Land grab: The history of annexations

Signpost at the USA/Mexico border
Texas was originally part of Mexico but declared independence and requested its own annexation into the United States in the 19th century | Image: Chess Ocampo/Shutterstock

Annexations have led to the creation of new countries for a lot longer than you might have thought. While the first examples of annexations that spring to mind might be from more recent history, civilisations have been claiming land in the name of their empires for millennia.

What’s the difference between annexation and an invasion?

An invasion is an armed push into the lands of another country - often in contravention of laws or treaties. Annexation is the incorporation of one country into the lands of another. It often preludes an invasion or incursion from an outside occupier (as most countries don’t want their culture and nationality to be replaced with that of another) and is usually a smaller country or peninsular that is annexed by a more significant outside force.

Since ancient history, countries, and borders have shifted and changed with the rise and fall of empires. Here are some examples of annexations from history that you might not have known.

Annexations from ancient history

The ancient Roman Empire was one of the largest empires in history. At its peak, it ruled over 4.4 million square kilometres and encompassed 20% of the world’s population. The Roman process of invasion and annexation of Mediterranean settlements saw advancements in civilisation and infrastructure bloom across the lesser developed nations and led to a boom in wealth and revenue for Rome.

Between 148-50 BC, having gained ground across mainland Greece through the Macedonian wars, Rome secured their claim over the Greek peninsula at the Battle of Corinth. Life under Roman rule in Greece was very similar to life before the annexation. Ancient Rome had modelled its civilisation very heavily on ancient Greece, including everything from philosophy, way of life, and even the structure of their religious practices.

Greece wasn’t the only ancient superpower to be annexed into the Roman empire. Following the rise and fall of Cleopatra and Marc Anthony, the ultimate ancient power couple, Rome annexed Egypt. Having removed the Ptolemaic monarchy, Octavian (later Augustus) set to work bringing the long-neglected Egyptian infrastructure up to Roman standards.

British annexation of Wales

Shortly after the Normans laid claim to England, they turned their attention to the country of Wales. What ensued was a fierce and bloody battle between the Welsh and the English invaders, and a struggle to maintain lands and power that continued for centuries.

Through a series of quick and violent invasions, the Normans established their hold on territories by placing lords loyal to the English Crown in seats of power. The remaining provinces of Wales that did not fall under Norman rule continued to fight against their occupation. By the end of the 12th century, much of England’s hold on Wales had been reduced to the smaller regions in the south, with the majority of the country now falling under the control of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the Prince of Wales.

Tensions between Llywelyn and King Edward I increased, and despite a treaty signed in 1277, Welsh resistance continued to fight back. In 1282, war broke out once again. However, when Llywelyn was killed in battle, Edward seized the opportunity to stamp out insurrection once and for all - successfully invading Snowdonia and capturing the seat of the rebellion’s Dolwyddelan Castle.

Edward colonised Wales, consolidating his power by building castles and re-settling English peasants into Welsh lands - at a heavy expense to the crown. Despite being under the rule of the English Crown, Wales continued to live under its own law until the country was finally annexed and incorporated into the English legal system in 1532.

American annexation of Texas

When America gained its independence from the British monarchy in 1776 it consisted of 13 free individual states. As the nation grew, a union was formed that grew into the 50 United States of America that exists today. Unlike most annexations that begin with an invasion from an outside foreign power, Texas applied for its own annexation into the United States.

The Republic of Texas declared independence from Mexico in 1836 and applied for annexation to the United States in the same year. The Secretary of State rejected the request as Texas was a large slave-owning territory, and the political climate of the US was still controversial with considerable debate and tensions surrounding slave-ownership. With Mexico having just abolished slavery, the US didn’t want to risk a war with Mexico, who still viewed Texas as a region of their territory, albeit a dissenting one.

In 1843, President Tyler decided to pursue the annexation of Texas as part of his campaign to get re-elected as president. Joint efforts between the British and Mexico to emancipate enslaved people in Texas threatened to destabilise the legitimacy of slave ownership in America. Tyler hoped that by annexing Texas, they could outmanoeuvre the British and strengthen the American use of slavery. However, Tyler wasn’t re-elected and had to rush the annexation treaty through at the last minute - signing it on his last day in office and sending it through to Texas, offering immediate annexation.

President Polk, his successor, encouraged the treaty's signing and signed the bill declaring Texas as the 28th State in December 1845.