European colonial empires
Portugal began establishing the first global trade network and
empire under the leadership of
Henry the Navigator. The empire spread throughout a vast number of territories distributed across the globe (especially at one time in the 16th century) that are now parts of
60 different sovereign states. Portugal would eventually control
Brazil, territories such as what is now
Uruguay and some fishing ports in north, in the
Portuguese Guinea, and
São Tomé and Príncipe (among other territories and bases) in the
North and the
Africa; cities, forts or territories in all the
Asian Subcontinents, as
Bahrain (amongst other bases) in the
Daman and Diu (amongst other coastal cities) in
Malacca, bases in Southeast Asia and
Ambon and others in the
Portuguese Timor; and the granted entrepôt-base of
Macau and the entrepôt-enclave of
East Asia, amongst other smaller or short-lived possessions.
The territorial evolution of the modern colonial empires
Siglo de Oro, the
Spanish Empire had possession of the
Belgium, most of
Italy, parts of
Germany, parts of
France, and many colonies in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. With the conquest of inland
Peru, and the
Philippines in the 16th century,
Spain established overseas dominions on a scale that had never been approached by its predecessors (the Mongol Empire had been larger but was restricted to Eurasia), and with the
Iberian Union (1580), reached the widest scale in history until then in world distribution. Possessions in Europe, Africa, the
Atlantic Ocean, the Americas, the
Pacific Ocean, and East Asia qualified the Spanish Empire as attaining a global presence.
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, but beneath the highest level of government, their separate administrations were maintained.
Subsequent colonial empires included the
Japanese empires. By the mid-17th century, the
Tsardom of Russia, continued later as the
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. Russia today has nine
time zones, stretching across about half of the world's longitude.
British Empire, 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 quarter of the
Earth's land area and comprised a quarter of its population. During the
New Imperialism, Italy and Germany also built their
colonial empires in Africa.
Boxer Rebellion in 1901,
Imperial China made concessions to the
Eight-Nation Alliance (all the
Great Powers of the time). By the end of the 20th century most of the previous colonial empires had been
This article's factual accuracy is
. (January 2018)
The chart below shows the span of European colonial empires.
- Black lines mark the year of the empires largest territorial extent of land area.
- Red represents the empire is a
- Blue represents the empire is a