Colonial Portuguese

The time has come to set sail in your carracks in search of unknown lands across uncharted oceans. Survive the voyage and perhaps you and your fellow Portuguese adventurers can carve out a new life for yourselves on some jungle shoreline somewhere. A lucrative trade in spices, sugar, exotic woods and slaves awaits you – that is if the angry locals don’t get you first! This is our new range of 16th Century Colonial Portuguese figures designed by John Jenkins. Perfect companions for our South American Tupi.

Portugal and its empire have been described as one of the great enigmas of history. A small and poor nation, who by the middle of the 16th Century had come to dominate more of the world and its trade than any other country. Driven by the legacy of Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460) the Portuguese embarked on an extraordinary century of maritime exploration, trade, and colonial exploitation across great distances and a globe which was still only partially mapped and understood. From the middle of the 15th Century Portuguese mariners steadily extended their voyages down the west coast of Africa, eventually rounding the Cape of Good Hope and entering the Indian Ocean in 1488. From there the Portuguese moved eastwards in leaps and bounds, starting with Vasco de Gama’s famous voyage exploring the east coast of Africa and reaching India in 1498. Ceylon (1505), Malaysia and Siam (1511), Southern China (1513), and Indonesia (1514) rapidly followed. By the 1540’s the Portuguese had even contacted Japan, and ultimately they founded the trading port of Nagasaki.

Nor was Portuguese enterprise restricted to the East. In 1500 a fleet retracing Vasco de Gama’s route to India, but driven off course by unfavourable winds in the Atlantic, stumbled across the unknown coast of Brazil. Historians dispute how much of an accident this ‘discovery’ actually was, and a Spanish fleet had probably traced some of the north Brazilian coast just a few months before, but this mattered little as Brazil lay within the region of Portuguese control as laid down by the Vatican under the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494). Portugal suddenly had a new, huge colony to play with, populated by fierce, cannibalistic tribes like the Tupi.

While some resisted from first contact, many other peoples the Portuguese encountered (both developed states and tribal societies), chose a peaceful, mutually beneficial coexistence with the new arrivals in the name of trade and profit. However, the dark commercial realities of colonial exploitation (including an expanding slave trade), greed, cultural insensitivity and aggressive interference in local politics meant that attitudes often hardened towards the Portuguese. They were frequently obliged to impose their will by force in cruel and merciless fighting both against the locals as well as other colonial powers threatening their monopolies. So a tabletop general with a Colonial Portuguese army can explore many interesting possibilities for wargames scenarios, and the vast scale of the Portuguese maritime empire means a plethora of different and colourful opponents from across the world to choose from. These might include the developed and sophisticated military forces of Mogul India and the pre-Mogul sultanates, Malayan and Indonesian armies, Ming Dynasty Chinese, and even Japanese Samurai, or the relatively primitive – but no less dangerous – tribal societies of coastal Africa and Brazil. Then there are also the rival 16th Century colonial powers like Spain and France in the west and the Ottoman Empire in the east to take on.

One of the beauties of this period from a gaming perspective is much of the warfare is small scale, so huge armies of miniatures do not have to be raised. The Portuguese exploration fleets were often composed of just a few ships, and the resulting trade empire was so large (and Portugal’s domestic population so small) that by necessity its resources were thinly spread. Many Portuguese trading bases and forts were small, isolated, and manned by modest garrisons who relied on gunpowder and superior western military technology to (hopefully!) intimidate the local populations. Alternatively the Portuguese sought to manipulate existing political rivalries, lending their military assistance to local allies or enlisting local tribes to fight their battles for them as native auxiliaries.

Eureka Miniatures can get you started straight away with a South American campaign featuring our 28mm Portuguese and Tupi Indians (released a few weeks ago – find out more about the Tupi here). Relations between the Portuguese and Tupi were at first respectful, but gradually tensions mounted and violent clashes ensued. The principal catalyst for conflict proved to be the arrival of French traders, openly challenging the weak Portuguese presence along Brazil’s long coast. By 1516 the two sides were fighting each other, and both employing Tupi allies to attack European enemies and rival Tupi clans alike, in a war of battles, sieges, raids, guerrilla ambushes and native revolts that was to last the rest of the century. If the possibilities intrigue you, check out our “Portuguese versus Tupi” special offer below.

The new Portuguese range contains everything an aspiring Captain might need. Most men carried an arquebus or crossbow, supplemented with a sword, but polearms are also in evidence. Sailors, armed slaves, and mameluco (mixed parentage Portuguese Indians) are included, as well as an artillery piece and a couple of mounted arquebusier variants to represent the very limited numbers of cavalry deployed in colonial Portuguese forces.

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