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Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  2,141 ratings  ·  249 reviews
As remarkable as Columbus and the conquistador expeditions, the history of Portuguese exploration is now almost forgotten. But Portugal's navigators cracked the code of the Atlantic winds, launched the expedition of Vasco da Gama to India and beat the Spanish to the spice kingdoms of the East - then set about creating the first long-range maritime empire. In an astonishing ...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published December 1st 2015 by Random House (first published January 1st 2015)
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Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: world-history
Riveting, bloody history. Crowley makes the people and the action come alive on the page. Conquerors is not a mere recitation of facts, but a look deep into the thoughts and emotions of the Portuguese explorers who found the way to India and the way to dominate the Malabar Coast. Their methods were brutal. They were fearless, bloodthirsty, arrogant and hateful. They killed countless thousands for territory, plunder, religion, revenge or just to show that they were not to be messed with. This is ...more
Apr 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this read. Excellent use of primary texts, told in a narrative type way that focuses on direct accounts of primary players in the history. This gives a nice worm's eye view of the action and story and makes for a very readable text and history.

The one negative is that I thought the macro, bird's eye view of the history was lacking. I would've been interested in grander scope analysis of the economics and trade flows going on. There was a bit of it but not very much. But there wa
The decade of the 1490s was without doubt one of the most significant in human history. Nowadays we see the European (re)discovery of the Americas in 1492 as the event which more than any other shaped the world we live in today, but at the time it was Vasco da Gama's discovery of the sea route to India in 1498 that seemed the more significant event. Mr Crowley tells the story of how, within 20 years of that event, a tiny, poverty stricken country on Europe's western fringe created a global empir ...more
"Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire" by Roger Crowley is a good introduction to Portugal's development of its maritime empire in the Indian Ocean.

This book covers approximately a 40-year period (1480 to 1520) and is primarily focused on the Portuguese point of view of the events described.

Portugal's armadas were the sharp "tip of the spear" of modern European colonialism that was erupting in the late 1400s and would impact world history for several centuries.

The small
Frank B
Jul 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
As Roger Crowley explains in "Conquerors", in the early 16th century Portugal, a poor country on the periphery of Europe, came to control trade in the Indian Ocean thanks to bravery, cruelty, navigation skills and cannons. They fought against kings and sultans on the Swahili Coast of Africa and the Malabar Coast of India with no more than 1500 troops at a time. Before they could start fighting they had to find a way to the Indies, and did this after eighty years of working their way down the coa ...more
Sep 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: portugal, 1500-1900
How "Boys Own" is this tale of the first generation of Portugese expansion? Crowley usually injects a bland pointer sentence of 4 words or less just before things go awry for Alfonso De Albuquerque, but his "Santiago!" fueled battle scenes roar.

The contrast between the cautious & cumbersome exploration of the African coasts until Vasco Da Gama and the self-confident, truly brutal entry upon the trade network of the Indian Ocean is felt.

So is the shift from a sheer cannon-centred approach to so
Feb 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire, is an interesting book by Roger Crowley on the Portuguese conquest of the Indian Ocean. The book follows the Portuguese conquest of Cueta in Morocco, through the journey's of exploration around the African coast, to the conquests of coastal cities on the Western coast of India, the city of Malacca in modern Malaysia, and Ormuz in Persia, amongst others. This is more of a narrative history, following the likes of Henry the Navigator, King M ...more
Tariq Mahmood
Oct 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, europe
This invaluable book of a most intriguing time in history when a tiny and poor European country managed to almost dethrone the main enemy of Christian Europe by strangling the rich spice trade away from the Mamluk sultans of the Muslims. The book also explains 'gunboat diplomacy' in quite some detail. How the Portuguese with their ships, guns and muskets posed as extraterrestrial beings appeared in the coasts of Africa, India, and the Middle East to plunder in the name of 'trade' completely disr ...more
Vicky Hunt
With Pen and Sword

From the voyages of the Chinese Star ships (and the genetic traces China left behind) to the arrival of the Caravels and Carracks of Bartholomew Diaz, Vasco de Gama, Alphonso de Albuquerque, and Dom Francisco de Almeida on the Malibar Coast; Roger Crowley masterfully unveils the world of the Indian Ocean and the magnificence of the coveted spice trade from India. But, these traders brought overwhelming firepower to the table. The Portuguese under Manuel I of Portugal launched a
Apr 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This book blew my mind. Full stop. The Portuguese exploration of the African coastline and the race to conquer the Indian spice trade is at least as impressive a feat, and perhaps even more improbable, than America’s moon landing. That being said, their achievement is soaked in gore and nothing about this story is nice – death was a constant companion, and they had no qualms about killing. The men who faced down the Mamluks and conquered Goa, Cochin, and Malacca are aliens to the 21st century We ...more
Jan 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It is amazing to read this book knowing that 500 years after these events Portugal would be named the 3rd most peaceful country in the world on the Global Peace Index. The inception of the empire was anything but peaceful and the author tells the tale of Portugal as pirate terrorists, forcing their way into the spice trade through unspeakable violence and cultural insensitivities. It is a book about the inception of globalization by way of Game of Throne style battles that actually happened, blo ...more
Jennifer (JC-S)
Aug 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing

‘How Portugal seized the Indian Ocean and forged the First Global Empire’

Portugal had a population of about one million people at the beginning of the fifteenth century. A tiny country, with an economy which largely depended on fishing and subsistence farming. A country where the kings were too poor to mint their own gold coins. But, as Mr Crowley writes, a country with big aspirations.

‘In August 1415, a Portuguese fleet sailed across the Strait of Gibraltar and stormed the Muslim port of Ceuta,
Dec 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Pike and shot
Roger Crowley’s Conquerors is a history that starts with hope and ends in horror, at least of the slasher-film kind. Suffice it to say, if you ever chance to meet a 15th century Portuguese officer while time-traveling, run for your life. The story opens with Portugal, recently triumphant in its bid to push the Moors back into northern Africa, joining the hunt for the Indies, but once it finds them…..well, it’s not pretty.

In the 16th century, Europe was waking up; its princes were no longer warlo
Oct 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
I had very high expectations from this one based on the author's earlier books I've read or am currently reading (the siege of Constantinople and a history of Venice are both excellent and the book about Lepanto seems quite good also) and the book starts very well with the early years of Portuguese exploration after they defeated the Moors at Ceuta (in Marocco) in early 1400's and got a hold on the North African coast, while later slowly going down the coast, exploring the inland rivers, some up ...more
Feb 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010s, history, iberia, india, asia
Five hundred years ago, the exploring ships of Portugal were the first Christians to get east of Islam, establishing their Indian Ocean empire. By reading Crowley, and learning more about the Christian Fanatic Empire Builders, I think of them rather like Comanche in Caravels, with German cannon.

A Quote from mid-book, when the some Portugal ships first arrived near the Islamic heartland, around the Persian Gulf :

"Some of the ports along the Omani coast submitted meekly. Others resisted and were s
Charles J
Aug 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Without specific intention, I seem to have turned into a Roger Crowley fanboy, as shown by that I have now read every one of his books. Crowley is a British maritime historian, all of whose books are tied to the Mediterranean in the pre-modern portion of the second millennium, many centering around the interaction of Christianity and Islam. Conquerors is somewhat of a departure—still a maritime history, even more so than most of his books, but focused not on the Mediterranean, instead on the nea ...more
Taylor Pearson
Feb 07, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I went to Portugal at the beginning of the year and anytime I take a trip somewhere, I try to pick up and read at least one book on the place (Wikipedia pages are also fantastic). Conquerors is the tail of how the tiny Portuguese nation, sidelines and far out on the edge of Europe for its entire history, rose, over a period of decades to be a truly global empire, controlling the seas from East to West.

This book is wonderfully written and gripping, reading more like a Tom Clancy novel than a nonf
Jun 28, 2016 rated it liked it
I read this in preparation for a trip to Portugal later this summer. It was well-written and gave more information than I can really handle. It is amazing that a small nation like Portugal had such a huge influence on the world exploration of the 16th century. The world was different then and voyages lasted months and even years. Communication, too, took way too long. But the violence! I wonder just how many innocent people died at the hands of the Portuguese as they sought to claim lands along ...more
Mar 07, 2016 rated it did not like it
Marginally interesting, but suffers from a myopically colonial point of view. There is no world context given and no acknowledgment of the lives of those who actually lived in these "discovered" lands. Because of the lack of any awareness or big picture view, it just became a rather dull recounting of sea voyages and colonial slaughter. ...more
Harikrishnan Tulsidas
Five hundred years of European domination of the oceans. This was set into its course by a “tiny marginalized” Portugal. How could this tiny nation do what the great powers of Europe at that time could not even imagine? Portugal made ‘discovery’ a matter of state policy and put in place a robust system for acquiring knowledge and applying it.

The real aim was to break the Mamluk - Venetian trade monopoly on spices and other trade from India, though religious zealotry of defeating Islamic power a
Omar Ali
Mar 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
A great read. A detailed and fair account of the rise of the Portuguese empire; violent, vicious, greedy, fanatically religious and cruel..but also very capable and almost insanely courageous and venturesome. A great story, though he ends it rather abruptly and with a less than satisfying epilogue. Also, don't expect data.. ...more
Todd Payne
Apr 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Gripping account of Portuguese conquistadors whose accomplishments, and reign of terror, equaled those of their Spanish rivals but seem somehow less known. Inspires one to learn more about the peaceful Chinese expeditions to the Indian Ocean before they burned their ships and closed off their society -- the exact opposite of their European counterparts.
Sorin Hadârcă
May 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asia, india, history
Amazing how Crowley narrates the events of long ago, as if everything has happened just about now. No deed goes unnoticed, no account neglected, and all that in good perspective.
Maurício Linhares
Apr 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Could another nation eventually do what the Portuguese did? Definitely. Was there any other nation at the fifteenth century capable of doing it? Not a chance.

Portugal was many years ahead of the competition both in it's ships, naval war power and knowledge of the seas. After Henrique O Navegador (Henry The Navigator) instigated his father, king João 1 a tomar Ceuta, in Northern Africa, he becomes the patron of naval exploration, kicking off the age of discoveries. Under his direction Portugal d
Apr 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Roger Crowley writes a cracking piece of narrative history. This one is what it says - the 30 year purple patch when the Portuguese were the first Europeans to navigate round the cape and up to India - where they stayed, set up bases, conquered Goa, set up in Calicut, started trading and never stopped fighting. In fact, when I say purple patch, rather large sticky red patch is probably more accurate given the copious amounts of blood shed. Crowley writes very well and makes no secret of the bloo ...more
May 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
An exceptional account on history of South and SE Asia.
Apr 09, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
On the back jacket of this book, there was a blurb from a review of another book by Roger Crowley: “There is a certain British genius for Boys' Own Paper military history, and Roger Crowley has it.” (Norman Stone, The Guardian, May 10,2008)

That would also be a fair comment on this book. It is a quite readable account of the Portuguese penetration of the Indian Ocean up to the conquest of Goa. Unfortunately, it was rather one sided in that it failed to explain the factors, other than the direct a
Feb 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
A well written narrative history of the Portoguese exploration journeys and the Albuquerque regime in the Malabar coast. Even though the focus is on 20-25 years, there is a sense that a lot is left out. Political and economic context is at the bare minimum, and the focus is on the adventuring side of things. While the cruelties of the Portoguese are highlighted, this is unavoidably in an aggrandizing genre, and one feels that even the author has a tough time reconciling the demands of the tellin ...more
Shawkat Kamal
Oct 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Generally a very well written book with lot of factual information. However, I did not like the tendency of the author to portray savage Portuguese pirates who killed so many innocent people as great military commanders. Having powerful and modern cannons that were not available to the dwellers of the Indian ocean allowed most of the so called "asymmetric victories"; nothing to do with bravery of the Portuguese. ...more
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Roger Crowley was born in 1951 and spent part of his childhood in Malta. He read English at Cambridge University and taught English in Istanbul, where he developed a strong interest in the history of Turkey. He has traveled widely throughout the Mediterranean basin over many years and has a wide-ranging knowledge of its history and culture. He lives in Gloucestershire, England.

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123 likes · 37 comments
“In the process, Albuquerque was consolidating a revolutionary concept of empire. The Portuguese were always aware of how few they were; many of their early contests were against vastly unequal numbers. They quickly abandoned the notion of occupying large areas of territory. Instead, they evolved as a mantra the concept of flexible sea power tied to the occupation of defendable coastal forts and a network of bases. Supremacy at sea; their technological expertise in fortress building, navigation, cartography, and gunnery; their naval mobility and ability to coordinate operations over vast maritime spaces; the tenacity and continuity of their efforts—an investment over decades in shipbuilding, knowledge acquisition, and human resources—these facilitated a new form of long-range seaborne empire, able to control trade and resources across enormous distances. It gave the Portuguese ambitions with a global dimension.” 2 likes
“He was the most widely travelled poet of the Renaissance; a man who lost an eye in Morocco, who was exiled to the East for a sword fight, who was destitute in Goa and shipwrecked in the Mekong Delta – he swam ashore clutching his manuscript above his head while his Chinese lover drowned.” 1 likes
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