Amsterdam's Riches

Amsterdam's history as a commercial hub began in 1275, when Floris V, count of Holland, decreed that the fledgling settlement would be exempt from paying tolls. Consequently, the community, then called "Aemstelredamme," was soon taking in tons of beer from Hamburg, along with a lot of thirsty settlers. The beer profits opened up other fields of endeavor, and by the 17th century Amsterdam had become the richest and most powerful city in the world. It had also produced the world's first-ever multinational company: the East India Company (VOC), which shipped spices, among other goods, between Asia and Europe. Amsterdam was, in Voltaire's words, "the storage depot of the world." While the rest of Europe still felt it necessary to uphold the medieval tags of "honor" and "heroism," Amsterdam had the luxury of focusing just on money—and the consequent liberty it created.

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