colony, any nonself-governing territory subject to the jurisdiction of a usually distant country. The term is also applied to a group of nationals who settle in a foreign country or territory but retain political or cultural connections with their parent state. Colonies in the first sense may be colonies of settlement, such as Australia and North and Latin America before they gained independence. There are also colonies of exploitation, which have dense native populations, such as post-conquest Mexico and Peru, the Belgian Congo (now Congo [Kinshasa]), or the British Indian Empire (now India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh). Colonists in a colony of exploitation consist chiefly of military and administrative officers and commercial and financial representatives. The use of slaves and forced labor has often been a feature of such colonies. In a colony of exploitation, the government tends to be highly centralized and is frequently upheld by the presence of a strong police force or army; in a colony of settlement, there is generally rapid evolution from a purely military or autocratic government to autonomy or incorporation within the parent state. Since the 18th cent., colonial problems and their resolution have played a central role in European diplomacy and international relations. Strategic considerations, diplomatic rivalries, and the search for markets all led to a dramatic growth in European colonial holdings in the 19th cent. (see colonization; imperialism). In the late 19th cent., Great Britain began granting autonomy to some of its colonies, ultimately resulting in the transformation of the British Empire into the Commonwealth of Nations. In the 20th cent., many colonial areas came under international supervision through the mandates system, or its successor, the trusteeship system (see trusteeship, territorial). The French empire was progressively dissolved, first with the creation (1946) of the French Union and then with its reorganization (1958) as the French Community. By 1990 most of the former colonies of the Western European powers had become independent nations. Those that had not were, with a few exceptions, relatively small islands or island groups; most were autonomous in internal affairs and remained colonies by choice.

For bibliography, see under colonization and imperialism.

''This article is about a type of political territory. For other uses see Colony (disambiguation).
In politics and in history, a colony is a territory under the immediate political control of a state. For colonies in antiquity, city-states would often found their own colonies. Some colonies were historically countries, while others were territories without definite statehood from their inception. The metropolitan state is the state that owns the colony. In Ancient Greece, the city that owned a colony was called the metropolis within its political organization. Mother country is a reference to the metropolitan state from the point of view of citizens who live in its colony. Today, the terms overseas territory or dependent territory are preferred. There is a United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

People who migrated to settle permanently in colonies controlled by their country of origin were called colonists or settlers.

A colony differs from a puppet state or satellite state in that a colony has no independent international representation, and the top-level administration of a colony is under direct control of the metropolitan state.

The term "informal colony" is used by some historians to describe a country which is under the de facto control of another state, although this description is often contentious.


In the modern usage, colony is generally distinguished from overseas possession. In the former case, the local population, or at least the part of it not coming from the "metropolitan" (controlling) country, does not enjoy full citizenship rights. The political process is generally restricted, especially excluding questions of independence. In this case, there are settlers from a dominating foreign country, or countries, and often the property of indigenous peoples is seized, to provide the settlers with land. Foreign mores, religions and/or legal systems are imposed. In some cases, the local population has been held for unfree labour, submitted to brutal force, or even to policies of genocide.

By contrast, in the case of overseas possessions, citizens are formally equal, regardless of origin and it is possible for legal independence movements to form; should they gain a majority in the oversea possession, the question of independence may be brought, for instance, to referendum. However, in some cases, settlers have come to outnumber indigenous people in overseas possessions, and it is possible for colonies to become overseas possessions against the wishes of indigenous peoples. This often results in ongoing and long-lasting independence struggles by the descendants of the original inhabitants.

The word colony may also be used for countries that, while independent or considering themselves independent of a former colonizing power, still have a political and social structure where the rulers are a minority originating from the colonizing power. Such was the case with Rhodesia after the Unilateral Declaration of Independence.

The term informal colony has also been used in relation to countries which, while they have never been conquered by force or officially ruled by a foreign power, have a clearly subordinate social or economic relationship to his mother.


Originally, as with the ancient (Hellenic) Greek apoikia (αποικια), the term colonization referred to the foundation of a new city or settlement, more often than not with nonviolent means (but see for instance the Athenian re-colonisation of Melos after wiping out the earlier settlement). The term colony is derived from the Latin colonia, which indicated a place meant for agricultural activities; these Roman colonies and others like them were in fact usually either conquered so as to be inhabited by these workers, or else established as a cheap way of securing conquests made for other reasons. The name of the German city Köln, which is "Cologne" in English, also derives from colonia. In the modern era, communities founded by colonists or settlers became known as settler colonies.

The "Age of Discovery" began in the 15th century with the initiation of the vast Portuguese Empire and lasted until the mid-20th century. Curiously, the first great European colonial empire to be created, the Portuguese, was also the last one to be dismantled. In this long period, the Spanish, the British, the French, the Dutch, the German, and other Colonial Empires were created. During these centuries European states, the United States and others took political control of much of the world's population and landmass. The term "colony" came to mean an overseas district with a majority indigenous population, administered by a distant colonial government. (Exceptions occurred: Russian colonies in Central Asia and Siberia, American settlements in the American West, and German colonies in Eastern Europe were not "overseas"; British colonies (or "overseas territories") like the Falkland Islands and Tristan da Cunha lacked a native population.). Most non-European countries were colonies of Europe at one time or another, or were handled in a quasi-colonial manner. The European colonies and former colonies in America made extensive use of slave labor, initially using the native population, then through the importation of slaves from black Africa.

There existed various statuses and modes of operation for foreign countries, direct control by the colonizing country being the most obvious. Some colonies were operated through corporations (the British East India Company for India; the Russian-American Company for Alaska; the Congo Free State under the very brutal rule of Léopold II of Belgium); some were run as protectorates. Quasi-colonies were run through proxy or puppet governments, generally kingdoms or dictatorships. For instance, it may be argued that Cuba before the Revolution was a quasi-colony of the United States, with an enormous influence of US economic and political interests; see banana republic.

The United Kingdom used Australia as a penal colony: British convicts would be sent to forced labour there, with the added benefit that the freed convicts would settle in the colony and thus augment the European population there. Similarly, France once deported prostitutes and various "undesirables" to populate its colonies in North America, and until the 20th century operated a penitentiary on Devil's Island in French Guiana.

The independence of these colonies began with that of 13 colonies of Britain that formed the United States, finalised in 1783 with the conclusion of a war begun in 1776, and has continued until about the present time, with for example Algeria and East Timor being relinquished by European powers only in 1962 and 1975 respectively (although the latter was forcibly made an Indonesian possession instead of becoming fully independent). This process is called decolonization, though the use of a single term obscures an important distinction between the process of the settler population breaking its links with the mother country while maintaining local political supremacy and that of the indigenous population reasserting themselves (possibly through the expulsion of the settler population).

The movement towards decolonization was not uniform, with more newer powers, sometimes themselves ex-colonies or once threatened by colonial power, trying to carve a colonial empire. The United States, itself a former colony, expanded westwards. It also colonized Hawaii, and waged various wars and conduct armed expeditions so as to assert power over local governments (in Japan, with Commodore Perry and in Cuba, for example). European countries and the United States, exploiting the weakness of China's waning imperial regime, also maintained so-called international concessions in that country, a sort of colonial enclave; the coastal towns of Macau and Hong Kong were held on long-term leases by Portugal and the United Kingdom. During the first half of the 20th century, until its defeat the Second World War, Japan, once afraid of becoming a European or American colony, built itself a colonial empire in Korea, Taiwan, South Sakhalin, northeast part of China, and the Western Pacific, using brutal military force.

Under the Geneva Conventions of 1949, it is a war crime to transfer, directly or indirectly, the civilian population of a country power onto land under that country's military occupation. The reasoning for this crime is apparently to emphasise that it is now a violation of international law to annex territory through military force. This phrase describes many of acts of colonisation in the past, and arguably outlaws colonisation.

See also: British Empire, Portuguese Empire, Spanish Empire, French colonial empire, Dutch colonial empire, Colonialism, Colonial mentality, Colonization, British Nationality Law, Slavery, Imperialism, New Imperialism, settler.

Compare protectorate, Crown colony, dominion, Proprietary colony.

Colonies in ancient civilizations (examples)

Modern colonies (examples)

  • Indonesia was a Dutch colony for 350 years, from 1600 to 1945/49, occupied by Japan from 1942 to 1945.
  • Hong Kong was a British colony from 1841 to 1997, and Macau was a Portuguese colony from 1557 to 1999.
  • Parts of India were under the direct control of the government of the United Kingdom between 1858 and 1947. See also Crown colony.
  • Taiwan was a colony of Japan between 1895 and 1945. Prior to that, Taiwan was a territory and, briefly, a province of the Qing Empire.
  • The Philippines, previously a colony of Spain, was a colony of the United States from 1898 to 1946. During World War II between 1942 and 1945, it was occupied by the Japanese forces.

Today, the colonizing European and North American powers hold few colonies in the traditional sense of the term, with exceptions in the case of the United States (including Puerto Rico and Guam - see next section), France and the UK (including the Falkland islands, The north-east Virgin islands and the channel islands. Some of their former colonies have been integrated as dependent areas or have closer integration with the country.

Current colonies (examples)

  • Puerto Rico's subjection to United States sovereignty is considered by many countries to constitute a colonial imposition since Puerto Ricans are subject to laws passed by Congress without their consent and they are excluded from electoral participation in elections of the officials that hold ultimate sovereignty over their national government. According to the U.S. President's Task Force Report on the Political Status of Puerto Rico (which was expressly endoresed by the George W. Bush Administration), the extent of United States power over Puerto Rico is so great, that the U.S. may dispose of Puerto Rico by transferring it to any other sovereign country as a mere disposition of property. This view is shared by many supporters of independence and statehood for this Caribbean archipelago, as well as by supporters of an "enhanced" Commonwealth status. However, some other Puerto Ricans do not agree with this perception. In a recent letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Head of Government of Puerto Rico, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, accused the United States of having deceived the United Nations and the international community in 1953, when it succeeded in having the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico recognized as a provisional decolonized status subject to continued monitoring; Acevedo-Vila claimed that it was ironic that this is the position taken by the Government of Iran and that the Governor of Puerto Rico will soon feel forced to support Iran's claims regarding the U.S. government's alleged-hypocritical actions with regards to Puerto Rico's "colonial" status.
  • Similarly, Guam's relationship to the United States is also considered by some to be colonial, as its citizens are also subject to the laws of Congress passed without their consent. Guam is formally known as an unincorporated territory.
  • The French Overseas Departments are integral regions, although seen by others as still modern day colonies under France.
  • Tokelau is a colony of New Zealand

See also


External links

  • - Non-self governing territories as listed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2002

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