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In modern times, a colony (from Latin colere, ' to cultivate, to cultivate land') is an externally dependent area of ​​a state without its own political and economic power .

Conceptually, colony is closely related to colonization . When colonization is in essence a land grab . The colony is therefore, in a broader sense, an association of persons in an area outside the traditional settlement area. In the area of politics , it is also linked to a political dependence on the “ mother country ”.

The formation of colonies was and is an essential instrument for the expansion of power in imperialist states.

Ancient colony term

Colonies in the sense of a planting town or daughter town already existed in antiquity . In addition to the Phoenicians , the Greeks stood out in particular . The Greek cities of the Aegean in particular founded a number of colonies (more correctly: Apoikies ) in Asia Minor , in the western Mediterranean region ( e.g. Syracuse in Sicily , Cyrene in North Africa, Naples in Italy, Marseille in southern Gaul) and in the Black Sea region. These became politically independent from the mother cities, but remained connected to the mother cities in Greece through trade and religious contacts - on the other hand, there were also wars between an apoikie (“evacuation”) and its metropolis . The situation was different with the clergy that Athens (which otherwise did not participate in the actual Greek colonization ) in the 5th century BC. Founded.

The inhabitants of a colonia of the Roman Empire were mainly characterized by the fact that they had to give up Roman citizenship or the claim to it; coloniae were founded especially in the early days of Roman expansion in order to be able to permanently control newly conquered land. In the Roman context, too, one has to consider that, unlike the modern term colony, it was not a territory, but a city.

Nevertheless, today's term colony should only be applied with caution to ancient conditions. The ancient historian Moses Finley has expressed early critical of the application of the current term colony on ancient states ( Ref : Finley ff 1976, p.167). And executed in connection with the Greek colonization of Sicily:

“The word 'colonization' that historians commonly use to describe this process is actually misleading, as it suggests the establishment of dependent communities overseas. Westward emigration from Greece was undoubtedly an organized movement that was equipped, armed and planned by various 'mother cities', but from the start the effect, yes - for all we can say - the intention of this movement was not that Colonization of the country; rather, men of the mother cities should be asked, sometimes even forced, to move to new, independent and independent communities. "

In order to avoid problems with the modern term colonial, one often does not speak of a "Colony of Corinth", for example, but of a "Founding of Corinth", a "Corinthian apoicism" or a "Founding by Corinthian settlers" when one speaks of these ancient colonies of Greek origin describes. As mentioned, the Romans also knew this principle - with them it was the soldiers who had retired from military service who received land to cultivate in the conquered areas and who founded colonies as settlers (Latin colonus ). The name of the city of Cologne is derived directly from the Latin colonia .

Modern times

The division of the world between Spain and Portugal

The Spanish colonial empire and the Portuguese colonial empire were the first global empires. The two empires existed from the 15th to the 20th century. In the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), the earth was divided into an eastern, Portuguese sphere and a western one for the then competitor Spain, which was specified in the Treaty of Saragossa (1529). In principle, the treaty was in force until 1777.

Forms of expansion

In order to be able to classify the term correctly, it is therefore necessary to first describe the various forms of expansion that are related to the term colony and from which it is to be distinguished:

  • The total emigration , ( Exodus ). Peoples leave their homeland and occupy another area without a controlling center remaining in their old homeland. This happened during the Migration Period and during the " Great Trek " in the 19th century when the Cape Boers moved to the Orange Free State and the Transvaal . The Boers remained at the Cape, but they had no controlling influence on the emigrants.
  • The individual emigration , the classic emigration . It usually happens for economic or ideological reasons. In contrast to total emigration, the backward societies remain intact. The emigrants do not create new colonies with a relationship of dependency, but are integrated into the receiving societies. There they often form enclaves in the new society such as the Chinatowns in American cities, the banlieues of large French cities or some districts of German cities such as Berlin or Cologne . Voluntariness is not a necessary feature. It may well be a question of forced emigration, such as the Huguenot emigration or the resettlement of Africans as part of the slave trade .
  • The border colonization . This is understood to mean the opening up of land for human use, the shifting of cultural boundaries into the wilderness. As a rule, this does not involve the formation of independent political units. An example is the expansion of arable farming zones at the expense of the shepherd peoples of Inner Asia by the Han Chinese in the 19th and early 20th centuries . It also includes the development of the American continent from the east coast and the development of Asiatic Russia since the late 19th century .
  • The overseas settlement colonization . “Overseas” only refers to the separation from the motherland through a greater distance across the sea. Typical examples of this are the Phoenician and Greek "planting cities" of antiquity on the other side of a sea without great military effort. The transport problems over long stretches of the sea gave rise to independent communities. The beginnings of English colonization in North America also fall into this category (plantations) ( lit .: Bacon). They wanted self-sufficiency . The land was considered ownerless. The native population was not subjugated and made subjects, as in the Spanish possessions in America, but forced back. The habitats remained separate.
    • There are three types:
    • Type I .: The New English Type . An agrarian immigrant population colonizes a country with their own efforts and pushes the native population back. This is how homogeneous European settlements arose in North America.
    • Type II is mainly represented in Africa . A minority of settlers submits to an already intact farming society, takes over their land ownership and continues to employ the previous masters as servants. One remains dependent on the local population. Self-sufficiency is not sought, which must lead to fundamental instability. Examples are Algeria , South Africa , Kenya ( Lit .: Mosley pp. 5 ff., 237).
    • Type III .: This is the plantation economy operated by slaves by a few immigrants , as it was practiced in the Caribbean , where 1770 blacks made up 90% of the total population (American southern states 40%, northern states 20%) ( Lit .: Fogel p. 30 ff .)
  • The empire-building wars of conquest are the Roman form of expansion. One people subjugates another. The capital of the mother country remains the center of power. But this does not have to result in a permanent unified empire. The Arab-Muslim expansion in the 8th century quickly led to independent centers of power. The same goes for the empire of Genghis Khan . The British Empire developed into three politically different entities, the “white Dominions , the colonies ( “Dependencies” ) and the Empire of India . In general, the existing social and domestic political organization was retained and adapted to requirements. The extermination of the upper class with the smashing of the existing system of rule, as happened by the Spaniards during the invasion of Mexico , is the exception. The main focus was on economic exploitation through tribute collection. Therefore, new tax legislation was introduced as soon as possible. The conquest was seldom followed by settlement activity (for example in parts of the Roman Empire, in Ireland or in Algeria). India, on the other hand, is the classic example of modern colonial rule without colonization.
  • The network of bases is a special form of maritime expansion in which military-protected trading centers are formed. As a rule, these do not result in any colonization of the hinterland or large-scale military land grabbing (the English expansion of power from Bombay, Madras and Calcutta is an exception). The purpose is to secure commercial hegemony. Examples are the trading bases of the Republic of Genoa in the Middle Ages, Portugal's trading bases in Goa , Macau , Malacca and Mozambique and the Dutch in Batavia , Ceylon and Nagasaki . In the 18th century, the importance of the trade bases shifted towards geopolitical and military functions. The English overseas bases became naval bases (after 1839 Aden , after 1801 Alexandria with Suez , from 1766 Bermuda , from 1730 Gibraltar , after 1814 Cape Town , from 1814 Malta ). In addition, there were the “harbor colonies” ( lit .: Grünfeld) Singapore and Hong Kong . They have survived the longest.

Colonies and their forms

The variety of types of expansion makes a definition of the colony difficult, because it has to be narrow enough to exclude certain historical situations such as temporary military occupation or the forcible annexation of border areas to modern territorial states and also to have a distinctive expressiveness that is indiscriminate Application of the term to all forms of expansion is lost. Roughly, one can view settlement or rule as the minimum salary, and settlement and rule as the maximum salary ( Lit .: Reinhard p. 2). Jürgen Osterhammel has developed the following definition from all these types, which is also accepted in the professional world:

After that is a colony

"A political entity created through invasion (conquest and / or settlement colonization) in connection with pre-colonial conditions, whose foreign rulers are in permanent dependency relationships with a spatially distant 'motherland' or imperial center, which raises exclusive 'ownership' claims on the colony. '“

After that, there are four main forms of real colonies:

Ruling colony

As a rule, this is the result of military conquest with the aim of economic exploitation and the strategic safeguarding of imperial politics as well as national prestige gain. Further characteristics are a numerically low colonial presence of civil servants, soldiers and merchants. These do not settle there, but return to the motherland after a certain period of time and are replaced by other officials. Government happens exclusively through the mother country. The original residents often have no or only limited civil rights . In addition, there is no specific and targeted development of the area. Most of the European colonies established between the 16th and 18th centuries were of this type.

Base colony

It is the result of fleet actions with the purpose of indirect commercial exploitation of the hinterland and / or a contribution to the logistics of sea-based development of power and informal control over formally independent states (gunboat policy). A distinction must be made here again between the type of military base and trading base. In the first case, soldiers first form a base, to which settlers will also be drawn over time. In other words: "Trade follows the flag". In the second case, the process is reversed. It was here that merchants founded companies to establish trade with distant regions. Only in the course of time did the state take over sovereignty over these trading colonies, usually with the stipulation that they were militarily secured. In this way, many colonies arose on the West African coast, but also the Dutch East Indies . ( Lit .: Jakob, Schulz-Weidner)

Settlement colony

Typically, this type is the result of a military-backed settlement policy with the purpose of using cheap land and cheap local labor, developing social and cultural lifestyles that are definitely called into question in the mother country. Settlers from the mother country are permanently present as local farmers or planters. These colonists develop approaches to self-government in disregard for the rights of the local population. The classic example of this is North America.

Penal colony

A penal colony is used to permanently banish offenders to remote areas. The best known examples are Australia , Siberia, and French Guiana . ( Lit .: Jakob, Schulz-Weidner)

The types are not mutually exclusive, rather there are transitional forms that cannot be clearly assigned. A development from one colony form to the next is also conceivable. The penal colony of Australia developed into a settlement colony and many base colonies, for example on the African coast, became dominant or settlement colonies. ( Lit .: Jakob, Schulz-Weidner)

Colonies and Decolonization

An understanding of colony, which was shaped by the catchphrase colonialism after the Second World War , equates colonies with the type of ruling colony , which was also defined as an exploitative colony when the catchphrase was created. The accusation connected with this is that the mother countries only look at the colonial land with the aim of achieving the fastest and greatest possible profit, but foregoing their own targeted development policy for the benefit of the native peoples ( lit .: Jakob, Schulz-Weidner).

At the same time, the peoples' right to self-determination, enshrined in the 1946 Charter of the United Nations , opened the way for the colonies to independence through decolonization . The member states of the United Nations created a list for this in 1946, on which they listed all dependent areas. However, it was up to them which states they reported. In 1960, in resolution 1514 (XV), the General Assembly defined areas eligible for decolonization as colony areas that are geographically separated from the motherland and show ethnic and / or cultural differences.

However, the status of those dependent areas that were not included on the list of colonies in 1946, as the UN resolutions did not apply to them, is controversial. For example, this applies to New Caledonia , Western New Guinea , Easter Island , Hawaii, and French Polynesia . (Lit .: Gonschor, p. 3) In the case of Western Sahara , the status of a colony was ended by the withdrawal of Spain , but before the population could exercise the right to self-determination, Morocco occupied the country.

See also

Web links

Wikisource: Colonialism  - Sources and Full Texts
Wiktionary: Colony  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  • Francis Bacon: Of Plantations [1625]. In: The Assays (John Pitcher Ed.) Harmondsworth 1985, pp. 162 ff.
  • Moses Finley: Colonie: An Attempt at a Typology. In: Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. 5th series, 26 (1976)
  • Moses Finley and others: History of Sicily and the Sicilians , Munich 1989.
  • Rober William Fogel: Without Consent or Contract .: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery. New York 1989.
  • Lorenz Gonschor: Colonialism and Anti-Colonial Resistance in the Pacific of the Present . Blickpunkt - Brief information from the Pacific, 12/2003.
  • Ernst Grünfeld : Port colonies and colony-like conditions in China, Japan and Korea. Jena 1913.
  • Ernst Gerhard Jacob, Willy Schulz-Weidner: Colonies . In: Staatslexikon. (Fourth volume). Herder Verlag, Freiburg 1959, pp. 1130-1137.
  • Heiko Herold: German colonial and economic policy in China 1840 to 1914. With special consideration of the marine colony Kiautschou. 2nd edition, Cologne 2006, ISBN 3-939424-00-5 .
  • Paul Mosley: The Settler Economies. Studies in the Economic History of Kenya and Southern Rhodesia, 1900–1963. Cambridge 1983.
  • Jürgen Osterhammel: Colonialism. History forms consequences . 3. Edition. Cape. I., Munich 2003.
  • Wolfgang Reinhard : Brief history of colonialism (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 475). Kröner, Stuttgart 1996, ISBN 3-520-47501-4 .
  • Peter Walther (Ed.): German colonies in early color photographs . CD-ROM of the small digital library series . Berlin 2007.
  • Toubab Pippa: From the malice in the heart of the people - from the gray areas of the black and white history of Namibia. Der Grüne Zweig 246, ISBN 3-922708-31-5 .

Individual evidence

  1. Lit .: Finley 1989, p. 14.
  2. Lit .: Osterhammel p. 16; approvingly Reinhard p. 348.