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Portugal’s main goals in seeking territory in Africa – territory that it colonized and exploited for hundreds of years – were largely the same as those of other imperialist European countries. During the height of Portugal’s colonization of Africa, specifically, the territories known today as Mozambique, Angola, Guinea, the Canary Islands, and the Azores, during the 15th and 16th Centuries, the Portuguese Crown, first under King John I and continued by his successors, sought the riches that Africa offered, particularly the lucrative spice trade, but also fabrics and the gold, diamonds, silver and other precious minerals that the African continent possessed in abundance. In addition to these pecuniary considerations, Portugal sought colonies in Africa for the prestige that accompanied empire, and to spread Christianity to the indigenous tribes of Eastern and Southern Africa. Smaller and militarily weaker than the other colonial powers that would compete for territory and riches on the African continent, Portugal would find itself engaged in a series of conflicts with France, Britain and with the Dutch over lucrative regions.
Portugal was among the more technologically-advanced and learned societies in Europe during the period in question, and its explorations and colonial conquests were made possible by the superior shipbuilding map making and navigational skills it possessed. These advantages enabled it to exploit African territories sooner than most other colonial powers, but the very geographic characteristics that protected it from the plague and from interference from its neighbors – excepting, of course, its close relationship with Spain – served to limit its power and influence as the competition for colonies intensified. Portugal’s main goals, however, were wealth, prestige, the spread of Catholicism, and the linkages African ports provided en route to Asia.
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