San José State University
Department of Economics

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Thayer Watkins
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The Economic History and
the Economy of Portugal

The Origins of Portugal

The modern nation of Portugal had its origins in the northwest of region of what is now Spain; i.e., Galicia and Asturias. The Moslem conquest of Iberia had defeated the Visigothic kingdoms of the south and the Christians who fled to the still-Christian mountains of the north dreamed and plotted the reconquest of Iberia. And they passed this dream on to their descendants.

The areas of Iberia under Moslem control prospered with the introduction of new crops, new agricultural methods and efficient administration. Islamic rulers also promoted learning and scholarship. But along with the prosperity came dissension and strife among the factions of the Moslems. Arab, Syrian and North African factions struggled with each other for political dominance.

However, the conflict between the Moslems and Christians continued. The area between the Douro and Minho Rivers in the west became a battleground in the struggle. The Christian effort at reconquest ebbed and flowed, but by 868 AD Christian forces had captured Cale, the old Roman fort which controlled the crossing of the Douro River. The name of the region, Port of Cale, is the origin of the name Portugal.

At the time, the reconquered territories were part of the Kingdom of Leon, but linguistically that part of Iberia was distinct from Castile and Leon. Portuguese is virtually identical to the language of Galicia, the northwest corner of Iberia.

Alfonso VI of Leon made the region of Portucale part of the dowry of his daughter Teresa when she married Henri, a French Burgundian knight fighting for the Reconquest. Henri was a count but upon his death in 1112 Teresa began calling herself queen. She subsequently married a Galician nobleman. This Galician tie alienated the noblemen of Portucale and they supported Teresa's son by Henri, Alfonso Henrique, for the kingship of Portucale.

In 1128 Prince Alfonso Henrique captured his mother and her husband and exiled them to the area south of the Minhos River. But Alfonso Henrique not only rebelled against his mother, he rebelled against the authority of the King of Casilla-Leon. After a significant victory over Moslem forces at Campo de Ourique, Alfonso Henrique began to call himself king. In 1143 Alfonso Henrique requested from the Pope the recognition of Portucale as a vassal state of the Vatican and thus independent of Casilla-Leon. The request was subsequently granted. Thus the modern nation of Portugal emerged separate from Spain.

(To be continued.)


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