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The Colonial Era


Britain. France. Portugal. Italy. Spain. Russia. Japan. Ottoman Empire.

Colonizing foreign territories by stronger neighbors has been an ongoing political/military strategy for easily several thousand years. The Ancient Egyptians had trading ‘sites’ through much of the Mediterranean including what is now Greece and Italy.

Later, with the rise of Greece as a mighty power, Egypt became it’s ‘colony’. In turn, Greece became a part of the Roman Empire with Rome’s rise, along with what is now Egypt, along with France, Spain and England. Each successive civilization collapsed and with it, it’s far flung ‘colonies. The process has been going on for millennia and continues today in various forms, economic colonization, for example.

In the 19th century (and earlier), a mad scramble for colonies in foreign lands occurred, both for national pride and for raw materials. The industrial revolution was in full swing and raw materials were a strategic necessary. Gaining new markets for home country goods was also a factor in acquiring colonies.

In most cases the powerful countries desiring territory seized what they wanted by force of arms. In rare circumstances, such as Germany acquiring the island groups of: The Admiralty Islands, Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Marianas Islands, and the Caroline Islands in the South Pacific, the German nation bought the islands from Spain.

It was not uncommon for the Europeans to agree on how to divide weaker lands so as to avoid fights among themselves. In a conference held in France in the 1880’s a large map of Africa was laid on a table and lines were drawn dividing up the entire African continent. Only Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) and Liberia were left independent of European rule.

The Empire of Japan and Imperial Russia fought over China’s Manchuria. The Japanese won, secured Manchuria, and set up a puppet Kingdom called Manchukuo. It appeased the local Chinese, but the Japanese controlled the throne and got what it wanted, raw materials.

Imperial Russia also wanting more land, seized the Dutchy of Finland in late 19th century. Russia also secured an arrangement with Imperial Germany whereby Germany got to build the Berlin to Bagdad railroad without interference, and Russian got a free hand in Persia.

Of course, all of these seizures of land and Imperial power deals completely trampled on the rights of the countries and peoples affected. There were many revolts against these overbearing colonial masters. The Imperial powers put them down brutally, and in some cases, whole native peoples were essential eliminated.

Ironically, in many cases individual colonies were losing propositions financially for the Colonial lords. In the British Parliament, many debates were held concerning the great cost to the nation in maintaining Britain’s far flung empire. In most cases, there was too much national pride to give up even the worst money losers.

The catastrophe of World War One led to the beginning of the end for Colonialism. The Russian Revolution broke apart many lands formerly part of Imperial Russia. Imperial Germany lost all its colonies with the Versailles Treaty. The Ottoman Empire ceased to exist, but actually led to France and England creating new Protectorates (colonies) in the Ottoman lands. Eventually, most native peoples rose up to claim their own lands for themselves, with force and sometimes peacefully.