Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

Small is beautiful – the Rise and Fall of nations (3)

When you look at a map of Europe then you will notice that Spain is a huge country and totally surrounds small Portugal. The first question that springs to mind is why did Spain never invade Portugal? Actually, they did but Spain was never successful in its efforts. A more generic version of this question is why did small countries survive history?

The Netherlands is even less than half the size of Portugal (WA). Both have several features in common which may be crucial to the answer to the above question. Both were naval countries which ruled the world for quite some time: Portugal from 1400 to 1600, and The Netherlands (including Dutch Belgium) from 1600 to almost 1800. Both countries received help from allies (ie, UK) when under attack by mutual enemies (ie, Spain).

By 1139, Portugal had established itself as a kingdom independent from the Kingdom of León. In 1373, Portugal made an alliance with England, which is the longest-standing alliance in the world. This alliance served both nations’ interests throughout history and is regarded by many as the predecessor to NATO. In the 15th and 16th centuries, [] Portugal expanded Western influence and established the first global empire, becoming one of the world’s major economic, political and military powers. It was once the the longest-lived European colonial empire [] (Wiki).


The ties between the Brits and the Dutch are even more ancient and also royal: the Frisian language is still the closest to English related living language on continental Europe, and the Dutch prince William of Orange who became King of England in 1689. The immense success of the Dutch Republic(1581-1795) resulted in competitive forces (eg, France, UK) which ended the Dutch rule and started the British rule (1800-1900). Also see my 11 April 2015 blog on Superpowers.

Switzerland is another small country and almost the same size as The Netherlands but with half the people (WA). It is bordered by Italy (south), France (west), Germany (north), and Austria (east) and is geographically divided between the Alps, the Swiss Plateau and the Jura. Since 1291 it has been independent and quite likely because it has been a buffer state for its surrounding big powers.

Today Denmark is a country of the same size as Holland but with 1/3 of the people (WA). However, the Danish kingdom already emerged in the 8th century and covered large parts of Scandinavia although its extent is unknown. Combined these countries are also known as the Vikings. The Danes used to rule several other countries but lost control over England (1035), Sweden (1523), Norway (1814), Schleswig (1864) and Iceland (1944). (Wiki 12, 3)

Based on the above, the ancient and contemporary elements of Power still are: (1) a direct and ice-free passage to the sea (eg, navy, ports, trade), (2) having strong allies, (3) embracing Science and Technology, (4) access to Money (eg, from colonies and trade), (5) a large population (eg, army), and – last but certainly not least – not being hindered by (6) Religion and (7) Politics. 

Although the Dutch ruled the world for nearly 200 years, its population was far too small to resist the large French armies of Napoleon around 1800. Small is beautiful but ultimately size does matter.

Dulce Pontes – Canção do Mar (1993) – artistlyrics (UK)Wiki


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