Here are some infos about the military history of Portugal and how this little country which had only 1 million inhabitants became one of the largest empires of history. You'll get many informations about the military innovations which made the portuguese empire. Portuguese history and power is linked to the templars because they survived a long time in portugal after the french chased them. You'll get many interesting infos and some visuals about medieval portuguese units. Warning : english isn't my native language so be kind ;D!
During Middle age Islamic dominance was set in the iberian peninsula by the Umayyad. The remote northern regions managed to resist and asked for help. The western crusades were called the reconquista. It was principally french and german knights which came to deliver Hispania. One french family played a big role in this, it was the house of burgondy which was at the time even more powerfull than the king of france. Henry of burgondy came to help and was made count of portugal and a vassal of the king Catilla and leon, Alphonso VI. His son Henry the conqueror rebelled and decided to proclaim himself king of Portugal. After winning many battles Portugal became officialy a kingdom in 1143.
Because Henri of burgondy was the youngest son oft he burgonds he had not a lot of chances to get heritage. That’s one of the reasons Portugal remained a poor country during the early and mid middle ages.
After the Reconquista, Spain wanted to conquer Portugal in numberous occasions. However portuguese nobility was able to negotiate through weedings the independance and sovereignty of Portugal avoiding many conflicts.
In 1309 a good part of the remaining templars came to Portugal. The king of Portugal accepted them at the condition that they would protect the kingdom and would contribute financially to the court. Tomar was given to the templars and it became the last base of the templars. The order evolved into the order of christ.
Before the templars came to Portugal the kingdom was called kingdom of Portucale. However after the templars came, it became to be called Portugal. Some portuguese historians believe that when the templars came they brought with them their treasure and the graal. That’s the reason why portucale became Portugraal or Portugal.
In 1385 Portugal had no Heir. The kingdom had a big issue… In the past they married the main royal family to the spanish royal family to keep peace. The king of Spain declared that he was the heir of Portugal and that he wanted to claim his lands. Portuguese nobility didn’t accept it at all and fought for independance. The battle of Aljubarrota was fought and portuguese won one of the craziest battles of the middle ages. They won a 6600 men battle against 31000 men. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Aljubarrota
Portuguese during the early middle ages really lacked military power because of numbers and they lacqued heavy cavalry and infantry. However to compensate they used to have elite squadrons coming from military orders. Those were highly trained, had a lot of experience and had the best equipment of their time. They would flank and open breachs for the rest of the army. Those were men from the templar order, The portuguese Avis order, the order of santiago and finally the order of christ. The most unique military unit portuguese had not to mention military orders was the portuguese nobles. Those were a very effective melee cavalry made of portuguese nobility which fought with a mace and a shield. They fough on foot too and were very effective against heavily armored ennemies.
Here are some pictures of the military uniforms of each order :http://portugalmilitar.blogspot.com/search/label/José Garcês. Armaduras. Uniformes
Here are the portuguese Nobles :https://c8.alamy.com/comp/M9B4AK/medieval-knight-14th-century-portugal-portuguese-knight-buried-in-the-ferreiros-chapel-oliveira-do-hospital-domingos-joanes-helmet-chain-mail-sword-pointed-footwear-with-spurs-heraldic-device-emblazoned-on-the-shield-M9B4AK.jpghttps://i.pinimg.com/originals/69/24/69/692469bf98c80866af232021899f859f.jpg
Now we are entering the golden age of portugal which was during late middle ages (1400-1600).
What you have to know is that Henry the Navigator made something very special for its time.
He created a Naval School/University in Sagres which gathered a lot of specialists from around the world. In fact it was the first international school making research about maritime exploration.
Creating such a school was extremely expensive at the time. Portugal wasn't a rich country however it became the housing of the remaining templar knights.
Those were extremly rich and powerful. Henry the Navigator was a member of the order and the templars funded his new schools.
The order of the temple was renamed the order of christ and that's the reason portuguese ships have the red cross.
The origins of the caravel were portuguese fishing boats which were exceptionnaly good at sailing the coast of the atlantic sea. Portuguese shipmakers tried to improved it and asked advices from Venetians and Byzantine shipmakers which decided to move to the new shcools.
The improvements made by the portuguese made them famous all around europe, they were considered as the master ship builders of their time. If you wanted to make a new expedition against the ottomans you should send your shipbuilders study in portugal.
Many Ducs and kings sent a lot of men study there. For example a lot of Burgonds, Spanish, Venetians, and english men were sent studying there. The house of burgond made a lot of studies there because the portuguese nobility was originally from burgondy and because Burgonds made a lot of campains against the turks. England had an old alliance with portuguese which helped them a lot too.
Doctor Rainer Daehnhardt says that portuguese introduced heavy artillery on boats while in medieval times people thought that using a big canon on a ship would make it capsize. Henri the navigator was the first to recomment testing of heavy artillery on ships (small canons were already used on ships but not heavy artillery).
Portuguese used 3 kinds of bullets and canon balls. Stone because it was cheap and if you had a stonecutter in your ship it was easy to resupply amo. Iron was used but had logistic disaventages because of the manufacturing process. Lead was the inbetween because it wasn't this difficult to manufacture.
Portuguese artillery was develloped by renown German engineers. Those were poorly paid by the elites of the Holy roman empire. With the money of the templars, portuguese offered better living conditions to those. They moved to portugal, some of them married portuguese women and their sons continued to develop portuguese artillery. This was a long term process.
the king Dom Joao 2 was well aware of the turk fortresses canonballs making sometimes ricochets and having devestating effects on ships. He asked himself if it was possible to do the same thing from a ship. Studies on the positioning of the canons were made to ensure that the cannonbal would ricochet each time and this technique was developped for ships.
Portuguese had a big issue. They wanted to conquer new lands for gold and ressources, however they lacked population. In fact portugal during those times had barely 1 milion in terms of population while spain was at 9 milions, kingdom of france had 19 millions, England had 3 millions, the ottoman empire had 11 millions.
In fact portugal was a dwarf in the middle of Giant and rich kingdoms.
So portuguese had to develop new fighting methods which had to be very efficient. They had to develop new technologies and non conventionnal ways of fighting otherwise their dream of being big would never become reality.
Those Naval schools helped a lot portuguese. Why ? because usually War galleys and carracks had the soldiers plus the navigators. The portuguese schools taught soldiers how to be sailors and navigators so they were versatile. You wouldn't lose military power for transportation needs now.
Because portuguese lacked numbers they began to use breech-loading swivel guns. Swivel guns were small canons wich you could quickly reload. However because the cannon wasn't totally hermetic you lose a lot of power compared to a classic casted on piece canon. Portuguese didn't invented swivel guns, however they were one of the first countries to use iron for mass production.
Portuguese were drilled to use those. A venetian monk said that the time needed for a turkish canon to fire one shot the portuguese had already fired 6 shots. However portuguese needed fast and powerfull guns. High class Portuguese boats usually had around 100 of those one board.
One example of the advanced tech superiority was the battle of Ormuz when 3 portuguese ships defeated 50 heavily armed merchant ships and 200 light ships.
Doctor Rainer Daehnhardt tested portuguese and turkish naval artillery of the same era (not ground artillery). Portuguese breech-loading swivel guns had a range of 1800 meters while turkish canons on the ships had a range of 700 meters. So how did the portuguese managed to get higher range with their swivel guns in comparison with the one piece hermetic turkish canons ?
So here is the biggest secret of the portuguese military succes between 1500-1600. Very few historians know this and i’ll say it is one the best kept military portuguese secret. Portuguese knew that breech-loading swivel guns were the solution to the fact they were less numerous. They needed high firing rate however they had to keep the power of a traditional canon.
Portuguese invented the bimetalic cannon ball. They made a squared iron ball and they casted over it a round layer of lead. They made this bimetalic cannon ball wider than the cannon muzzel. The caliber of the cannon ball was bigger than the one of the cannon. Why did they do this ? Its simple lead is malleable. Despite the cannonball being too large they forced it into the cannon.
Because the cannonball was too large it created a huge amount of pressure. When the cannon fired the lead melted and allowed the squared iron ball to fire with unusual high pressure. What made it very efficient is that this invention allowed tiny cannonbals to make more damage than the common sized cannonballs. And what was what increditble is that it could even outrange hermetic closed cannons. However there was some dangers in this technology because if the cannonball was a little bit too wide the cannon could completely explose and kill many men. That happned many times however the efficiency of those was too great to be neglected. https://image.noelshack.com/fichiers/2019/24/3/1560304730-chumbo.png
Some of those inventions were totally secret which means only high officials and the royal family knew about them. Portuguese soldiers viewed those canonballs just as usual lead cannonballs and if they learnt about the process of manufacture of those they would keep it a secret. Portuguese ennemies tried to duplicate the technology however they only found squared iron blocks and never guessed about de lead layer. Even if they found the lead layer they never thought about the calliber differences.
One upgrade that portuguese made was on their arquebuses. They used common german style arquebuses however with the rain and the wind on the seas it was difficult to keep the fuse alive. As a solution, portuguese invented the use of silex on the arquebuses 70 years before it was spread and massively used in europe.
Germans invented the early prototypes of arquebus that’s the reason of why portuguese invited a lot of german master gunsmiths to live in Lisbon. Which is interesting is that those germans improved their work because of the needs and issues the portuguese encountered. They invented high quality rotating barrel arquebuses. Some of those weapons might look like pure absurdity, however portuguese were not a lot in terms of numbers. They needed fast reloading weapons. Because master Luso-German gunsmiths had good relations with germany they could order high and very specialised arquebuses. Because of those connections the new inventions from germany always reached quickly Portugal. Despite portugal being a little country not that powerfull, During 1500 to 1600, Portugal had the best artillery of the world and some of the best quality firearms manufactures in the world (1st being German/holy roman empire). Spain with Charles the Fifth and Portugal had a lot of contacts in the Holy Roman Empire which helped them a lot.
Here is a reconstitution of Holy catherine of mount sinai which was considered the most powerfull ship of it’s time :https://i.pinimg.com/originals/c9/88/4c/c9884cc6625f47beb636012255cbc7cd.jpg
It was a water fortress with a big amount of cannons.
Hope you learnt something and enjoyed a little bit of history =D !