Last updated

Chart of current non-self-governing territories (as of June 2012
) Non-Self-Governing.png
Chart of current non-self-governing territories (as of June 2012)

A colony is a territory subject to a form of foreign rule. [1] [2] Though dominated by the foreign colonizers, the rule remains separate to the original country of the colonizers, the metropolitan state (or "mother country"), within the shared imperialist administration. This colonial administrative separation, though often blurred, [2] makes colonies neither annexed or incorporated territories nor client states. Colonies contemporarily are identified and organized as not sufficiently self-governed dependent territories. Other past colonies have become either sufficiently incorporated and self-governed, or independent, with some to a varying degree dominated by remaining colonial settler societies or neocolonialism.


The term colony originates from the ancient Roman colonia , a type of Roman settlement. Derived from colon-us (farmer, cultivator, planter, or settler), it carries with it the sense of 'farm' and 'landed estate'. [3] Furthermore the term was used to refer to the older Greek apoikia (Ancient Greek : ἀποικία, lit. 'home away from home'), which were overseas settlements by ancient Greek city-states. The city that founded such a settlement became known as its metropolis ("mother-city"). Since early-modern times, historians, administrators, and political scientists have generally used the term "colony" to refer mainly to the many different overseas territories of particularly European states between the 15th and 20th centuries CE, with colonialism and decolonization as corresponding phenomena.

While colonies often developed from trading outposts or territorial claims, such areas do not need to be a product of colonization, nor become colonially organized territories. Territories furthermore do not need to have been militarily conquered and occupied to come under colonial rule and to be considered de-facto colonies, instead neocolonial exploitation of dependency or imperialist use of power to intervene to force policy, might make a territory be considered a colony, which broadens the concept, including indirect rule or puppet states (contrasted by more independent types of client states such as vassal states). Subsequently some historians have used the term informal colony to refer to a country under a de facto control of another state. Though the broadening of the concept is often contentious.


The word "colony" comes from the Latin word colōnia , used as concept for ancient Roman outposts and eventually cities. This in turn derives from the word colōnus , which was a Roman tenant farmer.

The terminology is taken from architectural analogy, where a column pillar is beneath the (often stylized) head capital, which is also a biological analog of the body as subservient beneath the controlling head (with 'capital' coming from the Latin word caput, meaning 'head'). So colonies are not independently self-controlled, but rather are controlled by a separate entity that serves the capital function. [4]

Roman colonies first appeared when the Romans conquered neighbouring Italic peoples. These were small farming settlements that appeared when the Romans had subdued an enemy in war. Though a colony could take many forms, such as a trade outpost or a military base in enemy territory, such has not been inherently colonies. Its original definition as a settlement created by people migrating from a central region to an outlying one became the modern definition.[ citation needed ]

Settlements that began as Roman colonia include cities from Cologne (which retains this history in its name), Belgrade to York. A tell-tale sign of a settlement within the Roman sphere of influence once being a Roman colony is a city centre with a grid pattern. [5]

Ancient examples

Modern historical examples

Current colonies

Dependent territories and their sovereign states. All territories are labeled according to ISO 3166-1 or with numbers. Colored areas without labels are integral parts of their respective countries. Antarctica is shown as a condominium instead of individual claims. Dependent territories.svg
Dependent territories and their sovereign states. All territories are labeled according to ISO 3166-1 or with numbers. Colored areas without labels are integral parts of their respective countries. Antarctica is shown as a condominium instead of individual claims.

The Special Committee on Decolonization maintains the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories, which identifies areas the United Nations (though not without controversy) believes are colonies. Given that dependent territories have varying degrees of autonomy and political power in the affairs of the controlling state, there is disagreement over the classification of "colony".

See also


  1. During its 8th session, the United Nations General Assembly recognized Puerto Rico's self-government on November 27, 1953, with Resolution 748 (VIII). [20] (UN Resolution "748 (VIII)", adopted on November 27, 1953, during its 459th Plenary Meeting.) This removed Puerto Rico's classification as a non-self-governing territory (under article 73(e) of the Charter of the United Nations). The resolution passed, garnering a favorable vote from some 40% of the General Assembly, with over 60% abstaining or voting against it (20 to 16, plus 18 abstentions). Today, however, the UN "still debates whether Puerto Rico is a colony" or not. [21]
  2. Sidney Mintz's quote goes on to state, "Something in our history makes the idea of our ruling other people very difficult to deal with. Puerto Rico's political status certainly has evolved in its century inside the North American 'family.' But the permanent interim political status of which Tomas Blanco wrote still has not ended."
  3. For additional references to Puerto Rico's current (2021) colonial status under U.S. rule, see Nicole Narea, [29] Amy Goodman and Ana Irma Rivera Lassén, [30] David S. Cohen [31] and Sidney W. Mintz. [32]
  4. Each territory in the United States Minor Outlying Islands is labeled UM- followed by the first letter of its name and another unique letter if needed.
  5. The following territories do not have ISO 3166-1 codes:
    1: Akrotiri and Dhekelia
    2: Ashmore and Cartier Islands
    3: Coral Sea Islands

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Colonialism</span> Creation and maintenance of colonies by people from another area

Colonialism is a practice by which a one group of people, social construct, or nation state controls, directs, or imposes taxes or tribute on other people or areas, often by establishing colonies, generally for strategic and economic advancement of the colonizing group or construct. There is no clear definition of colonialism; definitions may vary depending on the use and context.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Imperialism</span> Policy or ideology of extending a nations rule over foreign nations

Imperialism is the practice, theory or attitude of maintaining or extending power over foreign nations, particularly through expansionism, employing not only hard power but also soft power. Imperialism focuses on establishing or maintaining hegemony and a more or less formal empire. While related to the concepts of colonialism, imperialism is a distinct concept that can apply to other forms of expansion and many forms of government.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Western imperialism in Asia</span> Imperialization and spread of influence over Asia by Western Europe and associated states

The influence and imperialism of Western Europe and associated states peaked in Asian territories from the colonial period beginning in the 16th century and substantially reducing with 20th century decolonization. It originated in the 15th-century search for trade routes to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia that led directly to the Age of Discovery, and additionally the introduction of early modern warfare into what Europeans first called the East Indies and later the Far East. By the early 16th century, the Age of Sail greatly expanded Western European influence and development of the spice trade under colonialism. European-style colonial empires and imperialism operated in Asia throughout six centuries of colonialism, formally ending with the independence of the Portuguese Empire's last colony Macau in 1999. The empires introduced Western concepts of nation and the multinational state. This article attempts to outline the consequent development of the Western concept of the nation state.

Colonization is a process of establishing control over targeted territories or peoples for the purpose of taxation, control, cultivation, often by establishing colonies and possibly by settling them.

A dependent territory, dependent area, or dependency is a territory that does not possess full political independence or sovereignty as a sovereign state, yet remains politically outside the controlling state's integral area.

Decolonization or decolonisation is the undoing of colonialism, the latter being the process whereby imperial nations establish and dominate foreign territories, often overseas. The meanings and applications of the term are disputed. Some scholars of decolonization focus especially on independence movements in the colonies and the collapse of global colonial empires. Other scholars extend the meaning to include economic, cultural and psychological aspects of the colonial experience.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Territorial evolution of the British Empire</span> Changes in the extent of the British Empire over its history

The territorial evolution of the British Empire is considered to have begun with the foundation of the English colonial empire in the late 16th century. Since then, many territories around the world have been under the control of the United Kingdom or its predecessor states. When the Kingdom of Great Britain was formed in 1707 by the union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England, the latter country's colonial possessions passed to the new state. Similarly, when Great Britain was united with the Kingdom of Ireland in 1801 to form the United Kingdom, control over its colonial possessions passed to the latter state. Collectively, these territories are referred to as the British Empire. When much of Ireland gained independence in 1922 as the Irish Free State, the other territories of the empire remained under the control of the United Kingdom.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Decolonisation of Africa</span> Independence of African colonies from European powers

The decolonisation of Africa is a process that largely took place from the mid-1950s to 1975 during the Cold War, with radical government changes on the continent as colonial governments made the transition to independent states. The process was often marred with violence, political turmoil, widespread unrest, and organised revolts in both northern and sub-Saharan countries including the Mau Mau rebellion in British Kenya, the Algerian War in French Algeria, the Congo Crisis in the Belgian Congo, the Angolan War of Independence in Portuguese Angola, the Zanzibar Revolution in the Sultanate of Zanzibar, and the Nigerian Civil War in the secessionist state of Biafra.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">United Nations list of non-self-governing territories</span> Type of territory defined by the United Nations Charter

Chapter XI of the United Nations Charter defines a non-self-governing territory (NSGT) as a territory "whose people have not yet attained a full measure of self-government". In practice, an NSGT is a territory deemed by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to be "non-self-governing". Chapter XI of the UN Charter also includes a "Declaration on Non-Self-Governing Territories" that the interests of the occupants of dependent territories are paramount and requires member states of the United Nations in control of such territories to submit annual information reports concerning the development of those territories. Since 1946, the UNGA has maintained a list of non-self governing territories under member states' control. Since its inception, dozens of territories have been removed from the list, typically when they attained independence or internal self-government, while other territories have been added as new administering countries joined the United Nations or the General Assembly reassessed the status of certain territories.

The civilizing mission is a political rationale for military intervention and for colonization purporting to facilitate the Westernization of indigenous peoples, especially in the period from the 15th to the 20th centuries. As a principle of Western culture, the term was most prominently used in justifying French colonialism in the late-15th to mid-20th centuries. The civilizing mission was the cultural justification for the colonization of French Algeria, French West Africa, French Indochina, Portuguese Angola and Portuguese Guinea, Portuguese Mozambique and Portuguese Timor, among other colonies. The civilizing mission also was a popular justification for the British, German, and American colonialism. In the Russian Empire, it was also associated with the Russian conquest of Central Asia and the Russification of that region. The Western colonial powers claimed that, as Christian nations, they were duty bound to disseminate Western civilization to what they perceived as heathen, primitive cultures.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Colonial empire</span> Overseas possessions of a nation-state

[[File:World 1920 empires colonies territory.png|thumb|upright=2|Empires and colonies in 1920 following WWI

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Decolonization of the Americas</span> Process by which the countries in the Americas gained their independence from European rule

The decolonization of the Americas occurred over several centuries as most of the countries in the Americas gained their independence from European rule. The American Revolution was the first in the Americas, and the British defeat in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) was a victory against a great power, aided by France and Spain, Britain's enemies. The French Revolution in Europe followed, and collectively these events had profound effects on the Spanish, Portuguese, and French colonies in the Americas. A revolutionary wave followed, resulting in the creation of several independent countries in Latin America. The Haitian Revolution lasted from 1791 to 1804 and resulted in the independence of the French slave colony. The Peninsular War with France, which resulted from the Napoleonic occupation of Spain, caused Spanish Creoles in Spanish America to question their allegiance to Spain, stoking independence movements that culminated in various Spanish American wars of independence (1808–33), which were primarily fought between opposing groups of colonists and only secondarily against Spanish forces. At the same time, the Portuguese monarchy fled to Brazil during the French invasion of Portugal. After the royal court returned to Lisbon, the prince regent, Pedro, remained in Brazil and in 1822 successfully declared himself emperor of a newly independent Brazilian Empire.

This is a non-exhaustive chronology of colonialism-related events, which may reflect political events, cultural events, and important global events that have influenced colonization and decolonization. See also Timeline of imperialism.

The Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, also known as the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1514, was a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly during its fifteenth session, that affirmed independence for countries and peoples under colonial rule.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of colonialism</span> Aspect of history

The historical phenomenon of colonization is one that stretches around the globe and across time. Ancient and medieval colonialism was practiced by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Turks, and Arabs.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Puerto Rico statehood movement</span> Movement to grant Puerto Rico U.S. statehood

The Puerto Rico statehood movement aims to make Puerto Rico a state of the United States. Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territorial possession of the United States acquired in 1898 following the Spanish–American War, making it "the oldest colony in the modern world". As of 2019, the population of Puerto Rico is 3.2 million, around half the average state population and higher than that of 20 U.S. states. Statehood is one of several competing options for the future political status of Puerto Rico, including: maintaining its current status, becoming fully independent, or becoming a freely associated state. Puerto Rico has held six referendums on the topic. These are non-binding, as the power to grant statehood lies with the US Congress. The most recent referendum was in November 2020, with a majority (52.52%) of those who voted opting for statehood.

The decolonisation of Asia was the gradual growth of independence movements in Asia, leading ultimately to the retreat of foreign powers and the creation of several nation-states in the region.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Political status of Puerto Rico</span> Unincorporated territory of the United States

The political status of Puerto Rico is that of an unincorporated territory of the United States officially known as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. As such, the island of Puerto Rico is neither a sovereign nation nor a U.S. state. It is because of that ambiguity, the territory, as a polity, lacks certain rights but enjoys certain benefits that other polities have or lack. For instance, in contrast to U.S. states, Puerto Rico residents cannot vote in U.S. presidential elections nor can they elect their own senators and representatives to the U.S. Congress. On the other hand, in contrast to U.S. states, only some residents of Puerto Rico are subject to federal income taxes. The political status of the island thus stems from how different Puerto Rico is politically from sovereign nations and from U.S. states.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Special Committee on Decolonization</span> U.N. General Assembly special committee

The United Nations Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, or the Special Committee on Decolonization (C-24), is a committee of the United Nations General Assembly that was established in 1961 and is exclusively devoted to the issue of decolonization.

This Timeline of European imperialism covers episodes of imperialism outside of Europe by western nations since 1400; for other countries, see Imperialism § Imperialism by country.


  1. "colony". Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary . Oxford University Press. 2021. Retrieved 8 January 2021. 1. [...] a country or an area that is governed by people from another, more powerful, country
  2. 1 2 Stanard, Matthew G. (2018). European Overseas Empire, 1879 - 1999: A Short History. John Wiley & Sons. p. 4. ISBN   978-1-119-13013-0.
  3. Nayar, Pramod (2008). Postcolonial Literature – An Introduction. India: Pearson India. pp. 1–2. ISBN   9788131713730.
  4. "Colony | National Geographic Society". National Geographic. Retrieved 26 October 2022.
  5. James S. Jeffers (1999). The Greco-Roman world of the New Testament era: exploring the background of early Christianity. InterVarsity Press. pp.  52–53. ISBN   978-0-8308-1589-0.
  6. Often put on par with other WW2 Military occupation despite its administration having the traits of colonial rule. Probably motivated by its short duration spanning only 5 years.
  7. "Non-Self-Governing Territories | the United Nations and Decolonization".
  8. "Timeline: Malaysia's history".
  9. "Dutch In Malaysia". Malaysia Traveller.
  10. De Lario, Damaso; de Lario Ramírez, Dámaso (2008). "Philip II and the "Philippine Referendum" of 1599". Re-shaping the world: Philip II of Spain and his time. Ateneo de Manila University Press. ISBN   978-971-550-556-7.
  11. In 1521, an expedition led by Ferdinand Magellan landed in the islands, and Ruy López de Villalobos named the islands Las Islas Filipinas in honor of Spain's Prince Philip (later to become Philip I of Castile). During a later expedition in 1564, Miguel López de Legazpi conquered the Philippines for Spain. However, it can be argued that Spain's legitimate sovereignty over the islands commenced following a popular referendum in 1599. [10]
  12. The Recolonization of Puerto Rico, Part 1. Archived 14 September 2021 at the Wayback Machine The Voluntown Peace Trust. 22 July 2021. Accessed 13 September 2021.
  13. Colonialism in Puerto Rico. Archived 14 September 2021 at the Wayback Machine Pedro Caban. SUNY-Albany. Latin American, Caribbean, and US Latino Studies Faculty. 2015. p. 516. Accessed 13 September 2021.
  14. C.D. Burnett, et al., Foreign in a Domestic Sense: Puerto Rico, American Expansion, and the Constitution. Duke University Press. 2001. ISBN   9780822326984
  15. Definitions of Insular Area Political Organizations. Archived 31 July 2019 at the Wayback Machine U.S. Department of the Interior. Office of Insular Affairs. 2021. Accessed 13 September 2021.
  16. Juan Gonzalez. Harvest of Empire Penguin Press. 2001. pp.60–63. ISBN   978-0-14-311928-9
  17. "7 FAM 1120 Acquisition of U.S. Nationality in U.S. Territories and Possessions". U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual Volume 7 - Consular Affairs. U.S. Department of State. 3 January 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 December 2015. Retrieved 13 September 2021.
  18. "Let Puerto Rico Decide How to end its Colony Status: True Nationhood Stands on the Pillar of Independence." Archived 14 September 2021 at the Wayback Machine Rosalinda de Jesus. The Allentown Morning Call. Republished by The Puerto Rico Herald. July 21, 2002. San Juan, Puerto Rico. Retrieved 13 September 2021.
  19. "Puerto Rico - The debate over political status". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 11 September 2021.
  20. Resolution 748 (VIII) Archived 6 May 2019 at the Wayback Machine . [Note: To access the text of the UN document, scroll down the list that appears until Resolution "748 (VIII)", dated "November 27, 1953", is found. Click on the link "748 (VIII)" to view the text of the Resolution. Important: This is a UN document database query server; documents are served on-the-fly. Saving the link that appears when the document opens will not provide access in the future.] Retrieved 13 September 2021.
  21. "Puerto Rico: Commonwealth, Statehood, or Independence? Constitutional Rights Foundation". Archived from the original on 10 June 2009.
  22. Sidney W. Mintz. Three Ancient Colonies. Harvard University Press. 2010. pp. 135-136.
  23. "Why Puerto Rico has debated U.S. statehood since its colonization". History. 24 July 2020. Retrieved 11 September 2021.
  24. Juan Torruella, Groundbreaking U.S. Appeals Judge, Dies at 87. Archived 11 September 2021 at the Wayback Machine Sam Roberts. The New York Times. 28 October 2020. Accessed 13 September 2021.
  25. Can't We Just Sell the World's Oldest Colony and Solve Puerto Rico's Political Status? Archived 14 September 2021 at the Wayback Machine Luis Martínez-Fernández. 16 July 2020. Accessed 13 September 2021.
  26. Hopes for DC, Puerto Rico statehood rise. Archived 19 August 2021 at the Wayback Machine Marty Johnson and Rafael Bernal. The Hill. 24 September 2020. Accessed 13 September 2021.
  27. José Trías Monge. Puerto Rico: The trials of the oldest colony in the world. Yale University Press. 1997. p.3. ISBN   9780300076189
  28. Angel Collado-Schwarz. Decolonization Models for America's Last Colony: Puerto Rico. Syracuse University Press. 2012. ISBN   0815651082
  29. Live results for Puerto Rico's statehood referendum. Archived 14 September 2021 at the Wayback Machine Nicole Narea. MSN Microsoft News. 5 November 2020. Accessed 13 September 2021.
  30. Puerto Ricans Vote to Narrowly Approve Controversial Statehood Referendum & Elect 4 LGBTQ Candidates. Archived 8 September 2021 at the Wayback Machine Amy Goodman and Ana Irma Rivera Lassén. Democracy Now! 6 November 2020. Accessed 13 September 2021.
  31. The Political Travesty of Puerto Rico: Like all U.S. territories, Puerto Rico has no real representation in its own national government. Archived 8 September 2021 at the Wayback Machine David S. Cohen. RollingStone. 26 September 2017. Accessed 15 December 2020.
  32. Sidney W. Mintz. Three Ancient Colonies: Caribbean Themes and Variations. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 2010. p. 134.
  33. Tonio Andrade. "How Taiwan Became Chinese: Dutch, Spanish, and Han Colonization in the Seventeenth Century". Columbia University Press.

Further reading

Wikiquote-logo.svg Quotations related to colony at Wikiquote