11.2 Europeans Gain Footholds in Asia

Portugal was the first European power to gain a foothold in Asia. The Portuguese ships were small in size and number, but the firepower of their shipboard cannons was unmatched. In time, this superior firepower helped them win control of the rich Indian Ocean spice trade and build a trading empire in Asia.

Illustration of a bearded man wearing robe, hat, sword and boots, pointing away.

The experienced general and admiral Afonso de Albuquerque spearheaded Portugal's efforts to build a trade empire around the Indian Ocean.


  • Summarize how Portugal built a trading empire in South and Southeast Asia.
  • Analyze the rise of Dutch and Spanish dominance in Asia and the Indian Ocean.
  • Understand how the decline of Mughal India affected European traders in the region.
  • Describe European contacts with Ming and Qing China.
  • Summarize Korea's and Japan's attitudes toward contact with the outside world.

Key Terms

  • Afonso de Albuquerque
  • Mughal empire
  • Goa
  • Malacca
  • outpost
  • Dutch East India Company
  • sovereign
  • Philippines
  • sepoy
  • Macao
  • Guangzhou
  • Matteo Ricci
  • Manchus
  • Qing
  • Qianlong
  • Lord Macartney
  • Tokugawa
  • Nagasaki
  • Malacca

Portugal Builds an Empire in Asia

Albuquerque in India

After Vasco da Gama's voyage, the Portuguese, under Afonso de Albuquerque's command, burst into the Indian Ocean. By that time, Muslim rulers, originally from central Asia, had established the Mughal empire throughout much of India.

The southern regions of India, however, were still controlled by a patchwork of local princes. The Portuguese won these princes to their side with promises of aid against other Europeans. With these southern footholds, Albuquerque and the Portuguese hoped to end Muslim power and turn the Indian Ocean into a “Portuguese lake.”

Trading Outposts Around the Indian Ocean

In 1510, the Portuguese seized the island of Goa off the coast of India, making it their major military and commercial base. Albuquerque burned coastal towns and crushed Arab fleets at sea. The Portuguese took the East Indies port of Malacca in 1511, killing the city's Muslim inhabitants.

In less than 50 years, the Portuguese had built a trading empire with military and merchant outposts, or distant areas under their control, around the Indian Ocean.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments