in India and Macao in China, among others.
From 1000 to 1300 the Portuguese Christians took over what is now Portugal from the Moors. But in a sense they never stopped: in the 1400s they kept on going, down the coast of Africa. By 1498 they had reached India, by 1571, Japan. They had ports and outposts all along the coasts of Africa and Asia, from Lisbon to Nagasaki. The empire was at its height – not in land, but in power, trade and wealth.
Treaty of Tordesillas: The groundwork for this was laid in 1494, two years after Columbus discovered the Americas. The pope divided the world outside Europe in half between Portugal and Spain. In effect Portugal got Brazil and all of Africa and Asia except the Philippines.
The agreement held long enough among European powers to shape both empires. Portuguese power in its half of the world was not challenged till the 1600s by the Dutch. In 1500 the Portuguese had the best ships in the world, but by 1600 it was the Dutch.
The Dutch fought the Portuguese everywhere, even in Brazil. Portugal managed to hold onto Brazil, but lost Ceylon and the Spice Islands (Sri Lanka and Indonesia). Worse than mere land, they lost control of trade from the East. The glory days of the empire were over.
In the 1700s Brazil became the jewel of the empire. Brazil had sugar, gold, diamonds, cacao and tobacco. Black slaves worked the land. With the growth of Brazil inland, the empire reached its height in terms of land.
The early 1800s brought the wars of Napoleon. The king fled to Brazil. Rio, not Lisbon, was the seat of the empire for a while. But after the wars Portugal was no longer strong enough to hold onto Brazil. It became independent in 1825.
This was a huge shock. To make up for its loss, Portugal turned its attention to its possessions in Africa, especially Angola and Mozambique.
In the late 1900s the empire came to an end.
In 1974 Salazar fell from power in Portugal and nearly all of the remaining countries of the empire were freed: Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Sao Tome & Principe and East Timor. Some of these sank into wars of succession, particularly Angola and Mozambique. Indonesia took over East Timor, killing a third of its people.
But even then Portugal still had Macao near Hong Kong. That was given back to China in 1999, the last bit of the empire to go.