The Dutch Golden Age was a period in Dutch history, roughly spanning the 17th century, in which Dutch trade, science, and art were among the most acclaimed in the world.
During a large part of the 17th century the Dutch, traditionally able seafarers and keen mapmakers, dominated world trade, a position which before to a lesser extent had been occupied by the Portuguese and Spaniards, and which later would be lost to England after a long competition that culminated in several wars (fought mainly at sea).
In 1602 the Dutch East India Company (Dutch: Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC) was founded. This company received a Dutch monopoly on Asian trade and would keep this for two centuries. It would become the world's largest commercial enterprise of the 17th century. Spices were imported in bulk and brought huge profits, due to the efforts and risks involved and the insatiable demand (spices masked the taste of not so fresh food). In 1609 the Amsterdam exchange bank was founded, a century before its English counterpart.
The Dutch also dominated trade between European countries. The Low Countries were favorably positioned on a crossing of east-west and north-south trade routes and connected to a large German hinterland through a major river, the Rhine. Dutch traders shipped wine from France and Portugal to the Baltic lands and returned with grain destined for countries round the Mediterranean Sea.
National industries expanded as well. Ship yards and sugar refineries are prime examples. As more and more land was made productive, partially through transforming lakes into polders, local grain production and dairy farming soared.
The flourishing Dutch trade produced a large very wealthy merchant class. The new prosperity brought more attention to and sponsorship for visual arts, literature and science.