Colonial empires first emerged with a race of exploration between the then most advanced European maritime powers, Portugal and Spain, during the 15th century. The initial impulse behind these dispersed maritime empires and those that followed was trade, driven by the new ideas and the capitalism that grew out of the European Renaissance. Agreements were also made to divide the world up between them in 1479, 1493, and 1494. European imperialism was born out of competition between European Christians and Ottoman Muslims, the latter of which rose up quickly in the 14th century and forced the Spanish and Portuguese to seek new trade routes to India, and to a lesser extent, China.
Although colonies existed in classical antiquity, especially amongst the Phoenicians and the Ancient Greeks who settled many islands and coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, these colonies were politically independent from the city-states they originated from, and thus did not constitute a colonial empire.
Portugal began establishing the first global trade network and empire under the leadership of Henry the Navigator. The empire spread throughout a vast number of territories distributed across the globe (especially at one time in the 16th century) that are now parts of 60 different sovereign states. Portugal would eventually control Brazil, territories such as what is now Uruguay and some fishing ports in north, in the Americas; Angola, Mozambique, Portuguese Guinea, and São Tomé and Príncipe (among other territories and bases) in the North and the Subsaharan Africa; cities, forts or territories in all the Asian Subcontinents, as Muscat, Ormus and Bahrain (amongst other bases) in the Persian Gulf; Goa, Bombay and Daman and Diu (amongst other coastal cities) in India; Portuguese Ceylon; Malacca, bases in Southeast Asia and Oceania, as Makassar, Solor, Banda, Ambon and others in the Moluccas, Portuguese Timor; and the granted entrepôt-base of Macau and the entrepôt-enclave of Dejima (Nagasaki) in East Asia, amongst other smaller or short-lived possessions.
During its Siglo de Oro, the Spanish Empire had possession of the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, most of Italy, parts of Germany, parts of France, and many colonies in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. With the conquest of inland Mexico, Peru, and the Philippines in the 16th century, Spain established overseas dominions on a scale that had never been approached by its predecessors (the Mongol Empire had been larger but was restricted to Eurasia), and with the Iberian Union (1580), reached the widest scale in history until then in world distribution. Possessions in Europe, Africa, the Atlantic Ocean, the Americas, the Pacific Ocean, and East Asia qualified the Spanish Empire as attaining a global presence.
From 1580 to 1640 the Portuguese Empire and the Spanish Empire were conjoined in a personal union of its Habsburg monarchs during the period of the Iberian Union, but beneath the highest level of government, their separate administrations were maintained.
Subsequent colonial empires included the French, English, Dutch and Japanese empires. By the mid-17th century, the Tsardom of Russia, continued later as the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, became the largest contiguous state in the world, and the modern Russian Federation continues to be so to this day. Russia today has nine time zones, stretching across about half of the world's longitude.
The British Empire, consolidated during the period of British maritime hegemony in the 19th century, became the largest empire in history by virtue of the improved transportation technologies of the time. At its height, the British Empire covered a quarter of the Earth's land area and comprised a quarter of its population. During the New Imperialism, Italy and Germany also built their colonial empires in Africa.
After the Boxer Rebellion in 1901, Imperial China made concessions to the Eight-Nation Alliance (all the Great Powers of the time). By the end of the 20th century most of the previous colonial empires had been decolonized.
The chart below shows the span of some European colonial empires.
Other colonial empires:
Arguin (Portuguese: Arguim) is an island off the western coast of Mauritania in the Bay of Arguin. It is approximately 6x2 km in size, with extensive and dangerous reefs around it. The island is now part of the Banc d'Arguin National Park.Belgian colonial empire
Belgium controlled two colonies during its history, the Belgian Congo from 1908 to 1960, and Ruanda-Urundi from 1922 to 1962. It also had a concession in China, and was a co-administrator of the Tangier International Zone in Morocco.
Roughly 98% of Belgium's overseas territory was just one colony (about 76 times larger than Belgium itself) — known as the Belgian Congo. This had originated as the personal property of the country's king, Leopold II, rather than being gained through the political or military action of the Belgian state. Sovereignty was transferred to Belgium in 1908.Danish overseas colonies
Danish overseas colonies and pre Dano-Norwegian colonies (Norwegian: Danmark-Norges kolonier) are the colonies that Denmark-Norway (Denmark after 1814) possessed from 1536 until 1953. At its apex the colonies spanned four continents (Europe, North America, Africa, and Asia). The period of colonial expansion marked a rise in the status and power of Danes and Norwegians in the union. Being the hegemon of Denmark-Norway or the Statsfædrelandet (lit. State Fatherland), Denmark is where the union's monumental palaces are now located and Copenhagen, today the capital of Denmark, was the city which both Norway and Denmark came to establish as their capital. Much of the Norwegian population moved to find work in Copenhagen, attend university, or join the Royal Fleet.
In the 17th century, following territorial losses on the Scandinavian Peninsula, Denmark-Norway began to develop colonies, forts, and trading posts in West Africa, the Caribbean, and the Indian subcontinent. After 1814, when Norway was ceded to Sweden following the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark retained what remained of Norway's great medieval colonial holdings. Christian IV first initiated the policy of expanding Denmark-Norway's overseas trade, as part of the mercantilist wave that was sweeping Europe. Denmark-Norway's first colony was established at Tranquebar (Trankebar) on India's southern coast in 1620. Admiral Ove Gjedde led the expedition that established the colony.
Today, the only remaining vestiges are two originally Norwegian colonies that are currently within the Danish Realm, the Faroe Islands and Greenland; the Faroes were a Danish county until 1948, while Greenland's colonial status ceased in 1953. They are now autonomous countries of the Kingdom of Denmark with home rule, in a relationship referred to as the "Unity of the Realm".Dutch Empire
The Dutch colonial empire (Dutch: Het Nederlandse Koloniale Rijk) comprised the overseas territories and trading posts controlled and administered by Dutch chartered companies (mainly the Dutch West India and the Dutch East India Company) and subsequently by the Dutch Republic (1581–1795), and by the modern Kingdom of the Netherlands after 1815.
It was initially a trade-based system which derived most of its influence from merchant enterprise and from Dutch control of international maritime shipping routes through strategically placed outposts, rather than from expansive territorial ventures. With a few notable exceptions, the majority of the Dutch colonial empire's overseas holdings consisted of coastal forts, factories, and port settlements with varying degrees of incorporation of their hinterlands and surrounding regions. Dutch chartered companies often dictated that their possessions be kept as confined as possible in order to avoid unnecessary expense, and while some such as the Dutch Cape Colony (modern South Africa) and Dutch East Indies (today's Indonesia) expanded anyway (due to the pressure of independent-minded Dutch colonists), others remained undeveloped, isolated trading centres dependent on an indigenous host-nation. This reflected the primary purpose of the Dutch colonial empire: commercial exchange as opposed to sovereignty over homogeneous landmasses.The imperial ambitions of the Dutch were bolstered by the strength of their existing shipping industry, as well as the key role they played in the expansion of maritime trade between Europe and the Orient. Because small European trading-companies often lacked the capital or the manpower for large-scale operations, the States General chartered larger organisations - the Dutch West India Company and the Dutch East India Company - in the early seventeenth century. These were considered the largest and most extensive maritime trading companies at the time, and once held a virtual monopoly on strategic European shipping-routes westward through the Southern Hemisphere around South America through the Strait of Magellan, and eastward around Africa, past the Cape of Good Hope. The companies' domination of global commerce contributed greatly to a commercial revolution and a cultural flowering in the Netherlands of the 17th century, known as the Dutch Golden Age. In their search for new trade passages between Asia and Europe, Dutch navigators explored and charted distant regions such as New Zealand, Tasmania, and parts of the eastern coast of North America.In the 18th century the Dutch colonial empire began to decline as a result of the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War of 1780–1784, in which the Netherlands lost a number of its colonial possessions and trade monopolies to the British Empire. Nevertheless, major portions of the empire survived until the advent of global decolonisation following World War II (1939–1945), namely the East Indies (Indonesia) and Dutch Guiana (Surinam).
Three former colonial territories in the West Indies islands around the Caribbean Sea—Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten—remain as constituent countries represented within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.French Congo
The French Congo (French: Congo français) or Middle Congo (French: Moyen-Congo) was a French colony which at one time comprised the present-day area of the Republic of the Congo, Gabon, and the Central African Republic.French Indochina
French Indochina (previously spelled as French Indo-China) (French: Indochine française; Vietnamese: Đông Dương thuộc Pháp(Pháp(French)-Ấn Độ(India)-Trung Quốc(China)) IPA: [ɗə̄wŋm jɨ̄əŋ tʰûək fǎp], frequently abbreviated to Đông Pháp; Khmer: សហភាពឥណ្ឌូចិន; Lao: ສະຫະພັນອິນດູຈີນ; Chinese: 法属印度支那/Fàshǔ Yìndù zhīnà), officially known as the Indochinese Union (French: Union indochinoise; Vietnamese: Liên bang Đông Dương) after 1887 and the Indochinese Federation (French: Fédération indochinoise) after 1947, was a grouping of French colonial territories in Southeast Asia.
A grouping of the three Vietnamese regions of Tonkin (north), Annam (centre), and Cochinchina (south) with Cambodia was formed in 1887. Laos was added in 1893 and the leased Chinese territory of Guangzhouwan in 1898. The capital was moved from Saigon (in Cochinchina) to Hanoi (Tonkin) in 1902 and again to Da Lat (Annam) in 1939. In 1945 it was moved back to Hanoi.
After the Fall of France during World War II, the colony was administered by the Vichy government and was under Japanese occupation until March 1945, when the Japanese overthrew the colonial regime. After the Japanese surrender, the Viet Minh, a communist organization led by Hồ Chí Minh, declared Vietnamese independence, but France subsequently took back control of French Indochina. An all-out independence war, known as the First Indochina War, broke out in late 1946 between French and Viet Minh forces.
In order to create a political alternative to the Viet Minh, the State of Vietnam, led by former Emperor Bảo Đại, was proclaimed in 1949. On 9 November 1953 the Kingdom of Cambodia proclaimed its independence. Following the Geneva Accord of 1954, the French evacuated Vietnam and French Indochina came to an end.French North Africa
French North Africa was a collection of territories in North Africa controlled by France during the 19th and 20th-century colonial era, centering on French Algeria. At its height, it comprised most of the Maghreb.
In the 19th century, the decline of the Ottoman Empire, which had loosely controlled the area since the 16th century, left the region vulnerable to other forces. In 1830, French troops captured Algiers and from 1848 until independence in 1962, France treated Mediterranean Algeria as an integral part of France, the Métropole or metropolitan France. Seeking to expand their influence beyond Algeria, the French established protectorates to the east and west of it. The French protectorate of Tunisia was established in 1881, following a military invasion, and the French protectorate in Morocco in 1912. These lasted until 1955, in the case of Morocco, and 1956, when Tunisia gained full independence.
French North Africa came to an end soon after the Évian Accords of March 1962, which enabled the Algerian independence referendum of July 1962.French Somaliland
French Somaliland (French: Côte française des Somalis, lit. Somali: Xeebta Soomaaliyeed ee Faransiiska) was a French colony in the Horn of Africa. It existed between 1883 and 1967.French Union
The French Union (French: Union française) (1946–1958) was a political entity created by the French Fourth Republic to replace the old French colonial system, colloquially known as the "French Empire" (Empire Français). It was the formal end of the "indigenous" (indigène) status of French subjects in colonial areas.French colonial empire
The French colonial empire constituted the overseas colonies, protectorates and mandate territories that came under French rule from the 16th century onward. A distinction is generally made between the "first colonial empire," that existed until 1814, by which time most of it had been lost, and the "second colonial empire", which began with the conquest of Algiers in 1830. The second colonial empire came to an end after the loss in later wars of Indochina (1954) and Algeria (1962), and relatively peaceful decolonizations elsewhere after 1960.
Competing with Spain, Portugal, the Dutch United Provinces and later England, France began to establish colonies in North America, the Caribbean and India in the 17th century. A series of wars with Britain and others resulted in France losing nearly all of its conquests by 1814. France rebuilt a new empire mostly after 1850, concentrating chiefly in Africa as well as Indochina and the South Pacific. Republicans, at first hostile to empire, only became supportive when Germany started to build their own colonial empire. As it developed, the new empire took on roles of trade with France, especially supplying raw materials and purchasing manufactured items as well as lending prestige to the motherland and spreading French standards of development, language and the Catholic religion. It also provided manpower in the World Wars.A major goal was the Mission civilisatrice or "The Civilizing Mission". 'Civilizing' the populations of Africa through spreading language and religion, were used as justifications for many of the brutal practices that came with the french colonial project. In 1884, the leading proponent of colonialism, Jules Ferry, declared; "The higher races have a right over the lower races, they have a duty to civilize the inferior races." Full citizenship rights – assimilation – were offered, although in reality "assimilation was always receding [and] the colonial populations treated like subjects not citizens." France sent small numbers of settlers to its empire, contrary to Great Britain and previously Spain and Portugal, with the only notable exception of Algeria, where the French settlers nonetheless always remained a small minority.
At its apex, it was one of the largest empires in history. Including metropolitan France, the total amount of land under French sovereignty reached 11,500,000 km2 (4,400,000 sq mi) in 1920, with a population of 110 million people in 1939. In World War II, Charles de Gaulle and the Free French used the overseas colonies as bases from which they fought to liberate France. Historian Tony Chafer argues: "In an effort to restore its world-power status after the humiliation of defeat and occupation, France was eager to maintain its overseas empire at the end of the Second World War." However, after 1945 anti-colonial movements began to challenge European authority. The French constitution of 27 October 1946 (Fourth Republic), established the French Union which endured until 1958. Newer remnants of the colonial empire were integrated into France as overseas departments and territories within the French Republic. These now total altogether 119,394 km² (46,098 sq. miles), which amounts to only 1% of the pre-1939 French colonial empire's area, with 2.7 million people living in them in 2013. By the 1970s, says Robert Aldrich, the last "vestiges of empire held little interest for the French." He argues, "Except for the traumatic decolonization of Algeria, however, what is remarkable is how few long-lasting effects on France the giving up of empire entailed."German colonial empire
The German colonial empire (German: Deutsches Kolonialreich) constituted the overseas colonies, dependencies and territories of Imperial Germany. Unified in the early 1870's, the chancellor of this time period was Otto von Bismarck. Short-lived attempts of colonization by individual German states had occurred in preceding centuries, but crucial colonial efforts only began in 1884 with the Scramble for Africa. Claiming much of the left-over colonies in the Scramble for Africa, Germany managed to build the third largest colonial empire after the British and French, at the time. Germany lost control when World War I began in 1914 and its colonies were seized by its enemies in the first weeks of the war. However some military units held out for a while longer: German South West Africa surrendered in 1915, Kamerun in 1916 and German East Africa at the end of the war, the defenders of which having been engaged in a guerrilla war with British and colonial forces, as well as the Portuguese. Germany's colonial empire was officially confiscated with the Treaty of Versailles after Germany's defeat in the war and the various units became League of Nations mandates under the supervision (but not ownership) of one of the victorious powers. The German Colonial empire officially existed until 1919. Plans to regain their lost colonial possessions persisted through WW2, some people at the time suspecting that was the goal of the Third Reich all along. Despite not being around for a very long time, Germany's colonial ventures changed the places and people they came into contact with. The Germans participated in medicinal and scientific research in Africa, as well as attempting to build up an infrastructure there.Guadeloupe
Guadeloupe (; French pronunciation: [ɡwadəlup]; Antillean Creole: Gwadloup) is an overseas region of France in the Caribbean. It consists of six inhabited islands, Basse-Terre, Grande-Terre, Marie-Galante, La Désirade, and the Îles des Saintes, as well as many uninhabited islands and outcroppings.
Like the other overseas departments, it is an integral part of France. As a constituent territory of the European Union and the Eurozone, the euro is its official currency and any European Union citizen is free to settle and work there indefinitely. As an overseas department, however, it is not part of the Schengen Area. The official language is French. Antillean Creole is also spoken.Italian Empire
The Italian colonial empire (Italian: Impero coloniale italiano), known as the Italian Empire (Impero italiano) between 1936 and 1943, comprised the colonies, protectorates, concessions, dependencies and trust territories of the Kingdom of Italy (after 1946 the Italian Republic). The genesis of the Italian colonial empire was the purchase in 1869 of Assab Bay on the Red Sea by an Italian navigation company which intended to establish a coaling station at the time the Suez Canal was being opened to navigation. This was taken over by the Italian government in 1882, becoming modern Italy's first overseas territory.Over the next two decades, the pace of European acquisitions in Africa increased, causing the so-called "Scramble for Africa". By the start of the First World War in 1914, Italy had acquired in Africa a colony on the Red Sea coast (Eritrea), a large protectorate in Somalia and authority in formerly Ottoman Libya (gained after the Italo-Turkish War). Italy's expansion inland from the Red Sea coast brought her into conflict with the Ethiopian Empire, which defeated her first at the Battle of Dogali (1887) and again during the first Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1895–96.
Outside Africa, Italy possessed the Dodecanese Islands off the coast of Turkey (following the Italo-Turkish War) and a concession in Tianjin in China (following the Boxer War). During the First World War, Italy occupied southern Albania to prevent it from falling to Austria-Hungary. In 1917, it established a protectorate over Albania, which remained in place until 1920. The Fascist government that came to power with Benito Mussolini in 1922 sought to increase the size of the Italian empire and to satisfy the claims of Italian irredentists.
In its second invasion of Ethiopia in 1935–36, Italy was successful and it merged its new conquest with its older east African colonies to create Italian East Africa. In 1939, Italy invaded Albania and incorporated it into the Fascist state. During the Second World War (1939–1945), Italy occupied British Somaliland, parts of south-eastern France, western Egypt and most of Greece, but then lost those conquests and its African colonies, including Ethiopia, to the invading allied forces by 1943. It was forced in the peace treaty of 1947 to relinquish sovereignty over all its colonies. It was granted a United Nations trust to administer former Italian Somaliland in 1950 under United Nations supervision. When Somalia became independent in 1960, Italy's eight-decade experiment with colonialism had ended.Japanese colonial empire
The Japanese colonial empire constituted the overseas colonies established by Imperial Japan in the Western Pacific and East Asia region from 1895. Victories over China and Russia expanded the Japanese sphere of influence, notably in Taiwan and Korea, and South Sakhalin became a colony of Japan as the Karafuto Prefecture in 1905.
Following seizures of German territories in 1914, the League of Nations granted Japan mandates over some former German possessions in the Western Pacific after World War I. With the Japanese expansion into Manchuria in the early 1930s, Japan adopted a policy of setting up and/or supporting puppet states in conquered regions. In this less obviously imperialist form Japan controlled many of the states of what it referred to as the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, a concept which gradually formed under Japanese influence from 1930 to 1945. Colonial control over the far-flung territories from Tokyo ended after the Allies defeated Japan in 1945: the extent of Japanese governance reverted to the four home islands, the Nanpō Islands, and the Ryukyu Islands.New Hebrides
New Hebrides, officially the New Hebrides Condominium (French: Condominium des Nouvelles-Hébrides, lit. "Condominium of the New Hebrides") and named for the Hebrides Scottish archipelago, was the colonial name for the island group in the South Pacific Ocean that is now Vanuatu. Native people had inhabited the islands for three thousand years before the first Europeans arrived in 1606 from a Spanish expedition led by Portuguese navigator Pedro Fernandes de Queirós. The islands were colonised by both the British and French in the 18th century, shortly after Captain James Cook visited.
The two countries eventually signed an agreement making the islands an Anglo-French condominium that divided the New Hebrides into two separate communities: one Anglophone and one Francophone. This divide continues even after independence, with schools teaching in either one language or the other, and with different political parties. The condominium lasted from 1906 until 1980, when the New Hebrides gained their independence as the Republic of Vanuatu.Republic of Upper Volta
The Republic of Upper Volta (French: République de Haute-Volta), now Burkina Faso, was a landlocked West African country established on December 11, 1958, as a self-governing colony within the French Community. Before attaining autonomy it had been French Upper Volta and part of the French Union. On August 5, 1960, it attained full independence from France.Saint Croix
Saint Croix () is an island in the Caribbean Sea, and a county and constituent district of the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), an unincorporated territory of the United States.
St. Croix is the largest of the islands in the territory. However, the territory's capital, Charlotte Amalie, is located on Saint Thomas. As of the 2010 United States Census, St. Croix's population was 50,601. The island's highest point is Mount Eagle, at 355 metres (1,165 ft). St. Croix's nickname is "Twin City", for its two towns, Frederiksted on the western end and Christiansted on the northeast part of the island.Second French intervention in Mexico
The Second French Intervention in Mexico (Spanish: Segunda intervención francesa en México, 1861–67; known as Expédition du Mexique in France) was an invasion of Mexico, launched in late 1861, by the Second French Empire (1852–70). Initially supported by the United Kingdom and Spain, the French intervention in Mexico was a consequence of President Benito Juárez's two-year moratorium, on 17 July 1861, of loan-interest payments to French, British and Spanish creditors.To extend the influence of Imperial France, Napoleon III instigated the intervention in Mexico by claiming that the military adventure was a foreign policy commitment to free trade. The establishment of a friendly monarchy in Mexico would ensure European access to Latin American markets; and French access to Mexican silver. To realize his imperial ambitions without other European interference, Napoleon III entered into a coalition with the United Kingdom and Spain, while the U.S. was occupied with the American Civil War (1861–65), and unable to enforce the Monroe Doctrine.On 31 October 1861, France, the United Kingdom, and Spain agreed to the Convention of London, a joint effort to extract repayments from Mexico. On 8 December, the Spanish fleet disembarked troops at the port of Veracruz, on the Gulf of Mexico. When the British and the Spanish discovered that France had unilaterally planned to seize Mexico, they withdrew from the military coalition agreed in London. The subsequent French invasion created the Second Mexican Empire (1861–67), a client state of the French Empire. Besides the Continental empires involved, the Russian Empire also acknowledged the political legitimacy of the Maximilian's Second Mexican Empire, when the Tsarist fleet saluted the imperial Mexican flag when sailing off the Pacific Ocean coastal state of Guerrero.In Mexican politics, the French intervention allowed active political reaction against the liberal policies of racial and socio-economic reform of president Benito Juárez (1858–71), thus the Roman Catholic Church, upper-class conservatives, much of the Mexican nobility, and some Native American communities welcomed and collaborated with the French empire's installation of Maximilian I of Mexico as Emperor of the Mexicans.In European politics, the French intervention in Mexico reconciled the Second French Empire and the Austrian Empire, whom the French had defeated in the Franco–Austrian War of 1859. French imperial expansion into Mexico counterbalanced the geopolitical power of the Protestant Christian United States, by developing a powerful Catholic empire in Latin America, and the exploitation of the mineral wealth of the Mexican north-west. After much guerrilla warfare that continued after the Capture of Mexico City in 1863 — the French Empire withdrew from Mexico and abandoned the Austrian emperor of Mexico; subsequently, the Mexicans executed Emperor Maximilian I, on 19 June 1867, and restored the Mexican Republic.Swedish overseas colonies
Sweden possessed overseas colonies from 1638 to 1663 and from 1784 to 1878.