The Portuguese Empire (Portuguese: Império Português), also known as the Portuguese Overseas (Ultramar Português) or the Portuguese Colonial Empire (Império Colonial Português), was the first global empire in history. In addition, it was the longest-lived of the modern European colonial empires, spanning almost six centuries, from the capture of Ceuta in 1415 to the handover of Macau in 1999 or the grant of sovereignty to East Timor in 2002. The empire spread throughout a vast number of territories that are now parts of 53 different sovereign states.
Portuguese sailors began exploring the coast of Africa in 1419, using recent developments in navigation, cartography and maritime technology such as the caravel, in order that they might find a sea route to the source of the lucrative spice trade. In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and in 1498, Vasco da Gama reached India. In 1500, either by an accidental landfall or by the crown's secret design, Pedro Álvares Cabral discovered Brazil on the South American coast. Over the following decades, Portuguese sailors continued to explore the coasts and islands of East Asia, establishing forts and factories as they went. By 1571, a string of naval outposts connected Lisbon to Nagasaki along the coasts of Africa, the Middle East, India, and South Asia. This commercial network brought great wealth to Portugal.
When Philip II of Spain inherited the Portuguese crown in 1580, this began a 60 year union between Spain and Portugal that has since been given the historiographic term of the Iberian Union. Though the realms continued to be administered separately, the Council of Portugal ruled the country and its empire from Madrid. As the King of Spain was also King of Portugal, Portuguese colonies became the subject of attacks by three rival European powers hostile to Spain and generally envious of Iberian successes overseas: the Dutch Republic, England, and France. With its smaller population, Portugal was unable to effectively defend its overstretched network of trading posts, and the empire began a long and gradual decline. Eventually, significant losses to the Dutch in Portuguese India and Southeast Asia during the 17th century brought an end to the Portuguese trade monopoly in the Indian Ocean. Brazil became Portugal's most valuable colony until, as part of the wave of independence movements that swept the Americas during the early 19th century, it broke away in 1822. Portugal's Empire was reduced to its colonies on the African coastline (which were expanded inland during the Scramble for Africa in the late 19th century), Portuguese Timor, and enclaves in India and Macau. The First Portuguese Empire originated at the beginning of the Age of Discovery, expanding across the globe, and throughout the 15th and 16th centuries was only matched in size by the Spanish Empire. After the Portuguese succession crisis of 1580, Portugal was joined to Habsburg Spain in the Iberian Union, lasting until 1640. The Portuguese overseas territories however remained administratively separate, governed by the Council of Portugal, established in 1582.