Dutch Defeat the Portuguese in Bantam Harbor Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Portugal was the first European power to discover a maritime route around Africa to the riches of the East Indies. However, rising Dutch maritime power challenged and subdued Portuguese trade dominance in the region, transforming not only the East Indies but also Holland itself, which became a commercial and territorial power.

Summary of Event

Forging a pioneer sea route around Africa to the riches of the East Indies, the Portuguese settled into the region beginning in the sixteenth century. They permanently circumvented Islamic control of a vast trade belt that extended from Morocco to Borneo. Negotiating trade agreements with local potentates but applying military force when necessary, the Portuguese set up fortified trading posts around the rim of the Indian Ocean and through Southeast Asia. They considered the region to be a “closed sea,” exclusively under their control. Trade;Portuguese in Asia [kw]Dutch Defeat the Portuguese in Bantam Harbor (Dec., 1601) [kw]Bantam Harbor, Dutch Defeat the Portuguese in (Dec., 1601) [kw]Portuguese in Bantam Harbor, Dutch Defeat the (Dec., 1601) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Dec., 1601: Dutch Defeat the Portuguese in Bantam Harbor[0240] Trade and commerce;Dec., 1601: Dutch Defeat the Portuguese in Bantam Harbor[0240] Expansion and land acquisition;Dec., 1601: Dutch Defeat the Portuguese in Bantam Harbor[0240] Colonization;Dec., 1601: Dutch Defeat the Portuguese in Bantam Harbor[0240] Indonesia;Dec., 1601: Dutch Defeat the Portuguese in Bantam Harbor[0240] Bantam Harbor, Battle of (1601)

The Portuguese centered their regional operations in the city of Goa on the Malabar (western) coast of India, with many of their richest possessions lying farther east, in Southeast Asia. These constituted a crescent of fortified trading posts through the Straits of Malacca, which flowed between the Malay Peninsula and the island of Sumatra, past the island of Java, and on to the Celebes (now Sulawesi), Timor, and the Spice Islands (Moluccas). This area beyond the Indian Ocean comprised the Java, Banda, and Timor Seas.

The Portuguese exploited an extraordinarily rich trade in nutmeg, mace, cloves, pepper, and other commodities. They maintained this trade in competition with Islamic mercantile influence, which, during the previous centuries, had invaded and come to dominate the mostly Hindu region. In 1580, however, an event occurred that would seriously jeopardize Portuguese dominance. In that year the Aviz Dynasty Aviz Dynasty , which ruled Portugal, had died out, leaving the Portuguese throne vacant. It was immediately claimed and occupied by the then-most-powerful monarch in Europe, Philip II of Spain. With his ascension to the throne, Portugal acquired a rivalry with one of Spain’s most bitter enemies in Europe, the Netherlands. The northern Protestant provinces of this region had begun a revolt against Catholic Spanish rule in 1572. This uprising would continue until 1648 and come to be known as the Eighty Years’ War Dutch Wars of Independence (1568-1648) .

The most economically and technologically advanced of the Dutch provinces was the sea- and trade-based region of Holland, and it spearheaded the Netherlands into becoming a maritime power. Commercial power would strengthen the military endeavors of the Dutch, and the richest commercial advantages lay in Southeast Asia, especially the Spice Islands. To wrest a share of this trade from the Portuguese and assert the right of “open seas” became primary Dutch objectives. Trade;Dutch in Asia

For the Dutch to take over the Portuguese spice trade, they needed a special geopolitical strategy. All maritime trade over the Indian Ocean and the western edge of Southeast Asia depended on the monsoon trade winds. From Goa, Portuguese forces dominated this sphere, holding the east (Swahili) coast of Africa, the Persian Gulf, the Malabar Coast, and the Straits of Malacca. To circumvent this dominance, the Dutch resolved to approach the Spice Islands through the Straits of Sunda. This body of water connected the Indian Ocean and the Java Sea and lay between the southeastern tip of Sumatra and the northwestern point of Java. The principal harbor in the straits was Bantam, a major Muslim spice trading port, with the sultanate of Bantam extending the straits.

In 1595, Cornelis de Houtman, Houtman, Cornelis de a Dutch sea trader who had sailed with the Portuguese and knew their trade routes, led a pioneer Dutch expedition to access the Spice Islands through the Straits of Sunda. Bantam’s sultan, Maulana Muhammad Maulana Muhammad , signed a trade treaty with the Dutch. The offensive behavior of the Dutch alienated him, however, and they were routed away.

Because of the sultan’s treaty, the Portuguese sent a fleet to Bantam in 1597, which the sultan defeated. Dutchman Houtman died in 1599 during a second voyage to the region by the Dutch. He was killed by the sultan of Aceh, a region on the northern edge of Sumatra, who had sent envoys to Europe to canvas intentions and strategies. Immediately after Houtman’s death, however, the Dutch admiral, Steven van der Haghen, Haghen, Steven van der entered the Moluccas, signing treaties with local powers disaffected with the Portuguese.

Thoroughly alarmed by the mounting challenges to their dominance, the Portuguese sent a large fleet in 1601, led by André Furtado de Mendonça, Mendonça, André Furtado de to guard the Straits of Sunda against further Dutch incursions. On Christmas Day, the Portuguese encountered a small fleet of Dutch ships, commanded by Wolfert Harmensz Harmensz, Wolfert . Combat between the two forces was sustained for several days. At first, the larger Portuguese fleet dominated. However, as the battles continued across the winds and currents of the bay around the harbor of Bantam, the lighter, more agile Dutch ships proved much more effective. The Dutch prevailed and the Portuguese retreated to Goa.

The following year, the Dutch East India Company Dutch East India Company was founded, an armed trading enterprise that was constituted to take control of the spice trade for the Netherlands. In 1603, it established a trading post at Bantam. Eventually, however, Jan Pieterszoon Coen Coen, Jan Pieterszoon established company headquarters east of this region, at Jacatra, which was renamed Batavia in 1619 (now called Jakarta). Batavia

It was not only because of Dutch success against the Portuguese that the company was founded. At the end of 1600, Queen Elizabeth I of England chartered the British East India Company British East India Company , and the following year an English fortified trading post was established in the spice-rich Banda Islands, east of Timor. The Dutch would vanquish this initial English presence in the region.

Defeating and routing the Portuguese while suppressing English incursions into the East Indies, the Dutch changed the course of maritime and commercial history in Southeast Asia. They prompted the end of Portuguese dominance and delayed the rise of English influence. They succeeded in opening the seas against a Portuguese monopoly but ultimately would fail in attempting to apply their own such control.


Portugal’s loss of most of its commercial holdings in Asia to the Dutch during the first half of the seventeenth century brought an end to Portuguese dominance in the region. That decline accelerated even further as English and French competition penetrated the region later. Asia had been the wealthiest segment of the Portuguese maritime empire. With the loss of Asia, Brazil would become the economic center of Portuguese trade. Brazil was a vast, rich, sugar-producing Portuguese colony in South America.

Dutch commercial power in Asia endured from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. Out of the array of islands, kingdoms, and sultanates that it subdued in Southeast Asia, it formed what is now called Indonesia. The Dutch East India Company became one of the most successful enterprises of the seventeenth century. At its height after the middle of the century, it commanded nearly two hundred ships, a quarter of them warships. Of its tens of thousands of employees, a considerable number were soldiers. The company paid dividends to early investors that were many hundreds of times their initial investments.

Progressively, the Netherlands was transformed from a commercial enterprise to a territorial power. Nonetheless, by the following century, complacency, corruption, and accelerated regional competition bankrupted the Dutch East India Company, and it was dissolved in 1798.

As India became the jewel of the British Empire in Asia, so Indonesia was set as the rich center of the Dutch Empire. The modern independent country of Indonesia has its capital in Jakarta, the former Dutch imperial center of Batavia.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chaudhury, Sushil, and Michel Morineau. Merchants, Companies, and Trade: Europe and Asia in the Early Modern Era. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. The authors analyze Portuguese and Dutch trade competition within the European context of commercial and imperial strategies in Asia. The Europeans confronted an Asian trading web of strategies and objectives.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Emmer, P. C., and F. S. Gaastra. The Organization of Interoceanic Trade in European Expansion, 1450-1800. Aldershot, England: Variorum, 1996. This work examines the comparative mercantile, naval, and political strategies of various European powers for world trade, particularly in the Far East.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gaastra, F. S. The Dutch East India Company: Expansion and Decline. Zutphen, the Netherlands: Walburg, 2003. Reviews the development of the company, analyzing its initial policies, strategies, and resources for confronting and defeating the Portuguese in Asia in the early seventeenth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kumar, Anne. Java and Modern Europe: Ambiguous Encounters. Richmond, England: Curzon, 1997. Kumar examines the historic complexity of economic interests and sociopolitical structures on Java and the island’s relation with the Dutch East India Company and other competing European trading entities and interests.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marques, António Henrique de Oliveira. History of Portugal. 2 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1972. Volume 1 focuses on the historic development of Portugal, detailing its origins as a nation-state and then as a global maritime empire.
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Categories: History