Dutch East India Company, of United East India Company, Dutch Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, trading company founded in the Dutch Republic (present-day Netherlands) in 1602 to protect that state’s trade in the Indian Ocean and to assist in the Dutch war of independence from Spain. The company prospered through most of the 17th century as the instrument of the powerful Dutch commercial empire in the East Indies (present-day Indonesia). It was dissolved in 1799.
The Dutch government granted the company a trade monopoly in the waters between the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa and the Straits of Magellan between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans with the right to conclude treaties with native princes, to build forts and maintain armed forces, and to carry on administrative functions through officials who were required to take an oath of loyalty to the Dutch government. Under the administration of forceful governors-general, most notably Jan Pieterszoon Coen (1618–23) and Anthony van Diemen (1636–45), the company was able to defeat the British fleet and largely displace the Portuguese in the East Indies.
In 1619 the company renamed Jacatra Batavia (now Jakarta) and used it as a base to conquer Java and the outer islands. By the late 17th century the company had declined as a trading and sea power and had become more and more involved in the affairs of Java. By the 18th century, the company had changed from a commercial shipping enterprise to a loose territorial organization interested in the agricultural produce of the Indonesian archipelago. Toward the end of the 18th century, the company became corrupt and seriously in debt. The Dutch government eventually revoked the company’s charter and in 1799 took over its debts and possessions.