Difference Between Old Imperialism New Imperialism

History is a cause and the study of enlightenment, it is filled with knowledge about the past, the present and the later. Unravelling the mysteries behind the old imperialism vs new imperialism is like digging into the treasures of the European and American society as earned from the past.

However, before an understanding of old imperialism vs new imperialism can be made, the comprehension of the concept of imperialism is important.

Imperialism is the mercantilist policy developed by Europe which involves the forceful extension and subjugation of a nation’s sovereignty for selfish territorial and economic gains. This is done by force and it is characterized by the eventual political domination of conquered states.


European countries had the desire to expand their territory even outside the European continent. During this period, some Christian crusaders explore other parts of the world in the name of the Holy Land which was sought after.

More so, the Spanish conquistadores made a lot of military expeditions to uncover other places and subjugate them politically for their gains. Many European were drawn to expeditionary journeys during the 15th and 16th centuries because of the motivations of Gold, God, and Glory.

When the 3 Gs is attached to the mystery behind the old imperialism, it means the 3 Gs that many explorers held on to. God refers to the belief that only Europeans can spread the gospel of Christianity. This religion will be spread to uneducated persons who live a barbaric way of life.

Gold means material possessions which is a vast abundance of economic recompense for any successful adventurer. When Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1495, he was rewarded with a sum of 10,000 maravedis which is a lot of money at that period.

Further, Glory refers to the fame and political power that a successful expedition would bring to the explorer and his country. However, the surge in technology, special goods received from the East, and the interest in naval expeditions also laid the background of interest in the old imperialism.

By the 14th century, Europe had grown interested in products from the East. These are products like spices, perfume, silk etcetera which were important to them. With the Ottoman Turks and the Arab’s control of the path between the West (Europe) and the East (Asia), Europeans could not trade directly with the East, the Ottomans did and the broker price for trade with the West was costly.

This led to many expeditions which eventually gave room for later exploration of the world through the seas.

Navigators like Henry the Navigator, Bartholomew Dias, Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, and others orchestrated first navigations. However, with old imperialism beginning in 1096 from travelling by road to the 14th/15th-century discovery of other countries by naval means, old imperialism reverberated till the middle of the 19th century.

The key players in this form of imperialism include Portugal, Spain, France, and England. They controlled other territories through the use of their sophisticated military tools. However, this form of imperialism gave rise to what is now known as new imperialism which began properly in the 1870s.


The development in Europe such as the reunification of borders; the need for raw materials because of industrialization and the recognition of independent nations, the need to seek materials outside Europe were important. This led to the fierce aggression of countries like France, Britain, and Belgium in finding colonies and therefore subjugating African states during this period.

The concept of God, Gold, and Glory still applied to this form of imperialism, it was driven by the need for raw materials in Africa and Asia. However, unlike the aggressive subjugation of states during the old imperialist period, resistance to imperialism wasn’t fierce although it was enormous during the new imperialist era.

The most dominant and violent tool for the subjugation of colonial territory was soft power. With soft power, deception was used, and the signing of documents for the colonial operation was enforced based on cultural and commercial hegemony. The means of intentional brainwashing of independent states was used a lot of times which led to eventual colonialism to gain total control of subjugated environments. The unique feature of new imperialism is that most of the work was done by commercial companies. They got the chartered mandate from a host country, and they prepare the ground for their host country’s political subjugation.


Old imperialism was driven by economic purposes which were categorized under the slogan of the 3 Gs. That is, God, Glory, and Gold. However, what old imperialists sought included precious metals and producible goods like the perfume, spices, silk etcetera from Asia; cash crops and land from North America; as well as human labour and ivory from Africa as a whole.

New imperialism instead was inspired by a larger economic purpose. This includes the need for cheap raw materials which include precious metals, vegetable oils, dyes, cotton, Indian hemp etcetera. Through new imperialism, colonies were both producers of goods and the market for goods. That is, oil dug in Africa would be refined in Europe and sold back to Africans. Cash crops made in North America were sold to North Americans.

New imperialism is characterized by large profits through limited military and financial risks. As explained, the colonies also served as an outlet for surplus material and population. In South Africa for example, the people known as the Boers today were once Dutch persons which migrated due to the enormous population of the Netherlands.


New imperialism witnessed the crusade of the protestant missionaries the most, and then the Roman Catholic doctrines. This was because the Thirty Years’ War from 1618 till 1648 took over Europe and recognized other churches that weren’t Catholic.

The technology of old imperialism includes canon, muskets and naval vessels which attracted natives while new imperialism witnessed the use of quinine vaccine for malaria treatments, machine guns for the bombardment of aggressive areas, railroad, and steamboats for easy transportation and telegraph for easy communication. These are the predominant technology of the period.

The nature of the old imperial state was fundamentally a commercial revolution. Asia and Africa were commercial empires where new trade routes were explored to reach. Hence, settlements in these places were founded and a political rule was eventually established.

New imperialism witnessed the industrial revolution. This includes Asia and Africa as land empires and the reforms of social and political reforms.

The nature of the administration in the old imperialism is the control of large geographic areas by a single nation. There was profit over the empire, the British established limited self-rule while the Spanish peoples subjected conquered nations and used them for forced labour.

While new imperialism featured smaller colonial areas with Britain using the indirect rule system. Although, nations like France and Belgium used the policy of paternalism and assimilation. However, an enormous and aching feature of the new imperialism is the racial segregation that came with it.

With new and old imperialism, a phase in the development of nations is considered. Although the major actors of old imperialism include Portugal, Spain, France, Britain, and the Netherlands, new imperialism had many actors. The most active actors include Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, the USA, Italy, and Russia amongst others.

The nations in the old imperial era operated a stiff resistance, especially the natives of New Mexico while in the new imperial era, resistance failed many times due to the use of sophisticated imperial military power.

The impact of colonization is both positive and negative but it led to the creation of today’s world power, division of power and balance of power after world wars.

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