Casa da Índia

Casa da Índia

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Casa da Índia (ˈkazɐ dɐ ˈĩdiɐ, India House) was the Portuguese
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...

 organization that managed all overseas territories during the heyday of the Portuguese Empire
Portuguese Empire
The Portuguese Empire , also known as the Portuguese Overseas Empire or the Portuguese Colonial Empire , was the first global empire in history...

 in the 16th century. It was both the central authority for managing all aspects of overseas trade, the central shipment point and clearing house. As an economic institution, it worked like a feitoria (factory, trading post)
Factory (trading post)
Factory was the English term for the trading posts system originally established by Europeans in foreign territories, first within different states of medieval Europe, and later in their colonial possessions...

, being the most important economic institution in Portugal of the time. It was located at the Ribeira Palace, the royal palace in Terreiro do Paço square (modern Praça do Comércio
Praça do Comércio
The Praça do Comércio is located in the city of Lisbon, Portugal. Situated near the Tagus river, the square is still commonly known as Terreiro do Paço , because it was the location of the Paços da Ribeira until it was destroyed by the great 1755 Lisbon Earthquake...

), in Lisbon.


The forerunners of Casa da Índia arose with the Portuguese exploration
Portuguese discoveries
Portuguese discoveries is the name given to the intensive maritime exploration by the Portuguese during the 15th and 16th centuries. Portuguese sailors were at the vanguard of European overseas exploration, discovering and mapping the coasts of Africa, Asia and Brazil, in what become known as the...

 of the African coast, to manage new trade opportunities.

As early as 1434 the Casa de Ceuta was founded in Lisbon, but it was not very successful because the Muslim merchants diverted the trade routes from Ceuta
Ceuta is an autonomous city of Spain and an exclave located on the north coast of North Africa surrounded by Morocco. Separated from the Iberian peninsula by the Strait of Gibraltar, Ceuta lies on the border of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Ceuta along with the other Spanish...

 to other places. Around 1443 in Lagos
Lagos is a port and the most populous conurbation in Nigeria. With a population of 7,937,932, it is currently the third most populous city in Africa after Cairo and Kinshasa, and currently estimated to be the second fastest growing city in Africa...

, Algarve, the Casa de Arguim and Casa da Guiné
Company of Guinea
The Company of Guinea was a Portuguese governative institution whose task was to deal with the spices and to fix the prices of the goods. It was called Casa da Guiné , Casa da Guiné e Mina from 1482 to 1483 and Casa da Índia e da Guiné in 1499, or simply Casa da Índia.-See also:* Casa da Índia*...

, were established to administer Prince Henry the Navigator's monopoly on African trade - essentially a set of sheds, warehouses and customs offices, dedicated to outfitting ships, hiring captains and crews, handing out trading licenses, receiving and selling goods and collecting dues. After the death of Henry the Navigator in 1460, both houses were moved by King Afonso V of Portugal
Afonso V of Portugal
Afonso V KG , called the African , was the twelfth King of Portugal and the Algarves. His sobriquet refers to his conquests in Northern Africa.-Early life:...

 from Lagos
Lagos, Portugal
Lagos is a municipality at the mouth of Bensafrim River and along the Atlantic Ocean, in the Barlavento region of the Algarve, in southern Portugal....

 to Lisbon
Lisbon is the capital city and largest city of Portugal with a population of 545,245 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Lisbon extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of 3 million on an area of , making it the 9th most populous urban...


The ascension of King John II of Portugal
John II of Portugal
John II , the Perfect Prince , was the thirteenth king of Portugal and the Algarves...

 in 1481 revived the royal interest in African trade. In 1482, upon erecting the fortress of São Jorge da Mina
Elmina, is a town in the Central Region, situated on a south-facing bay on the Atlantic Ocean coast of Ghana, about 12 km west of Cape Coast...

 to access the Akan
Akan people
The Akan people are an ethnic group found predominately in Ghana and The Ivory Coast. Akans are the majority in both of these countries and overall have a population of over 20 million people.The Akan speak Kwa languages-Origin and ethnogenesis:...

 goldfields and markets, John II overhauled the old houses and organized the system into two new institutions in Lisbon - the royal trading house, the Casa da Mina e Tratos de Guiné, focused on commercial aspects of African trade (goods, licenses, dues), and the separate royal naval arsenal, the Armazém da Guiné, to handle nautical matters (ship construction, nautical supplies, hiring of crews, etc.) In 1486, after the opening of contact with Benin
Benin Empire
The Benin Empire was a pre-colonial African state in what is now modern Nigeria. It is not to be confused with the modern-day country called Benin, formerly called Dahomey.-Origin:...

, John II established the Casa de Escravos, as a distinct slave-trading department of the Casa da Mina.

With the discovery of a sea route to India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 by Vasco da Gama
Vasco da Gama
Vasco da Gama, 1st Count of Vidigueira was a Portuguese explorer, one of the most successful in the Age of Discovery and the commander of the first ships to sail directly from Europe to India...

 in 1497-99, the spice trade
Spice trade
Civilizations of Asia were involved in spice trade from the ancient times, and the Greco-Roman world soon followed by trading along the Incense route and the Roman-India routes...

 became a new an important activity of the royal trading house, and old Casa was renamed Casa da Índia e da Guiné (the first written reference to a Casa da Índia was in a royal letter dated 1501).


Although initially (c.1500) consolidated in one unit, the Casa da Índia e da Guiné, it was separated again (c. 1506) into two distinct units, Casa da Índia and the Casa da Mina e da Guiné again. However, both houses were overseen by the same officers at the higher levels, so it was common to use the joint term , or simply just Casa da Índia, to refer to both.

The Casas were overssen by the same director and the same three treasurers (tesoreiros) - one for receiving goods, one for the sale of goods, and a third to handle everything else. There were five secretaries in charge of the administration - three for India, two for Mina and Guinea - and one chief factor (feitor) in charge of schedules and correspondence with all the Portuguese feitorias
Factory (trading post)
Factory was the English term for the trading posts system originally established by Europeans in foreign territories, first within different states of medieval Europe, and later in their colonial possessions...

around the world. One of the most famous people to hold this position was the chronicler João de Barros
João de Barros
João de Barros , called the Portuguese Livy, is one of the first great Portuguese historians, most famous for his Décadas da Ásia , a history of the Portuguese in India and Asia.-Early years:...

, who was appointed feitor in 1532.

The Casa was the in charge of monitoring the royal monopoly on the Asian and African trade, i.e. receiving goods, collecting duties on incoming goods, organizing the fleets (notably the yearly Portuguese India Armadas
Portuguese India Armadas
The Portuguese India armadas were the fleets of ships, organized by the Portuguese crown and dispatched on an annual basis from Portugal to India, principally Goa...

) and shipping schedules, ratifying contracts with private merchants, etc. The Casa had various mesas (departments) focused on specific areas - the spice trade, finances, ship scheduling, maintenance, training, documentation and legal matters.

Separately from the Casa was the Armazém da Guiné e Indias, the new name for the naval arsenal. It was assigned all nautical responsibilities, i.e. the running of the Lisbon dockyards, the construction of ships, the hiring and training of crews and supplying the fleets with equipment - sails, ropes, guns, nautical instruments and maps.

The Piloto-Mor of the Armazem was responsible for the training of pilot
Maritime pilot
A pilot is a mariner who guides ships through dangerous or congested waters, such as harbours or river mouths. With the exception of the Panama Canal, the pilot is only an advisor, as the captain remains in legal, overriding command of the vessel....

A navigator is the person on board a ship or aircraft responsible for its navigation. The navigator's primary responsibility is to be aware of ship or aircraft position at all times. Responsibilities include planning the journey, advising the Captain or aircraft Commander of estimated timing to...

s and the drafting of navigational charts. As a result, he was placed in charge of the Padrão Real
Padrão Real
The Padrão Real was a secret master Portuguese map produced and maintained by the Portuguese government organization, the Casa da Índia, where the new discoveries made by the Portuguese were recorded in secret...

, the secret royal master-map, containing all the details collected by Portuguese explorers, captains and pilots, and upon which all navigational maps were based. The Armazém consequently became the central cartographic institute (and censor!) of the era. Albeit, in 1547, we see the position of cosmografo-mor created for the mathematician Pedro Nunes
Pedro Nunes
Pedro Nunes , was a Portuguese mathematician, cosmographer, and professor, from a New Christian family. Nunes, considered to be one of the greatest mathematicians of his time , is best known for his contributions in the technical field of navigation, which was crucial to the Portuguese period of...

 and the cartographic duties passed over to him.

The Provedor dos Armazéms was in charge of screening and hiring of crews. The Almoxarife or Recebedor dos Armazéms, was the customs-collector, a highly-profitable job that was once held by Bartolomeu Dias
Bartolomeu Dias
Bartolomeu Dias , a nobleman of the Portuguese royal household, was a Portuguese explorer who sailed around the southernmost tip of Africa in 1488, the first European known to have done so.-Purposes of the Dias expedition:...

 in the mid-1490s.

Although theoretically separate, the Casa and the Armazém kept in contact and coordinated matters with each other, the expenses from one charged to the treasurer of the other, and officers moved seamlessly between them. As a result, it was common to use Casa da Índia to refer to the whole complex. From 1511, offices of the Casa da Índia were located on the ground floor of the royal Ribeira Palace on Terreiro do Paço in Lisbon
Lisbon is the capital city and largest city of Portugal with a population of 545,245 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Lisbon extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of 3 million on an area of , making it the 9th most populous urban...

, with the Armazém
Armazém is a Brazilian municipality in the state of Santa Catarina. Its coordinates are . The elevation is 30 m. The population in 2004 is 7,272. The area is 138.62 km²....

s just nearby.

However, the Casa da Índia should not be confused with the Estado da Índia, the royal overseas colonial government, which was a completely different and unrelated entity. The Casa da Índia was a trading company and operated like any other trading company. It was not a political, juridical or military institution. It was a trading company that just happened to be owned by the crown.


In 1504 all trading activities in Africa and, especially, in Asia were merged in the Casa da Índia, becoming subject to state control under the Portuguese kings. Under the supervision of the Vedor da Fazenda (chief royal treasurer) all products had to be handed over to the Casa, taxed and sold at an agreed price with the proceeds paid to the owners.

The Casa da Índia worked as customs
Customs is an authority or agency in a country responsible for collecting and safeguarding customs duties and for controlling the flow of goods including animals, transports, personal effects and hazardous items in and out of a country...

, central accounting office for funds and products in various overseas offices, archive
An archive is a collection of historical records, or the physical place they are located. Archives contain primary source documents that have accumulated over the course of an individual or organization's lifetime, and are kept to show the function of an organization...

, warehouse
A warehouse is a commercial building for storage of goods. Warehouses are used by manufacturers, importers, exporters, wholesalers, transport businesses, customs, etc. They are usually large plain buildings in industrial areas of cities and towns. They usually have loading docks to load and unload...

 management, personnel authority of sailors, soldiers and traders, as well as one of the world's first postal service. It fixed the prices and checked purchases, sales and payments. And also fitted the fleets, gathered the necessary military convoys, managed incoming and outgoing vessels and set out the various certificates and licenses. Through the Casa da Índia the royal officials were appointed overseas, and royal decrees and regulations were spread.

Between 1506 and 1570, Casa da Índia enforced the royal monopoly on all imports and sales of spices - pepper, cloves, and cinnamon - silk and shellac
Shellac is a resin secreted by the female lac bug, on trees in the forests of India and Thailand. It is processed and sold as dry flakes , which are dissolved in ethyl alcohol to make liquid shellac, which is used as a brush-on colorant, food glaze and wood finish...

, as well as on the export of gold, silver, copper and coral
Corals are marine animals in class Anthozoa of phylum Cnidaria typically living in compact colonies of many identical individual "polyps". The group includes the important reef builders that inhabit tropical oceans and secrete calcium carbonate to form a hard skeleton.A coral "head" is a colony of...

, and levied a 30 percent tax on the profits of other articles.

For about thirty years, from 1503 to 1535, the Portuguese cut into the Venetian spice trade in the Mediterranean. By 1510, the Portuguese throne was pocketing a million cruzados
Portuguese real
The real was the unit of currency of Portugal from around 1430 until 1911. It replaced the dinheiro at the rate of 1 real = 840 dinheiros and was itself replaced by the escudo at a rate of 1 escudo = 1000 réis...

 yearly from the spice trade alone, and it was this which led Francis I of France
Francis I of France
Francis I was King of France from 1515 until his death. During his reign, huge cultural changes took place in France and he has been called France's original Renaissance monarch...

 to dub King Manuel I of Portugal
Manuel I of Portugal
Manuel I , the Fortunate , 14th king of Portugal and the Algarves was the son of Infante Ferdinand, Duke of Viseu, , by his wife, Infanta Beatrice of Portugal...

 "le roi épicier", that is, "the grocer king."
The royal monopoly on copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

 exports especially made great gains, as copper was in high demand in India and West Africa, to were it was exported in the form of armlets called manillas
Manillas are penannular armlets, mostly in bronze or copper, very rarely gold, which served as a form of money or barter coinage and to a degree, ornamentation, amongst certain West African peoples...

, which served as a form of money
Money is any object or record that is generally accepted as payment for goods and services and repayment of debts in a given country or socio-economic context. The main functions of money are distinguished as: a medium of exchange; a unit of account; a store of value; and, occasionally in the past,...

. From 1495 to 1521 the Portuguese Crown bought in Antwerp, then the center of international trade, approximately 5,200 tonnes copper mainly from the Fugger
The Fugger family was a historically prominent group of European bankers, members of the fifteenth and sixteenth-century mercantile patriciate of Augsburg, international mercantile bankers, and venture capitalists like the Welser and the Höchstetter families. This banking family replaced the de'...

 of Hungary (Thurzo
Thurzo or Turzo was a Hungarian noble family from the 15th century to the first half of the 17th century.The ancestors of the Thurzo family came to the Kingdom of Hungary from Lower Austria....

-Fugger company), which was shipped mostly to India.

In 1506, about 65% of the state income was produced on overseas activity. The monopoly of trade remained profitable until 1570, and strengthened the equity and credit capacity of Portugal. The share of the Crown's total trade with Asia in 1506 amounted to about 25% and increased steadily to 50% or more, but never entirely displaced the private traders: the trade monopoly was accompanied always by free trade in other products such as textiles, weapons, paper and salted fish, such as Bacalhau.

Royal monopolies were also leased out sometimes by Casa da Índia to private traders for a certain period. After 1570, the monopolies were abolished, except for the purchase of spices and the trade in copper and silver.


Income started to decline mid-century because of costs of maintaining a presence in Morocco and domestic waste. Also, Portugal did not develop a substantial domestic infrastructure to support this activity, but relied on foreigners for many services supporting their trading enterprises, and therefore a lot of the income was consumed in this way. In 1549 the Portuguese trade center in Antwerp went bankrupt and was closed. As the throne became more overextended in the 1550s, it relied more and more on foreign financing. By about 1560 the income of the Casa da Índia was not able to cover its expenses. The Portuguese monarchy had become, in Garrett Mattingly
Garrett Mattingly
Garrett Mattingly was a professor of European history at Columbia University who specialized in early modern diplomatic history and won a Pulitzer Prize for a bestseller about the Spanish Armada....

's phrase, the owner of "a bankrupt wholesale grocery business."

The Casa da Índia produced a secret map called the Padrão Real
Padrão Real
The Padrão Real was a secret master Portuguese map produced and maintained by the Portuguese government organization, the Casa da Índia, where the new discoveries made by the Portuguese were recorded in secret...

, which ship maps were copied from, which was the counterpart of the Spanish map, the Padrón Real
Padrón Real
The Padrón Real , known after 2 August 1527 as the Padrón General , was the official and secret Spanish master map used as a template for the maps present on all Spanish ships during the 16th century. It was kept in Seville, Spain by the Casa de Contratación. Ship pilots were required to use a copy...


In 1709 at the Casa da Índia, the Jesuit priest Father Bartolomeu de Gusmão
Bartolomeu de Gusmão
Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão , was a priest and naturalist born in the then Portuguese colony of Brazil, noted for his early work on lighter-than-air airship design....

 demonstrated the principles of hot air ballooning. He managed to levitate a ball indoors at the Casa da Índia in Lisbon. He later fled from Portugal to Spain, for fear of being accused of performing magic by the Inquisition
The Inquisition, Inquisitio Haereticae Pravitatis , was the "fight against heretics" by several institutions within the justice-system of the Roman Catholic Church. It started in the 12th century, with the introduction of torture in the persecution of heresy...

The House of India was destroyed in 1755 by the Lisbon earthquake
1755 Lisbon earthquake
The 1755 Lisbon earthquake, also known as the Great Lisbon Earthquake, was a megathrust earthquake that took place on Saturday 1 November 1755, at around 9:40 in the morning. The earthquake was followed by fires and a tsunami, which almost totally destroyed Lisbon in the Kingdom of Portugal, and...


See also

  • Company of Guinea
    Company of Guinea
    The Company of Guinea was a Portuguese governative institution whose task was to deal with the spices and to fix the prices of the goods. It was called Casa da Guiné , Casa da Guiné e Mina from 1482 to 1483 and Casa da Índia e da Guiné in 1499, or simply Casa da Índia.-See also:* Casa da Índia*...

  • Economic history of Portugal
    Economic history of Portugal
    The economic history of Portugal covers the development of the economy throughout the course of Portuguese history. It has its roots prior to nationality, when Roman occupation developed a thriving economy in Hispania, in the provinces of Lusitania and Gallaecia, as producers and exporters to the...

  • Casa de Contratacion
    Casa de Contratación
    La Casa de Contratación was a government agency under the Spanish Empire, existing from the 16th to the 18th centuries, which attempted to control all Spanish exploration and colonization...