Why Did Europe Colonize America?

By Antonia Čirjak on May 22 2020 in History

It is hard to define colonialism without associating it with imperialism due to the colonizers' political and economic control.
It is hard to define colonialism without associating it with imperialism due to the colonizers' political and economic control.
  • Colonialism is commonly described as a practice of gaining economic and political control over another country.
  • Vikings are considered to be the first Europeans that formed colonies in the Americas.
  • The main reasons for the colonization of the Americas are political, economic, religious, and social.

To colonize means to dominate, to exhibit power. It can also be described as an ideology of superiority. However, the root of the word comes from the Latin word colonus (farmer) and thus is frequently used to address the practice of population transfer from one territory to another. It is hard to define colonialism without associating it with imperialism due to the colonizers' political and economic control.

There are numerous examples of colonialism throughout the world's history, as it was always present. For our purpose, we will use it to describe the process of European settlement and political and economic control over the Americas. Long story short; it was all about power. Europeans colonized the Americas to enhance their power and influence over world affairs, as well as ease their hunger for gold, silver, and other precious metals.

The History Of European Colonization Of The Americas

Sometime during the 11th century was the first of many European colonization endeavors. Vikings are believed to be the first Europeans that have reached the Americas and established colonies in Greenland that survived for 400 years (they have been sailing to Iceland but ended up in Greenland instead). However, during that time, the Vikings and the indigenous people of Greenland (Inuits) were not on the best of terms.

Viking sagas describe many of their conflicts with Inuits, whom they dubbed as Skraelings. Centuries later, in 1492, to be exact, came Christopher Columbus, who does not need much introduction. Upon finding an island in the Bahamas, he was sure that he discovered islands of Japan and China, and that he was sailing in the Indian Ocean. Later, he sailed three more times to America, still clueless about his actual whereabouts.

Colombus was leading a Spanish expedition that led the way for much future colonization, especially in the Caribbean region, and both North and South America. Many parts of the Americas soon came to be under the rule of Europeans, resulting in large migrations, exchange of goods, and contagious diseases. It was Spain and Portugal that made the first conquests of the Americas, with Spanish conquering Aztec and Inca Empires and Portugal, leaving its mark across the eastern part of South America. 

What Are The Possible Reasons For Colonization?

There are many reasons for the colonization of the Americas, some of which we already mentioned, but the most important reasons can be interpreted as political, economic, religious, and social. The development of new colonies provided various new sources of wealth and economic opportunities. Spanish already showed the way towards the source of precious metals, and new lands were big opportunities for merchants.

Many of the religious communities, like the Pilgrims, came to the Americas to seek religious freedom and the freedom to organize a better life for themselves. Many colonists (who were unsuccessful in other parts of the world like Germany, Scotland, Britain, etc.) came to the Americas to escape many of the social disadvantages they encountered like famine, political commotion, and war.

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