Some of the earliest human remains found in the Americas, Luzia Woman, were found in the area of Pedro Leopoldo, Minas Gerais and provide evidence of human habitation going back at least 11,000 years. The earliest pottery ever found in the Western Hemisphere was excavated in the Amazon basin of Brazil and radiocarbon dated to 8,000 years ago (6000 BC). The pottery was found near Santarém and provides evidence that the tropical forest region supported a complex prehistoric culture. The Marajoara culture flourish between 800 CE and 1400 CE; they developed sophisticated pottery, social stratification, supported large populations, mound building, and complex social formations such as chiefdoms.
Around the time of the Portuguese arrival, the territory of current day Brazil had an estimated indigenous population of 7 million people, mostly semi-nomadic who subsisted on hunting, fishing, gathering, and migrant agriculture. The indigenous population of Brazil comprised several large indigenous ethnic groups (e.g. the Tupis, Guaranis, Gês and Arawaks). The Tupí people were subdivided into the Tupiniquins and Tupinambás, and there were also many subdivisions of the other groups.
Before the arrival of the Europeans, the boundaries between these groups and their subgroups were marked by wars that arose from differences in culture, language and moral beliefs. These wars also involved large-scale military actions on land and water, with cannibalistic rituals on prisoners of war. While heredity had some weight, leadership status was more subdued over time, than allocated in succession ceremonies and conventions. Slavery among the Indians had a different meaning than it had for Europeans, since it originated from a diverse socio-economic organization, in which asymmetries were translated into kinship relations.
The land now called Brazil was claimed for the Portuguese Empire on 22 April 1500, with the arrival of the Portuguese fleet commanded by Pedro Álvares Cabral. The Portuguese encountered indigenous peoples divided into several tribes, most of whom spoke languages of the Tupi–Guarani family, and fought among themselves. Though the first settlement was founded in 1532, colonization effectively began in 1534, when King Dom João III of Portugal divided the territory into the fifteen private and autonomous Captaincy Colonies of Brazil.
However, the decentralized and unorganized tendencies of the captaincy colonies proved problematic, and in 1549 the Portuguese king restructured them into the Governorate General of Brazil, a single and centralized Portuguese colony in South America. In the first two centuries of colonization, Indigenous and European groups lived in constant war, establishing opportunistic alliances in order to gain advantages against each other. By the mid-16th century, cane sugar had become Brazil's most important export, and slaves purchased in Sub-Saharan Africa, in the slave market of Western Africa (not only those from Portuguese allies of their colonies in Angola and Mozambique), had become its largest import, to cope with plantations of sugarcane, due to increasing international demand for Brazilian sugar.
By the end of the 17th century, sugarcane exports began to decline, and the discovery of gold by bandeirantes in the 1690s would become the new backbone of the colony's economy, fostering a Brazilian Gold Rush which attracted thousands of new settlers to Brazil from Portugal and all Portuguese colonies around the world. This increased level of immigration in turn caused some conflicts between newcomers and old settlers.
Portuguese expeditions known as Bandeiras gradually advanced the Portugal colonial original frontiers in South America to approximately the current Brazilian borders. In this era other European powers tried to colonize parts of Brazil, in incursions that the Portuguese had to fight, notably the French in Rio during the 1560s, in Maranhão during the 1610s, and the Dutch in Bahia and Pernambuco, during the Dutch–Portuguese War, after the end of Iberian Union.
The Portuguese colonial administration in Brazil had two objectives that would ensure colonial order and the monopoly of Portugal's wealthiest and largest colony: to keep under control and eradicate all forms of slave rebellion and resistance, such as the Quilombo of Palmares, and to repress all movements for autonomy or independence, such as the Minas Conspiracy.
United Kingdom with Portugal
In late 1807, Spanish and Napoleonic forces threatened the security of continental Portugal, causing Prince Regent João, in the name of Queen Maria I, to move the royal court from Lisbon to Brazil. There they established some of Brazil's first financial institutions, such as its local stock exchanges, and its National Bank, additionally ending the Portuguese monopoly on Brazilian trade and opening Brazil to other nations. In 1809, in retaliation for being forced into exile, the Prince Regent ordered the Portuguese conquest of French Guiana.
With the end of the Peninsular War in 1814, the courts of Europe demanded that Queen Maria I and Prince Regent João return to Portugal, deeming it unfit for the head of an ancient European monarchy to reside in a colony. In 1815, to justify continuing to live in Brazil, where the royal court had thrived for the prior six years, the Crown established the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves, thus creating a pluricontinental transatlantic monarchic state. However, such a ploy didn't last long, since the leadership in Portugal, resentful of the new status of its larger colony, continued to require the return of court to Lisbon (as postulated by the Liberal Revolution of 1820), and also groups of Brazilians, impatient for practical and real changes, still demanded independence and a republic, as demonstrated by the 1817 Pernambucan Revolt. In 1821, as a demand of revolutionaries who had taken the city of Porto, D. João VI was unable to hold out any longer, and departed for Lisbon. There he swore an oath to the new constitution, leaving his son, Prince Pedro de Alcântara, as Regent of the Kingdom of Brazil.
Tensions between Portuguese and Brazilians increased, and the Portuguese Cortes, guided by the new political regime imposed by the 1820 Liberal Revolution, tried to re-establish Brazil as a colony. The Brazilians refused to yield, and Prince Pedro decided to stand with them, declaring the country's independence from Portugal on 7 September 1822. A month later, Prince Pedro was declared the first Emperor of Brazil, with the royal title of Dom Pedro I, resulting in the foundation of the Empire of Brazil.
The Brazilian War of Independence, which had already begun along this process, spread through northern, northeastern regions and in Cisplatina province. When the last Portuguese soldiers surrendered on 8 March 1824, Portugal officially recognized Brazil on 29 August 1825.
On 7 April 1831, worn down by years of administrative turmoil and political dissent with both liberal and conservative sides of politics, including an attempt of republican secession, and unreconciled to the way that absolutists in Portugal had given in the succession of King John VI, Pedro I went to Portugal to reclaim his daughter's crown, abdicating the Brazilian throne in favor of his five-year-old son and heir (who thus became the Empire's second monarch, with the royal title of Dom Pedro II).
As the new Emperor could not exert his constitutional powers until he became of age, a regency was set up by the National Assembly. In the absence of a charismatic figure who could represent a moderate face of power, during this period a series of localized rebellions took place, such as the Cabanagem in Grão-Pará Province, the Malê Revolt in Salvador da Bahia, the Balaiada (Maranhão), the Sabinada (Bahia), and the Ragamuffin War beginning in Rio Grande do Sul and supported by Giuseppe Garibaldi. These emerged from the dissatisfaction of the provinces with the central power, coupled with old and latent social tensions peculiar to a vast, slaveholding and newly independent nation state. This period of internal political and social upheaval, which included the Praieira revolt in Pernambuco, was overcome only at the end of the 1840s, years after the end of the regency, which occurred with the premature coronation of Pedro II in 1841.
During the last phase of the monarchy, internal political debate centered on the issue of slavery. The Atlantic slave trade was abandoned in 1850, as a result of the British Aberdeen Act, but only in May 1888 after a long process of internal mobilization and debate for an ethical and legal dismantling of slavery in the country, was the institution formally abolished.
The foreign affairs in the monarchy were basically related to issues with the countries of the Southern Cone with which Brazil had borders. Long after the Cisplatine War that resulted in independence for Uruguay, Brazil won three international wars during the 58-year reign of Pedro II. These were the Platine War, the Uruguayan War and the devastating Paraguayan War, the largest war effort in Brazilian history.
On 15 November 1889, worn out by years of economic stagnation, in attrition with the majority of Army officers, as well as with rural and financial elites (for different reasons), the monarchy was overthrown by a military coup.
The "early republican government was little more than a military dictatorship, with army dominating affairs both at Rio de Janeiro and in the states. Freedom of the press disappeared and elections were controlled by those in power". In 1894, following the unfoldings of two severe crises, an economic along with a military one, the republican civilians rose to power.
If in relation to its foreign policy, the country in this first republican period maintained a relative balance characterized by a success in resolving border disputes with neighboring countries, only broken by the Acre War (1899–1902) and its involvement in World War I (1914–1918), followed by a failed attempt to exert a prominent role in the League of Nations; Internally, from the crisis of Encilhamento and the Armada Revolts, a prolonged cycle of financial, political and social instability began Until the 1920s, keeping the country besieged by various rebellions, both civilian and military.
Little by little, a cycle of general instability sparked by these crises undermined the regime to such an extent, that in the wake of the murder of his running mate, the defeated opposition presidential candidate Getúlio Vargas supported by most of the military, successfully led the October 1930 Coup. Vargas and the military were supposed to assume power temporarily, but instead closed the Congress, extinguished the Constitution, ruled with emergency powers and replaced the states' governors with their own supporters.
In the 1930s, three failed attempts to remove Vargas and his supporters from power occurred. The first was the Constitutionalist Revolution in 1932, led by the Paulista oligarchy. The second was a Communist uprising in November 1935, and the last one a putsch attempt by local fascists in May 1938. The 1935 uprising created a security crisis in which the Congress transferred more power to the executive. The 1937 coup d'état resulted in the cancellation of the 1938 election, installed Vargas as a dictator, and began the Estado Novo era, noted for government brutality and censorship of the press.
Foreign policy during Vargas years was marked by the antecedents and World War II. Brazil remained neutral until August 1942, when the country entered on the allied side, after suffering retaliation by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, in a strategic dispute over the South Atlantic. In addition to its participation in the battle of the Atlantic, Brazil also sent an expeditionary force to fight in the Italian campaign.
With the Allied victory in 1945 and the end of the Nazi-fascist regimes in Europe, Vargas's position became unsustainable and he was swiftly overthrown in another military coup, with democracy "reinstated" by the same army that had ended it 15 years earlier. Vargas committed suicide in August 1954 amid a political crisis, after having returned to power by election in 1950.
Several brief interim governments followed Vargas's suicide. Juscelino Kubitschek became president in 1956 and assumed a conciliatory posture towards the political opposition that allowed him to govern without major crises. The economy and industrial sector grew remarkably, but his greatest achievement was the construction of the new capital city of Brasília, inaugurated in 1960.
Kubitschek's successor, Jânio Quadros, resigned in 1961 less than a year after taking office. His vice-president, João Goulart, assumed the presidency, but aroused strong political opposition and was deposed in April 1964 by a coup that resulted in a military regime.
The new regime was intended to be transitory but gradually closed in on itself and became a full dictatorship with the promulgation of the Fifth Institutional Act in 1968. Oppression was not limited to those who resorted to guerrilla tactics to fight the regime, but also reached institutional opponents, artists, journalists and other members of civil society, inside and outside the country through the infamous "Operation Condor". Despite its brutality, like other totalitarian regimes, due to an economic boom, known as an "economic miracle", the regime reached a peak in popularity in the early 1970s.
Slowly however, the wear and tear of years of dictatorial power that had not slowed the repression, even after the defeat of the leftist guerrillas, plus the inability to deal with the economic crises of the period and popular pressure, made an opening policy inevitable, which from the regime side was led by Generals Ernesto Geisel and Golbery do Couto e Silva. With the enactment of the Amnesty Law in 1979, Brazil began a slow return to democracy, which was completed during the 1980s.
Civilians returned to power in 1985 when José Sarney assumed the presidency. He became unpopular during his tenure through failure to control the economic crisis and hyperinflation he inherited from the military regime. Sarney's unsuccessful government led to the election in 1989 of the almost-unknown Fernando Collor, subsequently impeached by the National Congress in 1992.
Collor was succeeded by his vice-president, Itamar Franco, who appointed Fernando Henrique Cardoso Minister of Finance. In 1994, Cardoso produced a highly successful Plano Real, that, after decades of failed economic plans made by previous governments attempting to curb hyperinflation, finally stabilized the Brazilian economy. Cardoso won the 1994 election, and again in 1998.
The peaceful transition of power from Cardoso to his main opposition leader, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (elected in 2002 and re-elected in 2006), was seen as proof that Brazil had achieved a long-sought political stability. However, sparked by indignation and frustrations accumulated over decades from corruption, police brutality, inefficiencies of the political establishment and public service, numerous peaceful protests erupted in Brazil from the middle of first term of Dilma Rousseff, who had succeeded Lula after winning election in 2010.
Enhanced by political and economic crises with evidence of involvement by politicians from all the primary political parties in several bribery and tax evasion schemes, with large street protests for and against her, Rousseff was impeached by the Brazilian Congress in 2016. In 2017, the Supreme Court has asked for the investigation of 71 Brazilian lawmakers and nine ministers in President Michel Temer's cabinet allegedly linked to the Petrobras corruption scandal. President Temer is himself accused of corruption.