The spice lords: The history of the VOC, Part 2 of 4 – “Iron fist, velvet glove”

Allegorical representation of the Amsterdam Chamber of the Dutch East India Company. 1702 – 1746 (Amsterdam History Museum, Wikimedia Commons)

The VOC (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie) or Dutch East India Company was the world’s first multinational commercial empire. For nearly two hundred years, from the time it was established in 1602 to the time it was dissolved in 1799, the VOC came to dominate the lucrative spice trade between the East Indies (present-day Indonesia) and Europe. In 1602, nine Amsterdam merchants set out – with state support and two ships – to launch the monopoly that would usurp Portugal’s dominance of the trade and created the world’s first transcontinental employer, building and operating hundreds of ships and filling the homes of the Dutch and our imagination of life in Holland’s Golden Age with images of marble, luxury fabrics, ornate furniture, oriental rugs and Chinese porcelain bowls filled with nutmeg, pepper, coffee and tea. It all came to a sorry end in 1799, but the legacy is there to this day.

Producer: Dheera Sujan

Broadcast: February 24, 1998