Countries and their territories (colonies) in 1945
Puerto Rico, considered by some to be "the world's oldest colony".[1][2][3]
United Nations list of Trust and Non-Self-Governing Territories (official document)

In politics and 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 founded a colony was called the metropolis. 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 mostly ruled by another state or can be run independently. Unlike a puppet state or satellite state, a colony has no independent international representation, and its top-level administration 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.



The word Colony comes from the Latin word colōnia. This in turn derives from the word colōnus, which means colonist but also implies a farmer. Cologne is an example of a settlement preserving this etymology. Other, less obvious settlements that began as Roman colonia include cities from Belgrade to York. A telltale sign of a settlement once being a Roman Colony is a city centre with a grid pattern.[4] The terminology is taken from architectural analogy, where a column pillar is beneath the (often stylized) head capital, which is also a biological analog of the body as subservient beneath the controlling head (with 'capital' coming from the Latin caput, meaning 'head'). So colonies are not independently self-controlled, but rather are controlled from a separate entity that serves the capital function.

Roman colonies first appeared when the Romans conquered neighbouring italic peoples. These were small farming settlements that appeared when the Romans had subdued an enemy in war. A colony could take many forms, as a trade outpost or a military base in enemy territory, but its original definition as a settlement created by people migrating from a home territory became the modern definition.

Colonies in ancient civilizations (examples)

See Colonies in antiquity.

Modern colonies (examples, organized alphabetically)

  • Angola: a colony of Portugal across several centuries. Independent since 1975.
  • Australia: In 1770 some of the eastern coastline of Australia is claimed as British territory by the British explorer, Lieutenant James Cook. The First Fleet was sent to Australia to start a penal colony in 1788. Eventually, Australia became a Federation in 1901.
  • Brazil: a colony of Portugal across several centuries. Independent since 1822.
  • Hong Kong was a British colony from 1841 to 1997, and Macau was a Portuguese colony from 1557 to 1999. Both are now Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China.
  • Starting in the 16th century, parts of modern India belonged to Portugal and were collectively known as Portuguese India until 1961. Parts of India were also under the direct control of the government of the United Kingdom between 1858 and 1947. See also Crown colony.
  • Indonesia was a Dutch colony for 350 years, from 1600 to 1945/49, occupied by Japan from 1942 to 1945.
  • Mozambique: a colony of Portugal across several centuries. Independent since 1975.
  • Philippines, previously a colony of Spain from 1521[6] to 1898, was a colony of the United States from 1898 to 1946. During World War II between 1942 and 1945, it was occupied by the Japanese forces.
  • Portuguese Guinea: a colony of Portugal across several centuries. Independent since 1974.
  • Taiwan was originally inhabited by indigenous peoples closely related linguistically, culturally and genetically to the Filipino people and more distantly to the Polynesians. In the 13th century, people from Song Dynasty had been migrating to Taiwan - however, the migration was small due to the island's harsh terrain and hostile local tribes. From 1895 to 1945, Taiwan was a colony of Japan. For a brief period prior to that, Taiwan was a province of the Qing Dynasty, and previously part of the Fujian Province for two centuries from the 1680s. Before Chinese Republicans settled on Taiwan, Mao Zedong encouraged the Taiwanese to seek independence in 1936, in order to undermine the power of Japan. In the 17th century, Taiwan was a Dutch colony for 37 years before the Southern Ming Dynasty assumed authority of rule by defeating the Dutch. Since 1945 Taiwan has been a colony of the Republic of China, first from the mainland, and after the ROC's collapse in mainland China, it colonized Taiwan and its surrounding islands.
  • The United States, originally thirteen distinct English (or British, if founded after the Acts of Union of 1707) colonies in British America. The Colony of Virginia, later to become the U.S. states of Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia, was the first of the thirteen colonies and was under English and then British rule from 1607 until 1783, at least nominally. The United States also founded their own colonies in both the Atlantic and Pacific regions, such as Madisonville on the island of Nuku Hiva in 1813 and Monrovia in 1821.

Current colonies (examples)

Today, the colonizing European and North American powers hold few colonies in the traditional sense of the term, with the exceptions listed below. However, the Channel Islands are not UK colonies but a remnant of the Duchy of Normandy. Some of the former colonies have been integrated as dependent areas or have closer integration with the country.

Of Morocco
Of Spain
Of Chile
  • Easter Island is a special territory incorporated to Chile. Today, natives have full rights as Chilean citizens.
Of France
Of Indonesia
  • West Papua
Of the United Kingdom
Of the United States
  • Similar to Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the United States Virgin Islands are considered by some to have a colonial relationship with the United States because their citizens are subject to the laws of the United States Congress passed without their consent.[citation needed] These territories, along with Puerto Rico, are known as unincorporated territories.
  • Puerto Rico's subjection to US sovereignty is considered by many countries[8] to constitute a colonial imposition because Puerto Ricans are subject to laws passed by the United States Congress without their consent, due to constitutional exclusion from electoral participation in elections of the officials that hold ultimate sovereignty over their national government, and because its population does not enjoy the full citizenship rights of the United States Constitution.[9] According to the US President's Task Force Report on the Political Status of Puerto Rico[10] the US may dispose of Puerto Rico by transferring it to another sovereign country as a mere disposition of property.[11][12] In a 2007 letter addressed to then-United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the then-governor of Puerto Rico, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, accused the US 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 Vilá stated 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 US government's alleged-hypocritical actions with regards to Puerto Rico's "colonial" status.[13][14] In 2006, The UN General Assembly Special Committee on decolonization approved a draft resolution that calls on the US to expedite the process to allow Puerto Ricans to exercise fully their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.[12] H.R. 1230, The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2007, introduced in the US 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.[15]
Of New Zealand

See also


  1. ^ Constitutional Rights Foundation.
  2. ^ Sharon Ann Navarro, and Armando Xavier Mejia, Latino Americans and Political Participation (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO) 2004. p. 106. ISBN 1-85109-523-3.
  3. ^ Puerto Rico:The Trials of the Oldest Colony in the World. By Jose Trias Monge. Yale University Press. 1997.
  4. ^ James S. Jeffers (1999). The Greco-Roman world of the New Testament era: exploring the background of early Christianity. InterVarsity Press. pp. 52–53. ISBN 9780830815890. 
  5. ^ De Lario, Damaso; de Lario Ramírez, Dámaso (2008). "Philip II and the "Philippine Referendum" of 1599". Re-shaping the world: Philip II of Spain and his time. Ateneo de Manila University Press. ISBN 9789715505567. 
  6. ^ Ferdinand Magellan claimed the Philippine Islands for Spain in 1521, but it can be argued that Spain's legitimate sovereignty over the islands commenced following a popular referendum in 1599.[5]
  7. ^ Harter, Pascale (2003-10-21). "'Africa's last colony'". BBC News. 
  8. ^ Special Committee on Decolonization Approves Text Calling on the U.S. to Expedite Self-determination Process for Puerto Rico. On Session June 15, 2009. Special Committee on GA/COL/3193 Decolonization. UN Department of Public Information, News and Media Division. New York. Retrieved November 5, 2009. The list of countries includes at least the following: Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Iran, Nicaragua, Panama, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Syria, and Venezuela.
  9. ^ Torres v. Puerto Rico. U.S. Supreme Court Case Law. Retrieved 2009-09-09
  10. ^ "Appendix A Presidential Documents" (PDF). December 2005. Retrieved 2007-10-01. 
  11. ^ "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 US 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." US Const., Art. IV, Sec. 3, cl. 2.", Bea, Keith (2005-05-25). "Political Status of Puerto Rico: Background, Options, and Issues in the 109th Congress" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. Retrieved 2007-10-01. 
  12. ^ a b "Special committee on decolonization approves text calling on United States to expedite Puerto Rican self-determination process" (Press release). Department of Public Information, United Nations General Assembly. 2006-06-13. Retrieved 2007-10-01. 
  13. ^ Prensa Latina, Nestor Rosa-Marbrell, November 20, 2007; last verified on December 1st, 2007
  14. ^ El Gobernador pide a Rice que enmiende el informe sobre el estatus político de P.Rico; Yahoo News; November 19, 2007 - Last verified, October 22, 2011. (archived from the original on 2008-01-12)
  15. ^ "H.R. 1230, The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2007". Retrieved 2008-12-04. 
    ^ "H.R. 1230: Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2007". Retrieved 2008-12-04. 

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