Examples of Imperialism Throughout History

Updated March 5, 2021
Columbus in the new country as imperialism example
    Columbus in the new country as imperialism example
    Library of Congress / Corbis / VCG via Getty Images
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Imperialism is a political relationship in which one nation imposes its authority over another nation, usually by force. There are many examples of imperialism throughout world history, some of which have ended in revolution by the oppressed country — and some of which are ongoing today. Keep reading for imperialism examples in different nations around the world.

Historical Examples of Imperialism

Imperialist powers typically form colonies in conquered areas of land to maintain a military presence, flow of resources and cultural influence. Once a power has formed colonies in many parts of the world, they are considered an empire. Here are some examples of colonies formed and lost by imperialist powers during the span of human civilization.

Imperialist PowerMajor Colonies
Phoenician Empire (2500 B.C.-539 B.C.)Carthage (modern-day Tunisia);
Iberia, Sardinia, Sicily, Malta (modern-day Italy);
North Africa
Greek Empire (800 B.C.-146 B.C.)Thrace, Nesebar (modern-day Bulgaria);
Torone, Acanthus (modern-day Macedonia);
Cumae, Syracuse, Taranto (modern-day Italy);
Lumbarda (modern-day Croatia);
Selymbria (modern-day Istanbul);
Sinope (modern-day Turkey);
Odessa (modern-day Ukraine);
Sympheropolis (modern-day Crimea);
Euesperides (modern day Benghazi); Naucratis (modern day Egypt)
Roman Empire (752 B.C.-A.D. 177)Apulum, Napoca (modern-day Romania)
Singidunum (modern-day Serbia);
Aquincum (modern-day Hungary);
Colonia Aelia Capitolina Hierosoloma (modern-day Israel);
Eboracum (modern-day United Kingdom);
Colonia Emerita Augusta (modern-day Spain);
Oescus, Colonia Flavia Pancensis Deultum (modern day Bulgaria)
Portuguese Empire (A.D. 1415-A.D. 1975)Brazil
Angola, Mozambique
Cape Verde, Principe
Goa, India
East Timor (modern-day Indonesia)
Macau (modern-day China)
Spanish Empire (A.D. 1402-A.D. 1976)Castile, Iberia
Darlena (modern-day Panama)
Costa Rica
Hispaniola (modern day Cuba and Puerto Rico)
Canary Islands
Melilla, Mazalquivir, Oran, Algiers, Tripoli (North Africa)
Dutch Empire
(A.D. 1543-A.D. 1975)
New Netherlands (modern-day New York)
Saint Croix
Berbice (modern-day Guyana)
New Holland (modern-day Brazil)
British Empire (A.D. 1490-A.D. 1970)New England (modern-day United States)
British Honduras (modern-day Honduras)
Nova Scotia
Saint Lucia
United States (A.D. 1776-present day)American Samoa
Puerto Rico
U.S. Virgin Islands

Though there have been many nations in our world's history, there is only so much land. Many of these colonies began in the hands of one power, were lost to a second power and fought for their independence to become their own countries. Some colonies, such as the United States, have even become their own imperialist power. The rise and fall of every world empire has included a wide expanse of colonization.


Other Types of Imperialism

Imperial nations in history have sought to expand their borders, military power, global control, and economic opportunities by taking over other nations. Generally speaking, there have been three prominent forms of imperialism throughout history. They include:

  • colony - a new township of citizens formed in a territory claimed by the imperialist nation
  • protectorate - a state that is protected but not controlled by an imperialist nation
  • spheres of influence - state that is culturally or politically influenced by an imperialist nation

The amount of control the imperialist nation can exert is different in each type of relationship. However, history is full of examples of imperialist nations that have quickly become oppressing powers, no matter whether the smaller countries are colonized, under a protectorate or within a sphere of influence.


Examples of Protectorates

Protectorates differ from colonies in that citizens of an imperialist country do not often live there. The smaller country controls itself but is not independent from the imperialist country, which gives it protection. Britain, for example, had far more protectorates than it had colonies during the height of the British empire. Examples of protectorates throughout history include:

  • Malta Protectorate (A.D. 1800-A.D. 1813) - period of time after the Maltese uprising against the French, but before Malta became a British colony
  • United States of the Ionian Islands (A.D. 1815-A.D. 1864) - Greek state given to British King George that established British trading privileges
  • Princely State of India (A.D. 1858-A.D. 1947) - also known as a princely state, the subcontinent of India was never directly governed by Britain, but was subject under indirect rule by means of British protectorate
  • Chinese Protectorate (A.D. 1877-A.D. 1900) - administrative body set up in to oversee and improve the living conditions of Chinese residents in the British Straits Settlements, including eliminating human rights violations
  • French Morocco (A.D. 1912-A.D. 1956) - French Protectorate of Morocco established by the Treaty of Fez, which did not strip Morocco of its sovereignty but established de facto French control

Examples of Spheres of Influence

Even though many of these empires have seen their powers wane over the years, they still maintain a cultural link to their previous colonies. This is known as a sphere of influence, which can range from historical connections between countries to cultural and political control over another nation. Here are some examples of spheres of influence from history:

  • Roman Sphere of Influence - ongoing influence of Roman language, government, ideas, and philosophies into Europe (and all over the world) long after the fall of the Roman Empire
  • Monroe Doctrine (1823) - President James Monroe declares that the New World (new United States) and Old World (England) will be separate spheres of control, officially making the United States sovereign from its colonizers
  • Qing China (1800s) - eight nations split influential (not political) control of Qing China for trading rights
  • Anglo-Russian Convention (1907) - established spheres of influence for Britain and Russian over Persia (modern-day Iran)
  • West and East Berlin - American, British and French sectors of control (West Berlin) and Soviet sector of control (East Berlin) after the fall of Germany in World War II
  • Soviet Union - connection of Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea, and the People's Republic of China under the Soviet sphere of influence
  • Modern American influence - many countries around the world who are not under American political control are still in the superpower's sphere of influence, including English acquisition, pop culture, and democracy

The Evolution of World Empires

While there are no major world powers that officially control the majority of the planet, it's important to note that imperialism functions in several different ways. Now that you've seen examples of imperialism in world history, check out these examples of ethnocentrism that often lead to the rise of imperialism. You can also take a look at how forces of nationalism can cause powerful nations to devalue or take advantage of other countries around the world. From there, explore the difference between imperialism vs. colonialism.