Let us pass quickly on the ancient colonizations: the Phoenician and the Greek had essentially commercial goals, the Roman, an imperial vocation.


The first Western colonizers, Portuguese and Spanish, set off to explore the Route des Indes, the first from the West, the second from the East, in order to be able to trade with the East, especially India, China and Japan, supposedly richer than them, without having to go through the Arabs. Along the way, they established stopovers - which later became trading posts and colonies - before discovering America and going around the world. Followed the missionaries, who also did not want to plunder the wealth of others.


The second wave of colonization, that of the English, the Dutch and the French, was made up of emigrants who fled their country of origin for religious reasons. British Puritans settled in North America, Dutch and French Protestants in South Africa, the West Indies, and Canada.


Such were the first colonizers.


They led, it is true, in their wake first the conquistadores, the pirates, and the corsairs - it was the era of adventurers, greedy for gold and wealth, not for their nations, but for themselves - and then merchants, entrepreneurs, and businessmen with more legitimate practices, who established the third age of colonization, that of commercialism: colonization allowed, it was believed, the metropolises to enrich themselves through exchanges with obliged partners or preferential: the colonies. There was no question of plundering anyone: on the contrary, the wisdom of the "good" savages "and the" Persians "was praised.


Science and literature were, even more than the merchants, beneficiaries of trips and exchanges of the 17th and 18th centuries: Darwin discovers on board the Beagle the evolution of species, we measure the length of the earth's degree and thus the dimensions of the Earth, astronomy, and geophysics are enriched by the discoveries aroused by the problem of longitudes, everywhere there are botanical, zoological and mineralogical collections from samples collected all over the world; philosophers and writers dissert about the best laws to govern men, who are considered everywhere to be equally enamored of diverse but basically equivalent religions, philosophies, rights, and morals.


Then came the era of imperialism: the possession of overseas territories allowed states to show their power and their hegemonic ambitions: it was now a question of dominating the world or sharing it. The hazards of history - or the convergences in the movement of ideas - made that big capitalism developed at the same time as imperialism. Originally independent from each other (capitalism was first industrial and financial), the two movements converged in the 19th century. The colonies became the sources of raw materials for which the capitalist industry proved increasingly greedy. But the political motivation remained predominant: capitalism had to barely be denied by humanitarian workers and religious, and see its overseas resources and human means dry up, finance colonialism and the development of the colonized countries. He, therefore, remained in the wake of imperialism that wanted to be civilizing. It was the time of the great colonial achievements: ports, railways, sanitary and educational facilities.


Thus, at all periods of its short history - from 1492 to 1960, a third of the duration of the Roman Empire - sometimes one or the other predominated among the many motivations for colonization: political, economic, religious , scientific and cultural. All remained underpinned by the spirit of discovery, of adventure, and by the idealisms - or illusions - of religious and secular civilizers and the ambitions of European nations.