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Portuguese Power at its Zenith, 1550-1600 AD

India History Map - 1600A just appreciation of the power of the Portuguese in India is only possible by considering their Indian possessions in connection with the rest of their dominions in the east, and by remembering that theirs was a maritime supremacy established to secure their trade. Their very first expedition to India under Vasco da Gama was a trading expedition. But on their arrival they found the Indian export trade entirely in the hands of Arab merchants. These "Moors," as they were called, obtained their wares from Africa, India, Malacca, China, and the Moluccas, and carried them by way of the Bed Sea and the Persian Gulf, to Egypt, Turkey, and Persia, whence they found their way to Europe.

From China and Tartary the trade routes went by way of Samarkand, and from the north of India by Bamian and Termez to Sultanieh, Tabriz (or Tauris), Aleppo and the Mediterranean, or to Brussa and to Constantinople. By sea the merchandise from China and the Spice Islands was carried by Malacca to Calicut and Cambay. Then the routes divided. The first went by Ormuz either overland to Sultanieh and then to Constantinople, or by sea to Bassorah, and then by Bagdad and Damascus to the Mediterranean, where the European merchants, notably Venetians, received the goods in the ports of Beirut, Haleb, and Tripoli. The other route went from Cambay and Calicut to Aden. Then it branched off to the south along the African coast and to the north by way of Jedda either to Mecca and Damascus, or to Tor, Suez, Alexandria and the Mediterranean.

These were the commercial rivals the Portuguese had to deal with. First then only to hold their ground against these "Moors," and later on to secure the monopoly of the trade at sea, -which they gradually acquired, they built fort after fort along the seaboard which surrounds the eastern seas. These forts exacted due respect from the native rulers, served them as naval bases for their fleets, and dominated important straits where they levied toll on all passing ships.

The first Portuguese fort was erected at Cochin in 1503. In 1504 Zanzibar was made tributary, and in 1505 forts were built at Mozambique, Sofala, and Kilwa on the African coast, and at Cannanore in India. In 1507 Socotra was temporarily occupied and a fort erected. In the same year the Sultan of Muscat was made tributary. In 1510 Albuquerque took Goa and made it the capital of the Portuguese possessions, in 1511 he conquered Malacca, and in 1515 he occupied Ormuz. In 1518 Colombo was taken. In 1522 the Portuguese fortified Ternate, which became their chief station in the Moluccas. Fortifications were erected at Chaul in 1521. In 1534 Bahadur Shah of Gujerat ceded Bassein and the Bombay islands to the Portuguese, and gave permission to build a fort at Diu, which was completed in 1535.

In 1557 Macao was founded on a promontory south of the estuary of the Canton Eiver. It became the base for the ships trading with China and Japan. No fort, however, was erected before 1615. In 1559 the Portuguese occupied Daman. In 1560 Jaffna was made tributary and a fort erected on Manar Island. Towards the close of the century (1597) the King of Spain and Portugal1 was proclaimed King of Ceylon. The interior, however, remained practically independent. Forts were erected at Muscat towards the close of the 16th century, at Trincomali in 1623, and at Batticaloa in 1629.

Thus in the second half of the 16th century the Portuguese were supreme in the Indian seas. They controlled the important Straits of Malacca and Ormuz, compelled the traders of other nations to buy their passports, and their fleets cruised about to uphold their authority. But with the opening of the 17th century the English and the Dutch, Spain's enemies in Europe, began to dispute the superiority of the kingdoms of the united Peninsula. About the year 1600 the Dutch established themselves in the Moluccas, and subsequently excluded the Portuguese from the China Sea. In 1622 Ormuz surrendered to the combined forces of the English and Persians. In 1639 the Dutch conquered Batticaloa, and in the following year Trincomali and Galle.

Malacca fell into their hands in 1641. About the middle of the 17th century the Portuguese on the Coromandel Coast were supplanted by the French, the English (who settled at Madras), and the Dutch (who took Negapatam in 1658). In 1656 Colombo surrendered to the Dutch, who by the capture of Manar and Jaffna in 1658 obtained possession of the whole of Ceylon. Bombay was ceded to the English crown in 1661. In the same year Quilon was occupied by the Dutch, who took Cochin and Cannanore in 1663. The "Moors" too reasserted themselves. Muscat fell into the hands of the Arabs in 1650, and in 1699 they took Mombassa. In India the Portuguese fought without success against the Mahrattas, who overran Salsette (north of Bombay) in 1737. In 1739 Bassein, and in 1740 Chaul were surrendered to them. By this time all the Portuguese possessions in the ease were lost with the exception of Goa, Daman, and Diu in India, the greater part of the African coast, and Macao in China.

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Page last modified: 09-02-2017 19:32:56 ZULU