03/20 – The Dutch East India Company

Because of its unique status as a company-state, the VOC had its own flag – closely modeled after the Dutch flag. (Wikimedia Commons)

On this day in 1602, the Dutch East India Company – or Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, VOC) was established in the Netherlands. A combination of several trading companies, the VOC was created at the behest of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, a Dutch Land Advocate. Oldenbarnevelt hoped to create an organization that could efficiently extract resources from Asia and enrich the Dutch state; because the VOC employed its own soldiers, it would also be able to defend its employees and trade routes. As a “military-commercial” organization, the soldiers and sailors from the VOC were instrumental in beating the Spanish and seizing many of their colonial territories during the 80 Years’ War. Following the conflict, the newly-independent Dutch were free to expand their overseas territory and begin building the Dutch Colonial Empire.

VOC representatives arriving in what would later be known as South Africa. (Public Domain)

As the empire grew Eastward and revenues skyrocketed, the Dutch expanded their slave trade and made efforts at reforming the societies of those they ruled over. Despite the small size of Dutch territory in Europe, the extent of the VOC’s holdings made the Netherlands a significant regional power player that rivalled the other colonial empires. At its peak, the VOC – the world’s first publicly-traded corporation – was worth $7.9 trillion (adjusted for inflation). By the 19th century, however, the British in particular – one of the more robust colonial powers – began moving in on Dutch territories and buying (or capturing) VOC land. By the early 20th century, the empire had shrunk significantly and disappeared altogether in the wake of WWII. Although the empire built by the VOC no longer exists, its legacy – of language, religion and violence – lives on in many newly-independent states.

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