So how rich was the Dutch East India Company (VOC)? If you’re wondering what paid for all those pretty canals and houses in Amsterdam, Leiden, and Utrecht, well, this might explain it all a bit.
Let’s dive into the facts and figures; as shockingly rich as this company was — it certainly wasn’t great for everyone!
The Dutch East-India Company — Apple doesn’t have anything on it!
The Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC), better known as the Dutch East India Company, was set up in 1602 and head-quartered in the Oost-Indisch Huis (East-India House) in downtown Amsterdam, which still stands today.
It was founded as a private merchant company that was granted a two-decade-long monopoly by the government for spice trading, mainly in the Dutch East Indies, known today as the Republic of Indonesia.
And if you think Amazon is thrifty with deliveries, the VOC sent over one million voyagers across Asia, which is more than the rest of Europe combined.
READ MORE | How the fate of 17 Dutch sailors changed history
This was at a time when a trip from Amsterdam to Batavia (Jakarta) would last no shorter than eight to 10 months, and many ships, or individual passengers, would never return.
Many of the massive sailing ships perished in storms and fell prey to piracy or infectious disease. Travelling at the time came at a huge risk, but once on location and with the right knowledge and attitude, there was a great chance of becoming wealthy.
As a result, many took the odds.
The company was also the first official company to issue stocks, which peaked during the Dutch “Tulip Mania”, a craze for tulip bulbs that are seen as the world’s first true financial bubble.
The VOC’s stocks pushed the company’s worth to a massive 78 million Dutch guilders, which is a pretty solid business (even today) but translates to a whopping $7.9 trillion USD worth now…
Yes, really, trillion. That’s $7,900 billion — or $79,000 million!
Modern-day companies don’t compare
At its peak, the VOC was worth the equivalent of Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, ExxonMobil, Berkshire Hathaway, Tencent, and Wells Fargo put together.
This means that the world’s most valuable company, Apple, is worth about 11% of the peak value of the VOC. Eat that, Steve Jobs!
It was also worth, roughly, the same amount as the GDPs of Japan and Germany today added together. Can you dig it?
The company also employed 70,000(!) people across the globe, making it a textbook multinational by definition, and this was nearly four centuries ago!
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The Dutch East India Company was also pretty evil
Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games with the Dutch East India Company. Despite bringing the Netherlands prosperity and successfully connecting the world, it also brought horrendous suffering for an endless number of people.
For two centuries, the VOC did whatever it had to make sure its assets were protected, and profit was high.
That included slave trading, colonial oppression, and absurd mistreatment of employees. If you think your job is tough today, try being a deckhand on a year a half VOC round-trip or, even worse, a slave living in the dark belly of a ship.
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The VOC is thought to have transported, or rather displaced, as many as 50,000 people from Africa to serve or trade as slaves in its colonies. It’s a staggering number.
Worse, however, is that many countries subjected even more people to slavery per individual nation than the Dutch and VOC ever did — creating a permanent “involuntary” change in demographics around the globe.
The success of international trading companies like the VOC has forever put a stain on Europe’s colonial past.
Regardless of its endless exploitation, these trading companies and colonies have shaped the world and are at the foot of today’s “multiculturalism” and the modern-day economy.
A past that must be recognised
Still, many people are in denial about their country’s colonial past.
Holland, for one, definitely gained its historic wealth and fortune over the heads of others, which is not to say that it’s the fault of the modern Dutchies — it’s hard to blame someone for something they never had a hand in.
But denial or downplaying it is flat-out ignorant and inexcusable.
READ MORE | 7 things the Dutch don’t talk about, but should
It’s always wise to speak with some discretion to people of colour, even in “multi-cultural” Holland, as many Indo and Moluccan people are direct descendants of the VOC days, and Black Surinamese and Antillean people are African slave descendants.
Their Hindu counterparts were often “contract labourers” from the Indian subcontinent, which was hardly better than being a slave.
There are some interesting facts to be learned when we consider the history of the VOC, but it would be irresponsible for us not to have mentioned the downsides that came with it.
That much, in the least, is what every Dutchie owes the world, especially given that people of a colonial past are of such vital importance to modern Holland as we know it today.
Were you as shocked by these figures as we were? Tell us your thoughts on the VOC in the comments below!
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in December 2017 and was updated in March 2023 for your reading pleasure.
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An excellent article. Yes it is true the modern Dutch aren’t responsible for the way their forefathers plundered the colonies, but they must recognize that wealth passes down generations so they are in many ways living well today while the descendants of the colonies struggle to recover from both the financial and social costs.
Well, it’s history all right?
How does it compare to the value and influence of the British East India Company?
Of course people will argue it is ‘whataboutism’ but if you look at the other powerful nations at the time, as Portugal, Spain, Great Britain and even Denmark or so, you see those stories are similar if not the same or even worse. The Dutch were in in for money, in the case of Spain and Portugal the spreading and (forced) acceptance of a religion was almost as important. If you look at what a UK has done in its colonies, you’d consider the Dutch moderate.
“That’s 7,900 billion – or 79,000 million!” – 7,900 billion is 7,900,000 million.
not for us
cus our billon/million is totally different
while you say trillion
we say Billion
That wont confuse anybody at all
This article is non-sense, based on bad math and assumptions that annual inflation rate was 3% since the 1600s. This is not how it works.
Then how does it work? At one time VOC owned > 20.000 ships, more than all of the other coutries combined and employed almost 1% of global jobs. They owned land and traded with all of Asia, but also where very succesfull and profitable traders with Eastern Europe (Hanze-sities, Russia and the Baltic nations).
Cool. The article reiterates the fact that might is right. It is ok to rape, loot, plunder and define ones rules and laws if one can get away with it.
So the Dutch East India company took risks and managed to create wealth for the shareholders, they did that by the rules and laws they defined and created, the ends justified the means used.
Europeans/Americans (Caucasians in general) used their abilities to enrich their nations and sustain it as best they can today.
Most of the Caucasian majority nations have never truly apologized for their past shenanigans and will never rightly admit to it. Only caucasian europeans for the first and only time made slavery a generational thing i.e. in the past Egyptians or Romans etc had slaves but those slaves, had children and those children were freed people able to pursue a free life.
This article celebrates the wealth created by the Dutch East India company, the article as a token acknowledgement mentions how a lot of that wealth was amassed. Will it lead to a discussion with Holland or Europe etc around the past that would lead to meaningful decisions, I doubt that. Shit happened and so be it.
Maybe non caucasian nations will get smart and get mighty as well. Sadly it is a zero sum game, the resources of this planet are finite and to get mighty and powerful who controls the resources has and will always be the fight.
Enlightenment doesn’t come easily.
It did lead to the Netherlands apoligize for its behavior during the WIC/VOC time and a promise to star dicussions about the period. They even reserved 200 million for addionsl studies and creating awareness about that period
Leibniz (spelling?) was one of the great thinkers of all time and apparently Dutch.
Wasn’t it primarily the West Indian Company (WIC) that engaged in the slave trade? They were major players in the Atlantic slave trade. In the East Indies I don’t think that was a major thing? So overall they may not have been significantly more evil than especially Facebook today.
And here it is. You are stuck in the past. And the world is far ahead. Till when you will sing of your glories??
History always help
yes and they owe indonesia very huge amount of money that they can’t even pay. and Indonesian people never ask for anything from them. evil company killed so many people in Indonesia.
The funny thing is that how rich the VOC might have been, it was nothing compared to Dutch wealth from fair trade. What we have here is the same old self serving British narrative that because they couldn’t make money without using violence the Dutch must also have done it that way, but that’s not the case.
The VOC did some nasty stuff but the Dutch Republic made it’s incredible wealth mostly by doing more than half of all Europe’s trade within Europe. If the British had ever tried to do fair trade on the Baltic Sea, on Europe’s West-coast or in the Mediterranean they would have noticed the huge number of Dutch ships. But they didn’t because they were busy chopping eachother up and trying to rob countries far away because they were weaker and they didn’t have to compete with better ships and sailors.
The VOC at it’s peak had only 140 merchant ships, while the entire Dutch merchant fleet had over 20.000. Even the Dutch herring fishery was bigger than the VOC in every year of it’s existence. Despite the VOC doing mostly and a huge chunck of the trade between Asian countries. This was the 17th century with handguns and muskets that took minutes to operate and couldn’t shoot straight for 5 meters. It’s not like the Chinese, Japanese or the Moghuls were very initimidated by the Dutch. On the contrary, those they had to be very humble too and the let the Indonesians mostly be exploited by their own rulers.
Life was harder back then for many people, but not so much for the Dutch who already had a middle class which could afford paintings and exotica. That’s why about half of the sailors on Dutch ships was foreign. The many Asians and the Africans got paid the same as the Europeans btw. So for a Dutchman it wasn”t a good job, but by English standards of that day it was just normal work for the commoners. A bit nonsense to paint that as exploitation.
So if you’d really wonder what paid for those beautiful canal houses, it’s the Baltic Sea trade, other trade, industry, fishery, a big spending middle class, maybe if you see hundreds of those houses one of them migth be paid for by exploitation of some Asian people. But you don’t wonder, you probably even can’t read primary sources because you still don’t read Dutch and don’t want to hear about the British narrative beeing flawed and immigrants from anywhere but Suriname or the Antilles not have any moral claim to Dutch wealth and should be grateful if welcomed.
Same for the British and American expats, don’t you think it’s rude to shame Dutch history without knowing anything about it? It’s not like you have colonized The Netherlands, have you?
Yes of course! VOC greedily dig and extract everything from my country: Indonesia. Left the people with poor condition and mentally. My friends always joking, better colonialized by Britain than by Orang Belanda (Holland people): pelit and even we Indonesian can’t use the language their taught our people! Sorry to say but VOC rich because of their robbery from my country.
11%? Apple is upto 28% now. 2.24T market cap and rising rapidly. DEIC may fall in the next 15 years from its #1 spot at this rate.
VOC was not into trading slaves. That was another – dutch- company, the WIC. VOC had a trade line to the east indies. Porcelain/ spices etc The WIC ( another company!!) had a trade line to the West indies, they traded slaves from Africa. If you post something: get your facts right!
“it’s hard to blame someone for something they never had a hand in. But denial or downplaying it is flat-out ignorant and inexcusable.”
When a nation inherent wealth (individual + public) thru unscrupulous means the next generation though not directly responsible for what happened in the past, have to accept such debit as they accept the benefits of credit.
When your parent pass way, survivors cannot ignore debt parents had. They are obligated by law to pay from the assets left behind before they can make a claim to the DELTA. Only when the DELTA is negative, in that case it become a wash or loss to the creditor. Nations are different from parent survivor relationship. They cannot simply straight go to the wash if we want a harmonious world.
Article indicates 50K African slaves were traded. So the Dutch GOVT has obligation to find out which countries in the African countries were impacted and provide a gradual annual aid to the country for direct benefit of their citizen by building schools, hospitals, alternate energy station etc until that debt is paid in full. Dutch as a nation may be losing their grip on prosperity in the globally connected word; but by creating a small expense fund to which every DUTCH citizen naturalized or born contributes, no exception (include even the temp migrant population who are working in Dutch economy; I would even tax the exporting nation, unless they were victims of the past, based on good and services they provide to Dutch economy and benefit from it). By doing such gesture that can slow down downward slide of Dutch economy will make their citizens model for the world by active participation beyond financial contribution.