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Active 1570-1831
Country Portugal
Allegiance King of Portugal
Type Militia and home guard
Role Territorial reserve and defense
Anniversaries 10 December
Engagements Battle of Alcácer Quibir
War of the Portuguese Succession
Portuguese Restoration War
War of the Spanish Succession
Seven Years' War
War of the Oranges
Peninsular War
Liberal Wars

The Ordenanças (meaning literally "Ordinances" in Portuguese and sometimes misspelled Ordenanzas in English language literature) were a militia-type traditional military territorial organization that existed in Portugal and in some parts of the Portuguese Empire (especially in Brazil), between the 15th and the 19th centuries.

In the 17th century, the Ordenanças became organized as a kind of third line and territorial recruitment reserve of the Portuguese Army.


After some failed attempts made before, the Ordenanças were created on the 10 December 1570, by King Sebastian of Portugal, as the basis of what would be a national army. They were organized in territorial captaincies (capitanias), each under charge of a captain-major (capitão-mor). Each captaincy covered the area of a city, town or municipality and included several Ordenanças companies. The captain-majors were appointed by the respective municipal councils or, in areas where an alcaide (castle governor) existed, he assumed that role. In each region, the organization of the Ordenanças would reflect the local social organization, with the command roles being usually assumed by the most notable local residents.

The base of the Ordenanças organization was the company of 250 men. Each company was headed by a captain, assisted by an ensign (alferes), a sergeant, a marshal (meirinho) and a scrivener. It was divided in 10 squads, each one headed by a corporal (cabo de esquadra).

For the King Sebastian's Morocco Campaign of 1578, the organization of the Ordenanças is already able to mobilize 32 active companies with a total of around 8000 men, that constitute four terços (regiments) of the Portuguese expeditionary army.

During the period of the Iberian Union (1580-1640), the Ordenanças declined, but they were revived with the Portuguese Restoration War (1640-1668). In addition to the revival of the Ordenanças, units of paid troops and units of auxiliary troops (latter called "Militias") were also created. These became, respectively, the first and second line of the Portuguese Army, with the Ordenanças becoming its third line and being increasingly employed as a kind of home guard and reserve for the conscription of soldiers for the paid and auxiliary troops.

Accordingly with the new military organization established in 1764 by the Count of Lippe, the Ordenanças captaincies were grouped in 45 recruitment districts. Each of these districts corresponded to one of the 43 Army's first line regiments and of the two naval infantry regiments.

The Army organization of 1806, divided the country in 24 brigades of Ordenanças, each commanded by a colonel. Each brigade constituted the recruitment district of an infantry regiment of the first line and of two militia regiments. Each brigade, by itself was divided in eight captaincies and each of these in eight companies. Each captaincy corresponded to each of the eight fusiliers company in each regiment.

Although mainly used as conscription reserve since the creation of the auxiliary troops in 1646, active units of Ordenanças were created for the national defense in some war periods. Some of these units acted as guerrilla forces in their respective areas, attacking the rearguard and the logistic lines of the enemy invader armies. Active units of the Ordenanças were also employed in the reinforcement of cities and fortress garrisons. Namely, in the Peninsular War, units of Ordenanças constituted a greater part of the garrison of the forts of the Lines of Torres Vedras, including being responsible for the manning most of its artillery.

In 1809, in the scope of the Peninsular War, 16 national legions of Ordenanças were organized for the defense of the city of Lisbon. Each national legion included three battalions, with each including 10 companies of 105 men. For the mobilization of the legions, the city was divided in 16 legion districts, each subdivided in three battalion zones. In 1829, the national legions of Lisbon were disbanded and replaced by eight regiments of Ordenanças.

The Ordenanças were finally extinct on the 24 March 1831, its role being partially assumed by the then created National Guard.


  • FREITAS, Jorge Penim de, O Combatente durante a Guerra da Restauração. Vivência e comportamentos dos militares ao serviço da Coroa portuguesa, Lisboa, Prefácio, 2007.
  • SOUSA, Luís Costa e, A Arte na Guerra - A Arquitectura dos Campos de Batalha no Portugal de Quinhentos, Lisboa: Tribuna da História, 2008