Academic journal article Military Review

Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire

Academic journal article Military Review

Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire

Article excerpt

CONQUERORS How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire Roger Crowley, Random House, New York, 2015, 400 pages

Crowley has written several books about the wars between Christendom and Islam in the Mediterranean. Here he tells how the Portuguese created their maritime trading empire in the sixteenth century.

Portuguese mariners began exploring the Atlantic and coastal Africa in the 1420s for political, commercial, and religious reasons. Prince Henry, their principal sponsor, harnessed new sailing and shipbuilding techniques to extend Portuguese influence southward. The goal was to chart the African coast and the islands in the Atlantic systematically to search for an ocean route to Asia and break the Muslim-Venetian monopoly of the trade with India, thereby enriching Portugal and destroying Muslim power.

The Portuguese trading empire resembled those formed by the Scythians and Mongols, but their contemporary analogues were the Venetians and the Chinese. By 1510 they were in Goa (India), in 1535 they reached Macau (China), and by 1543, Japan. Their empire encompassed stations in Africa, the Persian Gulf (Aden and Hormuz), Malacca, China, and Japan. They forcibly established trading rights, built trading posts, and depended on local expertise throughout their expansion, using ships and cannon to open trade when negotiations failed. The discovery of open ocean routes to Asia opened the way to the contemporary world beginning with the Portuguese, who were followed by the Spanish, Dutch, English, and French.

Crowley's account shows how commercial goals were accompanied by a crusading impulse. A mixture of religious zeal and commercial opportunism made the Portuguese governor, Alonso de Albuquerque, the protagonist in Crowley's story, realize Portugal could control the silk and spice trade by occupying a few strategic points: Aden, Hormuz, Goa, and Malacca. Goa became the linchpin of the Portuguese trading empire.

The Portuguese followed the Chinese when the Ming engaged in maritime colonialism controlling the main ports on the major East-West ocean trade networks through force or threats. …

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