Country Listing

Portugal Table of Contents



The military has played a major role in the development of Portugal throughout the country's history. During the Middle Ages, the armed forces drove the Moors out of the country and resisted Spanish attempts to end Portugal's newly won independence. During the Renaissance, Portuguese navigators and explorers established settlements and trade routes around the world, and the armed forces played an important role in establishing and maintaining the greatest empire then known (see Maritime Expansion , ch. 1).

The glories of conquest and riches of trade were short lived. A military disaster took place when King Sebastião led his poorly prepared army to defeat against the Moors in Morocco in 1578. Portugal was left leaderless without a legitimate heir, and the country soon came under the rule of Philip II of Spain, who had a valid claim to the throne. Although Spain did not actually occupy Portugal, it involved Portugal in its numerous dynastic and religious wars. As a result, Portugal lost most of its navy when it joined the Spanish Armada against Portugal's former ally, England. Portugal also lost much of its empire in the Far East to the Dutch (see Imperial Decline , ch. 1).

After Portugal threw off Spanish domination in 1640, it created a permanent army of 4,000 cavalrymen and 20,000 infantrymen, based on a conscription system covering all ablebodied men. Portugal renewed its alliance with England and was subsequently drawn into many European wars in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Portugal was occupied by Napoleon's troops in 1807. British forces came to Portugal's aid, driving the French out of the country and then, using Portugal as a base of operations, out of Spain in 1813. During the middle and late nineteenth century, the army was instrumental in the exploration and effective occupation of Angola and Mozambique.

A military revolt ended the Portuguese monarchy in 1910. Portugal attempted to maintain neutrality during World War I but was drawn into the conflict both in Europe and in Africa and fought on the side of the Allies. After Germany declared war on Portugal in March 1916, some 200,000 men were conscripted. An expeditionary force of two divisions saw service in France, sustaining heavy casualties at the Battle of Lys in April 1918. Other troops clashed with the German East African colonial army in Mozambique.

The First Republic (1910-26) had a precarious existence marked by a rapid turnover of governments, coup attempts, and plots. Eventually, in 1926, the mounting social disorder and discontent over the civilian governments' interference in military matters precipitated an unopposed military takeover. Disagreement among the military factions over the goals of their intervention brought only further instability. By 1928, however, a new military-civilian cabinet was in place under a nonpartisan president, General Óscar Fragoso Carmona. The civilian minister of finance, António de Oliveira Salazar, became the most powerful figure in the government. In 1932, Salazar was appointed prime minister, bringing the military dictatorship to an end.

Data as of January 1993