The establishment of new settlements in Greco-Roman antiquity has often been subsumed under the imprecise and somewhat anachronistic term “colonialism”. Under closer scrutiny, conceptual differences quickly become obvious: The Greek term for an overseas foundation, apoikia (ἀποικία), emphasised both the spatial separation from and the lasting ties to the founding city, expressing a characteristic feature of the Greek world as a network of connected communities. Latin colonia, on the other hand, had strong connotations with the cultivation of arable land and related to a rural sphere. Intellectuals were aware of the social, economic and political dynamics of settlement. To name but two famous examples from very different genres: In an oft-quoted passage from Phaedo, Plato had Socrates compare the Greek world to frogs sitting around a pond – a fitting image for the maritime network of settlements –,  while Seneca theorised about the ubiquity of colonial foundations in the Consolatio to his mother Helvia.

Under a very different socio-political conditions, but fully aware of and inspired by pertinent ancient sources, early modern theorists developed their economic doctrines. In humanist scholarly thought, intellectual traditions such as Classical Republicanism and Reason of State theories examined several topics closely linked to migration, such as population size and colonial endeavours. These issues were revisited by later generations of scholars: Both the mercantilists’ insistence on the foundation of colonies and the physiocrats’ appreciation of the sedentary agriculturalist and his ties to the soil can be interpreted as expressions of scholarly attitudes towards human mobility. Peuplierung, the planned settlement of thinly-populated areas, was a key tool propagated and employed by eighteenth-century cameralists to ensure the welfare of the state and, as such, a prime indicator of gute Policey, i. e. good governance. A wide range of practical measures – from forced resettlement to social resp. monetary enticements and religious tolerance to attract persecuted minorities – were proposed and implemented to achieve these goals.

Selected Literature:

Peter van Dommelen: Colonialism and Migration in the Ancient Mediterranean. Annual Review of Anthropology 41 (2012), pp. 393–409.

Andrea Iseli: Gute Policey. Öffentliche Ordnung in der Frühen Neuzeit (Stuttgart 2009).

Justus Nipperdey: Die Erfindung der Bevölkerungspolitik. Staat, politische Theorie und Population in der Frühen Neuzeit (Göttingen 2012).

Thomas Simon: „Gute Policey“. Ordnungsleitbilder und Zielvorstellungen politischen Handelns in der Frühen Neuzeit. Studien zur europäischen Rechtsgeschichte 170 (Frankfurt am Main 2004).