In 1602, the leading Dutch statesman Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (1547–1619) initiated the fusion of several Dutch trading companies into a megacorporation known as the Dutch East India Company (abbreviated in Dutch as VOC)—the first company in history to issue bonds and shares of stock to the general public.

Suggestive of their enormous wealth, the Dutch investments into the VOC have been estimated to outdo their main competitor—the English East India Company—by a factor of ten.

The Dutch government gave the VOC permission to wage war and settle colonies on their behalf. They managed to expel the Portuguese from Spice Island (now called the Moluccas), created plantations to cultivate sugar, tea, coffee, and tobacco in the East Indies (Indonesia), and established colonies in South-Africa and Sri Lanka. They even gained a monopoly on trade with Japan.

Although a remarkable logistical achievement, the imperial ambitions of the Netherlands were also accompanied by lots of violence and oppression (see the next post).