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colonization, 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.

Early Colonization

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

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.

The English, Dutch, and French

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.

The Germans and Japanese

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.

Decline of Colonization

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.


See D. K. Fieldhouse, The Colonial Empire (1965); C. Verlinden, The Beginnings of Modern Colonization (1970); J. H. Parry, Trade and Dominion (1971).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the settlement and economic development of the uninhabited borderlands of a country (internal colonization) or the establishment of settlements (engaging primarily in agricultural activity) beyond the frontiers of a country (external colonization). In societies characterized by class antagonisms the latter is usually intertwined with the compulsory subjugation, and sometimes even the destruction, of the local population, and it is a tool of expansion.

Colonization was already widely developed in ancient times. During the Middle Ages the Crusades to the Near East (11th to 13th centuries) had a colonial as well as a military purpose; that is, a large number of peasants who went on the campaigns settled down in the new lands. The Drang nach Osten—the colonization of newly conquered lands that accompanied German feudal aggression against the Polabian Slavs and the Baltic tribes—reached its culmination in the 13th century! Although the German colonists, who included peasants and artisans, brought with them a degree of economic expertise, German colonization was, on the whole, a form of feudal expansion—its organizers were the German feudal lords, who pursued aggressive aims. The apologists of German feudal aggression have exaggerated the Kulturträger character of the colonization in every possible way and concealed its aggressive, expansionist character.

The internal colonization that enjoyed notable success in the Western European countries in the 12th and 13th centuries provides evidence of progress in the productive forces of feudal society. During internal colonization fallow land was cleared and forests were uprooted, and in their place fields and numerous villages were created. For a number of reasons the peasantry played a decisive role in internal colonization. It provided them not only with the means of expanding their farming but also with the means of reducing their feudal dependence, since the feudal lords gave them newly developed lands on advantageous terms.

European colonization of other regions of the globe flowered after the great geographic discoveries of the mid-15th through the mid-17th century, when military expeditions for the sake of plunder and the establishment of military and commercial strongholds gave way to agricultural (and later, industrial) development of the new lands by the labor of the local population or by the efforts of the European settlers themselves. During the formation of colonies by the Europeans (for example, British North America and Australia and Dutch South Africa) the indigenous peoples were driven back onto poor land or destroyed; later, they were settled on reservations. The colonization of the so-called free Western lands of North America, which in fact belonged to the Indians, played an important role in the socioeconomic development of the USA at the end of the 18th century and during the 19th century, contributing to the victory of the “American” way of developing capitalism in agriculture. In a number of countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America the organization of colonies settled by European emigrants promoted the colonial enslavement of the native peoples. The elite of the European colonists, which concentrated in its own hands the best lands and political privileges, was until recently (for example, in Algeria until independence was won) or remains (for example, in the Republic of South Africa or Southern Rhodesia) the bastion of colonialism and racism.


Russia Between the ninth and 12th centuries the Slavic population of ancient Rus’ gradually colonized the territory of the Oka, Upper Volga, and Viatka river basins as well as the territory of the Dvina and Onega and Pomor’e. Because masses of people were forced to leave their settlements in the wake of the Mongol-Tatar conquest, colonization increased in the 13th to 15th centuries. Abandoning their ruined villages and towns, these refugees moved to the north and northeast. At the same time, large areas of the steppe and forest-steppe zone south of the Oka were depopulated. At first, this territory was exposed to frequent raids; later, it became the land of the nomadic conquerors, which came to be known as Dikoe pole (literally, wild field).

From the 16th century to the first half of the 19th century colonization by the Russian population was directed primarily to the south and east and to Siberia, the Far East, the Don, the Kuban’, the Black Sea shore, Ciscaucasia, and the Volga. The migration was induced by the growing feudal, serf-owning oppression at the center of the country and by relative overpopulation in the countryside. In the 16th and 17th centuries peasants and townspeople who fled to the borderlands of the Russian state were forced to wage a continuous struggle, chiefly against the plundering raids of the Tatars and other feudal lords of the steppe. Under the circumstances, colonization took the form of cossack military communes. Relying on the population that had settled south of the Oka and along the abatis lines built to protect Russia’s southern and southeastern frontiers from Tatar invasions, the government of Russia consolidated its hold on the Dikoe pole. Colonization of these regions led to the establishment of many towns, the tilling of the soil, and the development of agriculture. From the second half of the 17th century, these regions supplied grain and cattle to the center of the country. The feudal lords also penetrated the area, receiving from the government already developed and settled lands as pomest’ia (fiefs) or votchiny (patrimonial estates). After the khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan were conquered in the 1550’s, the Middle and Lower Volga and the Urals region were intensively colonized.

The colonization of Siberia and the Far East began at the end of the 16th century. Russians founded towns in Siberia and introduced agriculture, farming tools, and methods of working the land. Subsequently, representatives of the various peoples of Siberia, including the Iakuts and the Buriats, began to engage in agriculture. Internal colonization of the south in the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century was carried out by the pomeshchiki (landlords), who transferred their serf peasants from the center of the country. Siberia was colonized by the government, which exiled ordinary criminals and those who rebelled against serfdom to that region. Resettlement from the central provinces and the economic development of the vast territory of Siberia, the Far East, and the Northern Caucasus became more important especially in the 19th century and continued through the early 20th century, acquiring an increasingly capitalist character. Thus, the growing intensity of capitalism led to its territorial spread by means of colonization.


Lenin, V. I. “Razvitie kapitalizma v Rossii.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed. vol. 3.
Lenin, V. I. “Agrarnyi vopros v Rossii k kontsu XIX v.” Ibid., vol. 17.
Lenin, V. I. “Pereselencheskii vopros.” Ibid., vol. 21.
Lenin, V. I. “Znachenie pereselencheskogo dela.” Ibid., vol. 23.
Lenin, V. I. “K voprosu ob agrarnoi politike (obshchei) sovremennogo pravitel’stva.” Ibid.
Ocherki po istorii kolonizatsii Severa, book 1. Petrograd, 1922.
Liubavskii, M. K. Obrazovanie osnovnoi gosudarstvennoi territorii velikorusskoi narodnosti. Leningrad, 1929.
Tikhomirov, M. N. Rossiia v XVI st. Moscow, 1962.
Shunkov, V. I. Ocherki po istorii kolonizatsii Sibiri v XVII-nachale XVIII vv. Moscow-Leningrad, 1946.
Fadeev, A. V. Ocherkiekonomicheskogo razvitiia stepnogo Predkavkaz’ia v doreformennyi period. Moscow, 1957.
Kabuzan, V. M. Izmeneniia v razmeshchenii naseleniia Rossii v XVIII-pervoi polovine XIX vv. (Po materialam revizii). Moscow, 1971.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


The establishment of an immigrant species in a peripherally unsuitable ecological area; occasional gene exchange with the parental population occurs, but generally the colony evolves in relative isolation and in time may form a distinct unit.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


Comedy (See ZANINESS.)
Comeuppance (See LAST LAUGH.)
Comfort (See LUXURY.)
Commerce (See FINANCE.)
Companionship (See FRIENDSHIP.)
Compassion (See KINDNESS.)
Compromise (See PEACEMAKING.)
Arcadian, founded settlement in Italy. [Gk. Myth.: Kravitz, 100]
Jamestown, Virginia
first permanent English settlement in New World (1607). [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 255]
ship which brought Pilgrims to New World (1620). [Am. Hist.: NCE, 1730]
Plymouth Plantation
first English settlement in New England (1620). [Am. Hist.: Major Bradford’s Town]
thirteen original colonies
earliest settlements became first states in U.S. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 2733]
monument of American colonial period; settled in 1632. [Am. Hist.: Hart, 930]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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