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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. There is a United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

A 'colony' is a territory which is mostly ruled by another state or can be run independently. 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.Culture is one of Colonists’ influences to the native people. Most of the countries that were part of Europe’s colonies still had a lot of different cultures. It was because after the colonists came to new lands, these races influenced the native people with their traditions. These cultural impacts sometimes caused a lot of struggles and these issues included different religions, languages and behaviors. Most of the colonists decided to recover these issues with battles. However, there were still some colonists who tried to solve the issues pacifically with the natives. Meyers said that, “Some European settlers, particularly the French, established close, respectful relationships with the native tribes they encountered. For a number of reasons, however, the relationship between Native Americans and the English settlers was quite different.”(Colonialism and the Revolutionary Period, p. 5)

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 one.



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, waged various wars, and conducted armed expeditions so as to assert power over local governments (in Japan, with Commodore Matthew C. 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: Belgian colonial empire, British Empire, Dutch colonial empire, French colonial empire, Portuguese Empire, Spanish 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)

See Colonies in antiquity.

Modern colonies (examples)

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 Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands - see next section), France and the UK (including the Falkland Islands, The British 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[who?] to constitute a colonial imposition[citation needed] 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[2] 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.[3][4] This view is shared by many supporters of independence and statehood for this Caribbean island, 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.[5][6] In 2006, The UN General Assembly Special Committee on decolonization approved a draft resolution that calls on the United States to expedite the process to allow Puerto Ricans to exercise fully their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.[4] H.R. 1230, The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2007, introduced in the U.S. Congress on February 28, 2007, would recognize the right of the People of Puerto Rico to call a Constitutional Convention through which the people would exercise their natural right to self-determination, and it would establish a mechanism for congressional consideration of such decision.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Pascale Harter (October 21, 2003). "'Africa's last colony'". BBC News. 
  2. ^ "Appendix A Presidential Documents" (PDF). December 2005. Retrieved on 2007-10-01. 
  3. ^ "While the approval of the commonwealth constitution marked a historic change in the civil government for the islands, neither it, nor the public laws approved by Congress in 1950 and 1952, revoked statutory provisions concerning the legal relationship of Puerto Rico to the United States. This relationship is based on the Territorial Clause of the U.S. Constitution", further, in a footnote, "The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.” U.S. Const., Art. IV, Sec. 3, cl. 2.", Keith Bea (May 25, 2005). "Political Status of Puerto Rico: Background, Options, and Issues in the 109th Congress" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. Retrieved on 2007-10-01. 
  4. ^ a b Department of Public Information, United Nations General Assembly (13 June 2006). Special committee on decolonization approves text calling on United States to expedite Puerto Rican self-determination process. Press release. Retrieved on 2007-10-01. 
  5. ^ Prensa Latina, Nestor Rosa-Marbrell, November 20, 2007; last verified on December 1st, 2007
  6. ^ El Gobernador pide a Rice que enmiende el informe sobre el estatus político de P.Rico; Yahoo News; November 19, 2007 - Last verified, December 1st, 2007.
  7. ^ H.R. 1230, The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2007,,, retrieved on 2008-12-04 
    ^ H.R. 1230: Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2007,,, retrieved on 2008-12-04 

External links



Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary





From Latin colōnia (colony), from colōnus (farmer; colonist), from colō (till, cultivate, worship), from earlier *quelō, from Proto-Indo-European *kʷel- (to move; to turn (around)).




colony (plural colonies)

  1. Region or governmental unit created by another country and generally ruled by another country.
  2. A group of organisms of same or different species living together in close association.

Derived terms

Related terms


Simple English


A colony is a place controlled by another country. The metropolitan state is the country that owns the colony. A country which has many colonies is often called an empire. A colonist is a person from the metropolitan state who lives in a colony.

Colonial means having to do with a colony. Colonial land is land that belongs to the colony. A colonist is sometimes called a colonial. The philosophy of having colonies is called colonialism. There must be many people to start a colony. There are many colonies, or countries that were once colonies, in the world. Countries that were once colonies of Britain are often part of the British Commonwealth.

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