Imperialism means the building of empires, wherein one country acquires many others and adds these to their empire thereby gaining access to their armies, their exports, their finances and their strategic location. European imperialism then refers to those European countries that tried to expand their rule to other counties, and in many well known cases of European imperialism this was very successful. While European imperialism was once a way of life and very prevalent however, today it is generally frowned upon as countries are left to govern their own people and to make money from their own resources.
Perhaps the most well known example of European imperialism is the Roman Empire, which once ruled a vast proportion of Europe from 27 BC and much of the land outside of Europe too. While the Romans achieved their European imperialism by force, at the same time they did a lot for the countries that they invaded – helping them to build the first roads, building impressive temples and cathedrals. European imperialism this way gave rise to much of many other countries’ culture and history and finds its way into a lot of European language (most European language have their basis in Latin due to the prominence of the Roman Empire).
Generally however the term European Imperialism is used to refer to the more recent modern colonial empires of Britain, France, Portugal and Spain during the ‘European Age of Exploration’ which resulted in a boom in European Imperialism. This began with Portugal and Spain in the 15th century which were at the time had the most powerful navies. Under Henry the Navigator Portugal then established a powerful empire which was also highly useful for trade.
In the 16th, 17th and 18th century the more active form of European imperialism came from the British Empire, largely due to Britain’s envy of the Spanish and Portuguese properties, which grew to eventually cover an entire quarter of the world’s population and land mass. This included such countries as Egypt, India, Australia, Hong Kong and much of North America. It is this example of European Imperialism which has again resulted in the widespread use of the English language and culture. In 1783, Britain lost its 13 American colonies after the War of Independence.
In the 19th century however the expansion of the US and Germany damaged the British stronghold. It was the tensions caused by the European Imperialism of both German and the UK that eventually resulted in the First World War – after which the German Empire was taken apart. In World War 2 Hitler again attempted to rebuild the German Empire to repair the damage done by the Treaty of Versailles – making both World Wars a result of European Imperialism. Following this war a period of decolonisation began as most European powers granted independence to their various territories.
The Soviet Union, which is largely in tact today as Russia, is another example of European imperialism as they have attained the biggest ‘contiguous state’ on Earth stretching around over half the world along its longitudinal axis.