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Reviewed by:
  • Rivalry and Conflict: European Traders and Asian Trading Networks in the 16th and 17th Centuries
  • Robert Van Niel
Rivalry and Conflict: European Traders and Asian Trading Networks in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Edited by Ernst Van Veen and Leonard Blussé. Studies in Overseas History, Vol. 7. Leiden: CNWS Publications, 2005. 382 pp. €35.

The Rivalry and Conflict conference took place in Leiden, Netherlands, in June 2003. Twelve papers of this conference, by as many authors, comprise the content of the volume under review. The conference was the capstone of a series of conferences in which mainly Dutch and Portuguese academics examined the relationship between their two countries in Asia and Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is well known (by students of world history) that for the entire sixteenth century Portugal dominated the sea trade with Asia from its bases in Goa, Malacca, and Macao, and that the Dutch Republic at the very end of that century (1595) encroached upon that trading preserve, and in the next century came to dominate it completely from its bases in Batavia and the Cape of Good Hope. The papers in this book are for the most part greatly enhanced by the extensive use of archival sources found in the Portuguese archive of the Estado da Índia and the Dutch archive of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). As a result, much new material on the general topic is presented in many of these papers, which will make them of great interest to scholars teaching or involved in research in the period.

Ernst van Veen's paper "The European-Asian Relations during the 16th and 17th Centuries in Global Perspective" provides an overall view of European expansion by sea into Asia. Jacques Paviot examines "Trade between Portugal and the Southern Netherlands in the 16th [End Page 374] Century." By the thirteenth century Portuguese agents had settled in Bruges and Antwerp in the trade network that peacefully exchanged southern for northern products. This relationship was greatly weakened after 1580 when King Philip II of Spain annexed Portugal and captured Antwerp in his struggle against the Dutch Republic. It was soon thereafter that Spanish sea power was broken and the Dutch began to sail into Asian waters that the Portuguese had come to regard as theirs. Looking at social changes in Portugal in the sixteenth century, Mafalda Soares da Cunha examines "Portuguese Nobility and Overseas Government." From the fifteenth century on the lesser nobility rather than the high nobility underwent rapid growth. The expansion overseas provided this lesser nobility with a vehicle for rendering service to the Crown, hereby gaining promotion and wealth. Those who returned to Portugal hoped to marry their children into higher rank—which didn't often happen.

The move into Asian waters brought on the need for more permanent settlements, a process described by Walter Rossa in "Portuguese Land Ordinance and Urbanizing Strategies for Asia." Permanent settlements, factories, military units, and fortifications would serve to support and control the sea trade. Such bases would also promote the crusade against Islam. This crusade is further elaborated by João Paulo Oliveira e Costa in his paper "The Padroado and the Catholic Mission in Asia during the 17th Century." Conversion in Asia did not go easily but was most successful in Buddhist areas. Nowhere did the Portuguese register the success of the Spanish in the Philippines.

The Itinerario (1596) of J. H. van Linschoten, who lived in Goa during the 1580s, is generally credited with providing the informational base that enabled the Dutch to penetrate the Portuguese-Asian preserve. In "A Stranger's Testimony" Arie Pos analyzes the content of this work, which in addition to providing navigational information also tells us much about life and events in Goa at that time. A further insight into the Portuguese Asian empire is provided by Francisco Bethencourt, whose paper "Low Cost Empire" examines the interaction between the Portuguese and local societies. From the start a shortage of capital and human resources in the government-controlled Estado da Índia led to the creation of settlements that combined "white" and "black" casados (married European and native people). This ethnic mixture became socially and...


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