When and how did colonization begin




"Colonialism is the political-administrative, mostly military-supported subjugation of other countries and areas (colonies), which served to consolidate one's own power, economic exploitation (raw materials) and the expansion of sales markets (territorial expansion)."

Beginnings of colonization

In the 16th century, in the Age of Discovery, Spain and Portugal became the first great colonial powers in Europe. The Spaniards had occupied the Pacific coast off Panama, central Mexico and Peru, Guatemala, New Granada and Chile. They exploited Indian society, introduced forced labor there, but did not try to build up trade and industry in the colonies. Goods such as tobacco, gold, silver, cotton and cocoa were used to promote their own Spanish economy. The Portuguese took possession of Brazil. Sugar-growing areas were created and slaves were used for plantation farming. Islands and coastal lands of the Indian Ocean also belonged to their property; gold was mined there and the spice trade was conquered.

Emergence of further colonial powers

At the beginning of the 17th century, England, France, the Netherlands and Russia also became colonial powers. The European powers had acquired 16.8 million km² of new land between 1800 and 1878 and as a result 67% of the earth's surface were under their influence.

Colonialism ties in with the age of imperialism (1880–1914). The colonial race for unexplored areas began. A further 27.4 million km² had been conquered by 1914.


The European nation states needed markets for industrial production, raw material suppliers, investment opportunities for their capital, settlement areas for the population and colonial goods. This was made possible by the more intensive exploration of Africa. In the colonial interest, traders, settlers and missionaries were sent to unexplored areas. Nationalism and racism shaped the colonial powers. With the missionary activity the foreign population should be Europeanized.

At the International Conference in Berlin in 1884/85 the powers planned to secure their interests in Africa. Without African participation, the governments of Europe and the USA decided on freedom of trade and navigation. In the race for Africa, borders were drawn arbitrarily. Goods such as cotton, rubber, wood, ores, minerals, precious metals, coffee, tea, spices, raw sugar and tobacco were indispensable for the European economy.

Semi-colonies emerged, which were economically and financially dependent and were thus under debt.

Before the outbreak of the First World War, the European colonial powers ruled 84.4% of the land surface with around 450 million inhabitants.


Even after most of the former colonies gained their independence between the 1960s and 80s, almost nothing changed in terms of economic and political dependency. Many formerly colonized countries are still heavily in debt today. Their worldwide coveted natural resources are being exploited, and agricultural autonomy has been and is being destroyed in the process. Plantation economy was introduced, tribal cultures suppressed. The consequences were Europeanization and economic backwardness.

The African population, for example, became increasingly impoverished. There were executions, deportations and concentration in camps, forced labor and lawlessness. The African population often tried to defend themselves against it in the form of resistance, such as the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, the Sudan against the British, the battle of the Hereros against German troops in South West Africa and the Boer War from 1899 to 1902. (red)

Reading tips and links

http://www.zeit.de/2001/51/Die_Schuld_des_Westen?page=4 (accessed on 7.1.2018)

Austrian Study Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution (ed.) From cold energy strategies to hot raw material wars? LitVerlag, Vienna 2008


Otto Zierer: New World History - Volume II (1966). Stuttgart / Salzburg; Fackelverlag Olten, pp. 315-349, pp. 225-246, pp. 377-383, pp. 485-497.

Otto Zierer: New World History - Volume III (1967). Stuttgart / Salzburg: Fackelverlag Olten, pp. 77-91, pp. 146-169, pp. 226-229, pp. 309-320

The Ravensburger Lexicon of World History - Volume 2 (1995). Ravensburg: Buchverlag Otto Maier GmbH, pp. 222-223, p. 261.

Wikipedia: Colonialism (accessed on 7.1.2018)

Wikipedia: Imperialism (accessed on 7.1.2018)

Hans Georg Schachtschabel (1979). Lexicon of economic policy. Munich, Wilhelm Goldmann

Medico international e.V. and DGB Bildungswerk / Nord-Süd Netz (ed.) (2005). Raw materials trade and war in Africa - on the causes and consequences of armed war. Frankfurt: Medico International e.V., p. 4

Image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org (accessed on 7.1.2018)