COLONY (Lat. colonia, from colonus, a cultivator), a term most commonly used to denote a settlement of the subjects of a sovereign state in lands beyond its boundaries, owning no allegiance to any foreign power, and retaining a greater or less degree of dependence on the mother country. The founding and the growth of such communities furnish matter for an interesting chapter in the history as well of ancient as of modern civilization; and the regulation of the relations between the parent state and its dependencies abroad gives rise to important problems alike in national policy and in international economics.
It was mainly the spirit of commercial enterprise that led the Phoenicians to plant their colonies upon the islands and along the southern coast of the Mediterranean; and even beyond the Pillars of Hercules this earliest great colonizing race left enduring traces of its maritime supremacy. Carthage, indeed, chief of the Phoenician settlements, sent forth colonies to defend her conquests and strengthen her military power; and these sub-colonies naturally remained in strict subjection to her power, whereas the other young Phoenician states assumed and asserted entire independence.
In this latter respect the Greek colonies resembled those of the Phoenicians. From a very early period the little civic communities of Greece had sent forth numerous colonizing streams. At points so far asunder as the Tauric Chersonese, Cyrene and Massilia were found prosperous centres of Greek commercial energy; but the regions most thickly peopled by settlers of Greek descent were the western seaboard of Asia Minor, Sicily and the southern parts of the Italian peninsula. Nor were the least prosperous communities those which were sprung from earlier colonies. The causes that led to the foundation of the Greek colonies were very various. As in Phoenicia, pressure created by the narrow limits of the home country coincided with an adventurous desire to seek new sources of wealth beyond seas; but very many Greek emigrations were caused by the expulsion of the inhabitants of conquered cities, or by the intolerable domination of a hated but triumphant faction within the native state. The polity of the new community, often founded in defiance of the home authorities, might either be a copy of that just left behind or be its direct political antithesis. But wherever they went, and whether, as apparently in Asia Minor, Greek blood was kept free from barbaric mixture, or whether, as in Magna Graecia and Sicily, it was mingled with that of the aboriginal races, the Greek emigrants carried with them the Hellenic spirit and the Hellenic tongue; and the colonies fostered, not infrequently more rapidly and more brilliantly than at home, Greek literature, Greek art and Greek speculation. The relation to be preserved towards the mother states was seldom or never definitely arranged. But filial feeling and established custom secured a measure of kindly sympathy, shown by precedence yielded at public games, and by the almost invariable abstinence of the colony from a hostile share in wars in which the mother city was engaged.
The relation of Rome to her colonies was altogether different. No Roman colony started without the sanction and direction of the public authority; and while the Colonia Romano differed from the Colonia Latina in that the former permitted its members to retain their political rights intact, the colony, whether planted within the bounds of Italy or in provinces such as Gaul or Britain, remained an integral part of the Roman state. In the earlier colonies, the state allotted to proposing emigrants from amongst the needy or discontented class of citizens portions of such lands as, on the subjection of a hostile people, the state took into its possession as public property. At a later time, especially after the days of Sulla, the distribution of the territories of a vanquished Roman party was employed by the victorious generals as an easy means of satisfying the claims of the soldiery by whose help they had triumphed. The Roman colonies were thus not merely valuable as propugnacula of the state, as permanent supports to Roman garrisons and armies, but they proved a most effective means of extending over wide bounds the language and the laws of Rome, and of inoculating the inhabitants of the provinces with more than the rudiments of Roman civilization.
The occupation of the fairest provinces of the Roman empire by the northern barbarians had little in common with colonization. The Germanic invaders came from no settled state; they maintained loosely, and but for a short while, any form of brotherhood with the allied tribes. A nearer parallel to Greek colonization may be found in Iceland, whither the adherents of the old Norse polity fled from the usurpation of Harold Haarfager; and the early history of the English pale in Ireland shows, though not in orderliness and prosperity, several points of resemblance to the Roman colonial system.
Though both Genoese and Venetians in their day of power planted numerous trading posts on various portions of the Mediterranean shores, of which some almost deserve the name of colonies, the history of modern colonization on a great scale opens with the Spanish conquests in America. The first Spanish adventurers came, not to colonize, but to satisfy as rapidly as possible and by the labour of the enslaved aborigines, their thirst for silver and gold. Their conquests were rapid, but the extension of their permanent settlements was gradual and slow. The terrible cruelty at first exercised on the natives was restrained, not merely by the zeal of the missionaries, but by effective official measures; and ultimately home-born Spaniards and Creoles lived on terms of comparative fairness with the Indians and with the half-breed population. Till the general and successful revolt of her American colonies, Spain maintained and employed the latter directly and solely for what she conceived to be her own advantage. Her commercial policy was one of most irrational and intolerable restriction and repression; and till the end of Spanish rule on the American continent, the whole political power was retained by the court at Madrid, and administered in the colonies by an oligarchy of home-bred Spaniards.
The Portuguese colonization in America, in most respects resembling that of Spain, is remarkable for the development there given to an institution sadly prominent in the history of the European colonies. The nearness of Brazil to the coast of Africa made it easy for the Portuguese to supply the growing lack of native labour by the wholesale importation of purchased or kidnapped Africans.
Of the French it is admitted that in their colonial possessions they displayed an unusual faculty for conciliating the prejudices of native races, and even for assimilating themselves to the latter. But neither this nor the genius of successive governors and commanders succeeded in preserving for France her once extensive colonies in Canada or her great influence in India. In Algeria and West Africa the French government has not merely found practical training schools for her own soldiers, but by opening a recruiting field amongst the native tribes it has added an available contingent to the French army.
The Dutch took early a leading share in the carrying trade of the various European colonies. They have still extensive colonies in the East Indian Archipelago, as well as possessions in the West Indies. The Danish dependencies in the Antilles are but trifling in extent or importance.
It is the English-speaking race, however, that has shown the most remarkable energy and capacity for colonization. The English settlements in Virginia, New England, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia had, between the first decade of the 17th and the seventh decade of the 18th century, developed into a new nation, the United States of America. It is unnecessary here to deal with the development of what have since been the two great independent branches of the English-speaking people - those of the United States (q.v.) and of the British Empire (q.v.), as their history is given elsewhere. But the colonizing genius which, with the British Isles as centre, has taken up the "white man's burden" in all quarters of the globe, is universally recognized. In the problems of government raised by the organization of the British dominions beyond the seas the system of colonization has been developed to an extent unknown under any other national flag.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)