When the Portuguese Royal Court (over 15,000 souls) fled the Napoleonic invasion of Portugal in 1807, and installed itself in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Rio became the capital of the pluricontinental Lusitanian monarchy until 1822.

  • This is one of the few instances in history that the capital of a colonising country officially shifted to a city in one of its colonies. (from Wikipedia)

What are the other instances referred to in the above paragraph? When and where?

EDIT - I thought I had so phrased my question that it would convey exactly what I meant it to. It seems, however, that "to a city in one of its colonies" sounds ambiguous to some. By that I mean to another country, to a city or place outside the borders of the colonising country. Naturally, it has to be a colony. If the head of a state moves or flees to London and tries to rule his country from there, that is not what I'm looking for.

EDIT II - definition of Colony - A country or area under the full or partial political control of another country and occupied by settlers from that country.

  • 14
    Rome moving its capital to Constantinople. You might also consider Alexander, though I don't know if that satisfies the "colonizing" criterion. AFAIK neither he nor his successors tried to rule his conquests from Macedon.
    – jamesqf
    Mar 10, 2019 at 23:34
  • 6
    Alexander took his capital city with him wherever he went. In effect the tent he lived in was the capital.
    – RedSonja
    Mar 11, 2019 at 11:21
  • 4
    The problem you try to clarify in the edit actually continues, as it is unclear what "Naturally, it has to be a colony" really means. "Naturally" it's surely not in any case, but is a colony defined in your view by "separated by a body of water", or would an adjacent territory count? And for how long should the colony' have been a colony, or stopped to be one (See Byzantium, Taipeh below)? As the fleeing to Rio example seems pretty close to what you dismiss with London, we could also argue that Napoleon just ended Portugal's previously 'official' government? Mar 11, 2019 at 14:38
  • 6
    @Centaurus but England was never a colony ever since. - that already sounds like "No true Scotsman" kind of arg. While normally we don't speak of the 11th century's end England as "a colony of Normandy" (for various reasons) - by the formal properties it was just that ("A country or area under the full or partial political control of another country..."). The whole aristocracy, more than 15,000 people, went... - So did thousands of Normandy nobels (so that the former Saxon-Dane aristocracy almost fade out). Mar 11, 2019 at 15:38
  • 4
    The edit II definition of colony doesn't seem to match the reality of European colonialism. Most of the African & Asian colonies had few European settlers, just administrators and military who may have stayed for extended terms, but generally always intended to return "home" eventually.
    – jamesqf
    Mar 11, 2019 at 19:40

5 Answers 5


You might count Free France from 1940–1944:


Like Byzantium (that is Roman Empire capital becoming Constantinople), Trier was colonised by the Romans and then made a capital for a time. Speaking of Byzantium, that city had such an honour again, when the Ottomans took Constantinople and renamed it eventually to Istanbul.

The Yuan dynasty of the Mongols and later the Qing dynasty might be described as colonising China and shifting their capitals.

During the War of the Fourth Coalition Königsberg, in East Prussia that first 'had to be' colonised in the previous centuries, was the capital of Prussia for as long as Napoleon's troops occupied Berlin. This is actually a case of a former colony transferring its very name to the German colonisers of Brandenburg as a whole.

Note that this all hinges a bit on definitions. This answer excludes internal colonisation as otherwise also the colonisation of East-Germany by the Federal Republic after 1990 would count as well, as the capital of the internal colonisers was moved permanently from Bonn to Berlin.
But the above refers at maximum to such processes like Russia did with Siberia.

Also note that the officially designated status or "how handled" can be intentionally misleading: Algeria was "part of the French motherland", but I guess these parts of Africa were clearly a colony?

From 1848 until independence, the whole Mediterranean region of Algeria was administered as an integral part of France.

If that example of Algeria wouldn't count, then the premise from the question becomes moot:

When Brazil was elevated to Kingdom in 1815, it became the capital of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves until the return of the Portuguese Royal Family to Lisbon in 1821, but remained as capital of the Kingdom of Brazil.

As the question doesn't narrow the criterion down to "overseas colony in the age of colonialism", we might as well look at the oldest examples. Like the Assyrians, having their name identical to their old capital of Assur, but moving to Calah and Nineveh.

The differences between conquering and colonisation would have to be explored and defined a bit more closely. Otherwise the list of examples might get a little longer. For example including the move of the Russian capital from Moscow to St Petersburg.

A note on the definition proposed as an emphasis on "A country or area under the full or partial political control of another country and occupied by settlers from that country."

Portugal's and many British colonies would have a hard time to really fit into this. Especially for India and Africa, the British colonised without very much settlers compared to the New Zealand or the American colonies. Portugal, unable to afford emigration on such a scale exported even less settlers over time. For the time of the Transfer of the Portuguese Court to Brazil:

When the Portuguese court arrived in Rio de Janeiro on March 7, 1808, Brazil was very sparsely populated, with a little over 3 million inhabitants. Around one-third of the colony’s population consisted of enslaved peoples, most having been captured and shipped from Africa. The indigenous population at the time was of around 800,000 people having been dramatically reduced and isolated during the first 300 years of exploration and colonization. Population density was concentrated along the Atlantic coastline.

Under the definition from the question, let's look again at early Brandenburg-Prussia, when the Hohenzollern inherited the Duchy of Prussia:

enter image description here
(East-)Prussia is the isolated red fleck to the right, controlled from Berlin; further the local Old Prussians, Kashubs, Warmiaks, Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians, Masurians were constantly complemented with ethnic German settlers.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Mar 12, 2019 at 17:22


Kuomintang's Republic of China moved its capital from Chengdu (and originally, from Nanjing) to Taipei, Taiwan on 7 December 1949, after several defeats against Chinese Communists.

Officially a "temporary capital", Taipei is still the capital of the ROC/Taïwan 70 years later.

Taiwan had been annexed to China in 1683 by the Qing dynasty, starting a centuries-long colonization of the island.


Russia conquered Siberia during the 17th century (it probably counts as a 'colony'). In 1918, the retreating anti-Soviet Provisional All-Russian Government settled its capital in Omsk under Admiral Kolchak.

edit: The definition of a colony proposed by the OP is: A country or area under the full or partial political control of another country and occupied by settlers from that country. With that understanding, both examples hold: those areas (Taiwan and Siberia) were under political control of resp. China and Russia and occupied by settlers.

  • 1
    I really forgot to mention Taipeh, but Omsk just wasn't on my radar at all. And Siberia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_conquest_of_Siberia "The Russian colonization of Siberia and conquest of its indigenous peoples has been compared to European colonization in the United States and its natives, with similar negative impacts on the natives and the appropriation of their land" so I say it counts. Mar 11, 2019 at 9:41
  • Not what I'm looking for. Taiwan wasn't a Chinese colony at that time. Neither was Siberia a Russian colony.
    – Centaurus
    Mar 11, 2019 at 14:36
  • 4
    @Centaurus : maybe you should edit your understanding of "colony" in the OP, because we seem to have different definitions.
    – Evargalo
    Mar 11, 2019 at 15:24
  • 2
    @Centaurus, but had been Japanese for the previous 50 years...
    – PatrickT
    Mar 11, 2019 at 15:25
  • 2
    @sofageneral The answer justifies why each example could be considered a "colony", including reference to the definition given in the question. There has been a lot of discussion about this definition, but so far, nobody has posted a clear definition which would include the Portuguese example but exclude these examples.
    – IMSoP
    Mar 13, 2019 at 12:39

When Alexander attacked Tyre, which was the largest and most populous Phoenician city, large parts of the city were evacuated to Carthage. Carthage was most definitely a colony of Tyre, even if you don't buy the whole Queen Dido story.

After the fall of Tyre it fell under the rule of Alexander and then the Diadochi. Its citizens, that weren't killed/executed by Alexander ransomed themselves and fled to Carthage, which itself became a powerful city-state until Rome came along.

I quote Pieter Geerkens from this previous history stackexchange question,

"According to this source, Carthage remained a minor Phoenician outpost until after the fall of Tyre to Alexander the Great in 332 BC. At that time many of the wealthy citizens of Tyre, having ransomed themselves from Alexander, moved to Carthage and began the constructions that led to it rapidly becoming the wealthiest city of the Western Mediterranean."







Cyrus the Great, King of the First Persian or Achaemenid Empire, conquered the Neo-Babylonian empire in 539 BC. Babylon became the administrative (and main) capital. Wikipedia (Achaemenid Empire) cites the following from the The Cambridge History of Iran, Volume 3:

Of the four residences of the Achaemenids named by Herodotus — Ecbatana, Pasargadae or Persepolis, Susa and Babylon — the last [situated in Iraq] was maintained as their most important capital, the fixed winter quarters, the central office of bureaucracy, exchanged only in the heat of summer for some cool spot in the highlands.

(my emphasis)

  • "..... conquered and anexed". Not a colony.
    – Centaurus
    Mar 11, 2019 at 14:37
  • 15
    @Centaurus You seem to have pretty clear picture about "What's a colony" in your head, a somehow narrow one that is not made explicit and seems to collide with a lot of possible definitions. Mar 11, 2019 at 14:40
  • 1
    @T.E.D. And why shouldn't it count?
    – IMSoP
    Mar 12, 2019 at 17:29
  • 1
    @T.E.D. Nobody? Granted that people initially skipped over the Byzantium example, I do include Moscow>StPetersburg? Mar 12, 2019 at 18:25
  • 1
    @LangLangC - Lol. Sorry dude. My MTV-generation attention span has an unfortunate tendency to slink into a corner cowering and gibbering when it sees answers with 17 paragraphs and 3 divided sections. My problem, not yours.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 12, 2019 at 18:47

Winchester King Canute the Great of Denmark became king of England as well in 1018. He then moved his capital from Jelling in Denmark to Winchester in England, where he established the capital of his Northern Empire. This empire lated until 1035.

  • Was England a Danish colony at that time?
    – Centaurus
    Mar 12, 2019 at 23:24
  • I thought Canute was King of England from 1016 but not King of Denmark until 1018 (and Norway from 1028)
    – Henry
    Jun 28, 2023 at 12:57

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