Colonial Expansion of Europe

At the dawn of the modern era (1500CE), the expansion of European countries went beyond the borders of the European continent. Many countries crossed oceans and seas in search of fertile land and new markets. The mercantile European states intensified explorations and founded colonies in American, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa. Better means of transportations to these newfound lands were developed. By 1800CE, European countries had successfully dominated most of the world.

The economic motivation was one of the major reasons why European countries expanded their control to America, Asia, Africa, and the pacific. Wealthy English businessmen who realized the potential in this land sponsored the first explorations. Colonies were established with the hope of getting gold. The possibility of finding a passage to the Indies where cheap spices were found was also another factor that motivated colonization. In the French colonies, fur and cod trade dominated their agenda. These New World were a source of raw material for European industries and provided a market for finished goods.

Religion was another motivation force behind Europe’s domination of America, Asia, and Africa. It is important to note here that Roman Catholics were the first major religious group to migrate to these new lands, where they hoped they would convert people by preaching the gospel and spreading Christianity. There were religious groups who went to America and other nations in search of rights and freedom to practice their religion without persecution. Over 20,000 Puritans facing persecution and execution from the king of England, Charles I, moved to America where they could worship freely.

The success in the colonization of America and other continents by Europe depended on many factors. At the dawn of the new era, many European nations were stable with a powerful army and a better economic system than other countries. A strong army meant that European nations could easily conquer and take over land belonging to natives in countries in Asia, America, and Africa.

The building of ships capable of long sea voyages contributed to the colonization of the New World. Many European countries developed strong ships which were reliable and easy to control. Unlike old ships, these ships had sails powered by oarsmen. Weighting between 70 to 100 tons and about 35 meters long, the ships could carry large cargo and crew of over 40 people. A compass was used to keep the course. This major invention in building hardy ships gave sailors confidence in their voyage unlike in the past when they were propelled by rowing. With the discovery of gun powder, cannon guns could be fitted on the ship for self-defense.

The evolving states forming Europe conglomerate i.e. France, Spain, and Portugal, etc were envious of each other and each state was determined to be the pioneer of the modern economy and lead in the race for wealth. Spain and Portugal had an upper hand. This competition bred a generation of people who were both aggressive and expansionist.


European Colonial Expansion, 2008. Web.

History of America, 2008. Web.

Motivation for European Colonization, 2008. Web.

Richard Eden, Pietro Martire d’ Anghiera (1555) The Decades of the New World or West India, Powell publishers, America.

Robert Bartlett (2003) the making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change, Allen Lane Publisher, United Kingdom.

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