cover of book

The Asian Trade Revolution: The East India Companies and the Decline of the Caravan Trade
by Niels Steensgaard
University of Chicago Press, 1975
Cloth: 978-0-226-77138-0 | eISBN: 978-0-226-77145-8 | Paper: 978-0-226-77139-7
Library of Congress Classification HF495.S83 1974
Dewey Decimal Classification 382.09405


In this work Neils Steensgaard combines an analytical economic approach with detailed historic scholarship to provide an imaginitive and important analysis of a central incident in modern world history. The event is the breaking of the Portuguese monopoly on Asian trade in the seventeenth century by English and Dutch mercantile interests. This change the author demonstrates, was not simply the triumph of the new powers over the old. Rather, the Dutch--English victory heralded a structural change in international trade: the triumph of entrepreneurial capitalism over the older economic mode of the "peddler-merchant."

Professor Steensgaard's study is divided into two major parts. The first examines the economic and political structure of the seventeenth century institutions in the Near East, Portugal, England, and the Netherlands. The author demonstrates that the rise to preeminence of the English and Dutch East India Companies over the Portuguese "State of India" was the result of the superior economic and bureaucratic organization of the former. The eclipse of Portuguese power in general, the author argues, is best understood as an institutional failure–an inability to adapt to changing patterns and demands of economic life.

The second part of Professor Steensgaard's study provides a detailed historical account of an important event in the fall of the Portuguese trading empire–the loss of the city of Hormuz in 1622. Hormuz, located at a strategic point at the entrance of the Persian Gulf, was a central port city on the Asian trade route. It fell to an English and Persian force. The author demonstrates why this event exemplifies the Portuguese institutional weaknesses that are discussed in the first part of the book.

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