The Exploration of the World’s Oceans



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Trading-Post Empires


  1. Portuguese Trading Posts

    • Portuguese mariners built the earliest trading-post empires

      • Their goal was not to conquer territories, but rather to control trade routes by forcing merchant vessels to call at fortified trading sites to pay duties there

      • Vasco da Gama obtained permission from local authorities to establish a trading post at Calicut when he arrived there in 1498

      • By the mid-16th century, Portuguese merchants had built more than fifty trading ports between west Africa and east Asia

        • At Sao Jorge da Mina, they traded in west African slaves

        • Mozambique they attempted to control the south African gold trade

        • From Hormuz they controlled the Persian Gulf

        • From Goa they organized trade in pepper from India

        • At Melaka they oversaw shipping between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean

        • Channeled trade in cloves and nutmeg in through Ternate in the spice islands of Maluku

        • Posts at Macau and Nagasaki offered access to the markets of China and Japan

    • Alfonso d’Alboquerque

      • Equipped with heavy artillery, Portuguese vessels were able to overpower most other craft they encountered

        • Sometimes aimed their cannons onshore

      • The architect of this policy was Afonso d’Alboquerque, commander of Portuguese forces in the Indian Ocean during the early 16th century

        • His fleet seized Hormus in 1508, Goa in 1510, and Melaka in 1511

      • From these strategic sites, Alboquerque sought to control Indian Ocean trade by forcing merchant ships to purchase safe-conduct passes and present them at Portuguese trading posts

        • Ships without passes were subject to confiscation along with their cargoes

        • His forces punished violators of his policy by executing them or cutting their hands off

      • Albo was confident of Portuguese naval superiority and its ability to control trade in the Indian Ocean

      • Although heavily armed, Portuguese forces did not have enough vessels to enforce the commander’s orders

        • Arab, India, and Malay merchants continued to play prominent roles in Indian Ocean commerce

        • Usually, without taking the precaution of securing a safe-conduct pass

        • Portuguese ships transported half the pepper and spices that Europeans consumed during the early and middle decades of the 16th century

        • Arab vessels delivered shipments through the Red Sea, which Portuguese forces never managed to control, to Cairo and Med trade routes

    • By the late 16th century, Portuguese influence in the Indian Ocean weakened

      • Portugal was a small country with a small population (1 mil in 1500) and was unable to sustain a large seaborne trading empire for very long

      • The crews of Portuguese ships often included Spanish, English, and Dutch sailors, who became familiar with Asian waters while in Portuguese service

      • By the late 16th century, investors in other lands began to organize their own expeditions to Asian markets

  2. English and Dutch Trading Posts

    • Like their predecessors, English and Dutch mariners built trading posts on Asian coasts and sought to channel trade through them

      • Did not attempt to control shipping on the high seas

      • They occasionally seized Portuguese sites, most notably when a Dutch fleet conquered Melaka in 1641

      • Portugal would continue to hold many strategic sites until the 20th century

        • Goa remained the official capital of Portuguese colonies in Asia until Indian forces reclaimed it in 1961

      • English and Dutch entrepreneurs established parallel trading networks

        • English merchants concentrated on India and built trading posts at Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta

        • The Dutch operated more broadly from Cape Town, Colombo, and Batavia (modern Jakarta)

    • English and Dutch merchants enjoyed two main advantages over their Portuguese predecessors

      • They sailed faster, cheaper, and more powerful ships

        • Offered both an economic and military edge over their competitors

      • Conducted trade through an efficient form of commercial organization, the joint-stock company

  3. The Trading companies

    • English and Dutch merchants formed two particularly powerful trading companies

      • The English East Trading Company, founded in 1600

      • Its Dutch counterpart, the United East India Company known as the VOC established in 1602

        • Private merchants advanced funds to launch these companies, outfit them with ships and crews, and provide them with commodities and money to trade

      • Although they enjoyed government support, the companies were privately owned enterprises

        • Unhampered by political oversight, company agents concentrated on profitable trade

        • Their charters granted them the right to buy, sell, build trading posts, and even make war in the companies’ interests

      • The English and Dutch companies experienced immediate financial success

        • In 1601, five English ships left with 30k in silver silver; returned in 1603 with spice worth more than 1m

        • The first Dutch expedition doubled the investment of the underwriters

      • Due to their advanced nautical tech, powerful military arsenal, efficient organization, and relentless pursuit of profit, the English East India Company and the VOC contributed to the early formation of a global network of trade
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