Barros, João de (c. 1496–1570)

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Barros, João de (c. 1496–1570)

João de Barros (b. ca. 1496; d. 21 October 1570), bureaucrat, humanist, lord-proprietor (donatario) in Brazil, historian. The son of a member of the lower nobility, João de Barros served as a page to Prince João, future king of Portugal. From 1525 to 1528 he was treasurer of the Casa da India, Mina, e Ceuta. In 1532 Barros became factor (feitor) of the Casa da India e Guiné (also called the Casa da India e Mina), a post he held until 1567. He was the author of Clarimundo (1522), a romance of chivalry, and Ropica Pnefma (1532), an allegory greatly influenced by Erasmus.

In 1535 Barros became the seventh of the twelve lords-proprietor to be awarded hereditary captaincies in Brazil between 1534 and 1536. He received several grants of land on the northern coast of Brazil along with two other lords-proprietor, Aires da Cunha and Fernão Álvares de Andrade. In 1535 the three lords-proprietor financed an expedition to explore and settle their lands, but most of the fleet was shipwrecked and little came of the effort. In 1555 or 1556, Barros sent another expedition that included his sons, Jerónimo and João, but this effort, too, was unsuccessful, leaving Barros in very serious financial straits. Many historians, unaware of the second expedition, have combined the two into one and have asserted, without evidence, that Barros's sons were on the 1535 voyage. After suffering a stroke in 1567, Barros retired to his country estate, São Lourenço do Ribeiro de Alitem, near Pombal, where he died.

Published between 1552 and 1615, Barros's most important literary work was the four-volume Décadas de Asia, modeled on Livy's History. Covering Portugal's overseas activity to 1538, the work is of great value to historians because of Barros's access to materials as factor of the Casa da India e Guiné, his incorporation of Portuguese translations of Asian chronicles and other documents that have since disappeared, and his use of eyewitness accounts of those Portuguese returning from overseas.

See alsoExplorers and Exploration: Brazil .


A very good biography in English is Charles R. Boxer, João de Barros: Portuguese Humanist and Historian of Asia (1981). A number of documents regarding the career of Barros were published by António Baião, "Documents inéditos sôbre João de Barros," in Boletim da segunda classe, vol 11, edited by Academia das Sciências de Lisboa (1916–1917), pp. 202-355. The major documents for the grant of his captaincy in Brazil, and not included in the preceding work, are transcribed by António Baião in his introduction to the fourth edition of Asia de Joam de Barros (1932), the first of the Décadas. Also useful in assessing Barros's role as a humanist strongly influenced by Erasmus is José V. De Pina Martins, Humanismo e Erasmismo na cultura portuguesa do século XVI: Estudo e textos (1973).

                                         Francis A. Dutra

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Barros, João de (c. 1496–1570)

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