We explain what colonialism is, what its causes are and the factors that intervene. In addition, its characteristics and consequences.

What is Colonialism?

Colonialism is a system of domination by both political and military means, of one country over another . A state of high economic and military power, called a metropolis, exercises direct control over a territory that is outside its borders, which is called a colony.

The colonies do not have autonomy or self -determination , that is to say that their legislative and tax structure is determined by the metropolis. Although the colonized territories are taken by force, this does not mean that their population does not want to belong to the territory of the metropolis. In fact, as the centuries go by, local populations can identify with the imposed nationality.

The settlers are those people who were born in the metropolis but traveled to the colonies to settle in the conquered territories.

Although colonialism has existed in various forms for thousands of years , in general when we mention colonialism we refer to European colonialism, initiated by France , the United Kingdom , Belgium, Portugal, Spain , Russia and Germany in the fifteenth century and which continued until the 20th century inclusive.

Economic causes of colonialism

Economic causes of colonialism

To a large extent, colonialism arises from the economic needs of a state, associated with:

  • Raw materials . Agricultural products such as tea (British colonialism in Asia ) or rubber (Spanish colonialism in America ) required climates or large tracts of land that could not be found in Europe . While these goods can be obtained through trade , it is cheaper for the colonizing nation to take possession of the land and obtain it without paying for it.
  • Overproduction. The beginning of colonialism occurs simultaneously with the beginning of the first industrial revolution , that is, the moment in which artisanal production, which is on a small scale, is replaced by mass production. This excess of products in many cases did not find a market among European consumers . However, as territories expanded, so did the market.
  • Cheap labor. The original inhabitants of the European colonies had been defeated, that is, they had to accept the conditions imposed by the colonizer. In some cases, that involved offering their labor for a low price, and in other cases (such as in America) it was enslavement .

Political and cultural causes of colonialism

The countries that initiate a colonial expansion are in all cases powers of high economic and military power. They are in competition with other powers , so expanding their territory implies advancing that competition.

On the other hand, colonialism requires a large number of people who are willing not only to wage war but also to populate distant and unknown territories. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the principles inherited from the Enlightenment , which endorsed exploration, overlapped with the romantic taste for the exotic. Another ideological engine of colonization was nationalism , which moved the population to strive to make their nation grow.

Technological factors of colonialism

Technological factors of colonialism

In addition to the needs of the colonizing nations, for colonialism to be possible , a series of factors must be present , among which are technological advantages.

Between the 15th and 18th centuries, the constant armed confrontations in Europe favored the development of military technology . This meant an important advantage of the Europeans over the Asian, African and American civilizations.

Biological factors of colonialism

The Europeans brought with them viruses and bacteria that did not exist in the lands they conquered and therefore the local populations had no natural defenses against them. For example, malaria, leprosy, typhoid fever, diphtheria, and measles did not exist in the Americas , which were fatal to the native inhabitants. In this way, the chances of resistance were reduced .

colonialism and imperialism

colonialism and imperialism

Imperialism is a form of political domination of one state over another. Imperialism can take the form of colonialism , and all official empires were founded on colonialist policies.

However, imperialism can exist without colonialism, that is, without the use of military force . This is due to the economic, cultural and/or political influence that a power can exercise over countries that depend on them, usually for economic reasons.

This means that the main base of imperialism is the external debt , since the creditor countries can impose all kinds of conditions. Imperialism is also called neocolonialism.

British Empire

British Empire

The territorial expansion of Great Britain begins in the 17th century when the Jamestown colony was established in American territory (1607). In addition to the thirteen colonies located where the United States is today, British colonies were established in the Caribbean, where labor was obtained through the enslavement of native populations.

In the 18th century , British colonization also extended to the East , dominating Australia and New Zealand.

Spanish Empire

Being the discoverers of the continent , the Spanish established the largest number of colonies in North, Central and South America . The colonized territories were divided into Viceroyalties, that is, they were administered by a Viceroy who ruled on behalf of the Spanish king.

At the end of the 18th century, the Spanish Empire covered 20 million square kilometers .

French Colonial Empire

French Colonial Empire

France disputed with the United Kingdom the territories of North America . In addition, he established colonies on the shores of the Indian Ocean and in the Caribbean. However, most of its colonial territory was in Africa . This empire was sustained even until World War II , when decolonization processes began in Asia (starting with Vietnam) and Africa (starting with Cameroon).

Consequences of colonialism for the metropolises

In the powers that initiated the colonizations, the consequences were different in each case . In all cases, the colonies gave them economic growth, but it was used in various ways.

In the United Kingdom, for example, the raw materials obtained through colonization made it possible to sustain the development of growing industrialism . However, in Spain, it only delayed the increasing indebtedness of the court .

Consequences of colonialism for the colonized territories

Consequences of colonialism for the colonized territories

The colonized territories were drastically modified , since for the most part the local cultures were completely eliminated or in the best cases native elements were combined with elements of the colonizing cultures.

Along with the language , the colonies received the ideology, scientific knowledge and religious beliefs of the metropolis , although their impact was different in each territory.

For example, in many regions of America there are almost no native language speakers , while in Africa a significant part of the population is bilingual. However, in Asia and Africa the demographic impacts (changes in population) were smaller.

The above content published at Collaborative Research Group is for informational and educational purposes only and has been developed by referring reliable sources and recommendations from technology experts. We do not have any contact with official entities nor do we intend to replace the information that they emit.


Luke is passionate about fostering student involvement and connection. He studied psychology for his major and likes learning about the past. Luke aims to specialize in artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. .

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