Colonization (British English: colonisation) is a process of establishing control over foreign territories or peoples for the purpose of exploitation and possibly settlement, setting up coloniality and often colonies, commonly pursued and maintained by colonialism.[1][2][3][original research?]

Colonization is sometimes used synonymously with settling, as with colonisation in biology, but while colonization historically involved settling, this particular form is called settler colonialism. In this case, colonization is structured and enforced by the settlers directly, while their or their ancestors' metropolitan country maintains a connection or control through the settler's colonialism. In settler colonization, a minority group rules either through the assimilation or oppression of the indigenous peoples,[4][5] or by establishing itself as the demographic majority through driving away, displacing or outright killing the indigenous people, as well as through immigration and births of metropolitan as well as other settlers.

The European colonization of Australia, New Zealand, and other places in Oceania was fueled by explorers, and colonists often regarding the encountered landmasses as terra nullius ("empty land" in Latin).[6] This resulted in laws and ideas such as Mexico's General Colonization Law and the United States' manifest destiny doctrine which furthered colonization.


The term colonization is derived from the Latin words colere ("to cultivate, to till"),[7] colonia ("a landed estate", "a farm") and colonus ("a tiller of the soil", "a farmer"),[8] then by extension "to inhabit".[9] Someone who engages in colonization, i.e. the agent noun, is referred to as a colonizer, while the person who gets colonized, i.e. the object of the agent noun or absolutive, is referred to as a colonizee,[10] colonisee or the colonised.[11]

Pre-modern colonizations

Classical period

Main article: Colonies in antiquity

In ancient times, maritime nations such as the city-states of Greece and Phoenicia established colonies in other parts of the Mediterranean.

Another period of colonization in ancient times was during the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire conquered large parts of Western Europe, North Africa, and West Asia. In North Africa and West Asia, the Romans often conquered what they regarded as 'civilized' peoples. As they moved north into Europe, they mostly encountered rural peoples/tribes with very little in the way of cities. In these areas, waves of Roman colonization often followed the conquest of the areas. Many of the current cities throughout Europe began as Roman colonies, such as Cologne, Germany, originally called Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium by the Romans, and the British capital city of London, which the Romans founded as Londinium.

Middle Ages

The decline and collapse of the Roman Empire saw (and was partly caused by) the large-scale movement of people in Eastern Europe and Asia. This is largely seen as beginning with nomadic horsemen from Asia (specifically the Huns) moving into the richer pasture land to the west, thus forcing the local people there to move further west and so on until eventually the Goths were forced to cross into the Roman Empire, resulting in continuous war with Rome which played a major role in the fall of the Roman Empire. During this period there were large-scale movements of people establishing new colonies all over western Europe. The events of this time saw the development of many of the modern-day nations of Europe like the Franks in France and Germany and the Anglo-Saxons in England.

In West Asia, during Sassanid Empire, some Persians established colonies in Yemen and Oman. The Arabs also established colonies in Northern Africa, Mesopotamia, and the Levant.[12][13][14][15][16]

The Vikings of Scandinavia also carried out a large-scale colonization. The Vikings are best known as raiders, setting out from their original homelands in Denmark, southern Norway, and southern Sweden, to pillage the coastlines of northern Europe. In time, the Vikings began trading and established colonies. The Vikings first came across Iceland and established colonies there before moving onto Greenland, where they built settlements that endured until the 15th century. The Vikings launched an unsuccessful attempt at colonizing an area they called Vinland, which is probably at a site now known as L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland and Labrador, on the eastern coastline of Canada.

Modern colonialism

Main article: Colonialism

World empires and colonies in 1550
World empires and colonies in 1800

In the Colonial Era, colonialism in this context refers mostly to Western European countries' colonization of lands mainly in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania. The main European countries active in this form of colonization included Spain, Portugal, France, the Tsardom of Russia (later Russian Empire), the Kingdom of England (later Great Britain), the Netherlands, the Kingdom of Italy, the Kingdom of Prussia (now mostly Germany), Belgium, Denmark, and Sweden-Norway, and, beginning in the 18th century, the United States. Most of these countries had a period of almost complete power in world trade at some stage in the period from roughly 1500 to 1900. Beginning in the late 19th century, Imperial Japan also engaged in settler colonization, most notably in Hokkaido and Korea.

While some European colonization focused on shorter-term exploitation of economic opportunities (Newfoundland, for example, or Siberia) or addressed specific goals such as settlers seeking religious freedom (Massachusetts), at other times long-term social and economic planning was involved for both parties, but more on the colonizing countries themselves, based on elaborate theory-building (note James Oglethorpe's Colony of Georgia in the 1730s and Edward Gibbon Wakefield's New Zealand Company in the 1840s).[17]

World empires and colonies in 1936

Colonization may be used as a method of absorbing and assimilating foreign people into the culture of the imperial country. One instrument to this end is linguistic imperialism, or the use of non-indigenous colonial languages to the exclusion of any indigenous languages from administrative (and often, any public) use.[18]

Post-colonial variants

See also: Neocolonialism and Development aid

Soviet Union

A protest sign from the second half of the 20th century criticising U.N. reaction to Soviet colonial expansion

In the 1920s, the Soviet regime implemented the so-called korenization policy in an attempt to win the trust of non-Russians by promoting their ethnic cultures and establishing for them many of the characteristic institutional forms of the nation-state.[19] The early Soviet regime was hostile to even voluntary assimilation, and tried to de-Russify assimilated non-Russians.[20] Parents and students not interested in the promotion of their national languages were labeled as displaying "abnormal attitudes". The authorities concluded that minorities unaware of their ethnicities had to be subjected to Belarusization, Polonization, etc.[21]

By the early 1930s, the Soviet regime introduced limited Russification;[22] allowing voluntary assimilation, which was often a popular demand.[23] The list of nationalities was reduced from 172 in 1927 to 98 in 1939,[24] by revoking support for small nations in order to merge them into bigger ones. For example, Abkhazia was merged into Georgia and thousands of ethnic Georgians were sent to Abkhazia.[25] The Abkhaz alphabet was changed to a Georgian base, Abkhazian schools were closed and replaced with Georgian schools, the Abkhaz language was banned.[26] The ruling elite was purged of ethnic Abkhaz and by 1952 over 80% of the 228 top party and government officials and enterprise managers in Abkhazia were ethnic Georgians (there remained 34 Abkhaz, 7 Russians and 3 Armenians in these positions).[27] For Königsberg area of East Prussia (modern Kaliningrad Oblast) given to the Soviet Union at the 1945 Potsdam Conference Soviet control meant a forcible expulsion of the remaining German population and mostly involuntary resettlement of the area with Soviet civilians.[28]

Russians were now presented as the most advanced and least chauvinist people of the Soviet Union.[22]

Baltic states

A protest sign from the second half of the 20th century calling on U.N. to abolish Soviet colonialism in the Baltic states

Large numbers of ethnic Russians and other Russian speakers were settled in the three Baltic countries – Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia – after their reoccupation in 1944, while local languages, religion and customs were suppressed.[29] David Chioni Moore classified it as a "reverse-cultural colonization", where the colonized perceived the colonizers as culturally inferior.[30] Colonization of the three Baltic countries was closely tied to mass executions, deportations and repression of the native population. During both Soviet occupations (1940–1941; 1944–1991) a combined 605,000 inhabitants of the three countries were either killed or deported (135,000 Estonians, 170,000 Latvians and 320,000 Lithuanians), while their properties and personal belongings, along with ones who fled the country, were confiscated and given to the arriving colonists – Soviet military and NKVD personnel, as well as functionaries of the Communist Party and economic migrants from kolkhozes.[31]

The most dramatic case was Latvia, where the amount of ethnic Russians swelled from 168,300 (8.8%) in 1935 to 905,500 (34%) in 1989, whereas the proportion of ethnic Latvians fell from 77% in 1935 to 52% in 1989.[32] Baltic states also faced intense economic exploitation, with Latvian SSR, for example, transferring 15.961 billion rubles (or 18.8% percent of its total revenue of 85 billion rubles) more to the USSR budget from 1946 to 1990 than it received back. And of the money transferred back, a disproportionate amount was spent on the region's militarization and funding of repressive institutions, especially in the early years of the occupation.[33] It has been calculated by a Latvian state-funded commission that the Soviet occupation cost the economy of Latvia a total of 185 billion euros.[34][35]

Conversely, Marxian economist and world-systems analyst Samir Amin asserts that, in contrast to colonialism, capital transfer in the USSR was used to develop poorer regions in the South and East with the wealthiest regions like Western Russia, Ukraine, and the Baltic Republics being the main source of capital.[36] Estonian researcher Epp Annus acknowledges that the Soviet rule in the Baltic states did not possess every single characteristic of traditional colonialism since the Baltic states were already modern industrial European nation states with an established sense of national identity and cultural self-confidence prior to their Soviet invasion in 1940 and proposed that the initial Soviet occupation developed into a colonial rule gradually, as the local resistance turned into a hybrid coexistence with the Soviet power. The Soviet colonial rule never managed to fully establish itself and began rapidly disintegrating during perestroika, but after the restoration of independence, the Baltic states similarly had to deal with problems of a characteristically colonial nature, such as pollution, economic collapse and demographic tensions.[37]

Jewish oblast

Sign on the JAO government headquarters

In 1934, the Soviet government established the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the Soviet Far East to create a homeland for the Jewish people. Another motive was to strengthen Soviet presence along the vulnerable eastern border. The region was often infiltrated by the Chinese; in 1927, Chiang Kai-shek had ended cooperation with the Chinese Communist Party, which further increased the threat. Japan also seemed willing and ready to detach the Far Eastern provinces from the USSR.[38] To make settlement of the inhospitable and undeveloped region more enticing, the Soviet government allowed private ownership of land. This led to many non-Jews to settle in the oblast to get a free farm.[39]

By the 1930s, a massive propaganda campaign developed to induce more Jewish settlers to move there. In one instance, a government-produced Yiddish film called Seekers of Happiness told the story of a Jewish family that fled the Great Depression in the United States to make a new life for itself in Birobidzhan. Some 1,200 non-Soviet Jews chose to settle in Birobidzhan.[40] The Jewish population peaked in 1948 at around 30,000, about one-quarter of the region's population. By 2010, according to data provided by the Russian Census Bureau, there were only 1,628 people of Jewish descent remaining in the JAO (1% of the total population), while ethnic Russians made up 92.7% of the JAO population.[41] The JAO is Russia's only autonomous oblast[42] and, aside of Israel, the world's only Jewish territory with an official status.[43]


Main articles: Settler colonialism § Palestine, Zionism and Israel; and Zionism as settler colonialism

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According to Elia Zuriek, in his book "Israel's Colonial Project in Palestine: Brutal Pursuit", Israeli settlements in the West Bank is an additional form of colonization.[44] This view is part of a key debate in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Law professors Steven Lubet and Jonathan Zasloff describe the "Zionism as settler colonialism" theory as politically motivated, derogatory and highly controversial. According to them, there are important differences between Zionism and settler colonialism, for instance: (1) Early Zionists did not seek to transport European culture into Israel, they sought to revive the culture of an indigenous people of the land, the culture of their ancestors (e.g., they left their European languages behind and adopted a Middle Eastern/Semitic one: Hebrew); (2) No settler colonial movement ever claimed to be "returning home"; (3) Jews had already been living in the "colonized" region for thousands of years. Both professors also point out that the academic journal where Wolfe published his essay fails to mention the Islamic military campaign that captured the region in the 7th and 8th centuries.[45]


See also: Transmigration program, Indonesian invasion of East Timor, Insurgency in Aceh, and Papua conflict

The transmigration program is an initiative of the Indonesian government to move landless people from densely populated areas of Java, but also to a lesser extent from Bali and Madura, to less populous areas of the country including Papua, Kalimantan, Sumatra, and Sulawesi.[46]

Papua New Guinea

See also: Bougainville Civil War

In 1884 Britain declared a protective order over South East New Guinea, establishing an official colony in 1888. Germany however, annexed parts of the North. This annexation separated the entire region into the South, known as "The Territory of Papua" and North, known as "German New Guinea".[47]


See also: Moro conflict

Due to marginalisation produced by continuous Resettlement Policy, by 1969, political tensions and open hostilities developed between the Government of the Philippines and Moro Muslim rebel groups in Mindanao.[48][failed verification]


See also: Rohingya conflict and Internal conflict in Myanmar

Subject peoples

Many colonists came to colonies for slaves to their colonizing countries, so the legal power to leave or remain may not be the issue so much as the actual presence of the people in the new country. This left the indigenous natives of their lands slaves in their own countries.

The Canadian Indian residential school system was identified by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Canada) as colonization through depriving the youth of First Nations in Canada of their languages and cultures.[49]

During the mid 20th century, there was the most dramatic and devastating attempt at colonization, and that was pursued with Nazism.[50] Hitler and Heinrich Himmler and their supporters schemed for a mass migration of Germans to Eastern Europe, where some of the Germans were to become colonists, having control over the native people.[50] These indigenous people were planned to be reduced to slaves or wholly annihilated.[50]

Many advanced nations currently have large numbers of guest workers/temporary work visa holders who are brought in to do seasonal work such as harvesting or to do low-paid manual labor. Guest workers or contractors have a lower status than workers with visas, because guest workers can be removed at any time for any reason.


Colonization may be a domestic strategy when there is a widespread security threat within a nation and weapons are turned inward, as noted by Paul Virilio:

Obsession with security results in the endo-colonization of society: endo-colonization is the use of increasingly powerful and ubiquitous technologies of security turned inward, to attempt to secure the fast and messy circulations of our globalizing, networked is the increasing domination of public life with stories of dangerous otherness and suspicion...[51]

Some instances of the burden of endo-colonization have been noted:

The acute difficulties of the Latin American and southern European military-bureaucratic dictatorships in the seventies and early eighties and the Soviet Union in the late eighties can in large part be attributed to the economic, political and social contradictions induced by endo-colonizing militarism.[52]

Space colonization

A rendering of the Interplanetary Transport System approaching Mars, a concept colonyship of the in-development SpaceX Mars Colonization Program

The colonization of Mars is the proposed process of establishing and maintaining control of Martian land for exploitation and the possible settlement of Mars.[53] Most colonization concepts focus on settling, but colonization is a broader ethical concept,[54] which international space law has limited,[55] and national space programs have avoided,[56] focusing on a human mission to Mars to explore the planet.

Settlement of Mars would involve migration of humans to the planet, the establishment of long-term human presence there, and the exploitation of Mars' resources. Settlement differs from a human mission to Mars, as it would involve permanent presence, rather than a temporary presence for exploration or other purposes. Crewed missions to Mars have been proposed, but no person has set foot on the planet, and there have been no return missions. However, landers and rovers have successfully explored the planetary surface and delivered information about conditions on the ground.

Mars' orbit is close to Earth's orbit and the asteroid belt. While Mars' day and general composition are similar to Earth, the planet is hostile to life. Mars has an unbreathable atmosphere, thin enough that its temperature on average fluctuates between −70 and 0 °C (−94 and 32 °F), yet thick enough to cause planet-wide dust storms. The barren landscape on Mars is covered by fine, toxic dust and intense ionizing radiation. Mars has in-situ resources, such as underground water, Martian soil, and ore, which could be used by colonists. Opportunities to generate electricity via wind, solar, and nuclear power using resources on Mars are poor.

Justifications and motivations for colonizing Mars include curiosity, the potential for humans to provide more in-depth observational research than uncrewed rovers, an economic interest in its resources, and the possibility that the settlement of other planets could decrease the probability of human extinction. Difficulties and hazards include radiation exposure during a trip to Mars and on its surface, toxic soil, low gravity, the isolation that accompanies Mars' distance from Earth, a lack of water, and cold temperatures.

The prospect of settling Mars has garnered interest from public space agencies and private corporations and has been extensively explored in science fiction writing, film, and art. Commitments to researching permanent settlement have been made by public space agencies—NASA, ESA, Roscosmos, ISRO, the CNSA, among others—and private organizations—SpaceX, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing. In addition to these, there are space advocacy groups that are focused on Mars colonization, such as the Mars Society and The Planetary Society.

See also

Other related

Notes and references

  1. ^ "Colonialism, Coloniality and Settler Colonialism". UnLeading. August 11, 2022. Retrieved December 27, 2023.
  2. ^ Marc Ferro (1997). Colonization. Routledge. p. 1. doi:10.4324/9780203992586. ISBN 9780203992586."Colonization is associated with the occupation of a foreign land, with its being brought under cultivation, with the settlement of colonists. If this definition of the term "colony" is used, the phenomenon dates from the Greek period. Likewise we speak of Athenian, then Roman 'imperialism'."
  3. ^ "colonization noun - Definition, pictures, pronunciation and usage notes". Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary at Retrieved 2023-03-29.
  4. ^ Howe, Stephen (2002). Empire: A Very Short Introduction. United States: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780191604447.
  5. ^ Howe, Stephen (2002). Empire: A Very Short Introduction. United States: Oxford University Press. pp. 21–31.
  6. ^ Painter, Joe; Jeffrey, Alex (2009). Political Geography. London, GBR: SAGE Publications Ltd. p. 169.
  7. ^ Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM (v. 4.0). Oxford University Press. 2009.
  8. ^ Charlton T. Lewis; Charles Scott (1879). A Latin Dictionary. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-864201-5.
  9. ^ Marcy Rockman; James Steele (2003). The Colonization of Unfamiliar Landscapes. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-25606-2.
  11. ^ Freeman, Luke. "Lesley A. Sharp. The Sacrificed Generation: Youth, History, and the Colonized Mind in Madagascar. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. xvii+ 377 pp. Photographs. Maps. Appendixes. Glossary. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $65.00. Cloth. $27.50. Paper." African Studies Review 46.2 (2003): 106-108.
  12. ^ Pact Of Uma
  13. ^ "North Africa - Arab Muslim Conquest, Islamization, Arabization, and Berber Rebellion | Britannica". Retrieved May 29, 2023.
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  15. ^ Kessler, P. L. "Kingdoms of the Arabs - Syria". The History Files. Retrieved May 29, 2023.
  16. ^ "At the Prophet's death, according to the Muslim historians, the religion that he had brought was still confined to parts of the Arabian Peninsula. The Arabs, to whom he had brought it, were similarly restricted, with perhaps some extension in the borderlands of the Fertile Crescent. The vast lands in southwest Asia, northern Africa, and elsewhere, which in later times came to constitute the lands of Islam, the realms of the caliphs and, in modern parlance, the Arab world, still spoke other languages, professed other religions, and obeyed other rulers. Within little more than a century after the Prophet's death, the whole area had been transformed, in what was surely one of the swiftest and most dramatic changes in the whole of human history. By the late seventh century, the outside world attests the emergence of a new religion and a new power, the Muslim empire of the caliphs, extending eastward in Asia as far as and sometimes beyond the borders of India and China, westwards along the southern Mediterranean coast to the Atlantic, southwards towards the land of the black peoples in Africa, northwards into the lands of the white peoples of Europe. In this empire, Islam was the state religion, and the Arabic language was rapidly displacing others to become the principal medium public life." Lewis, Bernard. THE MIDDLE EAST: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years, Touchstone Simon and Schuster, New York, 1995. pp 54-55
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  26. ^ Summary of Historical Events in Abkhazian History, 1810-1993 Abkhaz World, 15 October 2008, retrieved 11 September 2015.
  27. ^ The Stalin-Beria Terror in Abkhazia, 1936-1953, by Stephen D. Shenfield Abkhaz World, 30 June 2010, retrieved 11 September 2015.
  28. ^ Malinkin, Mary Elizabeth (8 February 2016). "Building a Soviet City: the Transform of Königsberg". Wilson Center. Retrieved 2 May 2018. Joyous letters were written back home to the collective farms to encourage more people to come, but it was hard to convince people, so the local collective farm boards were given quotas of how many they needed to send to Kaliningrad and other places. They often sent people who were perceived as less useful for the farm – pregnant women, alcoholics, and the less educated, for example.
  29. ^ Vardys, Vytas Stanley (Summer 1964). "Soviet Colonialism in the Baltic States: A Note on the Nature of Modern Colonialism". Lituanus. 10 (2). ISSN 0024-5089. Archived from the original on 2021-11-09. Retrieved 2021-01-22.
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  37. ^ Annus, Epp (March 2012). "The Problem of Soviet Colonialism in the Baltics". Journal of Baltic Studies. 42 (1): 21–45. doi:10.1080/01629778.2011.628551. ISSN 0162-9778. S2CID 143682036.
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  43. ^ Спектор Р., руководитель Департамента Евро-Азиатского Еврейского конгресса (ЕАЕК) по связям с общественностью и СМИ (2008). под ред. Гуревич В.С.; Рабинович А.Я.; Тепляшин А.В.; Воложенинова Н.Ю. (eds.). "Биробиджан — terra incognita?" (PDF). Биробиджанский проект (опыт межнационального взаимодействия): сборник материалов научно-практической конференции. Биробиджан: ГОУ "Редакция газеты Birobidzhaner Shtern": 20.
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  46. ^ "Govt builds transmigration museum in Lampung | The Jakarta Post". June 4, 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-06-04.
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  53. ^ Wall, Mike (2019-10-25). "Bill Nye: It's Space Settlement, Not Colonization". Retrieved 2024-07-13.
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