Portugal was the first of all European countries to become involved in the Atlantic slave trade. From the 15th to 19th century, the Portuguese exported 4.5 million Africans as slaves to the Americas, making it Europe’s largest trafficker of human beings.
Slave labor was the driving force behind the growth of the sugar economy in Portugal’s colony of Brazil, and sugar was the primary export from 1600 to 1650. Gold and diamond deposits were discovered in Brazil in 1690, which sparked an increase in the importation of African slaves to power this newly profitable market.
The large portion of the Brazilian inland where gold was extracted was known as the Minas Gerais (General Mines). Gold mining in this area became the main economic activity of colonial Brazil during the 18th century. In Portugal, the gold was mainly used to pay for industrialized goods such as textiles and weapons, and to build magnificent baroque monuments like the Convent of Mafra.