History of colonialism

The historical phenomenon of colonization is one that stretches around the globe and across time. Ancient and medieval colonialism was practiced by the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Turks, and the Arabs.

Territories colonized by European, American and Japanese powers since 1492

Colonialism in the modern sense began with the "Age of Discovery", led by Portuguese, who became increasingly adventuresome following the conquest of Ceuta in 1415, aiming to control navigation through the Strait of Gibraltar, expand Christianity, obtain plunder, and suppress predation on Portuguese populations by Barbary pirates as part of a longstanding African slave trade; at that point a minor trade, one the Portuguese would soon reverse and surpass. Around 1450, based on North African fishing boats, a lighter ship was developed, the caravel, which could sail further and faster,[1] was highly maneuverable, and could sail "into the wind".

Enabled by new nautical technology, with the added incentive to find an alternative "Silk Road" after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottoman Empire effectively closed profitable trade routes with Asia, early European exploration of Africa was followed by the Spanish exploration of the Americas, further exploration along the coasts of Africa, and explorations of Southwest Asia (also known as the Middle East), India, and East Asia.

The Conquest of the Canary Islands by the Crown of Castille, from 1402 to 1496, has been described as the first instance of European settler colonialism in Africa. In 1462, the previously uninhabited Cape Verde archipelago became the first European settlement in the tropics, and thereafter a site of Jewish exile during the height of the Spanish Inquisition in the 1490s; the Portuguese soon also brought slaves from the West African coast. Because of the economics of plantations, especially sugar, European colonial expansion and slavery would remain linked into the 1800s. The use of exile to penal colonies would also continue.

The European discovery of the New World, as named by Amerigo Vespucci in 1503, opened another colonial chapter, beginning with the colonization of the Caribbean in 1493 with Hispaniola (later to become Haiti and the Dominican Republic). The Portuguese and Spanish empires were the first global empires because they were the first to stretch across different continents (discounting Eurasian empires), covering vast territories around the globe. Between 1580 and 1640, the Portuguese and Spanish empires were both ruled by the Spanish monarchs in personal union. During the late 16th and 17th centuries, England, France and the Dutch Republic also established their own overseas empires, in direct competition with one another.

The end of the 18th and mid 19th century saw the first era of decolonization, when most of the European colonies in the Americas, notably those of Spain, New France and the 13 colonies, gained their independence from their metropole. The Kingdom of Great Britain (uniting Scotland and England), France, Portugal, and the Dutch turned their attention to the Old World, particularly South Africa, India and Southeast Asia, where coastal enclaves had already been established.

The second industrial revolution, in the 19th century, led to what has been termed the era of New Imperialism, when the pace of colonization rapidly accelerated, the height of which was the Scramble for Africa, in which Belgium, Germany and Italy were also participants.

There were deadly battles between colonizing states and revolutions from colonized areas shaping areas of control and establishing independent nations. During the 20th century, the colonies of the defeated central powers in World War I were distributed amongst the victors as mandates, but it was not until the end of World War II that the second phase of decolonization began in earnest.


Share this article:

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article History of colonialism, and is written by contributors. Text is available under a CC BY-SA 4.0 International License; additional terms may apply. Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.