Colonial empire  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Colonial empires were a product of the European Age of Exploration (or Age of Sail) that began with a race of exploration between the then most advanced maritime powers, Portugal and Spain, in the 15th century. The initial impulse behind these dispersed maritime empires and those that followed was trade, driven by the new ideas and the capitalism that grew out of the European Renaissance. Agreements were also done to divide the world up between them in 1479, 1493, and 1494.

Portugal began establishing the first global trade network and empire under the leadership of Henry the Navigator. Portugal would eventually establish colonial domains from Brazil, in South America, to several colonies in Africa (namely Portuguese Guinea, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Angola and Mozambique), in Portuguese India (most importantly Bombay and Goa), in China (Macau), and Oceania (most importantly Timor, namely East Timor), amongst many other smaller or short-lived possessions (see Evolution of the Portuguese Empire).

During its Siglo de Oro, the Spanish Empire had possession of the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, most of Italy, parts of Germany, parts of France, and many colonies in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. With the conquest of inland Mexico, Peru, and the Philippines in the 16th century, Spain established overseas dominions on a scale and world distribution that had never been approached by its predecessors (the Mongol Empire had been larger but was restricted to Eurasia). Possessions in Europe, Africa, the Atlantic Ocean, the Americas, the Pacific Ocean, and the Far East qualified the Spanish Empire as attaining a global presence in this sense.

From 1580 to 1640 the Portuguese Empire and the Spanish Empire were conjoined in a personal union of its Habsburg monarchs, during the period of the Iberian Union, though the empires continued to be administered separately.

Subsequent colonial empires included the French, Dutch, and British empires. The latter, consolidated during the period of British maritime hegemony in the 19th century, became the largest empire in history by virtue of the improved transportation technologies of the time. At its height, the British Empire covered a fifth of the Earth's land area and comprised a quarter of its population. By the mid 17th century, the Tsardom of Russia, continued later as Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, became the largest contiguous state in the world, and the modern Russian Federation continues to be so to this day. Despite having "lost" its Soviet periphery, Russia has 9 time zones, stretching for about a half the world's longitude.


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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Colonial empire" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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