Casa da Índia

Casa da Índia (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈkazɐ dɐ ˈĩdiɐ], India House) was the Portuguese organization that managed all overseas territories during the heyday of the Portuguese Empire 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),[1] 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), in Lisbon.

Casa da Índia
IndustryInternational trade
PredecessorCompany of Guinea
Defunct17 September 1833 (1833-09-17)
Area served
Portuguese Empire
Key people
Manuel I of Portugal


The forerunners of Casa da Índia arose with the Portuguese exploration 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 to other places. Around 1443 in Lagos, Algarve, the Casa de Arguim and Casa da Guiné, 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 from Lagos to Lisbon.

The ascension of King John II of Portugal in 1481 revived the royal interest in African trade. In 1482, upon erecting the fortress of São Jorge da Mina to access the Akan goldfields and markets,[2] 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, 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 by Vasco da Gama in 1497-99, the spice trade became a new and important activity of the royal trading house, and the 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 overseen 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 around the world. One of the most famous people to hold this position was the chronicler João de Barros, who was appointed feitor in 1532.

The Casa was 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) 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, a position held between 1503 and 1526 by Pero Anes, Gonçalo Álvares and João de Lisboa, was probably responsible for the training of pilot-navigators and the drafting of navigational charts.[3] Albeit, in 1547, we see the position of cosmografo-mor created for the mathematician Pedro Nunes 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 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, with the Armazém just next to it.[4]

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.


Colonial India
Imperial entities of India
Dutch India1605–1825
Danish India1620–1869
French India1668–1954

Portuguese India
Casa da Índia1434–1833
Portuguese East India Company1628–1633

British India
East India Company1612–1757
Company rule in India1757–1858
British Raj1858–1947
British rule in Burma1824–1948
Princely states1721–1949
Partition of India

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, central accounting office for funds and products in various overseas offices, archive, warehouse management, personnel authority of sailors, soldiers and traders, as well as one of the world's first postal services. 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, as well as on the export of gold, silver, copper and coral, 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 yearly from the spice trade alone, and it was this which led Francis I of France to dub King Manuel I of Portugal "le roi épicier", that is, "the grocer king." The royal monopoly on copper exports especially made great gains, as copper was in high demand in India and West Africa, to where it was exported in the form of armlets called manillas, which served as a form of money.[5] 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 of Hungary (Thurzo-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's phrase, the owner of "a bankrupt wholesale grocery business."

The Casa da Índia produced a secret map called the Padrão Real, which ship maps were copied from, which was the counterpart of the Spanish map, the Padrón Real.

In 1709 at the Casa da Índia, the Jesuit priest Father Bartolomeu de Gusmão 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 House of India was destroyed in 1755 by the Lisbon earthquake.

See also


  1. It was the Portuguese counterpart of the Spanish organization Casa de Contratación (est. 1503, abolished 1790).
  2. Wilks,Ivor. Wangara, Akan, and Portuguese in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries (1997). Bakewell, Peter (ed.). Mines of Silver and Gold in the Americas. Aldershot: Variorum, Ashgate Publishing Limited. pp. 1–39.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. e.g. Teixeira da Mota (1969) "Os Regimentos do cosmógrafo-mor de 1559 e 1592 e as origens do ensino náutico em Portugal",Memorias da Academia das Ciencias de Lisboa, vol. 13, pp.227-91. J.I. Brito-Rebello (1903) Livro de Marinharia (Lisbon: Libanio da Silva) replicates the documents for the nominations of Pero Annes (18 February 1503), João de Lisboa replacing Gonçalo Álvares as "patrão" (11 December 1522) and "piloto-mor" (12 January 1525), and Fernando Affonso as "patrão" (15 November 1526)
  4. Maḥmūd Ṭāliqānī; Dejanirah Couto; Jean-Louis Bacqué-Grammont (2006). كارتوگرافى تاريخى خليج فارس: actes du colloque organisé les 21 et 22 avril 2004 à Téhéran par l'EPHE, l'université de Téhéran et le Centre de documentation et de recherche d'Iran. Peeters Publishers. p. 66. ISBN 978-2-909961-40-8.
  5. Copper was the "red gold" of Africa, exported as manillas, the ring-like armlets which served as a form of money or barter coinage amongst certain West African peoples in Guinea Coast, Gold Coast, see Chamberlain, C. C.(1963). The Teach Yourself Guide to Numismatics. English Universities Press. P. 92. From contemporary records, we know the earliest Portuguese were made in Antwerp; between 1504 and 1507 Portugal exported 287,813 manillas into Guinea via San Jorge da Mina. vide Einzig, Paul (1949). Primitive Money in its ethnological, historical and economic aspects. Eyre & Spottiswoode. London. P. 155.


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