Portuguese and Spanish Ascendancy, 1511–1595.—Ptolemy and other ancient geographers describe the Malay Archipelago, or part of it, in vague and inaccurate terms, and the traditions they preserved were supplemented in the middle ages by the narratives of a few famous travellers, such as Ibn Batuta, Marco Polo, Odoric of Pordenone and Niccolò Conti. Malay and Chinese records also furnish material for the early history of individual islands, but the known history of the archipelago as a whole begins in the 16th century. At this period a civilization, largely of Hindu origin, had flourished and decayed in Java, where, as in all the more important islands, Mahommedanism had afterwards become the dominant creed. But the smaller islands and the remoter districts, even of Java and Sumatra, remained in a condition of complete savagery.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to colonize any part of the archipelago. A Portuguese squadron under Diogo Lopes de Sequeira arrived off Sumatra in 1509, explored the north coast for some distance, and noted that the inhabitants of the interior were cannibals, while those of the littoral were civilized and possessed a gold coinage. The main object of the Portuguese was to obtain a share in the lucrative spice trade carried on by the Malays, Chinese and Japanese; the trade-routes of the archipelago converged upon Malacca, which was the point of departure for spice merchants trading with every country on the shores of the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. In 1511 the Portuguese under Alphonso d’Albuquerque occupied Malacca, and in November of that year an expedition under Antonio de Abreu was despatched to find a route to the Moluccas and Banda Islands, then famous for their cloves and nutmegs. The explorers reached Amboyna and Ternate, after gaining some knowledge of Java, Madura, Sumbawa and other islands, possibly including New Guinea. During the return voyage the second-in-command, Francisco Serrão, was shipwrecked, but succeeded in making his way in a native boat to Mindanao. Thus the Philippines were discovered: In 1514 a second Portuguese fleet arrived at Ternate, which during the next five years became the centre of Portuguese enterprise in the archipelago; regular traffic with Malacca and Cochin was established, and the native raja became a vassal of Portugal.
Meanwhile the Spanish government was considering whether the Moluccas did not fall within the Spanish sphere of influence as defined by the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494; and in August 1519 an expedition commanded by Ferdinand Magellan (q.v.) sailed from Seville to seek a westward passage to the archipelago. After losing the commander in the Philippines and discovering Borneo, the two surviving ships reached the Moluccas late in 1520. One vessel returned to Seville by the Cape route, thus completing the first voyage round the world; the other attempted to return by the Pacific, but was driven back to Tidore and there welcomed by the natives as a useful ally against the Portuguese. Reinforcements from Spain arrived in 1525 and 1528; but in 1529 a treaty was concluded between the emperor Charles V. and John III. of Portugal, by which, in return for 350,000 gold ducats, the Spanish claim to the Moluccas was withdrawn. The boundary between the Spanish and Portuguese spheres was fixed at 17° E. of the Moluccas, but by a geographical fiction the Philippines were included within the Spanish sphere. Further disputes occurred from time to time, and in 1542 a Spanish fleet came into conflict with the Portuguese off Amboyna; but after 1529 the supremacy of each power in its own sphere was never seriously endangered.
Though the Portuguese traders frequented the coast of Java, they annexed no territory either there or in Sumatra; but farther east they founded numerous forts and factories, notably in Amboyna, the Banda Island, Celebes and Halmahera. Ternate remained the seat of the governor of the Moluccas, who was the highest official in the archipelago, though subordinate to the viceroy or governor of Portuguese India. The first attempt to enter into relations with the states of Borneo was made by D. Jorge de Menezes, who visited Brunci in 1526, and in 1528 sent an envoy to its raja. The embassy failed in a curious manner. Among the gifts sent by Menezes was a piece of tapestry representing the marriage of Catherine of Aragon to Arthur, prince of Wales. The raja was persuaded that these mysterious figures were demons under a spell, which might come to life and kill him as he slept. The envoy was therefore dismissed.
In 1536, after a period of war and anarchy caused by the tyrannical rule of Menezes, Antonio Galvão, the historian, was appointed governor of the Moluccas. He crushed the rebellion and won the affection of the natives by his just and enlightened administration, which had no parallel in the annals of Portuguese rule in the archipelago. He returned to Europe in 1540 (see Portugal: Literature), after inaugurating an active missionary movement, which was revived in 1546–1547 by Francis Xavier (q.v.). At this period the Portuguese power in the East was already beginning to wane; in the archipelago it was weakened by administrative corruption and by incessant war with native states, notably Bintang and Achin; bitter hostility was aroused by the attempts which the Portuguese made to establish a commercial monopoly and to force Christianity upon their native subjects and allies (see Portugal: History). From 1580 to 1640 Portugal was itself united to Spain—a union which differed from annexation in little but name.
The English and Dutch, 1595–1674.—Pirates from Dieppe visited the archipelago between 1527 and 1539. It is possible that they reached Australia—more than sixty years before the first voyage thither of which there is any clear record; but their cruise had no political significance, and the Spaniards and Portuguese remained without European competitors until the appearance of Sir Francis Drake in 1579. An English squadron under Sir James Lancaster came into conflict with the Portuguese in 1591, and an expedition under Sir Henry Middleton traded in the archipelago in 1604. But the English were simple traders or explorers; far more formidable were the Dutch, who came to the East partly to avenge the injuries inflicted on their country by the Spaniards, partly to break the commercial monopoly of the peninsular states. As middlemen they already possessed a large interest in the spice trade, for the Portuguese, having no direct access to the principal European markets, had made a practice of sending cargo to the Netherlands for distribution by way of the Scheldt and Rhine. The Dutch now sought to monopolize not only the distribution but the production of spices—an enterprise facilitated by the co-operation of many exiled Portuguese Jews who had settled in Holland.
The first Dutch fleet sailed from Texel, under the command of Cornelis Houtman, on the 2nd of April 1595 and reached Sumatra on the 1st of January 1596. It visited Madura, and came into conflict with the Portuguese at Bantam in Java, returning to Holland in 1597. Though not a commercial success, the expedition had demonstrated the weakness of the Portuguese. In 1602 the Dutch East India Company (q.v.) was incorporated, and for nearly two centuries this organization played the chief part in the history of the archipelago. By 1604 the Dutch could already claim to be the stronger power at sea. They had attacked the Portuguese in Ceylon (1601), established friendly relations with Achin (1602), and defeated a powerful fleet off Banda (1602). In 1606 they concluded a treaty of alliance with the sultan of Johor, and in 1608 they forced the Portuguese to assent to an armistice for twelve years. On the 29th of November 1609 Pieter Both was chosen by the states-general, on the nomination of the Dutch East India Company, as first governor-general of Netherlands India. In 1611 the headquarters of the Dutch was changed from Bantam to , which in 1619 was renamed Batavia, and was thenceforward the Dutch capital. Meanwhile the English East India Company, chartered in 1600, had also extended its operations to the archipelago. After 1611 the commercial rivalry between the Dutch and British became acute, and in 1613, 1615 and 1618 commissioners met in London to discuss the matters in dispute. The result of their deliberations was the Treaty of Defence, signed on the 2nd of June 1619 and modified on the 24th of January 1620, which arranged for co-operation between the Dutch and British companies, and especially for the maintenance
- See The Geographical Journal, ix. 80 seq. (London, 1897).