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Chart of non-self-governing territories (as of June 2012
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Chart of non-self-governing territories (as of June 2012).
Puerto Rico, sometimes called the world's oldest colony. STS034-76-88.jpg
Puerto Rico, sometimes called the world's oldest colony.

In history, a colony is a territory under the immediate complete political control and occupied by settlers of a state, distinct from the home territory of the sovereign. 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.

Sovereign state political organization with a centralized independent government

In international law, a sovereign state, sovereign country, or simply state, is a nonphysical juridical entity that is represented by one centralized government that has sovereignty over a geographic area. International law defines sovereign states as having a permanent population, defined territory, one government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states. It is also normally understood that a sovereign state is neither dependent on nor subjected to any other power or state.

Colonies in antiquity Aspect of history

Colonies in antiquity were post-Iron Age city-states founded from a mother-city, not from a territory-at-large. Bonds between a colony and its metropolis remained often close, and took specific forms during the period of classical antiquity. Generally, colonies founded by the ancient Phoenicians, Carthage, Rome, Alexander the Great and his successors remained tied to their metropolis, but Greek colonies of the Archaic and Classical eras were sovereign and self-governing from their inception. While Greek colonies were often founded to solve social unrest in the mother-city, by expelling a part of the population, Hellenistic, Roman, Carthaginian, and Han Chinese colonies were used for expansion and empire-building.

A city-state is a sovereign state, also described as a type of small independent country, that usually consists of a single city and its dependent territories. Historically, this included cities such as Rome, Athens, Carthage, and the Italian city-states during the Renaissance. As of 2019, only a handful of sovereign city-states exist, with some disagreement as to which are city-states. A great deal of consensus exists that the term properly applies currently to Singapore, Monaco, and Vatican City. City states are also sometimes called micro-states which however also includes other configurations of very small countries, not to be confused with Micronations.


The metropolitan state is the state that rules the colony. In Ancient Greece, the city that founded a colony was known as the metropolis. "Mother country" is a reference to the metropolitan state from the point of view of citizens who live in its colony. There is a United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Ancient Greece Civilization belonging to an early period of Greek history

Ancient Greece was a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history from the Greek Dark Ages of the 12th–9th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Roughly three centuries after the Late Bronze Age collapse of Mycenaean Greece, Greek urban poleis began to form in the 8th century BC, ushering in the Archaic period and colonization of the Mediterranean Basin. This was followed by the period of Classical Greece, an era that began with the Greco-Persian Wars, lasting from the 5th to 4th centuries BC. Due to the conquests by Alexander the Great of Macedon, Hellenistic civilization flourished from Central Asia to the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. The Hellenistic period came to an end with the conquests and annexations of the eastern Mediterranean world by the Roman Republic, which established the Roman province of Macedonia in Roman Greece, and later the province of Achaea during the Roman Empire.

Metropolis very large and significant city or urban area usually with millions of inhabitants

A metropolis is a large city or conurbation which is a significant economic, political, and cultural center for a country or region, and an important hub for regional or international connections, commerce, and communications. The term is Ancient Greek (μητρόπολις) and means the "mother city" of a colony, that is, the city which sent out settlers. This was later generalized to a city regarded as a center of a specified activity, or any large, important city in a nation.

United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories document, maintained by the UN General Assembly, listing territories that are not self-governing and subject to decolonization, according to Chapter XI of the UN Charter

The United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories is a list of places that the United Nations General Assembly deems to be "non-self-governing" and subject to the decolonization process. Chapter XI of the United Nations Charter embodies a "Declaration on Non-Self-Governing Territories" which declares that the interests of the occupants of dependent territories are paramount and requires member states of the United Nations in control of non-self-governing territories to submit annual information reports concerning the development of those territories. Since 1946, the General Assembly 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.

Unlike a puppet state or satellite state, a colony has no independent international representation, and its top-level administration is under direct control of the metropolitan state.

A puppet state, puppet regime, or puppet government is a state that is de jure independent but is de facto completely dependent upon an outside power. It is nominally sovereign but effectively controlled by a foreign or otherwise alien power, for reasons such as financial interests, economic or military support.

A satellite state is a country that is formally independent in the world, but under heavy political, economic and military influence or control from another country. The term was coined by analogy to planetary objects orbiting a larger object, such as smaller moons revolving around larger planets, and is used mainly to refer to Central and Eastern European countries of the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War or to Mongolia or Tannu Tuva between 1924 and 1990, for example. As used for Central and Eastern European countries it implies that the countries in question were "satellites" under the hegemony of the Soviet Union. In some contexts it also refers to other countries in the Soviet sphere of influence during the Cold War—such as North Korea and Cuba. In Western usage, the term has seldom been applied to states other than those in the Soviet orbit. In Soviet usage, the term applied to the states in the orbit of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan.

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

In law and government, de facto describes practices that exist in reality, even if not officially recognized by laws. It is commonly used to refer to what happens in practice, in contrast with de jure, which refers to things that happen according to law. Unofficial customs that are widely accepted are sometimes called de facto standards.


The word "colony" comes from the Latin word colōnia. This in turn derives from the word colōnus , which means colonist but also implies a farmer. Cologne is an example of a settlement preserving this etymology. Other, less obvious settlements that began as Roman colonia include cities from Belgrade to York. A tell-tale sign of a settlement once being a Roman colony is a city centre with a grid pattern. [2] 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 from a separate entity that serves the capital function.

In the late Roman Empire and the Early Middle Ages a colonus was a tenant farmer. Known collectively as the "colonate", these farmers operated as sharecroppers, paying landowners with a portion of their crops in exchange for use of their farmlands. The coloni's tenant-landlord relationship eventually degraded into one of debt and dependence. As a result, the colonus system became a new type of land tenancy, placing the occupants in a state between freedom and slavery. Colonus system can be considered as predecessor of European feudal serfdom.

Farmer person that undertakes agriculture

A farmer is a person engaged in agriculture, raising living organisms for food or raw materials. The term usually applies to people who do some combination of raising field crops, orchards, vineyards, poultry, or other livestock. A farmer might own the farmed land or might work as a laborer on land owned by others, but in advanced economies, a farmer is usually a farm owner, while employees of the farm are known as farm workers, or farmhands. However, in the not so distant past, a farmer was a person who promotes or improves the growth of by labor and attention, land or crops or raises animals.

Cologne Place in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Cologne is the largest city of Germany's most populous federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and its 1 million+ (2016) inhabitants make it the fourth most populous city in Germany after Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich. The largest city on the Rhine, it is also the most populous city both of the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Region, which is Germany's largest and one of Europe's major metropolitan areas, and of the Rhineland. Centred on the left bank of the Rhine, Cologne is about 45 kilometres (28 mi) southeast of North Rhine-Westphalia's capital of Düsseldorf and 25 kilometres (16 mi) northwest of Bonn. It is the largest city in the Central Franconian and Ripuarian dialect areas.

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. A colony could take many forms, as a trade outpost or a military base in enemy territory. Its original definition as a settlement created by people migrating from a central region to an outlying one became the modern definition.

Roman Republic Period of ancient Roman civilization (509–27 BC)

The Roman Republic was the era of classical Roman civilization beginning with the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom, traditionally dated to 509 BC, and ending in 27 BC with the establishment of the Roman Empire. It was during this period that Rome's control expanded from the city's immediate surroundings to hegemony over the entire Mediterranean world.

Ancient examples

Modern historical examples

Current colonies

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

Related Research Articles

British Empire States and dominions ruled by the United Kingdom

The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. It originated with the overseas possessions and trading posts established by England between the late 16th and early 18th centuries. At its height, it was the largest empire in history and, for over a century, was the foremost global power. By 1913, the British Empire held sway over 412 million people, 23% of the world population at the time, and by 1920, it covered 35,500,000 km2 (13,700,000 sq mi), 24% of the Earth's total land area. As a result, its political, legal, linguistic and cultural legacy is widespread. At the peak of its power, the phrase "the empire on which the sun never sets" was often used to describe the British Empire, because its expanse around the globe meant that the sun was always shining on at least one of its territories.

Colonialism Creation, and maintenance of colonies by people from another territory

Colonialism is the policy of a nation seeking to extend or retain its authority over other people or territories, generally with the aim of opening trade opportunities. The colonizing country seeks to benefit from the colonized country or land mass. In the process, colonizers imposed their religion, economics, and medicinal practices on the natives. Some argue this was a positive move toward modernization, while other scholars counter that this is an intrinsically Eurocentric rationalization, given that modernization is itself a concept introduced by Europeans. Colonialism is largely regarded as a relationship of domination of an indigenous majority by a minority of foreign invaders where the latter rule in pursuit of its interests.

Imperialism creation of an unequal relationship between states through domination

Imperialism is policy or ideology of extending a nation's rule over foreign nations, often by military force or by gaining political and economic control of other areas. Imperialism was both normal and common worldwide throughout recorded history, the earliest examples dating from the mid-third millennium BC, diminishing only in the late 20th century. In recent times, it has been considered morally reprehensible and prohibited by international law. Therefore, the term is used in international propaganda to denounce an opponent's foreign policy.

Western imperialism in Asia

Western imperialism in Asia as presented in this article pertains to Western European entry into what was first called the East Indies. This was sparked early in the 15th century by the search for trade routes to China that led directly to the Age of Discovery, and the introduction of early modern warfare into what was then called 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. There has been a presence of Western European colonial empires and imperialism in Asia throughout six centuries of colonialism, formally ending with the independence of the Portuguese Empire's last colony East Timor in 2002. 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 by which a central system of power dominates the surrounding land and its components.

British colonization of the Americas American Colonies of England and then Great Britain and the United Kingdom

British colonisation of the Americas began in 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia, and reached its peak when colonies had been established throughout the Americas. The English, and later the British, were among the most important colonisers of the Americas, and their American empire came to surpass the Spanish American colonies in military and economic might.

Decolonization or decolonisation is the undoing of colonialism, the latter being the process whereby a nation establishes and maintains its domination over one or more other territories. The concept particularly applies to the dismantlement, during the second half of the 20th century, of the colonial empires established prior to World War I throughout the world.

Crown colony, dependent territory or royal colony were dependent territories under the administration of United Kingdom overseas territories that were controlled by the British Government. As such they are examples of dependencies that are under colonial rule. Crown colonies were renamed "British Dependent Territories" in 1981, and since 2002, Crown colonies have been known officially as British Overseas Territories.

Dutch Empire overseas territories controlled by the Dutch Republic and, later, the modern Netherlands from the 17th century to the mid-1950s

The Dutch colonial empire comprised the overseas territories and trading posts controlled and administered by Dutch chartered companies and subsequently by the Dutch Republic (1581–1795), and by the modern Kingdom of the Netherlands after 1815. It was initially a trade-based system which derived most of its influence from merchant enterprise and from Dutch control of international maritime shipping routes through strategically placed outposts, rather than from expansive territorial ventures. With a few notable exceptions, the majority of the Dutch colonial empire's overseas holdings consisted of coastal forts, factories, and port settlements with varying degrees of incorporation of their hinterlands and surrounding regions. Dutch chartered companies often dictated that their possessions be kept as confined as possible in order to avoid unnecessary expense, and while some such as the Dutch Cape Colony and Dutch East Indies expanded anyway, others remained undeveloped, isolated trading centres dependent on an indigenous host-nation. This reflected the primary purpose of the Dutch colonial empire: commercial exchange as opposed to sovereignty over homogeneous landmasses.

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.

Decolonisation of Africa process wherein colonial powers withdrew their administrators from Africa following World War II

The decolonisation of Africa took place in the mid-to-late 1950s and 1960s, with sudden and radical regime changes on the continent as colonial governments made the transition to independent states; this was often quite unorganized and marred with violence and political turmoil. There was widespread unrest and organised revolts in both Northern and sub-Saharan colonies, especially in French Algeria, Portuguese Angola, the Belgian Congo and British Kenya.

Colonial empire overseas possessions of a nation-state, usually a product of the European Age of Exploration

A colonial empire is a collective of territories, mostly overseas, settled by the population of a certain state and governed by that state.

Decolonization of the Americas process by which the countries in the Americas gained their independence from European rule

Decolonization of the Americas refers to the process by which the countries in the Americas gained their independence from European rule. Decolonization began with a series of revolutions in the late 18th and early to mid-19th centuries. The status quo then prevailed for more than a century, excepting the independence of Cuba.

History of colonialism aspect of history

The historical phenomenon of colonization is one that stretches around the globe and across time. Modern state global colonialism, or imperialism, began in the 15th century with the "Age of Discovery", led by Portuguese, and then by the Spanish exploration of the Americas, the coasts of Africa, the Middle East, India and East Asia. The Portuguese and Spanish empires were the first global empires because they were the first to stretch across different continents, covering vast territories around the globe. In 1492, notable Genoese (Italian) explorer Christopher Columbus and his Castilian (Spanish) crew discovered the Americas for the Crown of Castile. The phrase "the empire on which the sun never sets" was first used for the Spanish Empire in the 16th century. During the late 16th and 17th centuries, England, France and the Dutch Republic also established their own overseas empires, in direct competition with each other.

Colonisation of Africa ancient and modern colonialism in Africa

The history of external colonisation of Africa can be divided into two stages: Classical antiquity and European colonialism. In popular parlance, discussions of colonialism in Africa usually focus on the European conquests that resulted in the Scramble for Africa after the Berlin Conference in the 19th century. Settlements established by Europeans while incorporated abjection of natives, also brought with it governing and academic institutions as well as agricultural and technological innovations that offset the extractive institutions commonly attributed to colonialism by Western powers.

Monarchies in the Americas

There are 13 monarchies in the Americas. Each is a constitutional monarchy, where in the sovereign inherits his or her office, usually keeping it until death or abdication, and is bound by laws and customs in the exercise of their powers. Ten of these monarchies are independent states, and equally share Queen Elizabeth II, who resides primarily in the United Kingdom, as their respective sovereign, making them part of a global grouping known as the Commonwealth realms, while the remaining three are dependencies of European monarchies. As such, none of the monarchies in the Americas have a permanently resident monarch.

The decolonization of Asia was the gradual growth of independence movements in Asia, leading ultimately to the retreat of foreign powers and the creation of a number of nation-states in the region. A number of events were catalysts for this shift, most importantly the Second World War. Prior to World War II, some countries had already proclaimed independence.


  1. Puerto Rico:The Trials of the Oldest Colony in the World. By Jose Trias Monge. Yale University Press. 1997.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. [3]
  5. 1 2 Tonio Andrade, How Taiwan Became Chinese: Dutch, Spanish, and Han Colonization in the Seventeenth Century, Columbia University Press.

Further reading

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