What do conquest and colonization mean?

As the conquest of America is called the domination of the indigenous civilizations of the American continent by a group of European powers, which would derive in the process of colonization, with the consequent establishment of systems of colonial domination. Get to know more.

What do conquest and colonization mean?
Exploitation of Mexico by the Spanish conquistadors, by Diego Rivera. Image: INAH

Human conquest and colonization are as old as the very existence of man and are often accompanied by the exercise of force and the use of arms, for the subjugation of one people to the domination of another, or the concession of their territory, rarely occurs voluntarily. War is, in fact, an excellent means of acquiring wealth, land, and free labor, provided by prisoners in combat, turned into slaves. This situation gives rise to a security in which political inequality acquires a constitutional character, thus, citizens, free men possessing wealth, are recognized on the one hand, and on the other, slaves, men deprived of their freedom and without property.

Colonizations have had, throughout history, diverse causes and effects: in the Ancient Age, there were those motivated by the overpopulation of the Greeks between the 7th and 5th centuries BC. From the 5th century B.C. onwards, Athens established the so-called clergies, colonies of Athenian cities that retained all their political and social rights for the metropolis, and this same system was continued in the 4th century B.C. by Alexander the Great. In Rome, colonization was, at first, military, to ensure domination over the conquered peoples and, from the 2nd century B.C., social, through the distribution of conquered lands among the veterans of the army.

China carried out, also in the same century, agricultural colonization to exploit all the arable lands of the Far East. In the 15th century, Spanish colonization brought to America the social and administrative institutions and economic structure of the Peninsula. In the 18th century, France and England carried out a mercantile colonization, based on the exploitation of the natural resources of their colonies. At the same time, settlement colonies were developed in North America. The above has been just a small mention of some of the colonization movements in the world. Now we will deal with the etymology of some words related to the subject.


Conquest is the action and effect of conquering, that is, to win through a warlike operation in a certain territory or position. The thing conquered is also called conquest. For example: "This trophy is not only a conquest of the club but of all our fans". Conquest is also called the person whose love is achieved by captivating him/her. For example: "I don't like Felipe's new conquest". The word conquest comes from the Latin verb conquisitāre, which derives from the noun conquisītum, meaning 'won'.

In history, conquest is the process by which, as a result of a series of warlike operations, an army succeeds in subduing the population of territory for political domination. History is full of dynamics of conquest, domination, and resistance, of struggles, to gain control over a region or to repel it. The Romans conquered a large part of Europe, the Muslims conquered an important part of the Iberian Peninsula, the Europeans conquered America, etc.

The conquest of America is the process of domination of the indigenous populations and civilizations of the American continent by a group of European powers, mainly Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, and France, which began in the 15th century, with the voyages of Christopher Columbus, and which would lead to the process of colonization of the continent, with the consequent establishment of systems of colonial domination, and the implantation of European religion, language, and institutions, which, in turn, led to collateral processes of cultural genocide.

The conquest of Mexico is the set of warlike, conspiratorial, and political actions aimed at subduing the Aztec State and destroying the resistance of the indigenous populations that inhabited the territory where Mexico is located today. These events took place between 1518 and 1521 and were led by Hernán Cortés. From this moment on, the colonization of Mexico by the Spanish crown began. Military conquest is the name given to that operation of war using which the army of one country succeeds in subduing the military forces of another country by force of arms. The Norman conquest of England, the Roman conquest of Britain, the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire, among others, were products of military conquests.


The word colony can refer to several things. A colony can be a group of people settled in a place different from where they came from: "The first Martian colony was settled in the 13th century", or to the place where these people settle: "The indigenous people formed a small colony on the island". Likewise, a colony is considered to be the territory that a nation, generally a power, has subdued or invaded, and which is dominated and administered by it.

A colony is also called a group of people who, being from one country or region, have settled and live in another country or region: "The colony of Uruguayans in Spain". A colony is also a group of animals of the same species that inhabit and live together in a given territory: "The colony of mice has worried the health authorities". Cologne water (German city) is also called cologne, that is to say, a perfume composed of water, alcohol, and aromatic essences, which is rubbed on the skin to impregnate it with a good smell. The word cologne, as such, comes from the Latin colonia, from colōnus, meaning 'farmer', 'settler'.

A colony is a territory subject to the administration and government of another country, usually, a remote power called a 'metropolis', which has invaded it and subjected its inhabitants by force. Colonial territories lack autonomy and self-determination, and generally, both their legal system and religion are imposed on them by the metropolis.

Colonialism has produced a great number of injustices throughout history, from the enslavement of the local inhabitants to genocide. The European powers subjected large territories in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Oceania to a colonial regime for several centuries. Wars of independence and various political processes have led to the emancipation of these nations. However, colonialism has survived to the present day, albeit under the new name of overseas possessions or in a different system: neocolonialism.


Colonization is the action and effect of colonizing. As such, it implies the establishment of a colony by a country in a foreign territory or far from its borders. It can also refer to the establishment of a group of people in a territory other than that of their origin to populate it, if it was not previously inhabited, or repopulate it if it had been previously inhabited.

Colonization is also a term used by biogeography to describe the relationship of population or occupation of a space by a group of living beings, which can be animals, plants, or microorganisms, that come to populate a place where they were not previously found.

Colonization, in history, refers to any historical event or process in which a foreign state, usually an economic and military power that we will call a metropolis, occupies a foreign territory, which we will call a colony, far from its borders to exploit its economic resources and dominate it politically, militarily and culturally. As such, colonization can be violent, when it implies the subjugation of the local population by force, or peaceful, when the inhabitants do not put up any resistance or when there are, in fact, no inhabitants in the area.

Colonization processes create characteristic social dynamics that establish the dominance of a colonial caste, coming from the metropolis, over the indigenous population of the colony, with the former enjoying a series of political and social privileges over the latter.


The territory is defined as the portion of the surface (it refers to the extension of land) that belongs to a country, region, province, etc. All countries have an air territory, a land territory, and also a maritime territory when it has coasts. A territory is a bounded place or area under the ownership of a person or group, an organization, or an institution. The term can also be used in the fields of geography, politics, biology, and psychology.

We also designate as territory all those spaces that are demarcated and that can be of terrestrial, maritime, or aerial type that belongs to a person, social group, or country. On the other hand, the territory is a term that, in turn, indicates the physical space occupied by a herd of animals, in which duels may sometimes occur between herds of the same species or other species, to defend their space and delimit their hunting and coexistence territory.

In the political context, territory refers to the area occupied by a State, whether sovereign or not, and also to the physical space over which the State exercises its sovereign power. The term territory should not be confused with the term frontier. The frontier is the boundary between two distinct parts, it is what determines the territorial scope of a State, its physical base, and is established through territorial and political delimitations that guarantee States' autonomy and sovereignty vis-à-vis others.

In the field of geography, the territory is one of the most important areas of study, since it is interrelated with other areas of research such as culture, society, politics, and development. Through geographical studies of a territory, it is also possible to study and analyze natural landscapes, cultural spaces, and their relationships with other activities carried out by individuals.


Being a citizen means being a full member of a community, having the same rights as others and the same opportunities to influence the destiny of the community. It also implies the fulfillment of a series of duties and obligations linked to those rights. A citizen is an adjective that can designate that which belongs or relates to the city or citizens. Likewise, a citizen can be considered a person who is an inhabitant or native of a city. The word, in this sense, is derived from the Latin civĭtas, civitātis, meaning 'city', and is composed with the suffix "-ano", which indicates belonging or origin.

In the ancient world, mainly in the civil system of Ancient Greece, a citizen could only be considered a very reserved category of people. As such, for an individual to be recognized as a citizen of a state, he or she had to meet a set of conditions, such as freedom, a certain level of wealth, social position, and so on. In this sense, women, foreigners, and slaves were outside this category.

The most important turning point in human history concerning the right to citizenship was the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the work of the French Revolution, according to which all men were born free and equal. In 1789, as a consequence of the French Revolution, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen was approved. This Declaration put an end to the Ancien Régime and placed the common man and the common people on a par with the privileged institutions that had operated up to that time. The articles of the declaration consolidate principles such as liberty, equality, and security.

Today, the concept of citizen has broadened to include all persons who are natives of a country or region, or those who have developed a certain level of identity and belonging to the place where they live daily and have legally acceded to citizenship. For its part, the Council of Europe considers a citizen to be a person who coexists in a society.


A slave is a person who lacks freedom and rights of his own because he is subjected to the will and dominion of another person who is his owner and who can buy or sell him as if he were a commodity. The word slave derives from the Latin sclavus, which at the time of the Roman Empire referred to those who had no legal capacity. It generally referred to Slavs, being the main medieval source of slaves. Slavery, that is, the condition to which the slave is subjected, is already contemplated and described in ancient Roman law.

Slavery was an institution extended to several continents even though they were not considered slave-holding societies since it was not a central institution in the organization of these societies. The commercialization of people, before the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century in Africa, India, and America, occurred on a very small scale and although the war was the main source of enslavement, it was used as a way to serve social reasons such as payment of debts, judicial punishments, protection against attacks, etc.

From the 15th century onwards, the Dominicans in Spain, who wanted to protect the Indians from slavery, suggested to the Spanish Crown the importation of blacks is used as slaves. In 1595, the Portuguese regularized this business through licenses for importation to America. The slaves were mostly from Guinea, Senegal, and the Congo. The extension of the slave trade also began to take in people from Native American tribes and poor immigrants who arrived on the continent fleeing absolutist regimes in Asia, as in the case of the Chinese in southern Peru and northern Chile.

Sources: Significados