Abstract

The conquests of Afonso de Albuquerque from 1507 to 1513 were the starting point of a century-long period of theoretical hegemony of the Portuguese monarchy on the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. The Red Sea, however, remained a failed conquest of the Lusitanians. Neither the construction of a fort on Socotra island in 1507 nor the regular patrolling of the strait of Bab-el-Mandeb up to about 1550 could grant them sound control of the area. This paper will survey the main stages of Portuguese involvement in the Red Sea. Drawing on secondary literature and on original, mostly Portuguese, sources, it will propose a periodization of the geopolitical history of these contested waters in the early stage of the European expansion. Besides military leaders, mercenaries, and spies that served Portuguese interests, the involvement of religious agents, mostly Jesuit missionaries, will also be taken into consideration. The paper will also assess the impact of the Portuguese involvement in the area.

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