Afonso de Albuquerque, the ‘Caesar of the East’, established the lynchpins of Portuguese commerce in the Indian Ocean, crucially Malacca (1511) at the choke-point of the China trade, and Goa, which gave access to the wealthy Indian sub-continent. As a consequence, the Venetian control of the overland trade, via the Ottoman Empire, in spices, porcelain and silk became increasingly eclipsed. Initially, the British and Dutch attempted a similar circumvention, vainly seeking a Northwest Passage before muscling in through a series of trade wars, founding their respective East India Companies (1600–02). In the Americas, British privateers harried the Spanish treasure fleets, while vying for the Newfoundland fisheries with Basques and Bretons. The rise of centralized and commercially oriented nation states saw the decline of the Hanseatic League in the Baltic. In 1580, Spain annexed Portugal vitiating the latter’s imperial power, while Spain’s long war in the Netherlands resulted in Amsterdam supplanting Antwerp as the cardinal North Sea port.
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