extension of political and economic control over an area by a state whose nationals have occupied the area and usually possess organizational or technological superiority over the native population. It may consist simply in a migration of nationals to the territory, or it may be the formal assumption of control over the territory by military or civil representatives of the dominant power (see colony).
Overpopulation, economic distress, social unrest, and religious persecution in the home country may be factors that cause colonization, but imperialism, more or less aggressive humanitarianism, and a desire for adventure or individual improvement are also causes. Colonization may be state policy, or it may be a private project sponsored by chartered corporations or by associations and individuals. Before colonization can be effected, the indigenous population must be subdued and assimilated or converted to the culture of the colonists; otherwise, a modus vivendi must be established by the imposition of a treaty or an alliance.
As early as the 10th cent. B.C., the Phoenicians founded trading posts throughout the Mediterranean area and later exercised political dominion over these commercial colonies. The Greeks, from a desire for wealth or as a result of the expulsion of a political faction or the defeated inhabitants of a city, established colonies in Asia Minor and Italy, spreading Hellenic culture and stimulating trade. Greek colonies were patterned after the parent state and were at first subject to its jurisdiction. Colonization was an integral part of Roman policy, providing land for the poor, supporting Roman garrisons, and again spreading Roman culture. In their colonization the Romans sought to assimilate the native culture into their own, and in some cases they bestowed Roman citizenship upon natives of the colony. Medieval colonization began with the Crusades and was mainly Italian. The Venetians and Genoese established commercial colonies along trade routes and exercised strict supervision over them.
The Portuguese and Spanish became great colonizing nations at the end of the Middle Ages. Portuguese colonization, which received impetus from the development of greatly improved methods of navigation, began with the establishment of trading ports in Africa and the East, while the Spanish concentrated most of their efforts in the Americas. Both the Spanish and the Portuguese exercised strict governmental control over their colonies and used them primarily as a basis for rich commerce with the parent government. They discouraged them from becoming economically self-sufficient.
In the late 16th and early 17th cent., the English, Dutch, and French began to undertake colonization through the agency of chartered companies. The greatest of these private trading companies was the British East India Company, which played a vital role in the history of the British Empire.
The French generally adhered to mercantilist theory in establishing their colonies, using them mainly for the economic advantage of France. The English colonists in North America, however, were, in many respects, virtually independent of the parent country, the most serious restriction being the establishment of a trade monopoly by the home government through the Navigation Acts. Because their territory was suitable for settlement, rather than exploitation, the residence of the British colonists in America tended to be permanent. The increase in overseas trade and colonial consumption helped to stimulate the Industrial Revolution, which in turn, because of the increased technological superiority afforded Europe, especially Great Britain, and because of the greater desire for markets and raw materials, gave added impetus to colonization and made it easier to accomplish.
Although Great Britain lost most of its North American colonies as a result of the American Revolution, other acquisitions (most notably in India) soon made it the greatest colonial power in the world. The French, stripped of one colonial empire in the colonial wars of the 18th cent., established another in the 19th cent.
Germany emerged as an industrial empire in the late 19th cent., but found the colonies of other powers closed to German products and, therefore, embarked upon its own colonial adventures. Japan, also recently industrialized, followed the same path. These ambitions helped to bring on World Wars I and II. Germany was stripped of its colonies after the first conflict; Japan lost its colonies after the second.
Modern colonization, frequently preceded by an era in which missionaries and traders were active, was largely exploitative, but it did not in the long run prove directly lucrative to the colonial power, because it involved a heavy drain on the treasury of the home government. After World War II, there was increasing agitation and violence in the European colonial empires as subject peoples demanded their independence. Most colonies were granted or won independence from the imperial powers; those belonging to Portugal were among the last major colonies to become independent. Today, only a few remnants of the great colonial empires survive, mainly as self-governing dependencies (e.g., Aruba, Bermuda, and French Guiana). Colonization in its classical form is rarely practiced today and is widely considered to be immoral.
See also mandates; trusteeship, territorial.