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