AskDefine | Define colony

Dictionary Definition



1 a body of people who settle far from home but maintain ties with their homeland; inhabitants remain nationals of their home state but are not literally under the home state's system of government [syn: settlement]
2 a group of animals of the same type living together
3 one of the 13 British colonies that formed the original states of the United States
4 a geographical area politically controlled by a distant country [syn: dependency]
5 (microbiology) a group of organisms grown from a single parent cell

User Contributed Dictionary





Latin colonia; ultimately from Indo-European *qwel


  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.
    • ant colony
    • The Portuguese Man O' War (Physalia physalis), also known as the bluebubble, bluebottle or the man-of-war, is commonly thought of as a jellyfish but is actually a siphonophore — a colony of specialized polyps and medusoids. Wikipedia article on

Derived terms

Related terms


region or governmental unit
group of organisms
  • Finnish: yhdyskunta, yhteiskunta

Extensive Definition

''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. Today, the terms overseas territory or dependent territory are preferred. There is a United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.
People who migrated to settle permanently in colonies controlled by their country of origin were called colonists or settlers.
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 is held for unfree labour, is submitted to brutal force, or even to pfor 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.
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 informed 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 (apoikia), 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 Koeln, 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 Leopold 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, and waged various wars and conduct armed expeditions so as to assert power over local governments (in Japan, with Commodore 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.

Colonies in ancient civilizations (examples)

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 Puerto Rico and Guam - see next section), France and the UK (including the Falkland islands and the British Virgin Islands). Some of their former colonies have been integrated as dependent areas or have closer integration with the country.

Current colonies (examples)

  • Puerto Ricos subjection to United States sovereignty is considered by many countries to constitute a colonial imposition 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 (which was expressly endorsed by the George W. Bush Administration), 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. This view is shared by many supporters of independence and statehood for this Caribbean archipelago, 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, Anibal Acevedo Vila, 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.


External links

colony in Min Nan: Si|t-bin-te
colony in Bosnian: Kolonija (politika)
colony in Catalan: Colonitzacio
colony in Czech: Kolonie
colony in Danish: Koloni (magtomraade)
colony in German: Kolonie
colony in Estonian: Koloonia
colony in Spanish: Colonia administrativa
colony in Esperanto: Kolonio
colony in French: Colonie de peuplement
colony in Korean: 식민지
colony in Croatian: Kolonija
colony in Icelandic: Nylenda
colony in Italian: Colonia (insediamento)
colony in Hebrew: קולוניה
colony in Kurdish: Koloni
colony in Latvian: Kolonija
colony in Dutch: Kolonisatie en imperialisme
colony in Japanese: 植民地
colony in Norwegian: Koloni
colony in Norwegian Nynorsk: Koloni
colony in Polish: Kolonia (geografia polityczna)
colony in Portuguese: Colónia (história)
colony in Russian: Koloniya
colony in Simple English: Colony
colony in Finnish: Siirtomaa
colony in Swedish: Koloni
colony in Turkish: Koloni
colony in Ukrainian: Koloniiya (poliitika)
colony in Chinese: 殖民地

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

adverse possession, ally, alodium, archduchy, archdukedom, army, ashram, body, body politic, buffer state, bunch, burgage, captive nation, caste, chieftaincy, chieftainry, city-state, claim, clan, class, commonweal, commonwealth, commune, community, country, county, de facto, de jure, dependency, derivative title, domain, dominion, drift, drive, drove, duchy, dukedom, earldom, economic class, empery, empire, endogamous group, extended family, family, fee fief, fee position, fee simple, fee simple absolute, fee simple conditional, fee simple defeasible, fee simple determinable, fee tail, feodum, feud, fiefdom, flock, frankalmoign, free city, free socage, freehold, gam, gang, gavelkind, gens, grand duchy, having title to, herd, hold, holding, host, kennel, kingdom, kinship group, knight service, land, lay fee, lease, leasehold, legal claim, legal possession, litter, mandant, mandate, mandated territory, mandatee, mandatory, moiety, nation, nationality, nuclear family, occupancy, occupation, order, original title, owning, pack, phratria, phratry, phyle, pod, polis, polity, possessing, possession, power, preoccupancy, preoccupation, prepossession, prescription, pride, principality, principate, property, property rights, proprietary rights, protectorate, province, puppet government, puppet regime, realm, republic, satellite, school, seisin, seneschalty, settlement, shoal, skulk, sloth, socage, social class, society, sovereign nation, squatting, state, subcaste, sublease, sultanate, superpower, tenancy, tenantry, tenure, tenure in chivalry, territory, title, toparchia, toparchy, totem, trip, troop, underlease, undertenancy, usucapion, villein socage, villeinhold, villenage
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