Greek European Culture

Archaeology, History

Colonization vs. colonialism

By Sylvain Rey

Henrik Ibsen, A Doll's House

The Cyrene decree stands in almost complete opposite to Hugo’s injunction. There is no mention of ‘civilizing’ foreign peoples, no images of ‘savages’ eagerly waiting to receive civilization. Rather, hellenization, in the case of the Greek colonization, occured after the new settlement was founded, through cultural contacts, and not in fact uniformly throughout the Mediterranean. The same is true of Roman coloniae, which typically played a defensive role in newly conquered territory.

The modern colonization of the world by the Europeans can be properly called ‘colonialism,’ whereby is implied a certain pre-supposed goal achieved through a mission. Civilization, the goal, could be achieved through capitalistic trade (a hallmark of western civilization), education (state education as well as the role of the churches of the colonial states). Nothing such existed in the ancient mind. Seeing in modern colonialism a continuation of this ancient colonization movement does no service either to us or to the world of antiquity. It reflects the interpretations of the 19th and 20th centuries rather than a historical reality, a view that has not, unfortunately, entirely disappeared today.


  1. emma g

    Hugo’s concepts are merely a perspective – Who’s truth and knowledge is right? – This is a European concept that in my opinion does not justify colonalism. It justifies inhumane acts of humanity that also justifies christianity. There are also other histories and teachings from the indigenous world view that have yet to be shared. We were not mere savages as history proclaims, but human beings – God (Creators) children…

  2. Indeed, and this is why I quoted it: it best summarizes the European rationale for colonialism, which doesn’t mean that he was correct of course. The fact that the Europeans could use Christianity to justify colonialism shows all too well that it had ceased being a faith, but a mere cultural component, a component which could eventually be discarded because not even any longer necessary. And in the process we had to invent the Other’s inhumanity in order to satisfy our own inhumanity–for production, consumption, etc. It is all of us who have ceased being children of God.