The 7 Most Important Characteristics Of Colonialism

The colonialism is a political doctrine that involves the occupation and the political and economic control of a territory, partially or totally, by a foreign government. The term colony comes from the Latin colonus which means farmer and suggests the occupation of the land by foreigners who are now called colonists.

Precisely the aspect of occupation is one of those that differentiates it from the term Imperialism, which alludes to the practice of a foreign government that administers a territory without necessarily having to have settlements in it.


The Colossus of Rhodes: Caricature of Cecil John Rhodes, after he announced plans for a telegraph line and railroad from Cape Town to Cairo.

Colonialism emerged in the 15th century with the conquests by European countries such as Spain, Portugal, England, France and the Netherlands, of territories in America, the East and Africa.

It is said that the division of Africa among the European powers corresponds to a resurgence of this practice. The ethical implications and the legitimate character of colonialism are points that political philosophers have not been able to resolve, although for some the argument of the “civilizing mission” that developed countries have with the “uncivilized” has proved valid.

Colonialism conflicts with ideas about justice and natural law since, generally, it implies the subjugation of one people to another.

Characteristics of colonialism

1. Dating

Colonialism is an ancient practice; Phenicia could be considered as the first colonizing nation, as its inhabitants established settlements on the coastal extension of the Mediterranean Sea in 1100 BC.

In fact, Carthage (in present-day Tunisia), was a colony founded by the Phoenicians. Later, some Greek city-states expanded in search of arable land towards the northern coasts of the Aegean, the Black Sea and the south of the Italian peninsula.

Also Sparta and Athens, in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, became colonizers. Then, in the 9th and 10th centuries, Scandinavian Vikings established colonies in large areas of the British Isles, Iceland, and Greenland.

We should also mention the Moors and the Ottomans, with which, colonialism seems not to be limited to a single and specific time, although with the technological development in navigation, the 16th century was ideal for the colonizing countries.

It was at this time that the modern European colonial project emerged.

2. Linked ideology

Colonialism implies a high level of nationalism. The land itself is considered superior and is assigned an almost “evangelizing” mission. In fact, the normal thing is that the colonists remain in the new earth, in representation and as allies of their country of origin.

There was also some implicit racism in the colonizing ideology since in most cases, it is about colonizing lands with people of color.

The religious missions also found their vehicle of expansion in this practice that allowed them to reach a greater number of “impure or uncivilized” people.

3. Settlements / Occupation

This is an almost sine quanon requirement when speaking of colonialism: the transfer of people to the new territory.

In fact, European settlements in North America, Australia, New Zealand, Algeria, and Brazil are referred to as colonies.

4. Causes

Possible causes of colonialism include:

  • Need for land to grow food that allows the colonizer to support its inhabitants.
  • Need to expand the market to commercialize the goods it produces.
  • Desire to obtain raw materials or labor at the lowest possible cost.
  • Desire for greater political control.
  • Development of navigation technology that facilitated the exploration of new territories and the discovery of their potential in natural and strategic resources (in the military and political fields).
  • In the 19th century, the great powers held colonies.
  • Population growth of European countries.

5. Main colonizers

Nations that created their own colonies in foreign territories include:

  • Great Britain : Established its colonies in India, Sudan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Singapore, Burma and Malacca, Cape, Rhodesia, Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya and Uganda, in addition to the privileges it enjoyed in Canton, Hon-Kong and Shanghai .

Great Britain also made its mark in Oceania through its colonies in New Zealand, in addition to the control it already exercised in Canada, Jamaica, English Guiana and the Falkland Islands.

  • France : It was made with colonies in: Algeria, Tunisia, Madagascar, Morocco, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Benin and Chad, Annam, Tomkin and Laos. It is also joined by Haiti, French Guyana and some islands in Oceania and on the eastern coast of Canada.
  • Russia : Despite the interest of the tsars to achieve the exit to the Mediterranean, their colonies were located east of the Urals.
  • Belgium : His domain was concentrated in the Congo Basin, Africa.
  • Germany and Italy : by starting late with their expansion process, they had to settle for controlling Eritrea, Tripoli, Cyrenaica and part of the coast of Somalia (in the case of Germany), and some sectors of North Africa (in the case of Italy ).
  • United States : It expanded westward from the American continent, reaching the Pacific and colonizing Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Alaska, the Philippines and, until very recently, the Panama Canal.
  • Japan : It expanded into eastern Asia, colonizing the island of Formosa, Korea, Port Arthur and the southern part of the island of Sajalin.
  • Portugal : It maintained its power over Angola and Mozambique.
  • Spain : after having control over Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines and part of Africa, it only managed to maintain a few possessions in the latter nation, including the Spanish Sahara.

6. Consequences

Some of the most notable consequences of colonialism are:

  • Increase in wealth of European countries.
  • Racial discrimination due to the slavery of Africans.
  • With the passage of time, the ideas of freedom that emerged from the French Revolution reached the continent
  • Population growth in Europe, due to different factors.
  • Agricultural production boom in Europe.
  • Expansion of international trade.
  • The bourgeoisie settled in the main cities.
  • There is a significant number of socially marginalized, antecedents of future social conflicts.

7. End

Modern colonialism ended with the world wars of the 20th century. Also influenced by an increase in national consciousness in the colonies, and the decline of the political and military influence of the old continent.


  1. Alegandro, Isidro (208). Colonialism. Recovered from:
  2. The illustrated little Larousse (1999). Encyclopedic dictionary. Sixth edition. International co-publishing.
  3. Manuel (2008). Colonialism and imperialism. Recovered from:
  4. Oxford dictionaries. Recovered from:
  5. Online teacher (2015). Colonialism in Universal History. Recovered from:

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button