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Imperialism: Definition, History, Types, & Examples

Last Updated : 10 Jan, 2023
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Since ancient times, the desire to gain power led to many wars, and still today it continues. This act of gaining control over a region, territory, or nation with the help of power is called imperialism. Imperialism was at its peak during the colonial period, but still today imperialism’s presence can be observed in the world. Now instead of using armed forces to gain control over a region, several nations have now begun to set up their trade in other nations, and soon take majority control of their economy. 

What is Imperialism?

An act or policy that grants a nation the authority to gain control over the politics and economies of other nations and territories is known as imperialism. The word imperialism is derived from a Latin word that means “to command”. Soft power, such as diplomatic and cultural power, or hard power, such as military forces, can frequently accomplish this. Although imperialism is distinct from colonialism and empire, it can be applied to a variety of other forms of expansion and government.



How does Imperialism Work?

Imperialism is the practice of one nation exerting control over another through a variety of means. In other terms, it can also be described as a social, economic, or political system through which a nation conquers other nations or territories and gains control over them. Cultural, political, economic, moral, and exploratory control are just a few of the many possible motivations for imperialism. It is frequently observed that imperialists profit economically by exploiting the conquered nation’s resources. 

The imperialists hold the belief that there is a limited amount of wealth in the world, and as a result, they believe that someone must lose their wealth in order for others to gain it. Additionally, the imperialist ideology holds that force can accomplish anything.

The main motive of imperialism is to acquire and utilize the resources of the conquered nation as much as possible. It’s often achieved by exploiting people and by exerting force. In other terms, it can also be said that imperialism works for nations that justify the subjugation of other nations. The resources, wealth, and culture of the conquered nation are taken advantage of by the conquering nation.

Origin of Imperialism

Imperialism dates back to the 3rd millennium BC at the time of the Assyria empire and Babylon. However, the modern concept of imperialism was first introduced in the 17th century at the time of the rise of European Colonialism. That’s why many people get confused with the term imperialism and colonialism, and considers them the same but in fact, there are many differences between the two.

What is the Difference between Imperialism and Colonialism?

Imperialism and Colonialism are the two terms that are often used by people in place of one another, as many people think they both are the same but actually aren’t. Colonialism is serviced from the greek word Colonus referring to a farmer, as colonialism involves settlers from another country. While on the other hand imperialism simply means to gain control over the politics of a nation and not over people. 

Imperialism Colonialism
It tends to seek control over the politics of other nations.  It tends to seek control over the people living in the conquered nation.
It can be achieved without sending in settlers It can only be achieved by sending in settlers.

What is the Difference between Imperialism and Capitalism?

Many historians and economists argue that capitalism is a result of imperialism As in the initial stage many nations allow developed countries to use the resources of their nation for the sake of foreign direct investment. However, this nation soon begins to interfere with the politics and economics of the other nation, exploiting the resources of developing nations and eventually leading to imperialism.

Imperialism Capitalism
Gains control over another country’s economies and politics. It tends to invest in a developing nation to use its resources and expand its economy.
Imperialism exploits the resources of the conquered nation  It tends to first develop a market and then at a later stage can lead to imperialism.

Examples of Imperialism

During the 19th century, when the majority of European nations were empires and used imperialism to increase their wealth and presence, imperialism reached its zenith. Countries like Russia, Germany, France, and Austria multiplied their economies by several times with the help of imperialism. At that time these countries expanded their boundaries with other Asian and African nations. More than 9 million square kilometers of the area was acquired by these countries and almost 150 million were impacted by it. 

Empires in the 19th century and their acquired nations

  • Austro-Hungarian Empire: This empire acquired many nations including nations in southeastern Europe and some nations sharing its boundaries with Russia.
  • Russian Empire: Russian Empire was very vast and had control over almost all nations of eastern Europe including Siberia.
  • British Empire: The largest empire of the 19th century, had large regions under its control such as America, Asia, and Africa.
  • German Empire: The German empire was one of the most powerful in the 19th century and had large nations under its control such as east Africa, some regions of France, and Italy.

Does Imperialism still exist today?

Yes, imperialism still exists today and in recent times the world has observed many such instances of imperialism for example the Russia-Ukraine war, the US-led Iraq war, etc. Sometimes it comes up in the form of military aggression to gain control over a region or a territory, apart from this cultural and economic imperialism are very usual.

Did Imperialism Cause World War I?

It would not be wrong to say that imperialism was one of the major causes of World War I. When the Suez Canal opened in 1869, many European nations decided to expand their territory by exerting force on the neighboring African and Asian countries. And in the race to expand their empire, all the European countries resorted to Imperialism, which led to World War I.

Types of Imperialism

There are mainly 4 types of imperialism

  • Colony Imperialism: It is one of the most direct forms of imperialism in which a nation setups its government and authority in another nation. Thus the whole control of the nation comes into the hands of a foreign nation. Colonial imperialism was at its peak in the 17th century, and India ruled by Britain is one of the common examples of it.
  • Protectorate Imperialism: It’s very similar to colony imperialism, the only noticeable difference is that in protectorate imperialism the government is run by the local government only, however, the overall control remains with the foreign nation only. Syria, The kingdoms of Numidia, and Pergamum under the control of Rome is an examples of Protectorate imperialism. 
  • Economic Imperialism: In economic imperialism, a foreign nation doesn’t get political control of a nation, but still has decent control of its economy. Developed nations investing in poor nations and thus gaining decent control over their economies is an example of economic imperialism
  • Sphere of influence imperialism: It’s a kind of imperialism in which an outside power claims certain rights on its border or territory with the help of underlying treaties or conventions. For example Russia’s control in Persia through the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907.

Results of Imperialism

Imperialism may turn out be to fruitful for a nation but in most cases, it results quite hectic and harmful for other nations. Imperialism mainly leads to conflicts between nations, badly affects the economies and the increased competition leads to wars. Common people are mainly affected by imperialism as it results in job losses, and sometimes also leads to relocation due to the terror or apprehension of war.


Imperialism has led to very serious issues and many times results in disparities in foreign policies. Imperialism can only be beneficial if two nations equally share their resources in order to achieve a common aim, profiting both countries equally. To avoid the chances of imperialism in the present situation, many nations are very strict with their foreign policies so that limiting the interference of foreign nations. 

FAQs on Imperialism

Q1. Why did Imperialism Start?

Ans: Imperialism begin as nations wanted to increase their political presence and prestige.

Q2. What Factors Influence Imperialism?

Ans: Human greed for power and prestige, economic pressures, and humanitarianism are some of the common factors that influence imperialism.

Q3. Which countries Practiced Imperialism?

Ans: Britain, the USA, Russia, Germany, and Spain are some of the main countries that exercised imperialism. 

Q4. Does Industrialization lead to Imperialism?

Ans: In some cases, industrialization may lead to imperialism if a nation provides many rights to foreign investors. 

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