Imperialism is the God given prerogative of powerful nations over their inferiors. Most emerging empires aspired to grow by colonising weaker neighbours to extend their dominant hegemony. Persians, Greek, Roman, Ottomans, Russian and many others expanded by conquest – might is right.
Minos, legendary ruler of Crete; he was the son of Zeus, the king of the gods, and of Europa, a Phoenician princess and personification of the continent of Europe. Minos obtained the Cretan throne by the aid of the Greek god Poseidon, and from Knossos (or Gortyn) he gained control over the Aegean islands, colonizing many of them and ridding the sea of pirates. He married Pasiphae, the daughter of Helios, who bore him, among others, Androgeos, Ariadne, and Phaedra, and who was also the mother of the Minotaur.
Minos successfully warred against Athens and Megara to obtain redress after his son Androgeos was killed by the Athenians. In Athenian drama and legend Minos became the tyrannical exactor of the tribute of children to feed the Minotaur.
“For hundreds of years during the Middle Ages, the spice trade in the West was dominated by the city state of Venice. Venetian merchants shut out all others from the marketplaces in Alexandria, and then Constantinople, where the Arab merchants offered their exotic wares for sale while concealing what they knew of their origin. In 1453, however, in a devastating siege, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks and was sacked by the invading army, ending what remained of the Byzantine Empire. The fall of Constantinople placed the spice trade entirely in the hands of the Ottomans, who soon raised taxes and increased tariffs to virtually shut off the spice supply to ‘infidel’ Europe.
Genghis Khan #
Genghis Khan was the most successful conqueror in world history, and he redrew the boundaries of the world.
“In twenty-five years, the Mongol army subjugated more lands and people than the Romans had conquered in four hundred years. Genghis Khan, together with his sons and grandsons, conquered the most densely populated civilizations of the thirteenth century. Whether measured by the total number of people defeated, the sum of the countries annexed, or by the total area occupied, Genghis Khan conquered more than twice as much as any other man in history. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford.
The Horde by Marie Favereau, shows how Khan and his Mongol successors built an empire that, at its peak, covered some 9 million square miles of territory, making it the largest contiguous land empire in world history:
“The Mongols interfered with the economic organization of their subjects and projected their power further than any other imperial formations of their time. Yet the Mongols understood that control over craft production, currency, traders, harvests, and crops had to be flexible and supple, and respectful of the practices and traditions of dominated peoples. Thus, for instance, when Mongols conquered new territories, they usually minted coins that were familiar to the locals and were easily accepted in existing circuits of exchange. Furthermore, the Mongols did not try to extract value from subjects no matter the cost to the subjects – that is, the Mongols did not enslave their subjects and work them to death, as much later colonial regimes in the Atlantic world did. Rather, the goal of Mongol imperial oversight and intervention was to motivate and empower subjects to produce and trade across the empire, thereby enriching their Mongol overlords. Why was there no clash between globalization and empire building during the height of Mongol domination? This is a phenomenon that needs explaining, and I believe the explanation lies in the unique imperial policies of the Mongols.
“Scholars have begun to sweep away old stereotypes of marauding plunderers showing instead that the Mongol Empire was a complex political, social, and economic entity resembling a federation or a commonwealth.
The empire was full of mutual influences, as its various portions shaped each other. But that does not mean the empire was a monolith. Its diversity emerges in microhistorical accounting. The empire fostered several enduring nomadic regimes.
The small scale, the voices of individual people and the scenes of their lives, provides details that inform worldwide history.
“During the late fifteenth century, however, the Portuguese discovered a sea route to the East by pushing south along the coast of Africa and around the Cape of Good Hope, conquering numerous east African cities and founding the colony of Goa on the western coast of India in 1510. A few years later Portuguese adventurers seized cities in Indonesia, where they constructed fortified settlements to dominate and control the local spice trade.
Soon Portugal was one of the richest nations in Europe, boasting a complex trade network that extended around the world. But in its very success was the kernel of Portugal’s downfall: the nation had a population of only two million, and the Eastern spice trade, with its continuous wars, shipwrecks and deaths from disease, took a heavy toll on Portugal’s small population of males.
To keep the enterprise running, Portugal hired foreign sailors, who soon shared the knowledge of this astonishing wealth. Others also wanted a share of the spice trade.
“Beginning in 1519, in one of the greatest voyages of all time, a Spanish expedition led by the disaffected Portuguese nobleman Ferdinand Magellan circumnavigated the world by sailing around South America, crossing the Pacific Ocean and establishing a Spanish presence in the Spice Islands. Despite their quarrelling, the Spanish and Portuguese reaped great profits by monopolizing the spice trade in Europe for decades.”
In the 1600s, the Dutch reached preeminence in the world in commerce and culture. They reached out across the world as well, from North America to Africa and the East Indies. In all, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the East India Company shipped an estimated one million people to the East Indies, “of whom approximately half never returned”:
“[In the 1600s, the Dutch] mastery of overseas commerce was making their small nation the most prosperous in Europe: only their relatively slow approach to the possibilities in the Americas might have appeared surprising. But once engaged, the Netherlands became for a while a major player in the Atlantic world. Suddenly the Dutch were everywhere – in Portuguese Brazil, the islands of the Caribbean, the ‘Wild Coast’ of Guyana, and the trading stations of West Africa – just as they were in India, Java, and Formosa, and they were effective managers of population displacements.
The British #
The British Isles were likely first invaded by the Celts, around 1000 BC. They were an Indian European ethnic civilisation originating in Central Europe. Under several leaders including Queen Boadicea they managed to repel Roman invasions until 61 AD. Once the Roman Empire fell, the Angles and Saxon, Germanic tribes filled the vacancy.
The Viking raids, from about 700 terrified the British, suffering losses of livestock and anything not bolted down. In 1066, William the Conqueror put an end to these raids and colonised England for the Normans. About 300 years later, Edward III, proclaimed home rule and England gained its independence, never to be conquered again – despite Napoleon and Hitler’s attempts.
Europeans practised an erasure of recognition and rights of idigenous cultures.
Ireland was William the Conqueror’s first failure, however subsequent Monarchs have all attempted, without full success to subjugate the Irish.
The Irish were a second-class part of Britain. Technically it was a nation within Great Britain and not a colony. Its status was very different from that of Scotland in that it could not compete with Britain in exporting its produce.
During the civil wars of the 1640s the Catholics in Ireland sided with the English royalists. After the royalist army fell to the Puritan rebels and Charles I was executed, Oliver Cromwell punished the Irish with a campaign of atrocities that was followed by a disastrous famine. A policy of colonization from England was then established
India and China presented the problem to early colonisers of such large populations greatly outnumbering the Europeans. Strong traditional culture heritages and religion also made them more challenging to subdue. In the Americas and Australia, smaller populations, made it easier for European invaders to outnumber the indigenous populations (giving the natives minority status) by conquest and disease.
Japan managed to ward off European invaders by killing Catholic missionaries but were eventually overcome by Commodore Perry in 1853. Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch traders engaged in regular trade with Japan in the 16th and 17th centuries. Persistent attempts by the Europeans to convert the Japanese to Catholicism and their tendency to engage in unfair trading practices led Japan to expel most foreigners in 1639. For the two centuries that followed, Japan limited trade access to Dutch and Chinese ships with special charters. No empire long endures, even if few anticipate their demise. Every kingdom is born to die. The 15th century belonged to the Portuguese, the 16th to Spain, 17th to the Dutch. France dominated the 18th and Britain the 19th. Bled white and left bankrupt by the Great War, the British maintained a pretence of domination as late as 1935, when the empire reached its greatest geographical extent. By then, of course, the torch had long passed into the hands of America.
Europe’s colonization of Asia was lent impetus by the Ottomans’ strengthening grip on trade in the eastern Mediterranean and the development of the joint-stock company.
European imperialism was predicated “on the era’s systematic forays into physical anthropology and human classification laid the foundation for the noxious race science that emerged in the nineteenth century. So did the rise of materialism: it became harder to argue that our varying physical carapaces housed equivalent souls implanted by God. A heedless sense of universalism, in turn, might encourage the thought that the more advanced civilizations were merely lifting up those more backward when they conquered and colonized them. Kant’s views seem to have evolved. In her study Kant and Cosmopolitanism (2012), the Dutch scholar Pauline Kleingeld persuasively argued that, in the 1790s, he moved away from hierarchical notions of human difference, perhaps partly under the influence of interlocutors like Georg Forster and Johann Gottfried Herder. He now offered a clear rebuke to slavery, imperial conquest, and great-power dominion. Given that slavery and imperialism are age-old practices, it may be more significant that so many Enlightenment figures opposed them than that some of them, in some respects, accommodated them”. From: Justin E.H. Smith’s book, Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason. Imperial Delusions by Fara Dabhoiwala From the late eighteenth century onward, the British justified their empire with a continually updated ideology of moral purpose and historical necessity.
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
“When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, ‘Let us close our eyes and pray.’ When we opened them, we had the Bible, and they had the land.
Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness, writes: > “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look at it too much.
At the height of the British Empire, just after the First World War, an island smaller than Kansas controlled roughly a quarter of the world’s population and landmass. To the architects of this colossus, the largest empire in history, each conquest was a moral achievement. Imperial tutelage, often imparted through the barrel of an Enfield, was delivering benighted peoples from the errors of their ways—child marriage, widow immolation, headhunting.
A letter from Tudor to Churchill crystallizes all the insouciance, cynicism, greed, callousness, and errant judgment of empire.
He tells Churchill that he’s just commanded his troops to slaughter Adwan Bedouins who had been marching on Amman to protest high taxes levied on them by their notoriously extravagant emir. This tribe was “invariably friendly to Great Britain,” Tudor writes, a touch ruefully. But, he adds, “politics are not my affair.”