The Ultimate Guide to Portugal in Videogames (and a very, very brief History of Portugal)

Battle of Aljubarrota, 1385- British Royal Library,
Royal 14 E IV f. 204 recto

This piece will focus on taking a closer look -mainly- at the Medieval and Age of Sail periods. I will split the article in two. The next article will cover the remaining centuries (17th-onwards) until the world of today.

From Finisterra to the World

Cornered by Spain on one side and by sea on the other, Portugal sits at the most isolated corner of Europe. What was once known as Finisterra (meaning: the land that ends) has ever since defined the country and its people. Both a curse and a blessing: The Portuguese were- for the most part of their History- kept away from the conflicts that ravaged central Europe well into the mid-twentieth century. This early climate of peace (but seldom of prosperity) and extremely small territorial size led to an early birth of a modern, centralized state during the mid-14th century and subsequent seafaring adventures. First let’s rewind a couple of years all the way back to the 8th century.

In a final attempt to extinguish the last bastion of Christian resistance in the Iberian Peninsula, the Umayyad Caliphate launched a summer offensive against the Cantabrian Mountains during the summer of 722. The treacherous passage-ways and caves proved fatal to the Caliph’s men when a nobleman named Pelagius, leading 300 ill equipped soldiers followed the enemy army into a narrow valley and had arrows and stones rain on them. Unable to manoeuvre and surrounded, the nearly 1500 Umayyad men were charged by the Christian horde. Defeat ensued for the moors. This small but significant skirmish went down in History as the Battle of Covadonga and marked the day when the Christian spark of victory ignited the flames of unceasing war for the next 500 years.

What to play? Not a lot of videogames cover the subject of early medieval ages that I know of and even fewer include what was soon to be Portugal. Other than Crusader Kings II one would be hard-pressed to mention anything. Age of Empires II with the African Kingdoms expansion also brings Portugal to the forefront but you’ll be playing a generic early medieval nation until the Imperial Age. Yesterday I found out that you can play as the Kingdom of Asturias in Total War: Atilla, The Charlemagne Expansion. The Kingdom of Asturias was pretty much the land of Pelagius. Here’s a Faction Preview from Youtube. I’m sure this is my next Total War buy! Now I’m hype!

Fields of Glory II came forward last week announcing that the Wolves are at the Gates. In their informational release you can read some delicious features, including armies from the Andalusian, the Umayyad, the Visigoth, the Navarrese and the Spanish. The list of mentions 74 quick battles so I’m hopeful for the inclusion of the Battle of Covadongam otherwise I will do it myself!

This process was to go down in History as the Reconquista (To conquer again, to retake, to get back). Fast forward to the 13th century and the firm Moorish grip the Caliphate had over the peninsula for centuries was finally coming to an end. Defeat after defeat the fragmented Moorish hordes found themselves unable to organize a strong enough resistance to oppose the Christian advances. Framed as part of the Holy Crusade by the bishop of Oporto, the Portuguese Reconquista was reinforced by European crusaders time and time again. A debt that would not go unpaid, when Phillip the Belle of France decided it was time to terminate the Templar Order- They vanished in a night. A couple hundreds of miles to the west, in Portugal, the Order of Christ was created being comprised by a lot of former members. This Order would soon have a fundamental role in shaping the future of Portugal.

The Siege of Lisbon by Afonsos forces. Painted by Roque Gameiro in Quadros da História de Portugal, 1917

The soon-to-be-first-king Afonso Henriques, son of the Portucale Count got a bit upset when his mother claimed she was the rightful heir to the county and started bringing Galician nobles into the court to support her cause. The local lords of Portucale, fearing their status quo being threatened by these newcomers gathered around Afonso and started a rebellion. This early case of county wide domestic assault came to an abrupt end when the opposing forces met at the fields of S. Mamede. It was the year of 1128. Afonso won. He would go on to be recognized as king by his own people in 1143 and later, in 1179 by the Pope. Subsequent kings went on to strength the crown’s grip on the newly conquered lands and to re-populate the territory.

What to play? Fortunately for my countrymen there’s quite a few games you can play if you want to re-enact the troubled times of Medieval Portugal. Let’s start with the sketchy looking, native-made Portugal 1111: A conquista de Soure (The Conquest of Soure).

A mix between Age of Empires and Cossacks, Portugal 1111 is a distilled product that focuses on the early moves of the Portuguese Reconquista. With two factions and a small selection of units, short options for buildings, small maps and a basic economy allied with an overall lack of understanding of what made those previous games great makes Portugal 1111 is a stark representation of the glorious early victories of the Reconquista. Up next are the awesome medieval-trouble-simulator Crusader Kings 2 and the amazingly classic Age of Empires II. Once more, what can I add to this one that hasn’t already been said thousands of times? If you want to play some great custom battles you should try to boot up the Kingdoms 1212 mod for Total War: Atilla. The amount of content this mod has, the attention to detail, the unit variety and the possibility to re-created and re-imagine pretty much any medieval Battle is a testament to love and hard-labour of the modders. The Portuguese units look amazing. Fields of Glory: Storm of Arrows might be a new one for everybody reading this -this is why it is named the Ultimate Guide and not the Semi-Ultimate Guide. One of the best adaptations of a tabletop Wargaming to the PC, the Storm of Arrows expansion takes the game into the Medievo era, adding the Iberian armies, Portugal included.Oldie but goldie, it hurts a bit in the eye. Hopefully its son, Fields of Glory II will expand enough that it will reach the middle ages. The hope and excitement is real with the recent announcement of the Wolves at the Gate Expansion. No medieval list could be concluded without the most contentious Total War of all time. Love it or hate it, Total War: Medieval II makes the list by allowing you to play as a very generic Portuguese nation, Starting with D. Afonso Henriques. There’s really nothing of great interest going on here. Just 2 regions and a special unit called “Jinetes”, or “Ginetes”. Interestingly enough, the Ginetes were seldom used in Portugal. They saw wider appliance in Castillian armies. Total War lost brother Grand Ages Medieval also allows you to take the faith of the people into your hands if you so desire, I wish I could tell you more about this game but I never played and from the looks and reviews of it I never will.

This early consolidation of power and a shortage of feudal lords strong enough to overtake it lead to a government system that got extremely bureaucratic and efficient at delegating small amounts power to make sure that the King’s will was imposed but never challenged. Cortes took place often, you might be wondering at those are: Imagine a sort of meeting where local representatives of various towns came to explain their problems and solutions in front of the King and he deliberated on them. Their cases went from the extremely serious to ridiculous pettiness. A compendium of laws was enacted to centralize and unify the justice system all across the country. This is not something as the Magna Carta. The MC functioned as a sort of Constitutional document that set the boundaries for English kings. The Portuguese’s Ordenações (it means, “To command” or “To Enact”) were organized into 5 different books that covered civil, criminal, religious, economic and administrative matters. Local laws were slowly faded out.

Despite being a nation that arose amidst a glorious ass-whooping between son and mother, Portugal never had a strong military presence anywhere in the world, that is, until the XV century. It would not be until the dynastic crisis of the 1383-1385, when king Ferdinand died leaving no legitimate heirs to the throne, that Portugal would be a part of the Hundred Years War for a brief period. João I de Portugal was chosen in the already spoken of Cortes but the king of Castile would not let his claim to the Portuguese throne go without a fight. Jump the political intrigues to 1385 and nearly 30.000 French and Spanish forces off against 6.500 alliance of Portuguese and English men in the fields of Aljubarrota. The later army would form a somewhat squared formation atop a hill, with rivers running behind and to the sides of the Portuguese forces, preventing any possibility of flanking manoeuvres. English bowmen and Portuguese crossbowman (more on this next) stood in the sides, spears in the front and traps and palisades were set up before the battle… The reader might see where this is going. The French went to do their habitual stupid shit and charged head-on. Funnelled and unable to manoeuvre they were captured by the Portuguese troops. Fearing that a Castilian attack might soon follow the newly anointed Portuguese king decided to execute the French knights to prevent them from taking arms once again.

Next, 30.000 Castilian men advanced towards the remaining Portuguese lines and once more they were confined to such a small space that their lines became disorganized and compressed, denying their numbers advantage. The Castilian banner fell in battle and fearing their king might be death they started to rout. Portuguese cavalry make haste to pursue the fleeing enemy forces. The dynastic crisis came to an end that very day, with João I de Portugal now unchallenged. The Englishmen reinforced their ability to face cavalry charges and the French learned jack-shit. In 1415 similar fates would be met at the famous battle of Agincourt.

Medieval Crossbowman, Beineck MS.229 Arthurian Romances, 1275-1300

You know what is curious? Portugal was one of the first nations in Europe to have what you could consider a professional army, or at least a small branch of professional soldiers. These were named Besteiros do Conto (Meaning: Municipal Crossbowman). As the name implies, they were a war-ready offshoot of professionally trained soldiers. Each municipality would need to train, equip and provide a certain amount of these soldiers in the case war broke out. These soldiers were mainly selected due to the proficiency they had manning the weapon and their occupational trade. The kingdom wanted to avoid sending anymore farmers than it needed to war to avoid any kind of distress to their plantations. So besteiros were mainly selected from artisans and merchants. These men would play a pivotal role in defending the kingdom against foreign incursions. They would be the elite fighting force until the very end of the medieval era.

The last quarter of the 14th century was a tumultuous one for medieval Europe. Valois and Plantagenet’s were waging wars for the right to rule France, medieval technology was reaching its killing threshold and chivalry was already dead. National identities were emerging all over the continent. Portuguese presence in the war was bijou. A new monarchy and supportive noblemen were eager for expansion but were stuck between a war faring Spain and the Atlantic Ocean. The choice took this small isolated nation to a seafaring adventure that would last well into the mid-20th century.

Still embroiled with a spark for another Reconquista, the Portuguese attacked Ceuta (north of Marocos) in 1415 and captured it from the moors. It was the first step to bring New Worlds to the Old. Advances in sailing technology with the adaptation of the latim sail or triangular sail allowed the Portuguese caravels to use opposing winds for quick an efficient sailing. Portugal went on to later establish the Portuguese State in India, based on a series of feitorias which were a sort of coastal economic outpost, port and military garrison –all at the same time- which allowed a small force of land units backed up by a powerful navy to control a large swath of territory with little effort.

Portuguese Naus, end of the 15th century. Santa Catarina do Monte Sinais in the middle.

These large amount feitorias scattered all over the empire allowed the Portuguese to establish their influence all over the known world even with their small numbers. With more than 50 all over Africa, a dozen in India and another dozen in Brazil, the Portuguese sailors and captains established a great economic and military enterprise that would last for centuries. The conquest of Ceuta was the first stepping stone that set in motion the entire age of sail and age of discovery for Europe- you can argue that previous expeditions have been made to the Atlantic island of Canarias but it was Ceuta that really signalled the true start of the Portuguese overseas expansion. Fast forward to the 16th century and every single European nation is making haste to snag as much as possible of these new lands and opportunities.

What to play? As we move forward across the centuries, the presence of Portugal across the World gathers strength and respect in the seas and the world of videogames. We enter the Age of Sail with what game? You guessed! Age of Empires: African Kingdoms. Finally, nearly 17 years after the original release I was able to play my childhood game with my own Country. The campaign is called “Francisco de Almeida” (He was a vice-Roy, or vice-King of India during the early 16th century). The 5 mission epic will take you from the Battle of Toro to the “Estado da India” (yup, it’s actually called that- Fucking amazing). To this wholesome awesome AoE devs added a unique unit to Portugal called the Organ Gun, they have a buffed up Wargalley-like called the Caravel. Gunpowder does more damage and you have an amazing unique building called.. you guessed it, the Feitoria!

Amazing Youtuber- Spirit of the Law- does a great rundown of this special building. The Portuguese faction also features the amazing Torre de Belém (you can read more on that here) as a Wonder. 

The Cossacks Series of games feature a very lacklustre representation that pales in comparison to the love AoE II showed. The developers slapped a couple of buffs to the ships; a variation of a 17th century pikemen (not even sure why they did that) and the shipyard is the only one that can self-defend itself because it is based of the Tower of Belém. In contrast to the Cossacks franchise  Europa Universalis IV arrives with a conquest-eager Portugal, setting their sights in the shores of Africa. The sea-faring nation received special attention in this grand strategy epopee with unique ideas events focused around the colonization. The Ordenações that I wrote about before make a very special appearance as the Afonsine Ordinance, giving Portugal a +10% modifier bonus in goods produced.

I’m not sure if I should include the Civilization Games in here due to their extremely anachronistic relationship with History, but hey, when your game is based around having spearmen fighting Panzer tanks in a randomly generated world there is nothing much you can expect in terms of realism. Portugal has Maria I as a leader in Civ 5(for some reason…), João II in Civ 4, Prince Henry in Civ 3. All across the three games you see that the only unique unit is the Nau/Carrack and of course, the improvement or building is the Feitoria. Turn-based forgotten hero Imperialism 2: The Age of Exploration has you managing all the 4X elements you would expect in a randonmly generated world map coupled with a couple of martitime and Age of Sails twists for you to deal with. Released back in 1999, two years after its original release Imperialism in 1997.

With a shortage in manpower to assert land dominance, captains and nobleman made their presence heard throughout the Atlantic and Indian Oceans mainly by the roar of their navy cannons. Time and time again, they made rain fire and metal upon unwilling-to-surrender-towns. Vasco da Game had no problems setting alight a Muslim pilgrim ship or hanging fishermen to send a message. He resorted to bombing the city of Calicut to the point where so many building have been destroyed that you could see the city centre from the port. He even sent them a bill of the gunpowder and munitions expended for all the trouble that they gave him. This event was so scary for neighbouring cities and ports that all trade basically came to an abrupt halt. Portugal was also the first nation to arrive in Japan and to sell them fire weapons that would go on to change the course of the Japanese battle tactics forever.

Navy Armada of Pedro Alvares Cabral in 1500 in “Livro de Lisuarte de Abreu” or “Livros das Armadas”, 1563-64. Pierpont Morgan Livrary, New York.

150 Years of Expansion made Portugal a sea-faring empire with riches beyond imaginable and lands that extended from Brazil to the East Indies. A new art style sprung up, the Mauelino (Derived from the portuguese king at the time, D. Manuel). Expanding on the late gothic, this new and exclusive style mixes religion and nature in elaborate ornaments. It incorporates elements from the overseas expansion such as ropes, navigational equipment, algae, reefs and corals and mermaids. The Portuguese Epic- Os Lusíadas– is written by Luís de Camões and presented to D. Sebastião.

The Nau of Pedro Álveras Cabral in
“Livro de Lisuarte de Abreu” or “Livros das Armadas”, 1563-64. Pierpont Morgan Livrary, New York.

Unfortunately, as the expansion was reaching its peak, D. Sebastião, hoping to mimic the glory of his ancestors led a less-than-smart-or-necessary venture into North Africa, against all advice of his senior’s officers and noblemen. He ended up disappearing in the Battle of Alcácer-Quibir. He was never found again. Legends say he escaped and will return to Portugal in a foggy dawn to lead Portugal to greatness. 400 Years have passed since then. Once more, the coastal nation had no heirs and the Cortes were summoned yet again. Filipe II of Spain was elected the legitimate king of Portugal, becoming Filipe I of Portugal. This loss of independence proved fatal to prosperous empire overseas. The Portuguese people saw themselves involved in far-away conflicts and European struggles against England, France and Holand- All enemies of Spain at the time. The race for Portuguese maritime possessions was open and the empire was craved like an unprotected cake at a kid’s party. 80 Years would come to pass until- in 1640- a new dynasty would rise to power and independence would flow once more. What happens next is a story for another day.

All The Games Talked About Here: Crusader Kings 2; Age of Empires II: African Kingdoms; Total War: Atilla, The Charlemagne Expansion; Fields of Glory II: Wolves at the Gates; Portugal 1111: A conquista de Soure; Kingdoms 1212 mod for Total War: Atilla; Fields of Glory: Storm of Arrows; Total War: Medieval II; Grand Ages Medieval; Cossacks Series; Europa Universalis IV; Civilization Series; Imperialism 2: The Age of Exploration; Imperialism


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