The Netherlands is one of Europe’s economic centers, despite its small size. This surprising twist of history is due, however, to a less savory turn of events.
During the 16th century the Dutch were under the dominion of the Spanish Empire and they didn’t like that very much. They fought for their independence for 80 years and their country suffered greatly because of it.
Back then the Spanish controlled the lucrative Asian spice trade, which the Dutch economy relied on. However, when the Spanish closed off Lisbon (then the spice hub of the world) the Dutch had no choice but to sail to the Far East and claim the spice trade for themselves.
While the Spanish were bogged down in a costly war against the English, the Netherlands swooped in and took over the Asian spice trade through their Dutch East India Company (VOC). In the span of a few decades this new business venture grew to massive proportions and funded the Dutch independence effort, as well as massive land reclamation.
Eventually the VOC declined and a perfect storm of wars abroad and at home eventually destroyed it. But after two centuries of operation this one company left an impressive legacy of colonial scars and capitalist wealth that still influences the Netherlands to this day.