Bantus occupied Angola some 15 centuries before the Portuguese navigator Diogo Cão arrived at the Congo River region in 1482. Located here were the important Bantu kingdom of Kongo and several smaller states. Portuguese settlers and missionaries came in 1491. The trading center of Luanda was founded in 1575. Early interactions were friendly, but eventually the Portuguese warred against the Bantus, attempting to take them as slaves. Angola remained under nominal Portuguese influence thereafter, except for a brief Dutch occupation, 1641–48.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Angola was the chief source of slaves for the plantations of Brazil. More than 3,000,000 natives were sold into slavery. When the slave trade was abolished in the late 19th century, agriculture became the major industry.

In the mid-20th century, large numbers of Portuguese came to Angola as a result of a coffee boom. In 1961 nationalists in northern Angola rebelled against the Portuguese. Throughout the 1960's, the guerrillas were largely contained by the Portuguese. The colony developed with the building of new roads and schools and prospered from increased agricultural production and the exploitation of oil and iron ore deposits.

The prolonged fighting in Angola and other Portuguese colonies weakened Portugal, and its government fell in 1974. The new Portuguese government granted Angola independence in 1975. The MPLA, a pro-Soviet group, won control of the country over rival revolutionary group. UNITA, a pro-Western group, continued resistance against the MPLA. A truce was agreed to in 1991 ending the civil war. Elections that included UNITA candidates were held in 1992 and were won by the MPLA. UNITA resumed the civil war, but in 1994 agreed to a peace settlement with the MPLA. A UN force was brought in to keep the peace, but UNITA resumed fighting in 1998. UNITA then split into factions, with a more moderate group entering peace talks. A cease-fire agreement in 2002 ended the civil war.