Spice and Gunpowder

How do you create an empire from a tiny swampland while surrounded by the world's super powers, and produce a battle fleet to hand England her greatest defeat at sea? Or expand a merchant navy to dominate the world's trading routes for 200 years? How does nutmeg and clove defeat the blast of a cannon?

Perhaps the Dutch learned a lesson from the Roman Empire. Trade is what makes a nation great, and a show of force is often more persuasive than outright battle. The Romans found putting food into the bellies of their enemies often had a better outcome than thrusting a sword into it. The Dutch understood that ingenuity, efficiency and organisation are the hallmarks of a great civilisation, and harnessing the elements such as wind and sea. Using windmills to cut the imported timber, the Dutch could roll out three sailing fleets a year—a far greater number of ships than the English—and to a better design.

The correct sentiment is shown on a Dutch gold ducat from that time depicting a knight. The knight means strength; in one hand is a sword, raised, but restrained; the knight not willing to pick a fight he cannot win. In his other hand thirteen arrows are held tightly—representing the thirteen United Provinces—poised, ready to do battle when necessary.

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