We all know that the Iberian Peninsula is separated between two major countries Spain and Portugal. When and how was the country now known as Portugal formed?

Portuguese is very similar to the Galician language in northwestern Spain and not that much far from the official Castilian (Castellano), as I speak a bit and could understand a few words of Portuguese.

According to Wikipedia, Portugal was a part of the Roman Empire and mostly divided in two Roman provinces: Galicia and Lusitania. Which were then invaded by Germanic tribes and later by the Muslims. The article states that during the 9th century, the County of Portugal was created. Did it have at that time the same language? In the Iberian Peninsula there are many languages — Castilian, Galician, Catalan and Portuguese just to note some of them. I mean if the people felt they are Portuguese, how could they accept kings with Asturian origins?

My question is when exactly did Portugal became an independent country with its current language?

My focus is, was 9th century Portugal created by an "Asturian King" and was the dominant language there Portuguese?

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    Here's a good starting point: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Portugal
    – yannis
    Oct 14, 2015 at 9:47
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    Still, it's not really a simple answer even with that. So I think we could use answers here.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 14, 2015 at 10:01
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    @Yannis well this was the starting point i more or less used to built up my question as i already mentioned: therefore i can't see anything helpful in this link
    – Medi1Saif
    Oct 14, 2015 at 10:10
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    It is comfy to speak in your mother language, but try to imagine a Czech talking about the Španělština language in a English forum. :D
    – durum
    Oct 15, 2015 at 14:36
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    +1, I've been wanting to ask this question since long, I thought I'd be scoffed by the community.
    – taninamdar
    Oct 15, 2015 at 14:44

5 Answers 5


I mean if the people felt they were Portuguese how could they accept kings with Asturian origins?

Because they didn't feel they were "Portuguese" until later on.

Firstly, you are taking the modern approach of the nation-state which was absent at the time of the creation of Portugal. At that time, what counted was the relationships of loyalty between the different feudal lords and rulers. The fact that they spoke the same or another language was secondary, as the "official" language was still Latin and the new languages were still pretty much un-codified and varied wildly from one region to the other.

The territories of Portugal were slowly incorporated into the Kingdom of Castille as part of the Reconquista, and settled mainly by people from Galicia (so the idioma was pretty much the same). It became independent not because the Portuguese felt they were a distinct nation, but because their rulers decided so: either by the Count of Portugal deciding to crown himself king and the other kings being unable to avoid it, or because the kingdom to which it belonged was divided between several heirs. As you can see in the Wikipedia article, there were lots of variations (part of Castilla / part of Galicia-Portugal).

If you want some dates, the article provides 3 significant ones:

  • 1139, the Count of Portugal (again) declares his independence
  • 1143, the Kingdom of Leon recognizes it
  • 1179, the Pope recognizes it.

Note that later on, Castille and Portugal would reunite under Philip II of Castille. In that case, though, it was a personal union (there were two different kingdoms, with different laws, that shared the same king). From around 1640s Portugal was ruled again by a "local" king.

And for the language? Well, as stated, initially it was mostly a (one off) variant of Galician; through the Middle Ages it continued evolving (although not too far away from Galician); and in the XVI century the first appearances grammar for both Portuguese and Spanish that stabilised an official form of the languages and which slowed additional changes (this is when you can say that the Portuguese started speaking what currently is Portuguese). As you see, pretty much unrelated to the political events.

  • Cool that sounds like a nice answer! It answers also my not asked Question how this separation came as to me it would be more likely coherent if the peninsula would been splitting into cultural or linguistical dominated countries, this would make more sense to me!
    – Medi1Saif
    Oct 14, 2015 at 10:53
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  • Note that you shouldn't call it "Count(y) of Portugal". Portugal was only formed officially as a Kingdom. what you mean by "(...) of Portugal" is actually "Portucale" (Portucalense in portuguese). Which is funny because afterwards it was a de jure Duchy
    – Oak
    Apr 21, 2016 at 17:53
  • You don't say...
    – wogsland
    Feb 12, 2017 at 4:32
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    Kingdom of Castille? When the Kingdom of Castille was formed, the County of Portugal had existed for about 2 centuries already! The sovereign was the Kingdom of Leon, wasn't it? Lastly, I would add the year 1128 to the list: Battle of São Mamede. Feb 23, 2019 at 14:40

As mentioned in the comments, the Wikipedia entry on this subject does not adequately describe the situation and causes of the foundation of Portugal.

The creation of Portugal was nothing short of a miracle which was accomplished by a single man, Alfonso Henrique (1109-1185), known as Alfonso Henry in English. His deeds are best known from the massive tomes of the De Antiquitatibus Lusitaniae of Andre de Resende.

Prior to the time in question, almost all of Spain including what is now Portugal, belonged to Moslems from northwest Africa. Arabs, carrying with them the religion of Mohammed, invaded Africa and united with the Berbers there under this creed, creating a terrifying and determined force which had conquered Spain. This domination was not shaken until about 1070 when Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar known as "El Cid" began defeating the Moslems using combined Christian/Islamic armies. This was the pivotal point in the recapture of Spain from the Moslems, known as the Reconquista.

In the wake of El Cid's successes, King Alfonso VI of Leon capitalized on the situation and began conquering Spain. Alfonso was descended from ancient Visigothic invaders of Spain who had long resisted the Moslems from mountainous hideouts. Alfonso VI had won battles in western Spain all the way to Lisbon, but the territory, at his death, was still contested heavily. He chose a foreigner, a Norman knight, Henry son of Robert of Burgundy, to try to fight for this territory. To seal the deal, he married Henry to his bastard daughter, Theresa.

Following the death of Alfonso VI the Christian princes of Spain fell into intrigues and civil wars, during the course of which Henry died. The throne of Leon eventually fell to 18-year-old Alfonso Raymond, the son of another Norman knight and Urraca, one of the legitimate daughters of Alfonso VI. Theresa eventually accepted Alfonso Raymond, and to all appearances it seemed her territory would be added to the Kingdom of Leon, but this is not what happened.

Unexpectedly, abandoning and defying his mother, Alfonso Henry, at age 14, the ur-cousin of Alfonso Raymond, and sole son of Theresa began to fight. Theresa was assigned an army and went south to chastise her uppity son, but was met with a suprise. Alfonso gathered to himself all the local men and knights of their small realm and met her forces in battle at the field of Saint Mamede (1128) where he totally defeated them at age 18, despite being heavily outnumbered. Immediately after the battle he chased after the Galician camp, overtook it, seized his mother and threw her in a dungeon.

War then simmered for several years between the two cousins, both of them also fighting the Moslems. Henry built a castle at Celmes, but Raymond captured it and many of Henry's knights with it. Around the same time Alfonso of Aragon (yes, everybody was named Alfonso), Raymond's greatest rival, was killed by the Moors. In 1135, Raymond was declared emperor. It appeared the short rebellion was over and Henry would have to give up.

Nevertheless, Henry would not yield. While Raymond was busy with other wars, Henry kept fighting. At this juncture, the Moors decided to make one, last, great stand against the Christians, and they would begin by obliterating the upstart prince Henry. Gathering a huge force, the Saracens advanced on the small boundaries of Henry's duchy and the battle was fought in 1139 at Ourique. Defying all the odds, Henry crushed the Moorish forces commanded by five separate kings, all of whom he defeated. After this huge victory the knights of the realm declared Alfonso Henry KING OF PORTUGAL for the first time.

Now, Alfonso Raymund saw that his upstart cousin was truly a threat. Only a few years previously it seemed Henry would be just a distant memory, now all of Christendom was calling him a king. Raymund decided to make one last test of the nascent kingdom. He assembled a huge army and marched to Portugal, but rather than slaughter each other, they decided it would be a contest between knights. All the hundreds of knights of both sides lined up and fought one against the other in single combat to determine the winner. By the end of the bloody tournament, the Castilians decided the Portuguese had fought worthily and Raymund conceded. The result was formalized two years later by the Treaty of Zamora (1143). Portugal was born.

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    Great sourced answer! Oct 14, 2015 at 23:22
  • Cool this is a fine historical process describing how Portugal was been created!
    – Medi1Saif
    Oct 15, 2015 at 6:50
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    What is an ur-cousin?
    – tchrist
    Oct 15, 2015 at 11:34
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    @Oak That is a modern spelling. Originally the name was spelled Henrique and all the old Portuguese histories spell his name without the "S". Since my account is based on the ancient histories, I use the spelling as it appears in those books. Apr 21, 2016 at 17:58
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    @Oak To cite just one of many Portuguese books: Antonio Brandao, Tercera parte da Monarchia Lusitania a te o Rey d. Afonso Henrique; in folio, en Lisboa 1632. Apr 21, 2016 at 18:08

The Roman province of Gallaecia became after the Kingdom of Galiza which went from Ferrol to Oporto. Its language was Galician and the Galician kingdom was covered what today are the Spanish region of Galicia and the North of Portugal (from Douro River North). When the Castillians conquered Galiza and seized Santiago the Compostela (the capital), the Galician nobles ran away to the South of their Galician Kingdom and created the new Portus Calle (Portugal) kingdom, and fought for their independence from the Castilian (Spain) crown. Soon after, the new kingdom splitted from Galiza, was renamed Portugal and the Galician language spoken there was renamed Portuguese to give it a "national" feeling. North of Minho river it remained Spain whereas South it became Portugal.

The Castillians also renamed Castillian into Spanish to give it the same "national" feeling as well as they renamed their kingdom Spain (meaning Hispania or Iberia as they had always pretended to dominate the whole Iberian peninsula).


As for how, the short answer is Alfonso the First committed treason successfully, much like the founding Fathers of the USA committed treason successfully and the leaders of the Confederacy committed treason unsuccessfully.


By the way, the current Galician language in Spain is just the same language Portuguese is with the difference that it has been kept under the massive influence of the Castilian (Spanish) for over 500 years. The result of a language no one wants to speak because is not financially profitable is the current Galician language. In reality, if Galicians had been able to keep and use their own language with pride, they'd have been speaking what is now-a-days known as Portuguese.

  • Sources? references? Anything other than assertions?
    – MCW
    Jan 14, 2016 at 12:31
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    Galician is certainly not the same as Portuguese, being set apart by centuries of language evolution. Being derived from the same proto-language does not by any means mean they are the same today, as indeed they're not - just very close. You could, using the same logic, say that Portuguese is in fact the same as Castilian but kept under the influence of the Portuguese people for over 800 years... Galician is still spoken to a large degree in Galicia and, although subject to "Castilification", is surviving well. The rest of your arguments are just wild assumptions.
    – aenariel
    Feb 5, 2016 at 17:31

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