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Portugal’s earliest civilization goes back to 8,000-7,000 BC, but the first traders to settle on the eastern coast of Portugal were the Phoenicians, who established an outpost at Lisbon around 900 BC. From 210 BC onward, the Romans colonized most of Iberia. Roman ways were adopted, and it is from Latin that the Portuguese language was derived.
In AD 711, a first force of Moorish warriors crossed the straits into Spain, and within a decade, they had advanced and conquered all but the mountainous reaches of the Asturias in northern Spain. The Moors also quickly took over Portugal, though most of their settlements were contained to the south, where the fertile wheat belts lay.
Throughout the period of the Christian Reconquest, knights from other Christian countries came to offer their aid. Knight Henrique of Burgundy, in particular, fought so courageously that Ferdinand the Great, king of Leon and Castille, awarded him the Territories of Portus and Cale, as well as the hand of one of his daughters in marriage. From their union a son was born, Afonso Henriques, who waged several wars to reclaim lands from the Moors. One of his successors, Afonso III, reclaimed the Algarve from the Moors, and the capital was moved from Coimbra to Lisbon.
King John I started the second Portuguese Dynasty, called Aviz, after defeating invading Castilian forces at Aljubarrota. He ruled from 1385-1433. His union with Philippa, granddaughter of Edward III of England, produced a son who oversaw the emergence of Portugal as an empire—Prince Henry the Navigator. In 1581, Philip II of Spain invaded Portugal and held it for 60 years, precipitating a catastrophic decline in Portuguese commerce. After the nationalist revolution in 1640, a descendent of the Braganca noble family became the king of Portugal. Thus began the fourth and final dynasty of Portugal, known as the “Braganca Dynasty,” which lasted into the 20th century.
King Carlos ascended the throne in 1889. When Carlos came to power, Portugal’s economy was at an all time low. The country had lost supremacy of commerce with the colonies and was nearly bankrupt, having barely survived Napoleon’s invasions and the Civil war. The Republicans blamed the monarchy for the country’s situation, and in 1908, Carlos and his heir were shot dead on the streets of Lisbon. The new king, Manoel II, was driven from the throne in the revolution of 1910 and Portugal became a French-style republic.
Traditionally friendly to Britain, Portugal fought in World War I on the Allied side in Africa as well as on the Western Front. Weak postwar governments led to a military coup d’etat in 1926 and the establishment of a dictatorship by Antonio Oliveira Salazar that lasted for almost 50 years. Salazar kept Portugal neutral in World War II, but gave the Allies naval and air bases after 1943.
Portugal has transformed itself politically in recent decades. The consolidation of
democracy since the1974 “carnation revolution” and of European Union membership since 1986 has brought Portugal into the European mainstream.