Military history of Portugal

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The Military history of Portugal is as long as the history of the country, either before the emergence of the socio-political reality of an independent Portuguese state, either after that.


Before Portugal

Before the emergence of Portugal, between the 9th and the 12th centuries, its territory was part of important military conflicts - these were mainly the result of three processes.

Roman Expansion

Roman conquest of Hispania (218 BC to 17 BC)
  • The Roman conquest of Hispania, a long process from 218 BC (in the context of the Second Punic War) to 17 BC (already during Emperor Augustus), that had three major confrontations regarding modern Portuguese territory:
  • The Roman republican civil wars that took place, wholly or partially, in Hispania, even if in interaction and connection to the process of conquest, namely:

Germanic Expansion

Hispania in 560
Hispania in 711-714

The invasions during the Migration Period and the Decline of the Roman Empire, in the beginning of the 5th century, and the subsequent conflicts between conquerors (until the 8th century), namely:

  • Invasion of Roman Gallaecia by the Germanic Suevi (Quadi and Marcomanni) under king Hermerico, accompanied by the Buri in 409.
  • Invasion of Hispania by the Germanic Vandals (Silingi - established in Baetica, and Hasdingi - established in interior Gallaecia, near the Suevi) and the Sarmatian Alans (established in Roman Lusitania), in 409.
  • Invasion of Hispania by the Germanic Visigoths led by King Theodorid, expanding from Aquitaine and under request by the Romans, in 410, establishing the Visigothic Kingdom of Hispania.
  • The war between The Suevi and the Hasdingi Vandals, were the first resisted with Roman aid, in 419.
  • The war between the Alans and the Suevi and Romans, were the last two are defeated at the Battle of Mérida, in 428.
  • The war between the Visigoths and the Vandal-Alanic alliance, that ended in 429, with most of the Vandals and Alans moving to North Africa.
  • The on and off continuous dynastical disputes between the Suevi.
  • The on and off continuous war between the Suevi and the Visigoths, that ended when the Visigothic king, Liuvigild, conquered the Suevic kingdom in 585.
  • The war between the Visigothic Kingdom of Hispania and the Byzantine Empire in its southern Iberian province of Spania, from 552 until 624.
  • The dynastic and civil war in the Visigothic Kingdom between the supporters of Achila II (controlling most of eastern Hispania) and Roderic (controlling most of western Iberia).

Islamic Expansion

  • The Moorish Umayyad conquest of Hispania, from 711 to 718, taking advantage of the civil war, and that established the Islamic Al Andalus.
  • The Reconquista , from 722, initially led by Pelagius of Asturias, until 1249 (in Portugal only), the Christian reaction to the Muslim invasion in which several Christian kingdoms slowly expanded themselves over Iberia at the expense of the Moorish states of Al-Andalus, and in the context of which Portugal emerges as an autonomous entity as the First County of Portugal, in 868, when Count Vímara Peres conquers the area from the Minho River to the Douro River, including the city of Portus Cale, from where the name and political entity of Portugal issued.

Portuguese Reconquista (868-1249)

The Reconquista, 790-1300

First County of Portugal and County of Coimbra

Kingdom of Galicia and Portugal

Second County of Portugal

Kingdom of Portugal

After the Reconquista - conflicts with Castile

1383–1385 Crisis

Anglo-Portuguese Alliance

Imperial expansion

An anachronous map of the Portuguese Empire (1415-1999). Red - actual possessions; Pink - explorations, areas of influence and trade and claims of sovereignty; Blue - main sea explorations, routes and areas of influence. The disputed discovery of Australia is not shown.

The Chinese Ming Dynasty Imperial Navy defeated a Portuguese navy led by Martim Affonso in 1522 at the Second Battle of Tamao. The Chinese destroyed one vessel by targeting its gunpowder magazine, and captured another Portuguese ship.[1][2]

Conflicts with Spain

Other European conflicts

The Napoleonic Wars

War of the Oranges (1801)

Instability prior to the French invasions

Riots of Campo de Ourique (1802-1803)

Conspiracy of the Marquis of Alorna (1802)

Conspiracy of Mafra (1805)

Riots of Saint Torcato (1805)

Peninsular War (1807-1814)

First invasion

During the Napoleonic Wars, Portugal was, for a time, Britain's only ally on the continent. Throughout the war, Portugal maintained a military of about 200-250 thousand troops worldwide. In 1807, after the Portuguese government's refusal to participate in the Continental System, French troops under General Junot invaded Portugal, taking Lisbon. However, a popular revolt against Junot's government broke out in the summer of 1808 and Portuguese irregulars took up arms against the French. This enabled a British army under Arthur Wellesley to be landed in Portugal where, aided by Portuguese troops, he defeated Junot at the Battle of Vimeiro; this first French invasion was ended by the Convention of Sintra negotiated by his superiors, which shamefully allowed Junot's men to withdraw unmolested with their plunder. Meanwhile the general revolt against the French in Spain led to the landing of Sir John Moore in the north of that country, forcing Napoleon himself to lead an army into the Peninsula. Though Moore was killed the British managed to extricate themselves from the Peninsula in the Battle of La Coruña. Portugal itself, however, remained independent of the French, and Napoleon left things in the Iberian Peninsula in the hands of Marshal Soult.

The Second and Third invasions

Soult proceeded to invade Portugal in the north. However, the Portuguese held on, giving the British the impetus to send Wellesley back with additional regiments of troops to help recover the Iberian peninsula. Wellesley, aided by the remaining Portuguese regiments hastily scraped together and by Spanish guerrillas, liberated Portugal. A third invasion took place, led by Marshal Andre Masséna. The Anglo-Portuguese forces managed to halt the French advance at the fortifications of Torres Vedras and successfully defeat Masséna's troops, and slowly recovered the Iberian peninsula. Wellesley was made Duke of Wellington in recognition of his services. The Portuguese army was put under the command of Marshal Beresford and was most heavily engaged under his leadership in the bloody Battle of Albuera. Portuguese forces also formed part of Wellington's advance into southern France, 1813-14.

Persecutions of the Setembrizada (1809-1810)

British de facto occupation

Conspiracy of Gomes Freire (1817)

Civil Wars (1820-1851)

Liberal Revolution (1820)

Martinhada (1820)

Riots of 1821

Conspiracy of Major Pimenta (1821)

Conspiracy of Formosa street (1822)

Riots of the 24th and 10th Infantry Regiments (1822)

Riots in Castelo Branco and S. Miguel d'Acha (1822)

Saldanha's coup d'état (1822)

Rebellion of the Count of Amarante (1823)

The Vilafrancada (1823)

Conspiracy of Elvas (1823)

The Abrilada (1823)

Disturbances of 1826-1827

  • Riots of Trás-os-Montes
  • Sublevation of the Royal Police Guard
  • Rebellion of Algarve and Alentejo
  • Archotada
  • Miguelite riots in Coimbra

The Liberal Wars (1828-1834)

After the Napoleonic War, the British ruled Portugal in the name of the absent king in Brazil, with Beresford as de facto Regent, until the revolution of 1820 when they were driven out and the king returned as a constitutional monarch. Over the next 25 years the fledgling Portuguese democracy experienced several military upheavals, especially the Liberal Wars fought between the brothers Dom Pedro, ex-Emperor of Brazil and the absolutist usurper Dom Miguel. To assert the cause of the rightful Queen, his daughter Maria da Gloria, Pedro sailed from Terceira in the Azores with an expeditionary force consisting of 60 vessels, 7500 men including the Count of Vila Flor, Alexandre Herculano, Almeida Garrett, Joaquim António de Aguiar, José Travassos Valdez and a volunteer British contingent under the command of Colonels George Lloyd Hodges and Charles Shaw and effected a landing at Mindelo on the shores north of Oporto. On 9 July Oporto was taken by the liberal forces, who despite winning the Battle of Ponte Ferreira on 22–23 July were besieged in the city by the Miguelites for nearly a year until, in July 1833 the Duke of Terceira (as Vila Flor had now been created) was able to land in the Algarve and defeat Miguel's forces at the battle of Almada. Meanwhile Miguel's fleet was comprehensively defeated by Pedro's much smaller squadron, commanded by Charles Napier, in the fourth Battle of Cape St. Vincent. The Miguelites were driven out of Lisbon but returned and attacked the city in force, unsuccessfully. Miguel was finally defeated at the Battle of Asseiceira, 16 May 1834, and capitulated a few days later at Évora. He was exiled, though his supporters continued to plot for his return and cause trouble up to the 1850s.

  • Liberal revolt in Porto (1828)
  • Belfastada (1828)
  • Revolt of the Royal Navy Brigade (1829)
  • Revolt of Lisbon (1831)
  • Revolt of the 2nd Infantry Regiment (1831)
  • Siege of Porto and civil war (1832–1833)

Coup attempt of 1835

Guerrilla of the Remexido (1835-1838)

Other Guerrillas

  • Guerrilla of Jorge Boto
  • Guerrilla of Dom Manuel Martinini
  • Guerrilla of Galamba
  • Guerrilla of Father Góis
  • Guerrilla of Milhundos
  • Guerrilla of the Marçais
  • Guerrilla of the Garranos
  • Guerrilla of the Brandões
  • Miguelite Guerrillas

September Revolution (1836)

Belenzada (1836)

Conspiracy of the Marnotas (1837)

Revolt of the Marshals (1837)

Massacre of Rossio and Riots of the Arsenal (1838)

Riots of Lisbon (1840)

Military Revolt of Castelo Branco (1840)

Coup of 1842

Revolt of the 26th Hunters Battalion (1842)

Military revolt of Torres Novas (1844)

Revolution of Maria da Fonte (1846)

Emboscada (1846)

Patuleia (1846-1847)

Revolt of Pinotes (1846)

Montaria (1847)

Conspiracy of the Hidras (1848)

Coup of the Regeneração (1851)

Colonizing Africa

In the 19th century, Portugal became involved in the scramble for Africa, enlarging its territories in Angola, Mozambique, Portuguese Cabinda, and Guinea-Bissau.

British Ultimatum (1890)

Coup attempts during the last stages of the Monarchy

Republican insurrection of 1881

The Regicide of 1908

First Republic (1910-1926)

Revolution of 1910

Military instability and coup attempts during the First Republic

World War I (1916–1918)

German incursions in Mozambique

A raid by Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck's remaining troops evaded British troops and managed to penetrate relatively far into Mozambique, seizing arms, capturing troops, and sparking unrest among the population (African and European).


Portugal sent an Expeditionary Corps of two reinforced divisions (40,000 men) to France and Belgium, which fought alongside the British XI Corps. German offensives in the British sector hit the Portuguese hard, with one division destroyed in the Battle of La Lys, April 9, 1918, as it became known in Portugal, or Operation Georgette or the Battle of Estaires to the British. In the Treaty of Versailles, the Portuguese acquired the territory of Kionga from what was once German East Africa.

Estado Novo (1926-1974)

28th May 1926 coup d'état

Military Dictatorship (1926-1933)

Involvement in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939)

Salazar gave material and diplomatic aid to Francisco Franco's nationalist forces while maintaining a formal neutrality. A special volunteer force of 18,000, called Os Viriatos (in honour of Lusitanian leader and Portuguese legendary national hero Viriathus), led by regular army officers was recruited to fight as part of Franco's army, even if unofficially. When the civil war ended in 1939, Portugal and Spain negotiated the Treaty of Friendship and Nonaggression (Iberian Pact). The pact committed the two countries to defend the Iberian Peninsula against any power that attacked either country and helped to ensure Iberian neutrality during World War II.

World War II (1939-1945)

Although Portugal proclaimed neutrality in the conflict, the Japanese Imperial Army invaded the Portuguese Timor colony in distant Oceania, killing thousands of natives and dozens of Portuguese. In response, the Portuguese civilians joined Australia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States against the Japanese. See Battle of Timor.


Parachuters (1956)

Portuguese-Indian War (1961)

The Portuguese-Indian War was a conflict with the Republic of India's armed forces that ended Portuguese rule in its Indian enclaves in 1961. The armed action involved defensive action against air, sea and land strikes by a numerically superior Indian force for over 36 hours, and terminated in Portuguese surrender, ending 451 years of Portuguese rule in Goa. Thirty-one Portuguese and thirty-five Indians were killed in the fighting.

Portuguese Colonial War (1961-1974)

Portugal remained steadfastly neutral in World War II, but became involved in counterinsurgency campaigns against scattered guerilla movements in Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau. Except in Portuguese Guinea, where the revolutionary PAIGC quickly conquered most of the country, Portugal was able to easily contain anti-government forces through the imaginative use of light infantry, home defense militia, and air-mobile special operations forces, despite arms embargoes from other European countries. During the counterinsurgency campaigns in Angola and Mozambique, Portugal was significantly aided by intelligence provided by native residents who did not support revolutionary forces. However, a left-wing military coup in Lisbon by Portuguese military officers in 1974 toppled the Caetano government and forced a radical change in government attitudes. Faced with international condemnation of its colonial policies and the increasing cost of administering its colonies, Portugal quickly moved to grant the remainder of its African colonies independence.

Commandos (1961)

Military coup attempts

Carnation Revolution (1974)

The "hot" years of the revolution (1974-1975)

International involvement (1991 to present)

Portugal was a founding member of NATO, and, although it had scarce forces, it played a key role in the European approaches. After 1991 Portugal committed several Infantry and Airlanding battalions to international operations. The Portuguese Army keeps soldiers in Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia and East Timor (around 6,000 men overall) and it has 128 Guardsmen military police in Iraq (Nasiriyah) under control of the Italian Army. Portugal also sent its soldiers to Afghanistan, which controlled the Kabul airport during 2005. As international observers, Portuguese were also in Croatia, Georgia and Western Sahara.

Portugal has also used its naval forces in recent NATO security operation aimed at combatting piracy in the East African coast. In May 2009 a naval vessel encountered an armed Somali pirate ship and arrested all occupants without any exchange of fire.


See also

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