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The term colonization or colonization refers to the establishment and development of colonies ( Latin colonia , settlement '). This "settlement" by colonizers or colonists can be found in terminologies relating to the animal and plant kingdom (for example the term "soil colonizer") as well as in those relating to human social systems.

Colonization and the related terms have a wide range of meanings in relation to human societies. They relate to the acquisition of land and the settlement of areas as well as to the expansion of a society beyond its traditional habitat. The terms are used in politics and history both for early cultures and for modern developments. Colonization in modern times can mean the reclamation , settlement and development of previously unused areas of a state. In these cases, internal colonization ( internal colonization) or "internal colonization" is also used. Colonization can also mean expansive and aggressive usurpation and subsequent foreign rule by a people from another culture, by a foreign state power, i.e. colonialism . Because according to Wolfgang Reinhard "historically colonization without colonialism has probably only rarely been possible!"

Classification and conceptual delimitation

Land grabbing already existed in the Stone Age . Colonizations have existed since the emergence of advanced civilizations . In addition to states, colonizers could also be local authorities (sub-states) or institutions (merchants, orders, privateers, pirates).

This early colonization is not tied to the modern concept of the creation of an overseas territory of a centralized state, but was associated with very different concomitants. Colonization is fundamentally different from colonialism as a principle of rule . Colonization as a result of expansion is known as imperialism . Colonization is primarily for economic reasons, even if other reasons are officially mentioned or are under discussion. For example, they secured access to resources (people, goods) in a foreign area or state. This sometimes went hand in hand with depopulation of the conquered land (e.g. through forced resettlement). The reason was to secure power and prosperity. After all, as early as Roman times, colonies opened up a sales market and cheap labor in the form of slaves and important raw materials. The fact that many areas conquered as colonies become independent - often very quickly - does not play a role in relation to the initial motivation. Colonies, although they sometimes appear integrated, are not fully part of their respective mother country. Some of them are also pledged ( Orkney ), sold ( Estonia , Alaska ) or exchanged ( Heligoland for Zanzibar ).


The oldest documented examples of the creation of dependent areas come from the end of the 3rd and the middle of the 2nd millennium BC from high cultures around the Levant . Presumably, Sargon of Akkad conquered all of Mesopotamia . Both Sargon and the Minoan Crete (first Thalassocracy ) and Egypt under Pharaoh Thutmose III. who went down in history as the first general and is said to have fought 16 wars in 20 years, created vassal states .

In antiquity there were diverse colonization movements that differed in their concrete forms. Among the colonial powers affecting Europe, the Minoans , the Phoenicians , the Greeks and the Roman Empire , possibly also the Etruscans, should be mentioned.

Minoan and Mycenaean colonization

The Minoans were not concerned with taking land, but securing their trade monopoly and thus hegemony in the Aegean . While the Cyclades were ruled without occupation and trading bases were established in Egypt, it is open whether Cyprus also came under Minoan rule. Mycenaean Greeks from the mainland, which were initially culturally under strong Minoan influence, for their part sought in the 15th century BC. BC apparently assumed hegemony in the Aegean, conquered Crete and took possession of the Cyclades and former Minoan settlements on Rhodes and in western Asia Minor ( Miletus , Iasos ). From the 14th century trade relations existed with almost the entire Mediterranean area. The Mycenaean culture received in the course of the upheavals around 1200 BC. BC, which hit many regions of the eastern Mediterranean (see also Sea Peoples Invasion ), was a severe blow: especially on the mainland, many centers and settlements were destroyed, and trade was restricted as a result. In spite of this, at least some regions of the Mycenaean culture continued to conduct long-distance trade in the 12th century, as demonstrated by finds, for example, Mycenaean ceramics in the Syrian and Canaanite regions, in Italy and on Sardinia. It is controversial whether there were Mycenaean colonies. There is no clear evidence of colonies, if one disregards the occupation of Crete and the takeover of the already Minoan settled areas, for example Miletus. Outside the Aegean, some researchers assume Mycenaean quarters or trading establishments or factories for Ugarit in northern Syria , Tell Abu-Hawam in Palestine and in southern Italy ( Scoglio del Tonno near Taranto ) and on Sicily ( Thapsos in the east and Cannatello in the south).

In the early 12th century, Mycenaean populations possibly settled in Tarsos and Mersin in Cilicia , (southeastern Anatolia ), and quite likely in Cyprus . The break with the previous phases is striking in these places, because massive destruction is followed by layers that reveal a very high increase in Mycenaean finds.

Greek colonization

The "ionic colonization", in which - according to ancient sources - from around 1050 BC. BC the cities on the west coast of Asia Minor were (re-) settled by the Ionians , is a land grab. That it took place is considered likely, when exactly and for what motives, but is controversial. The earliest recorded date is the year 1053 BC. For Miletus . The Mycenaean city that previously existed there was - according to the excavator Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier - destroyed around 1100. Finds of protogeometric pottery indicate that around 1000 BC Chr. Ionians settled there. Miletus may have been around 1100 BC. Abandoned by Greeks in BC and repopulated by Ionian settlers a few decades later. The ancient Greeks experienced several waves of colonization after the end of the Dark Centuries . The first was probably triggered by demographic displacement as a late consequence of the Dorian immigration.

The "Great Greek Colonization" took place between 750 and 550 BC. Instead of. It was not a matter of a centrally controlled colonization movement, but of numerous individual expeditions, each dispatched by a municipality ( polis ). The daughter cities that were founded were mainly on the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea and its tributaries: originated in North Africa, Asia Minor, Spain, southern France, Dalmatia, Sicily, southern Italy and the Middle East, but also on the northern coast of the Aegean Sea , e.g. in Thrace and Chalkidiki Greek settlements. The coastline of the Black Sea was also settled, such as Pontos or the Crimea . The first settlers felt as Greeks or as members of their home polis. There were conflicts with the locals, but the colonies were not designed to be exploited, so that here, too, primarily land grabbing is at hand. The Greek colonists were in competition with the Phoenicians . In Corsica , the Phoenicians, together with the allied Etruscans, thwarted Greek colonization attempts , but the Greeks penetrated the mouth of the Rhone and Spain .

The earliest date given by the Greek historian Thucydides is 734 BC. In this year Naxos in Sicily is said to have been founded by residents of the city of Chalkis . Just one year later, Corinth founded the colony of Syracuse , also in Sicily. In the following decades further colonies were founded in southern Italy and Sicily by different Greek poles. Archaeological research was able to confirm the statements of Thucydides by and large; the pottery finds from the earliest Greek settlements are dated to the second half of the 8th century. The two cities of Chalkis and Eretria on Euboea , later Corinth, Megara , Miletus and Phokaia, were among the most important starting points for colonization . The two most powerful cities in Greece played a lesser role, Sparta only founded a single daughter city ( Taranto ) and Athens began to establish colonies late. The reason for this is assumed that Athens initially operated primarily an "internal colonization" in Attica and Sparta expanded its territory through military means.

The reasons for the “great Greek colonization” were manifold and must be viewed in a differentiated manner. In simplified terms, it can be said that the following components - with different weightings - played a role:

  • Overpopulation in some mother cities (debatable in research!)
  • Political rivalry that resulted in one of the hostile groups emigrating.
  • Securing trade routes (played a role especially in the founding of Miletus).

In many cases, oracles , particularly the Delphi Oracle , seem to have played an important role in establishing a colony. The oracle priests often gave advice on when and where exactly a colony should be founded. Although the colonies were founded by a mother city, not all settlers came from that city. Mostly people from other cities have joined in search of a new home. Often the first settlement abroad was built on an island near the coast or on a peninsula. Once the colonists had secured their position, they expanded to the mainland or the hinterland. The established localities were mostly laid out as planned Greek cities.

Military colonies in Hellenism

Colonization under the successors of Alexander the Great from the last third of the 4th century BC. BC arose as a result of the conquests of Alexander the Great and affected new areas in the Middle East, North Africa and in the west again reached as far as Spain. Because of their stronger military security, these colonies have the modern character of colonies. They are ruled by a Greek upper class and there is much more tension between the occupiers and the local majority than in the early settlements.

Phoenician-Punic colonization

Beginning of the 1st millennium BC Chr. Took over the Phoenicians before the Greeks succeeded the Minoans and targeted the trade monopoly in the Mediterranean on. Phoenician traders set up branches on the North African coast. Later they advanced to the Strait of Gibraltar . The most famous foundation was the city of Carthage in what is now Tunisia . Carthage became independent and was to become the leading power in the western Mediterranean for several centuries . A violent occupation was initially canceled in favor of a contractual agreement with local (benefiting from) absolute rulers, but ultimately led to the large-scale conquest of the Punians in Sardinia (Sulci, Tharros etc.) and in western Sicily. Carthage occupied Ibiza, Sicily, later expanded its trading bases in Sardinia to the hinterland and was forced to conquer large areas in Spain in the fight against Rome.

middle Ages

Due to the disputes between the states, between church and state or the regional lack of central power and population decline, there was little opportunity for colonization in the early Middle Ages . Around 800 the situation had cleared up to such an extent that colonization took place for the first time in Northern Europe and again in the Mediterranean region. Modern research approaches (Higounet, Erlen, Bartlett: see list of notes) see an expansion process that encompasses all European countries out of phase, spreading from the “center” of the West in the northern French-Flemish-Dutch area to the “ periphery ” and its economic, cultural-geographic, social, political and intellectual-cultural changes fundamentally reshaped Europe from the 11th to the middle of the 14th century.

Normans and Vikings

The Vikings , who initially only lived in Scandinavia , emigrated to areas of other European countries. The reason for this movement is controversial and is also presented differently in the sources. They conquered areas outside Scandinavia from the 9th to the 11th centuries and settled in Ireland and Britain , in Normandy 911, in Sicily and in present-day Russia.


The settlement of the Faroe Islands and Iceland by Vikings from different Nordic countries, especially Norway, as well as Celtic settlers is called land grabbing . This took place between the 9th and 10th centuries. They are reported in the famous Landnámabók . It has been preserved in three versions from the 13th century. It is known that older, not preserved versions existed. In this book, which is one of the oldest written documents in Iceland, over 400 early settlers with all degrees of kinship are presented.

Around the year 1000, under the leadership of the exiled Erik the Red, some stretches of the coast of Greenland were taken over and abandoned after a few centuries. (see Grænlendingar ). His son Leif Eriksson even penetrated North America, which he called Vinland . The resistance of the Indians stopped this expansion.

The conquest of northern France ( Normandy ) in 911 by Rollo led to the conquest of England by William the Conqueror in 1066 . The character of the Irish founding of cities by the Normans in Dublin (founded in 841), Limerick (founded in 922), Waterford (founded in 914) and Wexford (founded in the 9th century) is probably based on land seizures, but similar to those in Normandy areas independent of the motherland. At first, raids were carried out almost annually (Lindisfarne 793, Jarrow 794, Iona 795, Rechru and Kintrye on Man 797, Monkwearmoth 798, St. Philibert 799, Sliesthorp / Schleswig 804).

When the Normans appeared in southern Italy in 999, they thwarted the interests of Lombard principalities, the Byzantines, Arabs, popes and the German emperors. In the 11th century, the Normans succeeded in gradually conquering Apulia, Calabria (at the expense of Byzantium), the rest of the mainland and finally Arab Sicily.

The colonization of the Picts-inhabited Shetland Islands and the Orkney took a different course . Although independently operating Normans occupied the islands from around 780, the Norwegian king Harald Hårfagre came to the Orkney after an attack in Ireland and installed a Norwegian Jarl, Rognvald von Møre, whose successors were also feudal men who were responsible for the crown stayed. In 995, the Norwegian King Olaf Tryggvasson put the Earl Sigurd Hlodvirson (the Strong) on Hoy (Orkney) before the choice of beheading or baptism and initiated the Christianization of the islands. The greatest expansion was the English, Irish and Scottish possessions of Norway under Earl Thorfinn the Mighty, who as the son-in-law of the Scottish King Malcolm II ruled the Shetlands, Caithness, Sutherland and Ross and the Hebrides, the Isle of Man and parts of Wales and Northern Ireland made tribute. (See Orkneyinga saga ) In 1195 the Shetlands were temporarily placed directly under the Norwegian crown. In 1263 the Normans were defeated by Alexander III in the Battle of Largs , and King Haakon IV died in Kirkwall. The Kingdom of Denmark / Norway pledged the crown estates on Orkney and the Shetlands to Scotland. In 1470 and 1472 the foreign rule over the islands ended after about 700 years.


Swedish Vikings attacked Byzantium in 860 and 865 and also founded colonies in what is now Ukraine and Russia ( Kievan Rus ), but these colonies soon became part of the existing cultures ( Slavicization ). A Swedish royal family (Olaf) seem to have succeeded in conquering Schleswig. At least the names Gnupa and Sigtrygg have been handed down from the time before 915 during the reign of a Danish king Hardiknut , who is believed to have been the father of Gorm, the unification of the empire.

However, the primary colonization of the Vikings came from Denmark and affected England. While it was initially raids that began with Lindisfarne , but owed their fame on the continent in particular to raids on trading cities such as Dorestad (Netherlands) in 834 and Quentovic (Pas de Calais) in 842 or metropolises such as Hamburg and Paris in 845, they overwintered Danes 850 after their raid on London on the Thanet island of Thanet. From 866 the Vikings wanted to conquer England. A Danish army crossed over and founded a kingdom in Yorck. But they were defeated by Alfred the Great in 878 , and the Viking Guthrum (not identical with the Danish King Gorm) concluded a peace treaty in which the Danelag was established. It was therefore only Sven Gabelbart , Danish King from 987 to 1014, who succeeded in conquering England. His son Knut founded a North Sea empire in 1016 , which existed for 20 years.

The Nordic States

A new wave of colonization took the throne in 1157 Valdemar I n. Chr. Primarily of Denmark from the 1168 the ranische complaints conquered. In 1219 Waldemar II (the victor) landed in Estonia and occupied a land that was sold to the Order in 1346 . The first of the Christianized partial kingdoms in Sweden also quickly pursued an expansion policy. So were of Erik IX. (the saint) conquered the south in 1154 and other parts of Finland from other kings in 1239 or 1293, which led to a dispute with the Greek Orthodox principality of Novgorod , which was founded by Kievan Rus in 859 . The Swedes lost the Battle of the Neva to Alexander Nevsky in 1240 , and it was not until 1322 that Finland was secured.

The Holy Roman Empire ("Germany") and the Orders

The main requirement for territorial expansion to the east in the 10th century was the commitment of the Liudolfinger . They created the bastions and zones of influence on the other side of the Elbe, “which were favorable to the German population influx”. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the conquests initiated by the Saxons expanded . Initially, the conquest of the land, which from the 19th to the 20th century was mainly referred to as eastern colonization, was carried out by Heinrich the Lion , who incorporated the Slavic areas on the Baltic Sea into his duchy in 1147 as part of the Wendenkreuzzug and conquered Pomerania in 1164. The German Order and the Order of the Brothers of the Swords later founded cities in the Baltic States . Alexander Nevsky stopped the advance on Novgorod in 1242 with his victory on the ice of the frozen Lake Peipus .

Instead of colonization in the east, it is also referred to as “high medieval land development”, according to the Lexicon of the Middle Ages (1999). The term colonization was adopted in Polish research on the West after 1945 when it came to the "reslawization" of the eastern areas of the German Empire . These "regained areas" extend to the Oder-Neisse border .


The expansion of the English state began less than 100 years after its founding with the conquest of Northumbria in 1157 by Henry II. In 1217, Alexander II succeeded in recapturing and Henry III. recognized the line between Tweed and Solway as the Scottish southern border. However, in 1296 Edward I conquered Scotland and the wars of independence began. As early as 1169, Henry II used the request for help from the King of Leinster Dermot MacMurrough , who was defeated in the battle for the High Kingdom in Ireland, to join the Norman troops of Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke , known as Richard Strongbow, to the eastern half of the island occupy. In 1171, on the occasion of Henry II's visit, many of the Irish kingdoms submitted to the English crown, which initially ruled over relatively independent Norman principalities (the part called Pale , which fell sharply in the 14th and 15th centuries). Later governors were appointed.

The city-states of Genoa, Pisa and Venice, as thalassocracies

The Mediterranean offers ideal conditions for both pirates and colonizers, so that after the migration period, a large number of areas change hands here, often in rapid succession. The importance of the northern Italian merchant republics is related to the activities that began in the High Middle Ages, affecting the Mediterranean and the Atlantic islands off the West African coast and leading to colonies. In return for their naval and military services during the crusades, Genoa , Pisa and Venice secure themselves , in addition to trade privileges and national merchants' quarters in the larger ports of Palestine, sometimes also some villages, small territories and islands close to the city. These primarily served the specific economic goals of the Italian merchant capital, which also mutually disputed some of the possessions. Among these areas are many of the islands of the Mediterranean, but particularly Corsica, Sardinia and Cyprus.

Arabs, Moors, Saracens

With the year 711, when the Moors crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and destroyed the Visigothic Empire in Spain , their naval activities can also be observed, which lead to looting and later to conquests in the western Mediterranean. In 798 the Balearic Islands are conquered and in 902 they are attached to the Caliphate of Cordoba. They remained in the Moorish hands until 1235.

Byzantine Sicily was conquered in 827 and lost to the Normans in 999. In 904 the Saracens conquered Byzantine Malta, which they in turn lose to the Normans in 1090.

Order or crusader states

Between 1099 and 1375 the Crusader states of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, County of Tripoli, the Principality of Antioch and the Kingdom of Little Armenia held themselves on the coast of the Levant and in southern Anatolia. Rhodes was formally a Byzantine island until 1309, but the Genoese ruled here from 1248. In 1309 the island was conquered by the knights of the Order of St. John and remained a state until the Ottoman conquest in 1522. Cyprus' Byzantine period ends as early as 1192. As ruler by the grace of Richard the Lionheart, endowed with the title “Seigneur de Chypre”, Guy de Lusignan took possession of the island in return for a payment to the Templars in May 1192 and died only two years later. His brother and his family could at least formally assert themselves as a royal power, which the German Emperor Heinrich VI. until 1489, when the Venetians took over the island on which Genoa also had part ownership and the Mamelukes collected tribute.

Discovery of new sea routes and modern times

At the end of the Middle Ages, Europe discovered its interest in foreign countries. There were mainly economic and religious reasons that played a major role. Marco Polo , a Venetian merchant, ushered in the age of discovery with his trip to China in the 13th century. The authenticity of his travel reports is controversial, regardless of this, the stories about China were an inspiration for later times. Above all, the search for gold, the lack of spices and an increasing obstacle to trade with the Orient prompted the Portuguese to look for a sea route to India in the 15th century. The Portuguese Prince Henry the Navigator equipped a number of expeditions that sailed on the west coast of Africa. The first branches emerged as Portuguese trading and supply posts on islands off Africa (e.g. Madeira ) and on the West African coast (e.g. Elmina ).

Spanish colonization of Latin America

Empires and colonies in 1550

The most famous discoverer was Christopher Columbus from Genoa . He was of the opinion that India could be reached more easily by crossing the Atlantic directly west than on the way around Africa . On this basis he looked for sponsors for an expedition. He was laughed at in Portugal because Portuguese scholars had already measured the circumference of the earth quite precisely and therefore correctly considered the distance to be far too far. In Spain, where this information was unknown and jealously looked at Portugal's trade successes, he found support.

In the course of the Reconquista , the expulsion of the Moorish conquerors of the country, Spain had developed a war-oriented social structure and an intolerant and fanatical Catholicism. This included that the younger sons of the nobility had to conquer land for themselves as Caballeros (knights) in order to be able to finance their lives. Since all land in Spain was distributed, the bellicose adventurers rushed after Columbus' successful expedition to the newly discovered countries such as the West Indies in the Caribbean and the vast land areas in Central and South America (named after the later explorer Amerigo Vespucci ). Reports of rich gold treasures attracted mercenaries working on their own account. They met the Aztec Empire in Mexico and later the Inca Empire in Peru , both of which, due to their violent expansion, had many enemies and were easily destabilized.

The conquered areas in Mexico and Peru were subsequently declared as crown colonies . They were followed by colonizers who appropriated the lands to which what they saw as "wild pagans" could not register any property rights under Spanish law; the locals themselves were enslaved and exploited as cheap labor. Due to their high mortality - on the one hand through brutal exploitation, on the other hand through imported diseases - they were soon replaced by slaves abducted from Africa (see history of slavery ).

Demarcation lines according to Spanish-Portuguese agreements in the 15th and 16th centuries.

In order to settle the dispute between Portugal and Spain over the supremacy in the overseas territories, came on mediation of Pope Alexander VI. In 1494 the Treaty of Tordesillas came about, which awarded the areas west of 46 ° 37 'West (370 Spanish Leguas west of Cape Verde) Spain, the areas east of it Portugal. In 1499 the coast of Brazil was discovered and explored by Amerigo Vespucci ; Since this was east of the dividing line, the treaty allowed Portugal to found its own colonies in South America (see History of Brazil # Colonization and Development ). In 1529 the Treaty of Saragossa established a second dividing line in the Pacific , through which the Moluccas fell into the Portuguese region as an important "spice islands".

Age of Imperialism

Empires and colonies at the beginning of the imperial century in 1812
Empires and colonies in 1898
Empires and colonies in 1914

Imperialism describes the striving for world power, especially of the major European powers. The actual epoch is from 1880 to the First World War . An important factor of imperialism was colonization and the division of areas within and outside of Europe, known as colonialism , between the powers in order to safeguard economic and power-political interests. Parallel to the intention to dominate the "underdeveloped" peoples, especially Africa, the ideology of social Darwinism was constructed in connection with scientifically untenable theories of human races .

Space colonization

Space colonization is the concept of an autonomous (self-sufficient) human habitat off earth. It's a major theme in science fiction , but also a long-term target of various national space programs. Such colonies are supposed to be built on the moon or planets like Venus , Mars , on dwarf planets like Ceres or other non-stellar celestial bodies or inside asteroids . There are also considerations to build space stations in space in the style of large wheels or tubes that create artificial gravity through rotation .

See also


To ancient colonization movements

For the Greek colonization see also the literature list of the article "Greek colonization"

To modern colonialism

Web links

Wiktionary: Colonization  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: colonization  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Colonist  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Wolfgang Reinhard: Brief history of colonialism (= Kröner's pocket edition. Volume 475). Kröner, Stuttgart 1996, ISBN 3-520-47501-4 , p. 3.
  2. Ernesto de Miro: Archai della Sicilia greca. Presenze egeo-cipriote sulla costa meridionale dell'isola. L'emporio miceneo di Cannatello. In: Actes de la rencontre scientifique en hommage à Georges Vallet organisée par le Center Jean-Bérard, l'École française de Rome, l'Istituto universitario orientale et l'Università degli studi di Napoli «Federico II» (Rome-Naples, 15 -18 November 1995). Rome 1999, pp. 71-81.
  3. Peter Erlen: European regional development and medieval German eastern settlement. A structural comparison between southwest France, the Netherlands and the Order of Prussia (= historical and regional studies of East Central Europe. Vol. 9). J.-G.-Herder-Institut, Marburg (Lahn) 1992, ISBN 3-87969-224-6 , p. 1 (also: Marburg (Lahn), University, dissertation, 1986).
  4. Robert Bartlett : The birth of Europe from the spirit of violence. Conquest, colonization and cultural change from 950 to 1350. Kindler, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-463-40249-1 , p. 368.
  5. ^ Charles Higounet: The German East Settlement in the Middle Ages (= dtv 4540). Revised edition in full text. Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, Munich 1990, ISBN 3-423-04540-X , p. 51.