In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Salvador da Bahia

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Resources
  • Conflicts and Urban Uprisings

Atlantic History Salvador da Bahia
Guida Marques
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0340


The city of Salvador da Bahia was founded in 1549 under the name of São Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos (Holy Savior of the Bay of All Saints). But it was known as the city of Bahia between the 16th and 19th centuries. This major Atlantic port city developed by exporting sugar and tobacco to Europe and beyond and importing slaves from Africa. It was also the capital of Portuguese America until 1763. We cannot really separate the history of the city and that of its hinterland, one of the most prosperous plantation economies in the Atlantic world. It was the plantations of the Recôncavo that made Bahia one of the major slaveholding regions in the Americas and the interaction between the city of Bahia and its hinterland was constant. Nonetheless, this article focuses on the urban setting. Salvador da Bahia was a Portuguese colonial city, built on land of the Tupinambá people, which brought together a multiethnic community made up of European, indigenous, and African populations. It was a cosmopolitan city despite itself, whose development was closely linked to slavery and slave trade. It was a place of mutual influence and deep reconfiguration, where mixing was both obvious and problematic. The society of Bahia was based on exclusion and negotiated forms of integration, influenced by the Portuguese imperial framework. It was a complex slave society, whose transformation between the 16th and the 19th centuries cannot be understood without taking into account the several Atlantic dynamics. Slavery reached its peak during the Brazilian imperial regime, being kept untouched after independence, and the dynamics of the city remained deeply tied to the slave trade, whether illegal or interprovincial. This persistence of slavery through the 19th century raises the question of the traditional chronology of the history of Brazil, whose colonial period would end with independence. This article encompasses both colonial and imperial periods and offers a wide historiographical overview on Salvador da Bahia. The historiography of Bahia has been extensively devoted to slavery history and slave populations. Historians have long been interested in black urban slavery and its specificities, highlighting the complexity of the society of Salvador da Bahia and the strength of the interactions that took place there. In recent years, scholars have explored new perspectives, by taking the path of micro history and collective biographies. They have examined in depth the multiple connections between Bahia and different African regions, which involved different agents and social groups. By focusing on the South Atlantic, they have experimented with approaches beyond the imperial framework and have made a major contribution to Atlantic studies. The political perspectives were also renewed, emphasizing the strength of local powers and the interactions between local and imperial strategies. The indigenous history of the region of Bahia is also experiencing a significant revival. We thus intend to emphasize recent works and ongoing research on Salvador da Bahia.

General Overviews

Tavares 2008 provides a comprehensive overview of the regional history of Bahia. Vasconcelos 2016 constitutes a good introduction to the urban history of Salvador. Boxer 1962 includes a chapter “Bay of All Saints” that takes an insightful approach to the colonial history of Salvador da Bahia. For further in-depth consideration, it is indispensable to consult Schwartz 1985. Mattoso 1992 is also essential for studying the history of Bahia in the 19th century. Finally, the recent edited collection Sales Souza, et al. 2016 offers a diverse set of approaches to the city of Bahia between the 16th century and the end of the 19th century.

  • Boxer, Charles. The Golden Age of Brazil, 1695–1750: Growing Pains of a Colonial Society. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962.

    The chapter “The Bay of all Saints” (pp. 126–161) remains an insightful introduction to the colonial history of Bahia.

  • Mattoso, Kátia de Queirós. Bahia século XIX: Uma província no império. Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira, 1992.

    A detailed study of Salvador da Bahia between 1800 and 1889, which addresses topics as diverse as the Bahian family, the organization of economic life, the Roman Catholic Church, and the prevailing social hierarchies. A seminal work on the history of Bahia in the imperial era.

  • Sales Souza, Evergton, Guida Marques, and Hugo Ribeiro da Silva, eds. Salvador da Bahia: Retratos de uma cidade atlântica. Salvador, Brazil: EDUFBA, 2016.

    A collective work that takes both an Atlantic and an imperial perspective. It offers several approaches to Salvador da Bahia between the 16th and the 19th centuries, aimed at connecting different historiographies.

  • Schwartz, Stuart. Sugar Plantations in the Formation of Brazilian Society: Bahia, 1535–1835. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

    An essential monograph focusing on the socioeconomic formation of Salvador de Bahia and its hinterland. Schwartz shows how slavery and export agriculture deeply shaped the society of Bahia.

  • Tavares, Luis Henrique Dias. História da Bahia. São Paulo, Brazil: UNESP, 2008.

    A detailed monograph and a good introduction to the history of Bahia.

  • Vasconcelos, Pedro Almeida. Salvador: Transformações e permanências, 1549–1999. Salvador, Brazil: EDUFBA, 2016.

    The first five chapters (pp. 29–321) deal with the colonial and imperial periods in the urban history of Salvador da Bahia.

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