History: empire

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The word empire came to being in around the first century BC and it was introduced by the Europeans to describe a polity as opposed to a command. In this regard, the Europeans sought to establish their empires in the different parts of the world. Nevertheless, the success of the empires varied in the sense that while others were outstanding, others were only short-lived. To a significant extent, the success of the European empires depended upon the colonizers’ ability to adapt to and control the natural environments that they encountered.

The creation of European empires meant that the Europeans had to move into lands which initially they could not make prior claim based on autochthony, the empires were unavoidably lands of conquest. In this sense, the colonizers had to have adept mastery of the natural environment and subsequent control if they were to be successful in their operations (Adam Matthew Digital, n.d). Put another way, because creation of the empires meant that the Europeans were to conquer lands that previously did not belong to them, it was important that they understood and controlled the environments that they encountered. It is through the control of the natural environments that the colonizers could establish their practices in the empires and influence the people in the new lands that were had been conquered. The colonizers used the natural environments to shape the practices of the people in the empires (Wessiling & Webb 2013). Therefore, if they had firm control of the natural environments, the empires tend to last and where there control was ineffective, the empires also failed to last long.

One of the successful European empires that show the success of the European empires depended upon the colonizers’ ability to adapt to and control the natural environments that they encountered was the British Empire (Wessling & Web 2013). One of the significant reasons why the British Empire was able to expand rapidly was its ability to control the natural environments that it encountered in the different parts of the world. For example in India, the arrival of the British colonizers had coincided with the peak of the  Mughal Empire and by not wanting to engage in conflicts with the Mughal empire, the British understood the natural environments and sought permissions to establish trading posts (Wessiling & Webb 2013). When the powers of the Mughal Empire started to drop, the British seized the opportunity and slowly they acquired the right to rule and tax the region. This made them emerge as the most successful and powerful European empire in the South Asia area. When the scramble for Africa started in the 19th century, again the ability to control the natural environments became apparent as success factor in the development of the British Empire. While establishing its colonies in Africa, the British conquered the Cape colony and in the process, moved away Dutch Afrikaners who formed their republics as the Orange Free State that was later incorporated into the British Empire. The British managed to establish their rules in Sudan, Egypt, and East Africa and gained controlled over one of the biggest natural environmental resource in Africa- the Nile. The principal reason why the British opted to control Egypt was because that it could be used as halts for ships that were moving towards India (Kaufman & Macpherson 2005). This shows that the British Empire understood the natural environments of the colonies and used this knowledge to establish their presences in the areas where they colonized. This also means that the British Empire to a bigger extent used the natural environment as a platform from which it could then undertake the various activities in the colony. Although the British Empire lasted for about 400 years, there was no any other empire that could be said to be larger than the British Empire (Adam Matthew Digital n.d). At its apex in 1922, the British Empire controlled almost 5 billion people and all this attributed to the fact that the British Empire was able to exert control over the natural environments that it controlled. The British people captured the diverse environmental resources that were vital for the lives of the people and through the control of these natural environments; the British Empire was able to expand its influence in the diverse parts of the world. The British people had realized controlling the resources of the environments was a means to which they could exert their influence among the people that they intended to colonize (Kaufman & Macpherson 2014).

The Spanish empire represents another European empire that was successful in the many parts of the world where it had its foundations. The Spanish empire started during the exploration age in 1492 and eventually came to reach its apogee as the number one global power under the auspices of House of Habsburg. Starting with the arrival of Christopher Columbus, the Spanish empire underwent expansion for four centuries. Apart from the European nations, the empire expanded to Mexico, Caribbean Islands, and parts of the North America (Valdeon 2014). The colonial extension of the Spanish realm was stirred by the Spanish conquistadors and it was industrialized by the Spanish Monarchy via the administrators and missionaries. The impetus for the colonial expansion revolved around missionary and the need for trade. The preliminary landing of Columbus was then charted by a phase of inland expeditions and conquests in the Caribbean Islands and South America. Through the exploration of the natural environments, the Spanish Conquistadors were able to control the natural environments and control the regions in the ways that would help to advance their interests (Valdeon 2014).  By 16th century, Spain had embarked on colonizing and exploring parts of America, North America, South America and some parts of the Pacific Ocean Islands. One of the factors that catapulted the Spanish empire to its powerful status revolved around exploration.  The Spanish were accomplished explorers and this enabled them understand the natural environments where they were to establish their colonies. Under the Habsburgs, Spain took control of the large tracts of Peninsula and the important lands across Europe and other parts of the world.  For instance in Europe, the Spanish Empire made its presence known in the various nations such as Austria, France, Italy, Mediterranean, and Germany to mention but a few(Valdeon 2014). The Spanish empire was experienced in controlling the natural environments and in this regard, they took, managed to become one of the powerful empires in the world. From the Columbus time, the Spanish empire realized the importance of the natural environments and one of their goals whenever they conquered a new place was to find ways of controlling the natural environments so that the hosts would depend on them (Adam Matthew Digital, n.d). For instance, the Spanish empire determined which trading routes were important and which lands were fertile for agricultural productions. By identifying the lands, they then cultivated the crops that would benefit them and the people that they colonized. With the mastery of the natural environments, the Spanish empire also recognized the strategic points that could be used during war. This aspect was particularly important where there was resistance from the local people. Because the Spanish recognized that they were few in numbers and could not match their enemies from the perspectives of numbers, they resort to controlling the environments as a way of ensuring that they influenced the operations of the colonized regions. This tactic worked well for the Spanish people and they were able to colonize many places without having to use much military resources like the other European empires were doing (Kaufman & Macpherson2005). To the Spanish colonizers, controlling the natural environments provided a platform whereby the activities of the colonized were dependent upon their rules and this aspect made the empire stronger. Overall, the control of the natural environments was responsible for the growth of the Spanish empire and this contributed to its image as one of the most successful European empires of all times. The fact that the explorers gathered information about the environments also enabled them to adopt the best decisions as far as the administrative matters were concerned. The understanding of the natural environment therefore was critical to the success of the Spanish empire in the different parts of the world where there were colonies for the empire.

The French empire was also a notable European Empire that had considerable influence across the world. Like the British and the Spanish empire, the French empire also taken to controlling the natural environments as a way that it could acquire more colonies. One of the areas where the French left their mark was the North American region (Quinn 2002). Through their technique of establishing villages and cities, clearing and dividing land, developing territories with different types of construction, and building of road network and trails, the French empire transformed and adapted the environments to their own unique needs. Their goal was always to take control of the natural environments and then use the resources to expand their spheres of influences in the diverse areas. Starting out from some of the few small colonized regions found in the area of St. Lawrence River by the 17th century, the French managed to move through a vast part of North Africa region. Before the British conquest, the New France in North America could be seen from Hudson Bay from the Northern side to the area around Mississippi from the Southern parts (Quinn 2002). This means that the French empire had a large presence in the North American region thanks to the control of the natural environments tactics that they employed in the areas where they colonized. Through the control of the natural environments, the French empire was able to form strategic alliances with the local aborigines and also traded with the people that they found in the host nations. Such networks also became important for the French during the times of wars whereby the French could link with the local people and mastermind resistances where they were being attacked by outsiders (Quinn 2002). The French empire emerged as one of the powerful empires both in Europe and other parts of the world and it established its presence across the various parts of the world. The French empire in this regard was able to control the environments of its colonies and thus, they were able to influence the people in the colonies.

Exploring the different parts of the world such as the North American region would not have been possible for the European Empires if they did not control the natural environments that they encountered in the colonies. The European Empires realized that it was important to have control of the environments if they were to adjust with the local conditions that they encountered in their quests to acquire the colonies. Because the European nations recognized that they could not rely mainly on the military to realize their objectives of acquiring their colonies, the control of the natural resources provided an indirect way that they could use to exert their influence over the areas and thereby take control of the areas that they desired to acquire (Kaufman & Macpherson 2005).  By controlling the natural environments, the European empires travelled through the different territories and with the travelling, they made new discoveries about the lands and what they could do to impact the changes in those new areas where they wanted to acquire. The distribution of products across the territories also depended on the ability to understand the environments and this is another reason why the European empires struggled to control the environments in the lands that they wanted to conquer. For instance, with the tactic of controlling the natural environments, the European Empires managed to form strategic alliances with traders from other parts of the world. This is because trade in the past was done on various strategic locations and therefore, controlling such areas was an important step towards the acquisition of the new colonies that was vital for the expansions of the empires (Quinn 2002). By controlling the natural environments, the European Empires gained control of the geographical points that were significant to their operations. It is also through the control of the natural environments that the European Empires managed to develop networks with the local populace.

The role of controlling the natural environments was fundamentally to facilitate the movement of the imperialists and to improve aspects such as trade so that the Empires could move into the new territories. For many years, the European Empires moved goods from their colonies and also imported the goods back to the colonies so that they could provide the products that would satisfy the needs of the people in the colonies. Controlling of the natural environments also enabled the Europeans to commodify nature and by commodifying nature, the people in the colonies depended on the Empires for their lives and other aspects. Commodification of the environment refers to the process whereby the European Empires expanded their commercial activities around the diverse parts of the world with the view of taking control of the lives of the people (Valdeon 2014). Colonial commodification of environment was a widespread practice in the different areas where the European Empires established their presences. Colonial pastoral enterprises and plantations helped to form productive frontiers that in turn affected the lives of the local people in the different ways that they wanted. The European empires in this sense controlled the natural environments so that they could shape the lives of the local people and this in turn gave them the power over the people. The environmental strategies used by the European powers also enabled the Empires to alienate the local people and with the alienation, the local people became disenfranchised. Controlling the natural environments by the European empires was also away by which the Empires ensured that they derived the critical resources that could be used to control the lives of the people living in the colonies (Valdeon 2014). By simply knowing the continents and the locations, the European Empires were able to move into the most productive areas in the various continents of the world.


In essence, European Empires made efforts to expand their empires in the different parts of the world. At the heart of the expansion strategy was the ability of the European empires to control the natural environments that they encountered in the new areas. From the cases studies of the British, French, and the Spanish Empires, it is evident that the success of the European Empires to a large extent depended on the abilities of the Empires to control such natural environments. The natural environments was thus an avenue used by the European Empires to achieve their goals.

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  1. Adam Mathew Digital (n.d). Empire Online. [online] Adam Matthew Digital. Available at: <http://www.amdigital.co.uk/m-products/product/empire-online/> [Accessed 12 May 2017].
  2. Kaufman, W. and Macpherson, H.S., 2005. Britain and the Americas. Vol.2 E-P: Culture, Politics, and History: A Multidisciplinary Encyclopedia. Oxford: ABC CLIO Europe (ABC-CLIO).
  3. Quinn, F., 2002. The French overseas empire. Westport, Conn.: Praeger.
  4. Valdeón, R.A., 2014. Translation and the Spanish empire in the Americas. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
  5. Wesseling, H.L. and Webb, D., 2013. The European colonial empires, 1815-1919. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
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