Imperial Portugal and European Printing:
Propaganda, Epics, and the Writing of History


Portuguese historiography throughout the sixteenth century—royal and personal chronicles, as well as epic works—was very much shaped by the imperial atmosphere of the kingdom. Some of those authors and books achieved a considerable European following; João de Barros, Fernão Lopes de Castanheda, and André de Resende are telling examples, not to mention the celebrated Luís de Camões, author of Os Lusíadas (1572).  But many decades before the publication of Camões’s long epic poem on the voyage of Vasco da Gama (1497-1499) and the destiny of Portugal, European monarchs and other decision-makers had already understood the political uses of the Discoveries. Selected news and propaganda about Portuguese explorations were published in diverse languages (primarily Latin) and cities (chiefly Rome, the diplomatic center of Christianity), greatly enhancing the image of Portugal and its rulers at the dawn of the sixteenth century. João II (r. 1481-1495) and Manuel I (r. 1495-1521) were skillful creators of a strategy that consisted of a powerful combination of propaganda and ethnography, oratory and spectacle, and word and image.

37.  Dom Fernando de Almeida, Ad Alexandrum vi Pont. Max. Ferd: de Almeida electi Ecclesiae Septiñ: & Sereniss: Io. II. Regis portugallie oratoris oratio, Rome, 1493.

Alexander VI succeeded Innocent VII as Pope in 1492, and the text of Lucena's oration of obedience was reprinted in Rome for the occasion. King João II decided to send Dom Fernando de Almeida to Rome in order to deliver a Latin oration to the newly elected Pope as well. It was a tense moment, however.  Columbus had just returned from his first voyage, the newly elected Pope, Alexander VI, was Spanish, and the papal bull Inter caetera (1493) recognized the Catholic king's extensive claims to New World territory. The text presented in Rome by Almeida in 1493, shown here, is regarded as a political response to this difficult situation and a prelude to the Treaty of Tordesillas, signed between Portugal and Spain in 1494. JF


38.  Vasco Fernandes de Lucena, Valasci Ferdinandi vtriusque iuris consulti illustrissimi regis Portugallie oratoris ad Innocentium octauum pontificem maximum de obedientia oratio, Rome, 1485.

King João II (r. 1481-1495) viewed the election of a new Pope in 1485 as the perfect opportunity to inform Europe about Portuguese overseas achievements. As a result, the Andalucian Vasco Fernandes de Lucena was chosen to travel to Rome and deliver a Latin oration of obedience to Innocent VIII. This oration, which was also intended to impress the cardinals of the Consistory as well as the ambassadors of different European monarchs, was printed that same year in Rome. Lucena's oration recalled the Crown’s services to Christianity against Islam, but the most interesting section of the text relates to the Portuguese exploration of West Africa. Here, the King of Portugal, now titled “Lord of Guinea,” announces that navigation between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean was possible and that the Portuguese were very close to entering the “Arabic Gulf.” JF


39.  Dom Manuel I, Serenissimi Emanuelis Portugallie Regis ad Julium II, Rome, 1508.

King Manuel I (r. 1495-1521) followed and enhanced his predecessor’s strategy of informing Europe, via the Pope and Rome, about Portuguese overseas achievements. In the Epistola serenissimi (September 25, 1507), Dom Manuel had announced to the world the “conquest” of the mythical Tapobrane (Ceylon) from the “Saracens.” Pope Julius II was impressed and thought of bestowing a title on the Portuguese king in the manner of the Spanish, “Catholic,” and the French, “Most Christian,” monarchs. The lettershown here is another example of Manueline propaganda. It focuses upon East Africa (where Muslim rulers were becoming Portuguese tributaries), the Red Sea (especially the island of Soqotra, which was populated by thousands of Christians), and the important Persian Gulf port of Hormuz. JF


40.  Dom Manuel I, Epistola potentissimi ac inuictissimi Emanuelis Regis Portugalie, Rome, 1513.

In this letter dated June 1513, King Manuel informs the newly elected Pope Leo X about the conquest of Malacca (identified with the legendary Aurea Chersonesum) by Governor Afonso de Albuquerque in July, 1511. The original letter was written in Portuguese, but it was not long before it was translated into Latin and became a “best-seller.” Twenty-four Latin editions were published in six different European cities during the sixteenth century, along with versions in Italian, German, Dutch, and French. In the letter, Malacca is presented as a heavily populated, extraordinarily rich city, a cosmopolitan gateway linked to the main trading centers of Asia and home to affluent merchants from far and wide. JF


41. Europeans meet American Amazons in Amérigo Vespucci, Von der new gefunnde[n] Region die wol ein Welt genennt mag werden, durch den cristenlichen Künig von Portugall, wunnderbarlich erfunden, Basel, 1505.

In his Mundus Novus, Amérigo Vespucci first announced in print that the newly discovered lands formed a previously unknown continent.  Addressed to Lorenzo di Pier Francesco de Medici, Vespucci's report on the New World, namely Brazil, provided both novelty and entertainment for contemporary readers, as the fifty editions of this letter prove. The German title communicates the most important message—About the new region that might be called a New World, marvellously discovered by the Christian King of Portugal.  The cavalier shown in this Basel edition of 1505 can easily be identified with Dom Manuel I, King of Portugal. Dressed in armour and holding a heraldic shield, the king personifies not only the ideals of chivalry, but also leadership of the European Christian community and organizer of overseas discoveries. MSL


42.  Dom Manuel I, Gesta Proxime per Portugalenses in India, Nuremberg, 1507.

The news about the discovery of a sea-route to India was received with great enthusiasm in Europe. Among the numerous contemporary pamphlets published on the subject, the letters written by King Manuel, especially this letter addressed to the influential Cardinal Dom Jorge da Costa, were widely disseminated across Europe. The Portuguese king describes Calicut as the main trading point in India for spices, amber, musk, pearls, rubies, and many other rarities. He also announced the discovery of Taprobane: "The isle of Taprobana that is called Ceylon, is situated at about more or less 150 miles from Calecute and it takes three days by ship to reach it from the mainland." This news heralded an important change in European patterns of trade, and the Portuguese overseas enterprise would soon exercise a strong influence as it was realized that the sea-route to India opened new areas of commerce that could not be neglected. There was a great deal of interest in the Portuguese discoveries in several German cities, as this pamphlet published in Nüremberg in 1507 demonstrates. MSL



43.  Balthasar Springer, Die reyse van Lissebone om te vare[n]na obsem eyelandt Naguarir in groot Indien gheleghen voor bi Callicuten, Antwerp, 1508.

Balthasar Springer, a commercial agent for the German trading houses of Welser and Fugger, held a special contract with the Portuguese Crown.  He sailed with the India fleet commanded by Dom Francisco de Almeida in 1505 and wrote a diary of the voyage that first circulated in manuscript and was later printed. In the first edition of 1508 his text was accompanied by splendid illustrations, most of them by Hans Burgkmair. Some of the images in this edition—such as the famous representation of Portuguese ships—had appeared earlier in other publications, namely on the title page of an edition of Vespucci's account of the "New World."  For this reason Springer's text about the East was often confused with Vespucci’s text about the West.  Although Asia, Africa, and America were geographically distant from one another, they were connected by their novelty and exotism. Unsurprisingly, the very same engraving could be used in the early sixteenth century to illustrate the New World as described by Vespucci as well as the unknown lands visited by Springer on his voyage to India. MSL

44.  André de Resende, Epitome rerum gestarum in India a Lusitanis, Louvain, 1531.

André de Resende was born in Évora around 1493. After studying at the Spanish universities of Alcala de Henares and Salamanca, he traveled throughout Europe and established contacts with many renowned humanists. He settled at Louvain from 1528 to 1531, where he published his Epitome, the first work in Latin dedicated to Portuguese overseas expansion. Since 1529, when Suleyman II laid siege to Vienna, the Ottoman Turks had been seen throughout Europe as a strong menace to Christianity. Nuno da Cunha, governor of the Portuguese Estado da Índia, had recently sent an expedition to the Red Sea against this threat and André de Resende was asked to write an account of this military operation.  Resende somehow acquired a copy of news reports sent from India to Lisbon, and from Lisbon to the Portuguese factory in Antwerp, and translated them into cultivated Latin.  This Louvain edition circulated widely and another edition was published that same year in Cologne, Germany.  RML


45.  António de Castilho, Comentario do cerco de Goa e Chaul no anno de M.D.LXX. visorey dom Luis de Ataide, Lisbon, 1573.

This work is an interesting example of the so-called “siege literature” of the Portuguese empire, exemplified by Diogo de Teive’s earlier Commentarius de Rebus in India apud Dium, (Coimbra, 1548). The author of the Comentario shown here is the jurist António de Castilho (d. 1596?), who focused on the Portuguese military deeds and ultimate victory in the simultaneous sieges in 1570 of Goa and Chaul, planned by the sultans of Bijapur and Ahmadnagar. Perhaps referring to Castilho’s Comentario, King Sebastian (r. 1557-1578, in a letter addressed to the city of Goa dated March 1573, states that he has ordered the history of the sieges to be written, “so that it could be printed and publicized all over the world.” JF


46.  Garcia de Resende, Chronica dos valerosos e insignes feitos del rey Dom João II, Lisbon, 1622.

In his Chronicle of João II, the” Perfect Prince,” the courtier, poet, and chronicler, Garcia de Resende presents the first literary and psychological portrait of a Portuguese king. Instead of writing a traditional history of the reign, Resende, a writer of enormous literary skill, offers an admiring, intimate description of the man and the monarch. The Chronicle is especially valuable as a microhistory of court society observed and criticized from the inside. As a close, personal, life-long friend of João II, Resende endeavored to celebrate and honor the memory of the king while also investigating the themes of the changing values, mentalities, and material culture in Portugal initiated by exploration and expansion. This edition was heavily edited by censors sensitive to the author's numerous derogatory statements about Spain. Those passages were typically rewritten to provide a positive reading completely at odds with the Resende’s original purpose and meaning. MP


47. Sebastião I, king of Portugal, in Pédro de Mariz de Sousa Sarmento, Dialogos de varia historia..., Coimbra, 1594.

Mariz dedicated his life to books. He gained early experience in typography by working with his father, António de Mariz, who was publisher to the prestigious University of Coimbra. Pedro de Mariz received his degree from there as well, and secured a prominent post at the university’s outstanding library. He developed an interest in poetry and history but was particularly fascinated by personal narratives and biography. His colorful, biographical conception of history was expressed to magnificent effect in his major work, appropriately titled, Diálogos de vária história, published by his father. It is the first book in Portugal to include engraved copperplate portraits to accompany the lives of rulers. MP


48.  Damião de Góis, Chronica do felicissimo rei Dom Manuel, Lisbon, 1566-1567.

Raised at the court of Manuel I, Góis spent over twenty years in northern Europe and Italy in service to the crown. He returned to Portugal to direct the national archives, a position that gave him privileged access to documents he needed to write his chronicle of the reign of Manuel I. Although Góis preferred to use official papers, eye-witness testimony, or his own first-hand observation, he relied extensively on the chronicles of Barros and Castanheda for information on events in Africa and Asia. Indeed, this is the first chronicle of a Portuguese king that explicitly constructs the history of a reign around the dominant themes of overseas expansion and conquest. The author's strict adherence to chronology means that the narrative sometimes lacks focus and moves confusingly back and forth across vast geographical areas, addressing events rather than the specific achievements or careers of individuals. Thus, the figure of the king becomes secondary to the glorious and honorable feats realized by others during his reign. Góis was criticized for his wholly secular conception and elaboration of history and for his rigorous standards of distributing praise and blame based on merit alone, a practice that won him powerful enemies who felt the chronicle should have been a vehicle for flattery and adulation. MP



49. Brás de Albuquerque, Commentarios do Grande Afonso de Albuquerque, Lisbon, 1576.

Brás de Albuquerque, the son of Afonso de Albuquerque, set out to glorify his father’s career as governor of India (1509-15), hoping to restore his reputation as a great Portuguese hero responsible for the creation of the Estado da Índia through the construction of key fortresses, the conquest of strategic ports, and his inspired, high-level diplomacy. The son felt that his father’s brilliance had not been adequately emphasized in the chronicles of Barros, Castanheda, and Góis, and his response was the Commentarios, a lengthy, coherent narrative based on his father’s correspondence with King Manuel I.  It is the earliest use of letters as a historical source in Portuguese historiography and Brás radically transformed this mass of material into a heroic biography, providing both a detailed record and an interpretation of Afonso’s career. Brás modeled the form and content of his work on accounts of Julius Caesar's reign. As a leader, general, strategist, and writer, Afonso was portrayed as a "Christian Caesar" or as the "Caesar of the East." The Commentaries were first published in 1557. This second edition of 1576 represents a complete rewriting of the text with Bras's single-minded focus on establishing his father’s greatness, best indicated by the change in title that adds the simple epithet, “do grande,” implying that his heroic stature was innate. MP


50. Seige of Diu [Dio], formerly part of Portuguese India, in Jacinto Freire de Andrada, The life of Dom John de Castro, the fourth vice-roy of India, London, 1664.

Dom João de Castro (1500-1548), governor and fourth viceroy of India, was celebrated as the great military leader of Portugal who led the Estado da Índia to the apex of its power. His improbable victory over monsoon winds and Muslim forces at the second siege of Diu (1546) was championed by the crown in numerous official publications in Latin, Italian, and French. Contributing to this infectious, enduring cult of personality, Jacinto Freire de Andrada (1597-1657) published a biography in 1651. This was translated into English in 1664 by Peter Wyche, a testimony to the international fascination surrounding this remarkable figure. MP


51. Naval battle off Khambhat, India, in Fernão Lopes de Castanheda, Historia do Descobrimento & conquista da India pelos Portugueses, book 1, Coimbra, 1551.


52.  Fernão Lopes de Castanheda, Histoire de Portugal, contenant les entreprises, nauigations, & gestes memorables des Portugallois, tant en la conqueste des Indes Orientales par eux descouuertes, Paris, 1581.

Fernão Lopes de Castanheda’s History of the Portuguese Discovery and Conquest of India ranks among the most important chronicles of early Portuguese expansion in Asia. The author (d. 1559) left his country as a young man in 1528 to serve as a scribe in Goa. After returning to Portugal in 1538, he became an administrative officer at the University of Coimbra, where he remained until his death. Making use of his rich personal experience and of knowledge gathered from documents and eye-witness accounts from Goa, Castanheda set out to write a chronicle of the Portuguese deeds in Asia beginning with the voyage of Vasco da Gama. His work, divided into ten books covering roughly five years each, is less marked by humanistic conventions than other works of the day, although Castanheda does cite classical authors, and his ethno-geographical descriptions are generally more vivid, though less polished, than those in Barros’ Asia. The first book of the Historia, dealing with events from 1497 to 1504, was printed in Coimbra in 1551. Only a few copies of this edition survive, and a corrected version was issued in 1554. Castanheda’s Historia was among the most widely circulated and translated Portuguese chronicles. The French adaptation shown here, prepared by Simon Goulart and printed in Paris in 1581, includes a translation of Jerónimo Osorio’s De Rebus Emmanuelis Gestis (1571). There were also Castilian, German, and English translations of Castanheda in the sixteenth century. ZB

53.  Portrait of João de Barros, in Manoel Severim de Faria, Discvrsos varios politicos ... , Evora, 1624.  

54.  João de Barros, L’Asia, Venice, 1561.

João de Barros (c.1496-1570), court Humanist and chief administrator of the Casa da Índia at Lisbon, wrote a number of successful works including a chivalric romance, Clarimundo, and several treatises on Portuguese grammar, morals, and related subjects. His magnum opus, Da Ásia, is generally referred to as Décadas da Ásia, because it follows the structure of Livy’s Decades of the Roman Empire. Barros was one of the first Europeans to develop an interest in Asian history and geography, and in his writing he made use of a wide array of sources he had gathered together in his office, as he never traveled abroad. These included books purchased in the East by agents of the Portuguese crown—Arabic and Persian chronicles, Chinese geographical works, and Indian palm leaf manuscripts. Although Barros's annotated copy of Ptolemy's Geografia has been lost, a number of his elaborate ethno-geographic descriptions survive in  Ásia.  In contrast with Castanheda, Barros styled himself as a "cabinet author" who based his knowledge on a critical appreciation of the sources, rather than on personal experience. The first two Decades, dealing with the Portuguese expansion up to 1515, were printed in Lisbon in 1552-1553, shortly after Lopes de Castanheda started publishing his rival History. The third Decade came out in 1563, and a fourth, posthumous, volume saw the light in Madrid in 1615. The first two Decades were translated into Italian by Alonso de Ulloa and printed in Venice in 1562. To this day, there is still no English translation of Barros’s work. ZB


55.  Luís de Camões, Os Lusíadas, Lisbon, 1572.

The Lusiads is one of the great books of Western literature and the most famous literary work in the Portuguese language. This epic poem in ten cantos combines history, current events, mythology, and imagination. The story, written while Camões was serving in Portuguese India as a soldier from 1553-1570, recalls Vasco da Gama’s 1497-1499 voyage to India with flashbacks, narrative, a long speech recounting the history of Portugal, interventions of classical gods, dreams, prophesies, and erotic visions. Approximately forty copies of the first edition exist today and the copy shown here is one of the first to be printed, having the pelican at the top of the page facing the reader’s right.  (For lovers of bibliography, this is the so-called "E" edition, similar to copies at the Hispanic Society of America and Yale University.  However, it is unlike the “E” copies at Harvard and University of Texas at Austin, which have the corrected “CANTO SEGUNDO” on folio 23. The copies with the uncorrected “CANTO PRIMEIRO,” such as this JCB copy, are now thought to be among the first copies printed.) KDJ


56.  Portrait of Camões in Luís de Camões, The Lusiad, or Portugals historicall poem, London, 1655.

Camões lost an eye to a splinter during the period from 1546 to 1549 when he fought in the campaign in Africa.

The first English translation of “Lewis Camoen's” Lusiad was done by Richard Fanshaw (1608-1666) who was educated at Cambridge and appointed English ambassador to Portugal and then Spain. Another English translation would not be done for more than a century. Fanshaw was a Latinist who also translated Giovanni Battista Guarini’s Il Pastor Fido (1590)—The Faithful Shepherd, (1647)—and selected Latin poetry and epitaphs. His translation of Camões uses a six-line stanza followed by a final couplet, rhymed ABABABCC. KDJ

  the Exhibition was in the reading room from april to october 2008