Country Listing

Portugal Table of Contents


Territorial Enlargement

Afonso Henriques was a brilliant military commander and during his reign reconquered more Muslim territory than any other of the Christian kings on the peninsula. He established his capital at Coimbra, and as early as 1135 he built a castle at Leiria. In 1147 he took advantage of a series of religious rebellions among the Muslims, and, with the help of a passing fleet of English, Flemish, and German crusaders bound for Palestine, captured Lisbon after a seventeen-week siege. Continued internecine fighting among the Muslims, Lisbon's strategic location, and additional help from passing fleets of crusaders eventually allowed Afonso Henriques to advance across the Tagus and capture and hold large sections of the Alentejo. As a result of this vigorous prosecution of the reconquest, the pope officially recognized Afonso Henriques as king of Portugal in 1179 and granted him all conquered lands over which neighboring kings could not prove rights. At his death in 1185, Afonso Henriques had carved out an officially recognized Christian kingdom that extended well into Muslim Iberia.

Sancho I (r.1185-1211), Afonso Henriques's son and heir, continued to enlarge the realm. In 1189 he captured the Muslim castle at Alvor, the city of Silves, and the castle at Albufeira. These territories however, were retaken by the Muslims and had to be reconquered by his son and heir, Afonso II (r.1211-23). With the help of his brother-in-law, Alfonso VIII of Castile, Afonso retook territory in the Alentejo, fighting major battles at Navas de Tolosa in 1212 and Alcácer do Sal in 1217. Sancho II (r.1223-48) conquered additional territory in the Alentejo and carried the reconquest into the Algarve, where Muslim armies were defeated at Tavira and Cacela in 1238. The reconquest was completed by Afonso III (r.1248-79) in 1249 when he attacked and defeated an isolated enclave of Muslims ensconced at Faro in the Algarve. This last battle, which extended Portuguese territory to the sea, established the approximate territorial limits Portugal has had ever since (see fig. 2).

Data as of January 1993