The pith helmet, an icon of colonialism in tropical lands. This one was used during the Second French colonial empire.

Colonialism is the policy of a nation seeking to extend or retain its authority over other people or territories,[1] generally with the aim of economic dominance.[2] The colonising country seeks to benefit from the colonised country or land mass. In the process, colonisers impose their religion, economics, and medicinal practices on the natives. Colonialism is the relationship of domination of indigenous by foreign invaders where the latter rule in pursuit of their interests.[3]

Starting in the 15th century some European states established their own empires during the European colonial period. The Belgian, British, Danish, Dutch, French, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swedish empires established colonies across large areas. Imperial Japan, the Ottoman Empire[4]:116 and the United States also acquired colonies, as did imperialist China and finally in the late 19th century the Germans and the Italians.

At first, European colonising countries followed policies of mercantilism, in order to strengthen the home economy, so agreements usually restricted the colonies to trading only with the metropole (mother country). By the mid-19th century, however, the British Empire gave up mercantilism and trade restrictions and adopted the principle of free trade, with few restrictions or tariffs. Christian missionaries were active in practically all of the European controlled colonies because the metropoles were Christians. Historian Philip Hoffman calculated that by 1800, before the Industrial Revolution, Europeans already controlled at least 35% of the globe, and by 1914, they had gained control of 84% of the globe.[5]

In the aftermath of World War II, colonial powers were forced to retreat between 1945–1975, when nearly all colonies gained independence, entering into changed colonial, so-called postcolonial and neocolonialist relations. Postcolonialism and neocolonialism has continued or shifted relations and ideologies of colonialism, attempting to justify its continuation with adjusted narratives like development and new frontiers, as in exploring outer space for colonization.[6]


1541: Spanish Conquistadors founding Santiago de Chile

Colonialism is the attempt by one country to establish settlements and to impose its political, economic and cultural principles in another territory". 

Etymologically the base word "colony" comes from the Latin colōnia—"a place for agriculture".

Collins English Dictionary defines colonialism as "the policy and practice of a power in extending control over weaker peoples or areas".[7] Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary defines colonialism as "the system or policy of a nation seeking to extend or retain its authority over other people or territories".[1] The Merriam-Webster Dictionary offers four definitions, including "something characteristic of a colony" and "control by one power over a dependent area or people".[8]

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy "uses the term 'colonialism' to describe the process of European settlement and political control over the rest of the world, including the Americas, Australia, and parts of Africa and Asia". It discusses the distinction between colonialism, imperialism and conquest and states that "[t]he difficulty of defining colonialism stems from the fact that the term is often used as a synonym for imperialism. Both colonialism and imperialism were forms of conquest that were expected to benefit Europe economically and strategically.", and continues "given the difficulty of consistently distinguishing between the two terms, this entry will use colonialism as a broad concept that refers to the project of European political domination from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries that ended with the national liberation movements of the 1960s".[9]

In his preface to Jürgen Osterhammel's Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview, Roger Tignor says "For Osterhammel, the essence of colonialism is the existence of colonies, which are by definition governed differently from other territories such as protectorates or informal spheres of influence."[10] In the book, Osterhammel asks, "How can 'colonialism' be defined independently from 'colony?'"[11] He settles on a three-sentence definition:

Colonialism is a relationship between an indigenous (or forcibly imported) majority and a minority of foreign invaders. The fundamental decisions affecting the lives of the colonised people are made and implemented by the colonial rulers in pursuit of interests that are often defined in a distant metropolis. Rejecting cultural compromises with the colonised population, the colonisers are convinced of their own superiority and their ordained mandate to rule.[12]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Kolonialisme
Alemannisch: Kolonialismus
العربية: استعمارية
aragonés: Colonialismo
asturianu: Colonialismu
azərbaycanca: Kolonializm
تۆرکجه: ایستعمار
Bân-lâm-gú: Si̍t-bîn-chú-gī
башҡортса: Колониализм
беларуская: Каланіялізм
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Каляніялізм
български: Колониализъм
bosanski: Kolonijalizam
brezhoneg: Trevadennouriezh
català: Colonialisme
čeština: Kolonialismus
Chi-Chewa: Chitsamunda
Deutsch: Kolonialismus
Ελληνικά: Αποικιοκρατία
español: Colonialismo
Esperanto: Koloniismo
euskara: Kolonialismo
فارسی: استعمار
Fiji Hindi: Upniweswaad
français: Colonialisme
Gaeilge: Coilíneachas
galego: Colonialismo
한국어: 식민주의
हिन्दी: उपनिवेशवाद
hrvatski: Kolonijalizam
Ilokano: Kolonialismo
Bahasa Indonesia: Kolonialisme
íslenska: Nýlendustefna
italiano: Colonialismo
къарачай-малкъар: Колониализм
қазақша: Отаршылдық
Kiswahili: Ukoloni
Кыргызча: Колониализм
latviešu: Koloniālisms
Lëtzebuergesch: Kolonialissem
lietuvių: Kolonializmas
Limburgs: Kolonialisme
македонски: Колонијализам
മലയാളം: കോളനിവാഴ്ച
मराठी: वसाहतवाद
მარგალური: კოლონიალიზმი
مصرى: استعمار
Bahasa Melayu: Kolonialisme
монгол: Колоничлол
Nederlands: Kolonialisme
Nedersaksies: Kolonialisme
नेपाल भाषा: देय् च्यलेगु
日本語: 植民地主義
norsk nynorsk: Kolonialisme
occitan: Colonialisme
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Mustamlakachilik
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਬਸਤੀਵਾਦ
پنجابی: کلونیلازم
Papiamentu: Kolonialismo
Piemontèis: Colonialism
polski: Kolonializm
português: Colonialismo
română: Colonialism
rumantsch: Colonialissem
русиньскый: Колоніалізм
русский: Колониализм
саха тыла: Колониализм
Seeltersk: Kolonioalismus
sicilianu: Culunialismu
Simple English: Colonialism
slovenčina: Kolonializmus
slovenščina: Kolonializem
Soomaaliga: Gumeysi
српски / srpski: Колонијализам
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Kolonijalizam
svenska: Kolonialism
Tagalog: Kolonyalismo
татарча/tatarça: Колониализм
తెలుగు: వలసవాదం
Türkçe: Sömürgecilik
українська: Колоніалізм
Vahcuengh: Cigminzcujyi
Tiếng Việt: Chủ nghĩa thực dân
Winaray: Kolonyalismo
吴语: 殖民主义
粵語: 殖民主義
Zazaki: Koloniyalizm
žemaitėška: Kuoluonēlėzmos
中文: 殖民主义