From the 19th century until the early 20th, much of the world was governed by a few very powerful European nations. The BRITISH RAJ controlled the riches of India. The FRENCH FOREIGN LEGION defended remote forts in the Sahara desert, and there was a SCRAMBLE FOR AFRICA by empire-builders.
Table 55. EMPIRE 1800–1918
|1824||Dutch and British divide southeast Asian territories|
|1883–1885||Germany gains colonies in Africa and Pacific|
|1885||Belgian rule in the Congo|
|1887||French rule Indochina|
|1899–1902||Second South African (“Boer”) War|
|1904||Federation of French West Africa|
|1918||German and Ottoman empires broken up after defeat in World War I|
The chief empire-builders were the French, British, Germans, Danish, Belgians, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese. The United States and Japan were also gaining overseas territories. The Russian Empire now ruled the whole of northern Asia. However, the Chinese Empire was losing territory to foreign powers.
The reasons were many. The factories of the newly industrialized lands needed resources, such as rubber. Some empire-builders wanted land for settlement; others were praying for converts to Christianity.
Most empire-builders claimed to be bringing civilization to peoples whom they believed to be inferior. Although the ruling countries did build towns, ports, and railroads, in some colonies the local peoples were treated little better than slaves.
By the 19th century, real power in India was held by the British East India Company. Following an uprising by Indian soldiers in 1857, British government rule, or Raj, was imposed on India in 1858.
Queen Victoria (1819–1901) was declared Empress of India in 1876. Under her rule, Great Britain became the world’s most powerful nation. Victoria had a shrewd grasp of politics and took a close interest in her government’s foreign policy. India was believed to be one of the most important parts of the British Empire. The two countries had a great cultural influence on each other.
As explorers discovered new lands in Africa, European powers rushed in to take them over. The French clashed with the British in Sudan, and the Germans gained lands in East and West Africa.
In 1884–1885, the world’s most powerful nations held a conference in Berlin, the capital of Germany. They divided between themselves vast regions of Africa. They knew little of these distant lands and did not consult the peoples living there. Borders were drawn up to serve their own political needs.
Empires needed large armies to suppress rebellions or fight rival powers. The Foreign Legion was formed by the French in 1831 to fight in colonial wars. It was recruited from foreigners and gained a reputation for tough discipline.
They fought wherever France needed them in their empire. The Legion was most famously associated with desert campaigns in North Africa. French territory stretched all the way from Algeria south to the Congo River. France also ruled Madagascar, French Guiana, and islands in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, and South Pacific.