Dutch Dominate Southeast Asian Trade Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The seventeenth century saw the Dutch establish control over the Spice Islands—later known as Indonesia—and thereby dominate the lucrative world of Southeast Asian trade.

Summary of Event

The islands of Southeast Asia (East Indies) in the region now known as Indonesia were of great significance to European trade in late medieval and early modern times. In 1511, Portugal took the island of Malacca, beginning the long European presence in Southeast Asia. The Indonesian archipelago would produce many spices for European markets, earning for the islands the moniker Spice Islands. [kw]Dutch Dominate Southeast Asian Trade (beginning Spring, 1605) [kw]Trade, Dutch Dominate Southeast Asian (beginning Spring, 1605) [kw]Asian Trade, Dutch Dominate Southeast (beginning Spring, 1605) [kw]Southeast Asian Trade, Dutch Dominate (beginning Spring, 1605) Economics;Beginning Spring, 1605: Dutch Dominate Southeast Asian Trade[0380] Trade and commerce;Beginning Spring, 1605: Dutch Dominate Southeast Asian Trade[0380] Expansion and land acquisition;Beginning Spring, 1605: Dutch Dominate Southeast Asian Trade[0380] Colonization;Beginning Spring, 1605: Dutch Dominate Southeast Asian Trade[0380] Southeast Asia;Beginning Spring, 1605: Dutch Dominate Southeast Asian Trade[0380] Indonesia;Beginning Spring, 1605: Dutch Dominate Southeast Asian Trade[0380] Trade;Southeast Asia Indonesia

A Dutch expedition of four ships left for the East Indies under the command of Cornelis de Houtman Houtman, Cornelis de in 1595. The Houtman expedition dropped anchor in Banten Bantam (Bantam), the largest port for pepper Pepper trade in the islands, the following year, and also managed to sign a trade treaty with Banten’s sultan, Maulana Muhammad Maulana Muhammad (r. 1580-1596). Exploration;Netherlands of Southeast Asia Visiting Sumatra and Bali, as well as Banten, this early expedition experienced great difficulties, but the survivors of the voyage did manage to return to Holland with spices in 1597. The next year, five expeditions under the command of Admiral Jacob van Neck Neck, Jacob van left Holland for the Indies.

The ruler of Banten, Sultan Abul Mafākhir Abul Mafākhir , saw the newly arrived Dutch as potential valuable allies against the Portuguese, and the sultan even helped the Dutch fill ships with pepper. The spice yielded a great profit in Europe, prompting a second Dutch expedition to the region. The Portuguese became concerned over the Dutch incursions, so the governor of Goa, a Portuguese colony on the west coast of the Indian peninsula, sent a fleet to stop Dutch trade in the area in 1601. Close to the Straits of Sunda, five Dutch ships defeated the Portuguese fleet in December.

Within the following year, the Dutch attempted to centralize their commercial presence in Southeast Asia by combining several different companies into the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (the United East India Company), better known as the Dutch East India Company Dutch East India Company;Southeast Asia . Under the company, the Dutch began to strike back against and displace the Portuguese. In 1603, company forces began to attack Portuguese interests in the region. In February of 1605, the company took the Portuguese post at Amboina and then attacked the Portuguese at Tidore. By the spring of 1605, the defeated Portuguese left for Spanish-held Manila. Although the Portuguese managed to hang on in some locations, their era of dominating trade in Southeast Asia had essentially ended.

The English became the primary competitors with the Dutch for control of the region. Spaniard Pedro Acuña Acuña, Pedro invaded and conquered Ternate in the spring of 1606, leading the Spanish to control Ternate for another sixty years. However, Queen Elizabeth I’s Elizabeth I (queen of England) granting of a charter to the English East India Company British East India Company in 1600 created the main rival to the Dutch East India Company.

In addition to competing with the English, the company also had to contend with the local rulers. The kingdom of Banten, one of the first places in the region to receive Dutch ships, had established control over some of the pepper-producing regions. Bordering Banten, a Muslim ruling class took over central Java in 1600 and founded the kingdom of Mataram Mataram . Mataram sent out raiders, also attempting to take control of the profitable sea trade of the islands. In eastern Indonesia, the kingdom of Gowa Gowa had made itself the center of a loosely tied empire and a great trading power.

Sultan Abul Mafākhir tried to play the English and Dutch against each other by encouraging the English admiral Sir Thomas Dale Dale, Sir Thomas to take part in an attack on the Dutch camp outside Jacatra (Jakarta). In 1619, Admiral Dale drove away a Dutch fleet under the command of their leader, Jan Pieterszoon Coen, Coen, Jan Pieterszoon who later became governor-general of the Dutch East India Company. Dale’s forces were about to take the Dutch camp when soldiers of Banten showed up, took over Jacatra from its ruler, and forced the English to leave. Although Abul Mafākhir wanted to get rid of the Dutch, he did not want to replace them with other European competitors. In May, 1619, Coen returned with a larger fleet, drove the Banten troops away, and destroyed Jacatra. The city was soon renamed Batavia Batavia and became the center from which Holland established its control over the islands of the region.

From Batavia, Coen led an armed expedition in 1621 against the Banda Islands Banda Islands , the world’s primary producers of nutmeg and mace. The people of the Banda Islands had a contract to sell exclusively to the Dutch, but they had been trading with the English. Coen and his men attacked the Banda island of Lonthor, killing or exiling most of its inhabitants. Coen went back to the Netherlands in 1623 to serve as head of the Dutch East India Company. After returning to Batavia for his second term as governor-general, he defended the Dutch headquarters against two sieges by the ruler of neighboring Mataram (1628 and 1629).





Gowa remained the main obstacle to a Dutch monopoly on trade in Southeast Asia. Sultan ՙAla al-Dīn ՙAla al-Dīn , the ruler of Gowa until 1639, worked with traders from other European nations as well as Asian traders to undermine Dutch efforts to impose a trade monopoly. From 1615 until 1637, the Dutch East India Company and Gowa were in a state of sporadic warfare. In 1637, and again in 1655 and 1660, Gowa signed treaties with the Dutch. In 1666, the company sent a fleet under Admiral Cornelis Speelman Speelman, Cornelius against Maluku and Gowa. Two years later, Gowa territories were placed under company control. During the last part of the seventeenth century, the Dutch played the local rulers against each other, signing protection treaties to achieve control of trade. In 1686, Banten gave the Dutch control of all its pepper trade. At the very end of the century, the company brought coffee cultivation to the islands, establishing what would become one of the major cash crops of the region. Coffee;Indonesia


The Dutch trade domination in Indonesia helped to make Holland, then still a province of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, a wealthy colonial, economic, and territorial power in the seventeenth century. They controlled the region until the twentieth century, shaping the development of the islands of Southeast Asia. The nation of Indonesia emerged from the territories over which the Dutch East India Company established its control. Batavia, the city built by the Dutch, became Jakarta, the capital and still the most important city of Indonesia.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ames, Glenn Joseph. Renascent Empire? The House of Braganza and the Quest for Stability in Portuguese Monsoon Asia, c. 1640-1683. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2000. Based on extensive archival research, Ames describes Portugal’s imperial losses in Asia and the attempts to recover its lucrative possessions in South Asia and Southeast Asia.
  • 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">Gaastra, F. S. The Dutch East India Company: Expansion and Decline. Zutphen, the Netherlands: Walburg, 2003. Gaastra examines 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">Hall, D. G. E. A History of Southeast Asia. 4th ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981. Chapter 16 explores the Anglo-Dutch struggle for the spice trade, and chapters 17 and 18 examine the expansion, zenith, and decline of the company.
  • 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">Ricklefs, M. C. A History of Modern Indonesia Since c. 1200. 4th ed. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2001. Part 2, “Struggles for Hegemony,” addresses the establishment of colonial power by the Dutch East India Company in the seventeenth century. Includes good maps at the end of the book.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Taylor, Jean Gelman. Indonesia: Peoples and Histories. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003. A general history of Indonesia. Chapter 5, on European colonization, examines the expansion of Dutch power. Scattered throughout the book are capsules summarizing key topics.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Piet Hein; John IV; Maurice of Nassau; Michiel Adriaanszoon de Ruyter; Abel Janszoon Tasman; Maarten Tromp; Zheng Chenggong. Trade;Southeast Asia Indonesia

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