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date: 29 March 2023

War, Military Forces, and Society in Colonial Brazillocked

War, Military Forces, and Society in Colonial Brazillocked

  • Miguel Dantas da CruzMiguel Dantas da CruzUniversidade de Lisboa, Instituto de Ciências Sociais


War played a crucial role in the political and administrative development of colonial Brazil. The adoption of different government solutions, from the initial naval expeditions and proprietary captaincies to the establishment of a general government, were, in part, a response to the military challenges the Portuguese faced in the New World. In the 17th century, the leading municipalities in Brazil expanded their political prominence and reinforced their autonomy precisely when they assumed the commitment to feed the troops and pay for the army’s wages.

War and military conflicts also played an important role in the formation of the colonial society in Brazil. There was a natural overlay between the hierarchical structure of the military institutions created in, or transplanted to, the colony and the hierarchical society the Portuguese established in America. The armed forces consolidated the social status of local elites; while they provided opportunities for the more marginalized groups of blacks, mixed-race, and Indians—active participants in the defense of Brazil from the outset—they also helped colonial administrators organize society along racial lines.

Regulars, militias, ordenanças, and other military units filled different functions in the territory. They often took part in different military operations in a territory that was hardly suitable for large-scale operations, prolonged siege warfare, or coordinated deployment of mass infantry formations. In Brazil, similarly to other colonies in America, a distinct kind of warfare emerged, marked by a synthesis of European, Indian, and African military knowledges. It was called Guerra Brasílica, and it was both admired for its effectiveness and disparaged for not fitting nicely in traditional European military orthodoxies and for being undisciplined and supposedly “uncivilized.” The negative imageries attached to military campaigns in Brazil persisted in the minds of colonial administrators for a long time, underpinning the territory’s undeserving military status (when compared with India and North Africa)—a status that the colony seldom escaped.


  • History of Brazil
  • 1492–1824
  • Military History
  • Social History
  • Colonialism and Imperialism

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