History of Africa

conquest of Ceuta

The Conquest of Ceuta took place in 1415 and symbolizes the beginning of Portuguese overseas expansion.

The objective of the Crown, driven by the bourgeoisie, was to seize the city that received the caravans of Moors that transported gold, ivory, spices and slaves.

Portuguese Maritime Expansion

When King Dom João I (1351-1433) assumed the Portuguese throne in 1385, the kingdom faced financial difficulties. Portugal faced the lack of agricultural products, labor and its currency was devalued.

The insufficiency of precious metals influenced the enactment of a law, in 1402, which prohibited the export of gold, because without the metal, it was not possible to mint coins.

Therefore, the king began to seek alternatives to the economic crisis. One of the ideas was to expand the kingdom to the Mediterranean and not Europe.

So, influenced by his sons, he starts building a huge armada in order to conquer the square of Ceuta.


Several reasons were considered for choosing Ceuta. The conquest of the Emirate of Granada was even considered. The guarantee of support from the Crown of Castille contributed to Ceuta being chosen. Also:

  • Ceuta was a rich locality on the Strait of Gibraltar, a meeting point for caravans coming from the East and a means of reaching the cereal markets of Morocco;
  • It would be a way to help overcome the economic crisis
  • Conquering Ceuta, all sectors of Portuguese society would be involved in the hope of benefits;
  • It would enable the expansion of the Christian faith in Muslim territory.

Internal Policy

The Portuguese nation was at peace, and unified around a king, unlike most of its neighbors still at war. In any case, the overseas conquests channeled the warrior spirit of the nobility and helped to maintain concord within the borders.

Portugal had a geographical position that favored the search for alternative routes by sea for the purchase of goods.

The bourgeoisie saw commercial advantages due to the strategic position of the city. The nobility, on the other hand, thought of increasing their possessions and titles; while the clergy, imagined winning more souls. For the people, the belief was in more work.

Faced with so many advantages and needs, the process of conquering Ceuta began.

See also:Avis Revolution


The expedition left Lisbon on the 25th of July 1415. It consisted of a fleet of 212 vessels, of which 59 were galleys, 33 ships and 12 other small vessels.

Were shipped:

  • 7,500 knights
  • 500 crossbowmen (those who wield the crossbow, a bow and arrow weapon)
  • 21,000 foot soldiers

On August 22, 1415, they took the city and sacked it overnight.

Immediately, the transformation of the city of Ceuta began. Muslim symbols were replaced by Christian ones and the mosque was transformed into a church.

The Portuguese Crown left 2,700 men under the command of Dom Pedro de Meneses (1370-1437), first governor of Ceuta.


What the Crown and the bourgeoisie imagined, however, did not happen. Conquering Ceuta put even more pressure on the Portuguese coffers and it was necessary to take out loans to pay for the incursion and reciprocate the Spanish support.

In addition, the city now needed to be maintained, protected and even fed, as its wheat production was insufficient.

In 1419, for example, the armies of the Sultanate of Morocco and the Emirate of Granada tried to reconquer the city and imposed a siege for a month. Subsequently, the caravans, which provided so much profit to the site, were diverted to other coastal cities.

Although there were so many unfavorable elements, the Portuguese decided to remain in Ceuta.

Even with all the problems, Portugal would continue to invest in navigation. The next step was to occupy the islands of Madeira, in 1419, and later, the Archipelago of the Azores, in 1427.

See also:African Periplus

However, several nobles were undecided with the policy of overseas expansion due to the lack of resources and the low Portuguese population density.

The impasse lasted until 1433, when the Infantes Dom Henrique and Dom Fernando (1402-1443), and the Count of Arraiolos, Dom Fernando de Portugal, insisted on proceeding with maritime expeditions. In the meantime, King Dom João I dies and his son Dom Duarte ascends the throne.

In this way, King Dom Duarte I (1391-1438) approved an incursion to take Tangier (Morocco) in October 1437.

In combat, Infante Dom Fernando was taken hostage by the Moroccans and his life traded in exchange for the surrender of Ceuta.

The stalemate generates tension in the court with supporters on both sides. Without an agreement, Dom Fernando died in captivity, Ceuta remained in possession of Portugal.

See also:European Maritime Expansion


  • Ceuta passed to the Spaniards in 1668 after the end of the Iberian Union and remains Spanish to this day.
  • Portuguese influence is felt in architecture, coats of arms and devotion to Our Lady of Africa.
  • In the São Bento station, in the city of Porto, Portugal, there is a huge tile panel about the conquest of Ceuta. This is because most of the vessels used in the expedition left the shipyards in the region.

Read more:

  • The First Great Navigations
  • Portuguese Navigations
  • Pre-colonial Africa
  • Discovery of Brazil

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