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The Portuguese Empire was one of the earliest overseas empires. Hemmed in territorially on all sides by territories controlled by Castile, Portugal had nowhere to expand besides seawards. This resulted in the first and largest colonial empire of the 16th century.
Creation through 1600
Throughout the 15th century, Portuguese ships organized by Henry the Navigator explored the West coast of Africa, mapping the territory and pursuing trade, particularly in gold and slaves. By 1487, Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and in 1498 Vasco da Gama reached India and established the first Portuguese outposts there. The discovery of the sea route around Africa to India and the rest of Asia opened enormous opportunities to trade for Portugal, and Portugal moved aggressively to establish both trade outposts and fortified bases to control this trade.
In East Africa, small Islamic states along the coast of Mozambique, Kilwa, Brava and Mombasa were destroyed or became subjects or allies of Portugal. Pedro de Covilha had reached Abyssinia as early as 1490. In the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, one of Pedro Álvares Cabral's ships discovered Madagascar, which was partly explored by Trista da Cunha (1507); Mauritius was discovered in 1507, Socotra occupied in 1506, and in the same year D. Lourenço d'Almeida visited Ceylon.
In the East, Portugal established trading ports at far-flung locations like Goa, Malacca, the Maluku Islands, Macau, and Nagasaki. Guarding its trade jealously from both European and Asian competitors, Portugal dominated not only the trade between Asia and Europe, but also much of the trade among different regions of Asia, such as India, Indonesia, China, and Nihon. Jesuit missionaries followed the Portuguese to spread Roman Catholic Christianity to Asia with mixed success.
Brasil was discovered in 1500 by Pedro Álvares Cabral. Although initially less important, The Brasilian colonies would become the most important colonies of the empire, from which Portugal gathered resources such as gold, precious stones, sugarcane, coffee and other cash crops.