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European Maritime Violence and Territorial States in Early Modern Asia, 1600-1650

  • Adam Clulow


The European overseas enterprises that began to push into Asian waters in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were maritime organisations geared towards commerce and seaborne warfare. As such, they looked very different from the powerful territorial states like Mughal India that traditionally dominated early modern Asia, and they were able to create a new kind of empire consisting of a network of fortified ports and trading centres connected by long sea routes. The construction of these empires was initially driven and subsequently sustained by maritime technology. To borrow Carlo Cipolla's words, guns, sails, and empire were always bound tightly together in this period. European vessels held a significant advantage over local shipping; neither the wealthiest groups of merchants nor the most formidable Asian states were in a position to field maritime forces that could challenge them on the open ocean. In virtually every encounter at sea, ships from Europe were able to inflict overwhelming defeats on the fleets assembled to oppose them. Since it represented their most significant advantage, Europeans made frequent use of maritime violence: against competing merchant groups (in order to disrupt commercial networks and to gain a dominant position), and against Asian states (to pry open port cities and improve trading conditions). This article explores the role played by maritime violence in the relationship between European overseas enterprises and two powerful territorial states, Mughal India (1526-1757) and Tokugawa Japan (1600-1868), in the first half of the seventeenth century.



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* Adam Clulow teaches at Monash University and can be reached via email at For a complete list of publications, see He is currently working on a book manuscript that examines the interaction between the Tokugawa Bakufu and the Dutch East India Company. The author would like to extend his thanks to Pat Risso, Martine van Ittersum, and the anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments.

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European Maritime Violence and Territorial States in Early Modern Asia, 1600-1650

  • Adam Clulow


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