Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Portugal

Archival Services




The Historical and Diplomatic Archives hold about 5.000 linear meters of historical archival material. Its main collections contain holdings of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a set of private archive holdings.

Holdings of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs include documentation relating to the:

  • Central Administration Services (1850 – 1985);
  • Portuguese embassies, delegations and representations abroad (1819 – 1985);
  • Portugal’s missions and permanent representations to the main International Organizations (1949 – 1977);
  • International treaties and other instruments signed by Portugal, including ratifications and accessions (1839 – 1995); and,
  • Monographs written by diplomats and other Ministry’s officials in the performance of their duties (1922 – 1966).

The private archive holdings consist of private documents of former or current officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs acquired through purchase or donation.


Summary of historical background of the archives service

In 1641, the first Portuguese Department of State was set up by King John IV to deal with all matters of State. This Department was also responsible for external policies committed to the King’s supervision. In 1736, the post of Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and War was created and what may be regarded as the predecessor of the present Foreign Ministry came into being. In 1822, separate departments were created for “foreign affairs” and “war” although the two were temporarily brought back together between 1852 and 1866 and again in 1870.

Throughout the 19th century and for more than half of this century, the Archives and Library Service formed a single unit within the Ministry with mere administrative functions. Their use for research purposes was contemplated in a 1921 Act, but this function only became effective after the Ministry’s reorganisation in 1965, which established access to records for historical research and recognised the need for services available to the public.

Under another reorganization of the Ministry in 1986, the archives became a separate division within the Archives and Library Services directly under the Secretary-General of the Foreign Ministry. In October 1987, the first Regulation Law concerning the Archives and Library Service was published. The categories of current, semi-current and historical records were established and their aims and objectives clearly defined. This Regulation also included access conditions to diplomatic historical archives.

Finally, by Decree no 285/97 - 22 October 1997, the archives became a Directorate attached to the Diplomatic Institute, which answers directly to the Foreign Minister. In 2001 the present regulations of the archives Directorate were published in the Portuguese Official Journal (“Portaria n.o 457/2001, de 8 de Maio de 2001”).

Diplomatic records produced since 1736 have, unfortunately suffered many losses. Record groups and collections inherited in 1736 by the Department of State for Foreign Affairs and War and those produced in its early years of existence vanished in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. After 1756, several removals took place and these also resulted in many losses and dispersions. On the other hand, because of the link between “foreign affairs” and “war” until 1822, some records concerning diplomatic matters can be found in the Military Historical Archives.

Between 1868 and 1880, several record groups and collections were transferred to the National Archives, and in 1950 another transfer took place, with 1850 as the cut-off date. There was some flexibility, however, in applying the date rule for transfer: archival units were not broken up, and so boxes or bundles which contained documents from both before and after 1850 were kept in the Archives service. On the other hand, some material incorporated after 1950 (mainly records from diplomatic missions abroad) included documents prior to 1850. These two reasons explain the presence of some archival material from the first half of the XIX century in the Diplomatic Historical Archives.


The Diplomatic Historical Archives are accessible to Ministry staff and to national and foreign researchers. No particular qualifications are required. Researchers preparing theses or other academic investigations are asked to present a letter of introduction from their university or research director (but this is not compulsory).

Opening hours: Monday to Friday, 11am to 5pm 


A reading-room is available within the archives service where computers, two microfiche/microfilm readers and printers may be used by researchers. A small reference library containing some of the Ministry’s most important publications is accessible to users in the reading- room.

Finding aids (a general guide, typed inventories, transfer lists, indexes and catalogues) are kept in a reference room for the use of researchers. Some of the existing finding aids are now available in the archives database.

Reproduction of documents

Digital reproduction and Xerox copying are the two means of reproducing records.

Reproduction requests must first be authorised (a special form exists for the purpose). Costs of reproduction are charged to users.

Access regulations

Access regulations concerning the Diplomatic Historical Archives are published in the Portuguese Official Journal “Diário da República” (“Portaria do Ministério dos Negócios Estrangeiros n.o 896/2004, que aprova o Regulamento da Comissão de Selecção e Desclassificação, D.R. no 171, I Série - B, de 22 Julho 2004" - Legal diploma regulating the activity of the Commission for the Declassification of Diplomatic Records).

As a general rule, records older than 30 years are declassified by the Commission and released to public access.

The Commission may give access to records, which are less than 30 years old. Access to classified records may be given, exceptionally, but is restricted and subject to prior credentiation by the National Security Authority.

Personal and nominative files can only be acceded 50 years after the death of the person involved, or, if the death date is unknown, 75 years after the date of the files.

Concise description of the principal record groups and collections

Most records prior to 1850 were transferred to the National Archives. The complete holdings of the Foreign Ministry's archives measure nearly 6.000 linear metres. Its principal record groups and collections are:

1 Fonds of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Record groups

- Department of State (ca. 1850-1985): records belonging to the Ministry’s head office in Lisbon: around 4 400 linear metres. Some series include records from the first half of the 19 th. Century (1801-50).

- Legations and embassies (ca. 1891-1985): records from Portuguese legations/embassies abroad; approximately 800 linear metres.

- Consulates and vice-consulates (ca. 1831-1980): records from Portuguese consular missions abroad; approximately 500 linear metres.

- Permanent missions and delegations (1949-77): records from Portuguese permanent missions and delegations to international organizations; approximately 100 linear metres.


- Treaties (1839-2004): original texts or certified copies of treaties and other international agreements to which Portugal has become a party, as well as ratifications and accessions: approximately 100 linear metres.

- Reports and Monographs (1922-66); reports, studies and other works by diplomats and other officials of the Ministry: approximately 60 linear metres.


2. Private diplomatic archives

Documents and private papers of former diplomats and other Ministry officials, acquired by the Ministry by deposit, purchase or gift: approximately 20 linear metres. (ca. 1824- 1996).


Finding aids and computerisation

Available finding aids are :

a) Unpublished finding aids :

- a general guide;
- typed inventories;
- transfer lists (organized by producer departments); - general subject index;
- treaties catalogue;
- miscellaneous indexes.

Some of the traditional finding aids have entered the archives database and can be retrieved on-line in the reading room.

Provisional database inventories (mainly using Access program) can also be retrieved in the reading room’s computer.

b) Published finding aids:

- Sampayo, Luís Teixeira de: "O Arquivo Histórico do Ministério dos Negócios Estrangeiros", Estudos Históricos, Biblioteca Diplomática, série A 1, MNE, Lisboa, 1984, p. 163-256;

- "Arquivo Histórico do Ministério dos Negócios Estrangeiros", Roteiro de Fontes da História Portuguesa Contemporânea, coordenação de Joel Serrão, INIC, Lisboa, 1985, p. 205-285;

- Farinha, Maria do Carmo Jasmins Dias: Os Documentos dos Negócios Estrangeiros na Torre do Tombo, ANTT, Lisboa, 1990, 180 p.;

- Guia de fontes portuguesas para a história de África, Vol. II, Comissão Nacional para as Comemorações dos Descobrimentos Portugueses, Fundação Oriente, Imprensa Nacional - Casa da Moeda, Lisboa, 1993, p. 13-56, 61-81;

- Boshi, Caio C.: Roteiro-sumário de arquivos portugueses de interesse para o pesquisador da História do Brasil, Edições Universitárias Lusófonas, Lisboa, 1995, p. 46-48;

- Guia de fontes portuguesas para a história da América Latina, Vol. I, Comissão Nacional para as Comemorações dos Descobrimentos Portugueses, Fundação Oriente, Imprensa Nacional - Casa da Moeda, Lisboa, 1997, p. 21-61, 67-105;

- Guia de fontes portuguesas para a história da Ásia, Vol. I, Comissão Nacional para as Comemorações dos Descobrimentos Portugueses, Fundação Oriente, Imprensa Nacional - Casa da Moeda, Lisboa, 1998, p. 15-44, 68-83;

- Guia Geral dos Fundos da Torre do Tombo, Vol. II, Instituto dos Arquivos Nacionais/Torre do Tombo, Lisboa, 1999.

- Guía de Archivos de los Ministerios de Relaciones Exteriores de los Países Iberoamericanos/Guia de Arquivos dos Ministérios de Relações Externas dos Países Ibero-Americanos, Fundacion Mapfre Tavera, Secretaría de Cooperación Iberoamericana/Secretaria de Cooperação Ibero-Americana, Madrid, 2002, 206 p.



Internet address and contact details


E-mail: dab@mne. pt