Categories Selfstudyhistory.com

Portuguese Colonial Enterprise

Portuguese Colonial Enterprise

  • The landing of Vasco da Gama at Calicut on Malabar coast in 1498 with three ships, guided by a Gujarati pilot, Abdul Majid, is generally regarded as the beginning of a new era in the relationship between Asia and Europe.

Vasco Da Gama

  • Previous attempts of finding sea routes:
    • A search for a sea route to India had been attempted in post-Roman times by Genoa.
      • In 1291, a Genoese, Ugolino di Vivaldo, had set out with two galleys to find his way to India by the ocean route, but was never heard of.
    • Subsequently, the lead in this search was taken by Portugal.
      • From 1418, Dom Henrique, the ruler of Portugal, called Henry the Navigator, sent two to three ships every year for the exploration of the West Coast of Africa.
      • The occupation of Africa upto the mouth of the river Congo between 1443 and 1482 gained Portugal trade in ivory, slaves, and gold dust, and whetted their appetite.
      • The rounding of the southern tip of Africa in 1487 by Megallan opened the sea-route to India.
      • But it was another ten years before it was taken up by Vasco da Gama. 

The Asian Oceanic Trade Network before the Coming of the Portuguese

  • There was no basic difference in the internal structure of trade and commerce between Asia and Europe before the rise of industrial capitalism in the west.
    • Both European and Asian merchants sought exclusive information about the markets they operated in.
    • The bigger traders in Asia were remarkably flexible in their approach. They were prepared to trade in any commodity which was anticipated to yield a good profit.
    • There was, thus, much less specialisation than in the modern times.
  • Big merchants:
    • The big merchants who were the most active in emporia or long distance trade, could be active both in domestic and foreign trade.
    • They could also be bankers, money-lenders and insurance agents.
    • Some of them had their own ships, although the carrying of goods, both over-land and over-seas, was also a specialised vocation.
  • A definite pattern of trade between different regions and ports had developed, as a result of wind movements, ocean currents, and distances.
    • Journeys originating in the Red Sea, or the Persian Gulf ports did not generally go beyond Gujarat, or the Malabar ports.
    • Goods for south-east Asian ports were shipped from Gujarat, Malabar or the Coromondal.
    • Chinese traders had earlier come to Malabar.
      • But following a ban on foreign trade by the Ming rulers in the fifteenth century, Chinese traders did not go beyond the south-east Asian states.
  • The captaincy of ships over these vast distances needed nautical skills and experience for which the Asian sailors—Arabs, Indians, Malays and Chinese were not wanting.
    • The captains (nakhudas) of ships were highly esteemed. They commanded good wages.
  • The ships also contained many small traders, to whom the word peddler can be applied.
  • Associations of traders:
    • In their working, Asian merchants, like Europeans, drew upon family connections, as also on associations based on community of interest, region etc.
    • Thus, we hear of the association of merchants called Karimi, located at Aden, whose activities extended upto China.
    • Burmese merchants also had their own trade associations, as also the Indians.
    • Thus, Maniraman was an association of South Indian merchants which remained active in domestic and foreign trade for a long time.
  • There were rich merchants:
    • Vastupal and Tejpal in Gujarat.
    • There were also very rich Chetti merchants in Tamilnadu, in Bengal and the Maraccars in Malabar.
    • Asian trade at the times was much bigger than the European trade and hence some of the richest merchants were to be found in Asia at the time.
    • Yet, for a long time, the Asian traders were indiscriminately called peddlers by some European scholars.
    • What mattered was the size and range of the trading communities in Asia, the multiplicity of their activities, their entrepreneurial skills, and the financial and shipping resources which they disposed of.
    • Also, unlike many of the European traders, the Asian traders did not depend upon their states for political or military support.
  • Oriental trade did not just consist of luxury goods:
    • A second misnomer was the concept that the oriental trade consisted only of luxury goods.
    • This may have been largely true for trade with Europe which imported in the main, silk and jade from China, spices from the Spice Islands and India, and some types of cloth from the Middle East.
    • But in the Indian Ocean region, the items exchanged included the basic necessities of life, such as salt, sugar, grains and clothing, in addition to luxury items such as spices, horses, silk, Chinese porcelain, incense, ivory, glass, jewellery and finely cut precious stones, slaves etc.
    • Trade in the necessities of life was necessary because in areas such as the south-east Asian Islands, rice production was very limited, as also clothing.
    • Salt, sugar and food-grains were needed in the Middle East.
    • Also, pre-modern merchant ships could not have operated without low value bulk cargo which could serve as ballast.
      • Thus, goods brought to India or China included heavy cargoes, such as dates, sugar, building material, and timber.
  • Climate and geography influenced trade:
    • It dictated the movement of goods, and the direction of trade.
    • Ships from the Middle East reached the Indian sea ports before the arrival of the monsoon.
    • The goods were transhipped there, and carried in different bottoms to the southeast Asian countries or China.
    • Malacca was also another point of transhipment.
  • While the Chinese did not go beyond Java-Sumatra, the Arabs and Indians traded right upto China.
  • Thus, both the range of trade, and the bulk of the goods carried was impressive for the pre-modern world.
  • Asian ships could carry out long distance voyages:
    • A third misnomer is that Asian ships could not carry out long distance voyages across open seas because their ships were frail, and Asians lacked the necessary nautical techniques.
    • But It were the Indians who had started the open sea voyage from Gujarat to Aden, and across the Indian Ocean to South-East Asia and to east Africa.
    • Thus, when Vasco da Gama sailed for Calicut from Malindi in East Africa, he found four Indian ships there.
    • It has been shown that even frail boats could sail on the open seas, from the Malay peninsula to the Mauritius on the basis of ocean currents.
  • Sewed and Nailed ship:
    • Indian tradition is said to be of sewing ships instead of nailing them.
    • According to the Arab geographers, the nailing of ships began in the region of the Persian Gulf region in the 10th century.
    • However, sewn ships continued to be used because these had greater flexibility than nailed ships, and could be repaired more easily.
    • This was an advantage in the shallow waters and swift currents of the Persian Gulf region.
    • That both sewn and nailed ships were in operation in the Indian waters was noted by the Portuguese, Gaspar Correa, writing in the early part of the sixteenth century. He says that the sewn ships “remain as secure as if they were nailed.”
  • Ships were not small in size:
    • By the time the Portuguese came, the boats plying in the region were from 350 to 400 tonnes which was heavy tonnage for the time, and had several masts.
    • Though the Chinese junks which were several storeyes high were the most advanced in ship construction at the time.
    • Since timber for ships was not available in Arabia or Persia, most of these ships were generally built in the Gujarat or the Malabar region.
    • Thus, Indian and Arab ship building traditions had mutually influenced each other, and their trading ships were not inferior to the European.
  • Nautical techniques:
    • The Chinese had a mariner’s compass since the 10th century, but it was not widely used.
    • Arab and Indian sailors fixed their position on the open sea with the help of stars, using compass card or kamal.
    • However, the mariners compass was of great use for sailing over unchartered waters.
  • The traders in sea trade were:
    • Arabs
    • Iranians
    • Jews,
    • Armenians
    • Genoese.
    • Gujaratis
    • Tamil Chettis
    • Javanese.
  • Policies and conventions of the rulers:
    • The life and property of these traders were protected by the rulers, and certain well defined commercial laws were observed.
    • Custom duties were generally kept within limits.
    • While the conventions were violated sometimes, such violation would harm the concerned state since trade was highly competitive, and in the situation, traders would move away to another port.
    • The rulers, while taxing trade, did not try to dominate the seas, or protect or expand their trade by armed intervention on land or sea, though while conducting military operations on land, they were not forgetful of commercial advantages.
      • In Asia, the only armaments the ships carried were soldiers and rockets as a safeguard against sea pirates who were active on the coasts of Oman and Malabar, as also in south-east Asia and China.
        • Notable exceptions to this had been the Chola naval expeditions against Java-Sumatra in the 14th century.
      • Hence the tradition of trading under the protection of armed ships did not rise in Asia.
  • Due to all these factors, the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were unusually prosperous in the history of the Indian Ocean.
    • Although by the second half of the 15th century, Chinese traders had withdrawn under the orders of the Chinese Court, and the Karimi merchants of Yemen, as well as the Jews had stopped their operations—perhaps in the face of Arab competition, there was no “commercial vacuum”.
    • Nor was there any Arab monopoly of trade in the western India Ocean, though the Arabs were certainly the richest and the most powerful group of long distance traders in the region.
  • These factors explain why the Portuguese, who came to Asia for capturing the trade in Asian goods to Europe, stayed behind to capture the trans-Asian trade through use of force.

trade-routes1

Objectives of finding Sea Route and factors behind advent of Portuguese

  •  Although Asia and Europe had been in commercial relations with each other since antiquity, the opening of direct sea-relations between the Asia and Europe was not only the fulfilment of an old dream (according to the Greek historian, Herodotus, the Phoenicians had rounded Africa in the 6th century BC) it presaged big increase of trade between the two. 
  • In 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks. Merchandise from India went to the European markets through Arab Muslim intermediaries. The Red Sea trade route was a state monopoly from which Islamic rulers earned tremendous revenues. The land routes to India were also controlled by the Arabs.
    • In the circumstances, the Europeans were keen to find a direct sea route to India.
    • A direct sea-link with India would displace the virtual monopoly of the Arabs and Turks over the trade in eastern goods, especially spices.
    • For the Portuguese, the opening of a sea-route to India would give a big blow to the Muslims—the Arabs and Turks, who were the traditional enemies of Christianity, and were posing a new threat to Europe by virtue of the growing military and naval power of the Turks.
    • They also hoped that by their exploration of Africa they would be able to link up with the kingdom of the legendary prior John, and be in a position to attack the Muslims from two sides. Thus, the commercial and religious objectives supported and justified each other.
  • Interest shown by the Pope:
    • The Pope also showed his growing interest in the search for a sea-route to India when in 1453, he issued a Bull granting Portugal “in perpetuity” whichever lands it “discovered” beyond the Cape in Africa upto India, on condition of converting the “heathens” of those lands to Christianity.
  • Effect of Renaissance:
    • Interest in the search for a sea-route to India was spurred also by the Renaissance which had gripped Europe in 15th century and which challenged rooted modes of thought, and created a new spirit of daring.
    • Renaissance had called for the exploration.
    • Growing interest in oriental trade was shown by the arrival of many Genoese traders in the Indian Ocean from the thirteenth century onwards.
      • The names of the Venetians, Nicolo Conti and Barbosa, of the Russian Nikitin are only a few among the many others who travelled on the Indian Ocean, and reached India during this period.
  • Economic development of Europe:
    • The economic development of many regions of Europe was also progressing rapidly with expansion of land under cultivation, the introduction of an improved plough, scientific crop management such as crop rotation, and increased supply of meat (which called for spices for cooking as well as preservation).
    • Prosperity also grew and with it the demand for oriental luxury goods also increased.
    • With growing prosperity and growth, the dietary habits of the Europeans had also changed, with more meat being consumed.
      • Much of the cattle in Europe had to be killed during winter due to shortage of fodder, and the meat salted away.
      • Oriental spices were even more in demand in order to make the salted meat more palatable.
  • Advances in the art of ship-building and navigation:
    • At the same time, Europe made great advances in the art of ship-building and navigation.
    • Hence, there was an eagerness all over Europe for adventurous sea voyages to reach the unknown corners of the East.
  • Genoese Interest: 
    • The principal rivals of the Venetians in Europe were the Genoese. The Genoese were also active in distributing oriental goods in Europe, but had been side-lined by the Venetians.
    • Venice and Genoa which had earlier prospered through trade in oriental goods were too small to take on the mighty Ottoman Turks or to take up major exploration on their own.
      • The capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 was a big blow to the Genoese because the Black Sea ports, their principal mart for oriental goods, were gradually closed to them.
      • This, and their old rivalry with Venice were the main factors which led Genoa to help Portugal and Spain with ships, money and nautical skills in searching for a sea -route to India.
      • Christopher Columbus who ‘discovered’ America in 1492 in his effort to find a sea-route to India was a Genoese.
  • It is also to be noted that Portugal had assumed the leadership in Christendom’s resistance to Islam even as it had taken on itself the spirit of exploration.
  • Also the idea of finding an ocean route to India had become an obsession for Prince Henry of Portugal, who was nicknamed the ‘Navigator’; also, he was keen to find a way to circumvent the Muslim domination of the eastern Mediterranean and all the routes that connected India to Europe.

Arab and Turks didn’t hinder trade:

  • While the Europeans had their own objectives, their seeking a direct sea-route to India was not because the Arabs and Turks hindered in any way the trade of eastern good to Europe or were charging excessive taxes.
  • In fact, with the rise of Islam, the Arabs had emerged as the principal traders of the world, especially in the field of long distance trade.
  • Their merchants, sailors and geographers linked even more closely than before the sea-trade between the Mediterranean and Asia, and in Asia between West Asia, India, East Africa, South-East Asia and China.
  • Nor were the Turks allergic to trade.
  • The trade from the Orient flowed from the Persian Gulf via Hormuz and Basra to the Levant, and from the Red Sea via Jeddah to Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt.
  • There were also land-routes leading to Black Sea ports.
  • The custom duties levied on these goods was a rich source of profit to the Arab and Turkish rulers, and they had every reason to protect and cherish this trade.
  • Despite the Pope banning trade with the heathens, i.e. Muslims, Genoese and Venetian merchants were active in the trade in oriental goods.
    • In fact, the Venetian merchants had a virtual monopoly of buying the oriental goods in Egypt and the Levant, and distributing them all over Europe.
    • Though the Venetians and the Turks fought long and bitter naval battles, neither side pushed it to a level which might harm their mutual trade. They were hence considered “complementary enemies”.

Arrival of Vasco Da Gama:

  • The arrival of three ships under Vasco Da Gama, led by a Gujarati pilot named Abdul Majid, at Calicut in May 1498 profoundly affected the course of Indian history.
  • The Hindu ruler of Calicut, the Zamorin (Samuthiri), however, had no apprehensions as to the European’s intentions.
    • As the prosperity of his kingdom was due to Calicut’s position as an entrepot, he accorded a friendly reception to Vasco Da Gama.
    • Zamorin, and permitted to trade in spices, and to set up a factory (ware-house) on the coast.
    • Over the objections of Arab merchants, Gama managed to secure a letter of concession for trading rights from the Zamorin. But, the Portuguese were unable to pay the prescribed customs duties and price of his goods in gold.
    • The Portuguese wanted to enforce a monopoly over the spice trade to Europe, and claimed the right of searching the ships of Arab traders.
      • This led to a fight in which the Portuguese living in their factory were massacred.
      • In retaliation, the Portuguese ships bombarded Calicut before they withdrew.
  • Vasco da Gama stayed in India for three months.
    • When he returned to Portugal, he carried back with him a rich cargo and sold the merchandise in the European market at a huge profit.
    • The spices carried back by Vasco da Gama were computed at sixty times the cost of the entire expedition.
  • The importance of direct access to the pepper trade was made clear by the fact that elsewhere the Europeans, who had to buy through Muslim middlemen, would have had to spend ten times as much for the same amount of pepper.
    • Not surprisingly, other profit-seeking merchants of European nations were tempted to come to India and trade directly.
  • In 1502, Vasco da Gama returned with a fleet of twenty-five vessels, and demanded that the Zamorin should expel all the Muslim merchants settled there, and not to allow any Muslim merchants to land at any of his ports, or to have any trade relations with them.
    • Zamorin rejected these demands on the ground that the port of Calicut was open to all, and that it would be impossible to prohibit anyone from trade, whether he was a Muslim or not.
    • Gama’s answer was a brutal assault on Calicut. This was followed by establishing a number of forts at Cochin, Quilon etc. to dominate the Malabar trade. His rupture with the Zamorin thus became total and complete.
    • Vasco da Gama set up a trading factory at Cannanore.
  • What was at issue here were two different philosophies of relationship between trade and the state.
  • The Asian convention was of open trade, with the governments backing and supporting trade but not using their military or naval strength to promote or protect it.
    • On the other hand, the Mediterranean tradition which the Portuguese brought with them was of a combination of trade with warfare on land and sea.
    • This approach was profoundly upsetting to the Asian traders, as well as to many of the small states of the region, such as Calicut, Cochin, etc. which, like some of the city states of Europe, were heavily dependent on trade, but followed the convention of open trade without the use of military or naval force.
  • For centuries, the trading system in the Indian Ocean had had numerous participants—Indians, Arabs, Africans from the east coast, Chinese, Javanese, among others—but these participants had acted according to some tacit rules of conduct and none had sought overwhelming dominance though all were in it for profit.
    • The Portuguese changed that: they wanted to monopolise the hugely profitable eastern trade by excluding competitors, especially the Arabs.
  • Gradually, Calicut, Cannanore and Cochin became the important trade centres of the Portuguese.
    • Gradually, under the pretext of protecting the factories and their trading activities, the Portuguese got permission to fortify these centres.

Portuguese settlements in India

Portuguese settlements

Portuguese Governors in India:

  • Francisco De Almeida:
    • In 1505, the King of Portugal appointed a governor in India for a three-year term on the condition that he would set up four forts on the southwestern Indian coast: at Anjediva Island, Cannanore, Cochin and Quilon.
    • He was equipped with sufficient force to protect the Portuguese interests.
    • Almeida’s vision was to make the Portuguese the master of the Indian Ocean. His policy was known as the Blue Water Policy (cartaze system).
      • He said: “As long as you may be powerful at sea you will hold India as yours; and if you do not possess this power, little will avail you a fortress on shore.”
    • Alarmed at the growing power of the Portuguese, the Sultan of Egypt fitted a fleet and sent it towards India.
      • The fleet was joined by a contingent of ships from the ruler of Gujarat.
      • The Zamorin of Calicut, the rulers of Bijapur and Ahmednagar also lent his support.
    • After an initial victory in which the son of the Portuguese governor, De Almeida, was killed, this combined fleet was routed by the Portuguese in 1509.
      • This naval victory made the Portuguese navy supreme in the Indian Ocean for the time being, and enabled the Portuguese to extend their operations towards the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.
  • Alfonso de Albuquerque:
    • Albuquerque, who succeeded Almeida as the Portuguese governor in India, was the real founder of the Portuguese power in the East, a task he completed before his death.
    • He advocated and embarked upon a policy of dominating the entire oriental commerce by setting up forts at various strategic places in Asia and Africa. This was to be supplemented by a strong navy.
      • Defending his philosophy, he wrote “A dominion founded on a navy alone cannot last.” Lacking forts, he argued, “neither will they (the rulers) trade or be on friendly terms with you.”
    • The Portuguese, under Albuquerque bolstered their stranglehold by introducing a permit system for other ships and exercising control over the major ship-building centres in the region.
    • The nonavailability of timber in the Gulf and Red Sea regions for ship-building also helped the Portuguese in their objectives.
    • Albuquerque initiated this new policy by acquiring Goa from the Sultan of Bijapur in 1510 with ease; the principal port of the Sultan of Bijapur became “the first bit of Indian territory to be under the Europeans since the time of Alexander the Great”.
      • The island of Goa was an excellent natural harbour and fort.
      • It was strategically located, and from it the Portuguese could command the Malabar trade and watch the policies of the rulers in the Deccan.
      • It was also near enough to the Gujarat seaports for the Portuguese to make their presence felt there.
      • Goa was, thus, suited to be the principal centre of Portuguese commercial and political activity in the east.
    • The Portuguese were also able to extend their possession on the mainland opposite Goa, and to blockade and sack the Bijapuri ports of Danda-Rajouri and Dabhol, thus paralysing Bijapur’s sea-trade on the mainland.
      • They sacked and blockaded the Bijapuri ports of Danda-Rajouri and Dabhol till the Adil Shah came to terms by ceding Goa.
    • From their base at Goa, the Portuguese further strengthened their position by establishing a fort at Colombo in Sri Lanka, and at Achin in Sumatra, and the Malacca port which controlled the exit and entry to the narrow gulf between the Malay peninsula and Sumatra.
    • The Portuguese also established a station at the island of Socotra at the mouth of the Red Sea, and besieged Aden.
      • Vasco da Gama had failed to capture Aden—his only failure in the area. However, he forced the ruler of Ormuz which controlled entry into the Persian Gulf to permit them to establish a fort there.
    • During this period, a major concern of the Portuguese was to bring under control the forts of Diu and Cambay which were the centres of Gujarati trade to the Red Sea.
      • The Portuguese made two attempts in 1520-21 to capture Diu but both were defeated by its governor, Ahmad Ayaz.
    • An interesting feature of his rule was the abolition of sati.
    • In order to secure a permanent Portuguese population in India he encouraged his men to
    • take Indian wives.
  • Nino da Cunha:
    • He was a governor of Portuguese possessions in India from 1528 to 1538
    • He shifted the headquarters of the Portuguese government in India from Cochin to Goa.
    • Before the Gujarat-Turkish alliance could be consolidated, a bigger threat to Gujarat appeared from the side of the Mughals.
      • Humayun attacked Gujarat.
      • Bahadur Shah of Gujarat, during his conflict with the Mughal emperor Humayun, secured help from the Portuguese by ceding to them in 1534 the island of Bassein with its dependencies and revenues. He also promised them a base in Diu.
      • However, Bahadur Shah’s relations with the Portuguese became sour when Humayun withdrew from Gujarat in 1536.
      • Following the expulsion of the Mughals from Gujarat, he once again appealed to the Ottoman sultan for help and tried to limit the Portuguese encroachments at Diu.
      • The Portuguese started negotiations, in the course of which Bahadur Shah of Gujarat was invited to a Portuguese ship and killed in 1537.
      • Subsequent efforts to recapture Diu failed.
    • Hence The Portuguese acquired several territories from the Sultans of Gujarat:
      • Daman (occupied 1531, formally ceded 1539);
      • Salsette, Bombay, and Baçaim (occupied 1534); and
      • Diu (ceded 1535).
    • Da Cunha also attempted to increase Portuguese influence in Bengal by settling many Portuguese nationals there with Hooghly as their headquarters.
    • The Ottomon Turks, under Sulaiman, were passing through the most magnificent period of their history; they were poised to attack Europe, and also to complete their conquests in Asia.
      • Turks had defeated the ruler of Iran in 1514 and then conquered Syria, Egypt and Arabia. This implied an increasing role of the Ottoman Turks in the Indian Ocean.
      • The sultan of Gujarat sent an embassy to the Ottoman ruler congratulating him on his victories, and seeking his support.
      • In return, the Ottoman ruler expressed a desire to combat the infidels, that is the Portuguese, who had disturbed the shores of Arabia.
      • From this time onwards, there was a continuous exchange of embassies and letters between the two countries.
      • After ousting the Portuguese from the Red Sea in 1529, a strong fleet under Sulaiman Rais was despatched to aid Bahadur Shah, the ruler of Gujarat.
        • Bahadur Shah received it well, and two of the Turkish officials, who were given Indian names, were appointed governors of Surat and Diu respectively.
        • Of these two, Rumi Khan was later to earn a great name for himself as a master-gunner.
    • In 1531, after intriguing with local officials, the Portuguese attacked Daman and Diu, but the Ottoman commander, Rumi Khan, repulsed the attack.
      • However, the Portuguese built a fort at Chaul lower down the coast.
    • The Turks made their biggest naval demonstration against the Portuguese in Indian waters in 1536.
      • Many of the sailors had been pressed into service from the Venetian galleys at Alexandria.
      • The fleet, commanded by Sulaiman Pasha, an old man of 82, who had been appointed the governor of Cairo, appeared before Diu in 1538 and besieged it.
      • Unfortunately, the Turkish admiral behaved in an arrogant manner so that the Sultan of Gujarat withdrew his support.
      • After a siege of two month, the Turkish fleet retired, following news of the arrival of a formidable Portuguese armada to relieve Diu.
    • Note:
      • The Turkish threat to the Portuguese persisted for another two decades.
        • Meanwhile, the Portuguese strengthened their position by securing Daman from its ruler.
        • A final Ottoman expedition was sent under Ali Rais in 1554.
        • The failure of these expeditions resulted in a change in the Turkish attitude.
        • In 1566, the Portuguese and the Ottomans came to an agreement to share the oriental trade, including spices, and not to clash in the Arab seas.
        • Following this, the Ottomans shifted their interest once again to Europe. This precluded a future alliance with the rising Mughal power and the Turks against the Portuguese.

Favourable Conditions for Portuguese

  • In India, excepting Gujarat, ruled by the powerful Mahmud Begarha (1458-1511), the northern part was much divided among many small powers.
  • In the Deccan, the Bahmani Kingdom was breaking up into smaller kingdoms.
  • None of the powers had a navy worth its name, nor did they think of developing their naval strength.
  • In the Far East, the imperial decree of the Chinese emperor limited the navigational reach of the Chinese ships.
  • As regards the Arab merchants and ship-owners who until then dominated the Indian Ocean trade, they had nothing to match the organisation and unity of the Portuguese.
  • Moreover, the Portuguese had cannons placed on their ships.
  • Why did Indian powers permit the domination of the Indian Ocean by a small, and economically backward state such as Portugal for more than a century
    • Technologically, the Indo-Arab boom and the Chinese junk could match the Portuguese galleons and caravelles in their strength, holding capacity for goods in view of its tonnage, and capacity to sail even in the face of the wind with their lateen (triangular) sail. They had sufficient nautical skills to travel on open seas.
    • Where the Portuguese were superior was the maneuvering capacity of their ships, the Indo-Arab ships being slow and clumsy on account of their heavy sails.
      • Also, the hulls of the Portuguese ships were stronger to withstand the shock of firing cannons.
    • But, it was above all the determination of the Portuguese sailors which decided the issue.
      • The Indians, more used to fighting pirates, had no stomach for fighting on sea, unbacked by their own rulers.
    • Thus, it was not military and naval technology alone, but a number of other factors which enabled the Portuguese to establish a naval domination over the Indian seas for more than a century.
      • The Indian powers reconciled themselves to this domination because it did not threaten their own political positions on the mainland.
      • Nor did it adversely effect their income from overseas trade.
      • Hence, the task of undertaking a naval conflict with the Portuguese appeared difficult, uncertain of success, and likely to yield little financial returns.

Religious Policy of the Portuguese

  • Portuguese brought with them the zeal to promote Christianity and the wish to persecute all Muslims.
  • Intolerant towards the Muslims, the Portuguese were initially quite tolerant towards the Hindus. However, over time, after the introduction of the Inquisition in Goa, there was a change and Hindus were also persecuted.
  • But, in spite of this intolerant behaviour, the Jesuits made a good impression at the court of Akbar, mainly due to the Mughal emperor’s interest in questions of theology.
    • In September 1579, Akbar forwarded a letter to the authorities at Goa requesting them to send two learned priests.
    • The Church authorities in Goa eagerly accepted the invitation, seeing in it a chance to convert the emperor to Christianity, and with him his court and the people.
    • Jesuit fathers, Rodolfo Aquaviva and Antonio Monserrate reached Fatehpur Sikri in 1580. They went back in 1583, belying the hopes the Portuguese entertained of Akbar’s conversion to the Christian faith.
  • Jesuit priests continued to be in contact with Mughal emperor even during Jahangir.

Portuguese Lose Favour with the Mughals:

  • In 1608, Captain William Hawkins with his ship Hector reached Surat. He brought with him a letter from James I, King of England, to the Mughal court of Jahangir requesting permission to do business in India.
    • The Portuguese authorities did their best to prevent Hawkins from reaching the Mughal court, but did not succeed.
    • Jahangir accepted the gifts Hawkins brought for him and gave Hawkins a very favourable reception in 1609.
    • As Hawkins knew the Turkish language well, he conversed with the emperor in that language without the aid of an interpreter.
    • Pleased with Hawkins, Jahangir appointed him as a Mansabdar of 400.
  • The grant of trading facilities to the English offended the Portuguese.
    • However, after negotiations, a truce was established between the Portuguese and the Mughal emperor.
  • The Portuguese stopped the English ships from entering the port of Surat. A baffled Hawkins left the Mughal court in 1611, unable to counter the Portuguese intrigues or check the vacillating Mughal policies.
  • However, in November 1612, the English ship Dragon under Captain Best successfully fought (The naval Battle of Swally) a Portuguese fleet.
    • Jahangir, who had no navy worth its name, learnt of the English success and was greatly impressed.
  • The Portuguese acts of piracy also resulted in conflict with the imperial Mughal government.
  • In 1613, the Portuguese offended Jahangir by capturing Mughal ships, imprisoning many Muslims, and plundering the cargoes. An enraged Jahangir ordered Muqarrab Khan, who was the then in charge of Surat, to obtain compensation.
  • However, it was during the reign of Shah Jahan, that the advantages which the Portuguese enjoyed in the Mughal court were lost forever.
  • Capture of Hooghly:
    • In 1579, the Portuguese had settled down on a river bank which was a short distance from Satgaon in Bengal to carry on their trading activities.
    • Over the years, they strengthened their position by constructing big buildings which led to the migration of the trade from Satgaon to the new port known as Hooghly.
    • They monopolised the manufacture of salt, built a custom house of their own and started enforcing strictly the levy of duty on tobacco, which had become an important article of trade since its introduction at the beginning of the 17th century.
    • The Portuguese not only made money as traders but also started a cruel slave trade by purchasing or seizing Hindu and Muslim children, whom they brought up as Christians.
      • In the course of their nefarious activities, they seized two slave girls of Mumtaz Mahal.
    • On June 24, 1632, the siege of Hooghly began, ending in its capture three months later. Shah Jahan ordered the Bengal governor Qasim Khan to take action against the Portuguese. A siege of Hooghly finally led to the Portuguese fleeing.
    • The Mughals suffered a loss of 1,000 men, but also took 400 prisoners to Agra. The prisoners were offered the option to convert to Islam or become slaves.
      • The persecution of Christians continued for some time after which it died down gradually.

Impact of the Portuguese on the Indian Trade

  • The Portuguese ended the era of unarmed open sea- trade in the Indian waters, and gave a big blow to the virtual Muslim monopoly of the trade in the western part of the Indian Ocean, and their trade of eastern goods to Europe.
  • Right from the time Portuguese arrived at Calicut, they had demanded that other merchants, Indian as well as foreign, should be ousted and a complete monopoly over trade be granted to them.
    • Portuguese ships equipped with arms and ammunition threatened other merchants and confiscated their merchandise and vessels. (beginning of armed trade)

Introduction of Cartaz system: 

  • In 1502, the Portuguese demanded an exclusive right over trade at Calicut to which the Zamorin, the king of Calicut, did not yield.
  • The Vasco da Gama declared war on all ships plying in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. He introduced an expedient under which those ships which carried a cartaz duly signed by the Portuguese authorities, namely the royal factor, were not to be attacked.
  • This certificate was first issued in 1502.
  • It was a sea-pass or trading license introduced by the Portuguese.
  • They declared trade in spices, drugs, dyes including indigo, copper, silver and gold, and arms & ammunition and war horses as royal monopoly.
    • Traders of no other country, whether in Asia or Europe, including Portuguese private traders and royal officials, were permitted to trade in these commodities.
  • Ships engaged in the trade of other commodities had to take a permit or cartaz from Portuguese officials.
  • Its aim was to control and enforce the Portuguese trade monopoly over a wide area in the Indian Ocean and to ensure that merchants paid the tax in Portuguese trading posts.
  • Indian merchants, rulers and all those engaged in maritime trade, had to take cartaz from the Portuguese.
  • While issuing such passes, it was specifically mentioned that monopoly items were not to be loaded on their ships.
  • Routes and destinations of such ships were also sought to be controlled.
    • The Portuguese attempted to force all ships going to the east or to Africa to pass by Goa and to pay custom duty there.
  • To enforce these rules, the Portuguese searched any ships suspected of engaging in trade without Cartaz or trade in monopolised commodities.
    • Any ship which was suspected of carrying “contraband” or banned goods, or which refused to be searched could be treated as a prize of war, and sunk or captured, and the men and women aboard treated as slaves.
  • Rulers like Akbar, and his successors, Nilam Shah of Ahmednagar, Adil Shah of Bijapur, kings of Cochin, the Zamorins of Calicut and the rulers of Cannanore purchased passes from the Portuguese to send their ships to various places.

Monopoly Trade:

  • When Portuguese arrived, merchants from various quarters of the world were found on the coastal regions of India engaged in trade and commerce.
    • As Vasco da Gama reported in 1498, there were merchants from Mecca, Tenasseri, Pegu, Ceylon, Turkey, Egypt, Persia, Ethiopia, Tunis and various parts of India at the port of Calicut.
    • It is well-known that Chinese merchants as well as merchants from the Red Sea areas used to frequent the Indian ports.
  • There is no record of any group of merchants demanding exclusive right of trade in general, nor of any attempt made to declare a few or all commodities set apart for anybody.
  • But, with the arrival of the Portuguese, this state of affairs underwent considerable change.
    • Kings were pressurised to forbid other merchants from trading with their ports.
    • Similarly, certain commodities were declared forbidden to be traded by others.
    • In other words, the Portuguese demanded monopoly of trade. The treaties concluded with the Indian rulers specifically mentioned this.
  • The setting up of Portuguese fortresses at strategic places, surveillance by their patrolling vessels, and the insistence on passes for other ships were the attempts made to establish monopoly of trade in Asian waters.

Trade of the Indian Rulers and Merchants:

  • The Portuguese attempts at establishing total monopoly did not bring about a situation in which trade conducted by the Indian rulers and merchants was totally uprooted.
    • The king of Cannanore, for instance, used to collect passes from the Portuguese to send his vessels laden with commodities to Cambay and Hormuz.
      • He imported horses from the above-mentioned places though this was identified by the Portuguese a monopoly item.
    • Sometimes such vessels ran the risk of being confiscated by the Portuguese.
    • The same was the case with the kings of Tanur, Challe and Calicut on the Malabar coast.
    • The nobles of Gujarat continued their trade despite the Portuguese monopoly.
    • Malik Gopi, Malik Ayaz, Khwaja Sofar and others interested in trade plied their ships with or without passes from the Portuguese.
  • Monopoly was not very effective:
    • The local and foreign merchants settled in India carried on their trade with or without cartaz.
    • The Portuguese soon found that they stood to lose more on land than gain on sea by continuing their practices, because traders who lost on sea put pressure on their governments to retaliate against Portuguese trade in their areas.
    • It was impossible to police trade along huge coasts of Asia.
    • Sea-pirates preying on Portuguese ships were active in areas such as Oman, Malabar, and South-East Asia, and Portuguese policies brought them greater encouragement and support from traders and small rulers.
    • It was estimated that out of the 60,000 quintals of pepper produced annually in the area between Calicut and Cape Comorin, only 15,000 quintals were delivered to the Portuguese factories and the remaining three-fourths were taken to other ports. This was termed illegal by the Portuguese.
    • The Portuguese were not willing to enhance the price of pepper agreed upon in 1503 even after several decades.
      • Hence, the producers of pepper did not have any alternative other than supplying it to the merchants who might buy it and send it to other centres of trade without the knowledge of the Portuguese.
    • The Arabs and Gujarati traders found ways to get around the Portuguese trade embargo and regulation.
    • Even Portuguese private traders were unhappy due to royal monopoly and Cartaz and royal officials who received small salary often bribed by private traders (Portuguese, Arabs, Gujarati etc).
    • Several Portuguese officials conducted their own private trade in various commodities without the knowledge of their government.
    • The Portuguese control over Indian ocean remained incomplete because of their failure to capture Aden and thereby control entry to the Red Sea.
      • The Turkish conquest of Syria, Egypt and Arabia, and the expansion of their naval power, both in the eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea, made it difficult for the Portuguese to effectively carry out their blockade of Bab-el-Mendel, the entrance to the Persian Gulf.
    • Portuguese monopoly was never effective in the Red Sea zone.
    • At the other end of the Indian Ocean, the Portuguese control even on the Spice Islands weakened.
      • The Portuguese had to contend with a naval power there willing to take on their warships. Using the traditional Javanese naval skills, Sumatra ruler, Sultan Ali Mughayat Shah was able to defeat the Portuguese in many naval skirmishes, and to capture large number of guns from the Portuguese to fortify Acheh.
      • He also approached the Ottoman Sultan for military equipment. The Ottomans supplied bronze guns of a calibre to enable Acheh in north Sumatra to withstand a siege.
      • This enabled Acheh to emerge as a major centre of the export of spices, in competition to Malacca which was under Portuguese control.
      • Arabs and Gujaratis who were well entrenched at Malacca, used Acheh as a centre for export of spices to the Red Sea via the Laccadives, thereby by-passing the Portuguese controlled Malabar waters.
    • Thus, important factors in limiting the success of the Portuguese were:
      • the structure of the Asian trade net-work;
      • the strength and resourcefulness of the Asian merchants, Arabs, Gujaratis, Tamils and others, who had long experience of operating the system;
      • the naval and military strength of Turkey and of the ruler of north Sumatra, and
      • the internal limitations of the Portuguese and of the working of the cartaz system in the Portuguese Empire of India (Estado da India).
  • The complete control over the oceanic trade by using Cartaz system did not succeed much and the rules regarding giving Cartaz to local traders had to be liberalized.
    • This included Muslims traders. Trade in horses which was exclusively in the hands of Muslims, was a highly profitable trade. It was also of great strategic importance to various rulers.
    • The Muslims were also active in trade in many other commodities, such as textile products, glass, aromatics and coffee in which the Portuguese had neither the money nor the ships to engage themselves.
    • Hence, the dictates of trade and profit soon overcame religious prejudices.
  • Portuguese effort to push out the Muslims from the trade in oriental goods, and to establish a Portuguese monopoly over the trade in West Asia had only limited success.
    • Thus, by the middle of the sixteenth century, in spite of the large volume of spices brought to Lisbon and marketed in Europe, mainly through Antwerp, the Black Sea ports and the markets of the Levant and Egypt were as well supplied with eastern goods—spices, dyes, and cotton and silk textiles as before.
  • The Portuguese used the Cartaz system to control over the oceanic trade though not completely until the other European powers like the Dutch and English made their appearances in the 17th century.

Limitation of Portugal:

  • Portugal itself was a small country, and though it had developed rapidly in the field of commerce, its financial resources were limited.
    • Thus, German and Italian merchants and merchant houses became the principal agents for distributing all over Europe the eastern goods brought to Lisbon by the Portuguese.
  • Demand in Asia for European goods which could be exchanged for purchase of pepper and other eastern goods was limited.
    • Hence, precious metals, especially silver had to be exported.
    • But unlike Spain, Portugal did not have the silver mines in America to fall back on, and had to depend heavily on Italian and German financiers.
  • The expectation of the Portuguese king that Portuguese control of the coastal trade of India would pay for the export of pepper and other eastern goods to Europe also remained a misnomer.
    • Hence, the Portuguese trade to Europe remained confined to only twelve to thirteen ships being sent each year from Lisbon to India.
    • However, this picture changed by the end of the 16th century.
  • The share of the private Portuguese traders in the Portuguese trade to Europe rose sharply, amounting to over 90 per cent of the total.
    • The additional cargo consisted mainly of textiles and precious stones.
    • The Portuguese private traders financed this trade by large scale involvement in Asian trade.
    • However, for the Portuguese government the Portuguese enterprise in the western part of the Indian Ocean remained largely a “redistributive enterprise”, i.e. its main source of income was taxing the trade of others rather than expanding trade, or opening up new lines of trade.
    • A real expansion of trade between Europe and the East had to await the coming of the Dutch and the English in the 17th century.

Success in Far East:

  • It was in the Far East that the Portuguese had some limited success in expanding trade and opening up new avenues.
  • They took over the export of textiles from the Coromondal Coast to the Indonesian Archipelago buying spices in exchange.
    • There was never any question of monopolising the trade in spices there, the Javanese and the Malays being active in the field.
  • The Portuguese carried spices to China, buying Chinese silk in exchange, and taking it to Japan in exchange for silver.
  • This exchange was very profitable because the Peking court had banned the Chinese from foreign trade for fear of piracy.
    • Hence, the Portuguese could step in.
  • Another avenue of trade which the Portuguese opened up was trade to south America via the Philippines.
    • There was a consistent demand for Indian cotton goods in the Philippines.
    • Since the Spanish rulers had banned Muslims and Protestants from trading with the Philippines, it gave a good opening to the Portuguese.
    • They also accommodated some Armenians and Gujaratis in the trade.
    • From the Philippines, Spanish galleons took the Indian textiles to South America where they were exchanged for silver.
  • The profits of the Far Eastern trade was so profitable that Portugal could afford to take a more relaxed stand on its pepper trade in the Indian Ocean.
  • Thus, the second half of the sixteenth century emerges as an era of growing partnership between the Portuguese and Asian merchants.
    • Many Arabs and Gujarati merchants found it more profitable to load their goods on Portuguese ships, while Portuguese private traders or officials used Asian ships to evade the royal monopolies.
Portuguese settlements in India
Portuguese India Armadas trade routes (blue) since Vasco da Gama 1498 travel and its rival Manila-Acapulco galleons and Spanish treasure fleets (white) established in 1568

Did Portuguese bring transparency in eastern trade?

  • Many argued that the Portuguese established transparency in the eastern trade by setting up a network of factories or warehouses in widely separated areas whereby markets and prices became more stabilised, hence transparent.
  • But Modern research does not support this argument.
  • Wide fluctuation in prices was a characteristic of pre-modern trade.
  • Also, Indian and Arab merchants knew the distinction between spot and future markets.
    • For spot markets, they had ware-houses which were necessary in order to get the best prices, buying when there was a glut, and selling when there was a shortage.
      • Coffee was an example of such a commodity.
    • But for fine textiles, and goods such as spices, the goods and prices had to be fixed in advance.
      • The Asians managed this through their own trade associations and family network.
  • The Portuguese tried to fix the prices of black pepper in advance by pressurising or giving inducements to local rulers in Malabar to supply pepper to them at fixed prices, leaving it to the ruler to procure the supplies through local traders, or to deal directly with the cultivators.
  • The Portuguese policy was unpopular because they tried to use political pressure to depress the prices paid to the cultivators, and of trying to prevent their competitors from bidding. Hence, any expansion of the production of spices was of little benefit to the cultivators.

Significance of the Portuguese

  • Contribution in political system:
    • Portuguese impact on the political system in Asia was small.
    • They were too few in numbers to try to capture and keep hold of any large territories on the mainland in India or elsewhere.
    • Hence, they wisely decided to keep their control confined to islands, and to forts on the coast which could be defended and supplied by sea.
      • The island of Goa, which became their seat of government, was a prime example of this.
    • Apart from this, they could, by threats and persuasions, induce rulers of small states, such as Calicut, Cochin, Craganore etc. to act as their agents or brokers in the spice trade.
    • The Portuguese set-up at Goa was controlled by a Governor-General, assisted by a Council which included the Ecclesiastical Head.
    • On account of their small numbers, the Portuguese encouraged mixed marriages and, in course of time, a new Indo-Portuguese or Goanese society came into being.
    • But the society and government itself was organised on rigid racial lines, people of pure Portuguese origin being at the head of the society, and people of mixed origins at the bottom. Nor were the latter given any share in political power.
    • The Church exercised on occasions the dreaded “auto da fe” or burning at the stake to root out heresy among Christians.
    • Thus, the contribution of the Portuguese in the field of politics or expansion of world trade remained negligible.
  • Significance of the Portuguese opening the direct sea-route to India:
    • It opened the way for India’s closer integration with the growing world economy, and contributed to the further growth of a market economy in India. It was also a blow to India’s “introspectiveness”.
    • Most historians have observed that the coming of the Portuguese not only initiated what might be called the European era, it marked the emergence of naval power.
      • The Cholas, among others, had been a naval power, but it was now for the first time a foreign power had come to India by way of the sea.
        • Note: the Portuguese were first among Europeans to come (in 1498) and last to leave (in 1961).
    • New trade links:
      • They established India’s trade links with Japan, Philippines, Latin America etc.
      • The Portuguese also paved the way for the advent of other European powers like Spain, Dutch, English, French etc.
  • Portuguese also introduced their coins Cruzado in Goa and their neighbouring areas and these coins were accepted in areas of Vijayanagar and Bahmani Kingdoms also.
  • Introduction of technology:
    • The Portuguese were masters of improved techniques at sea.
      • Under Portuguese supervision, ship-building, using western techniques, was started at Cochin.
      • Their multi-decked ships were heavily constructed, this permitted them to carry a heavier armament.
    • In the Malabar of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese showed military innovation in their use of body armour, matchlock men, and guns landed from the ships.
      • The Portuguese may have contributed by example to the Mughal use of field guns, and the ‘artillery of the stirrup’.
    • Some other technologies which had made an impact or had far-reaching effects, such as printing, clocks etc. though introduced in Goa, did not find acceptance on the mainland.
  • They are also known for building new roads and irrigation works.
  • Contribution in agriculture:
    • Many products of the Latin American world—Maize, potato, corn, pineapple, Tobacco, chilli entered the Indian rural economy, just as new breeds of fruits had come in the wake of the Turks.
    • Out of these, Tobacco became a major trade item.
    • Other plants introduced by Portuguese:
      • Papaya (first cultivated in Mexico),
      • Cashew (native to Brazil),
      • Guava(native to Central and South America).
    • The quality of mango and citrus fruits was greatly improved.
    • Better plantation varieties of coconut was introduced besides planting large groves.
    • Thus, the Indian peasant was not allergic to accepting new products if it meant a profit for him.
  • Cultural contribution:
    • The missionaries and the Church were also teachers and patrons in India of the arts of the painter, carver, and sculptor.
    • As in music, they were the interpreters, not just of Portuguese, but of European art to India.

Decline of the Portuguese

  • By the 18th century, the Portuguese in India lost their commercial influence, though some of them still carried on trade in their individual capacity and many took to piracy and robbery.
    • In fact, Hooghly was used by some Portuguese as a base for piracy in the Bay of Bengal.
  • The decline of the Portuguese was brought about by several factors.
    • The local advantages gained by the Portuguese in India were reduced with the emergence of powerful dynasties in Egypt, Persia and North India and the rise of the turbulent Marathas as their immediate neighbours. (The Marathas captured Salsette and Bassein in 1739 from the Portuguese.)
    • The religious policies of the Portuguese, such as the activities of the Jesuits, gave rise to political fears. Their antagonism for the Muslims apart, the Portuguese policy of conversion to Christianity made Hindus also resentful.
    • Their dishonest trade practices also evoked a strong reaction. The Portuguese earned notoriety as sea pirates.
    • Their arrogance and violence brought them the animosity of the rulers of small states and the imperial Mughals as well.
    • The discovery of Brazil diverted colonising activities of Portugal to the West.
    • The union of the two kingdoms of Spain and Portugal in 1580-81, dragging the smaller kingdom into Spain’s wars with England and Holland, badly affected Portuguese monopoly of trade in India.
    • The earlier monopoly of knowledge of the sea route to India held by the Portuguese could not remain a secret forever; soon enough the Dutch and the English, who were learning the skills of ocean navigation, also learnt of it.
      • As new trading communities from Europe arrived in India, there began a fierce rivalry among them. In this struggle, the Portuguese had to give way to the more powerful and enterprising competitors.
      • The Dutch and the English had greater resources and more compulsions to expand overseas, and they overcame the Portuguese resistance.
      • Goa which remained with the Portuguese had lost its importance as a port after the fall of the Vijayanagara empire and soon it did not matter in whose possession it was.

Leave a Reply