Originally, as with the ancient (Hellenic) Greek apoikia, the term colonization referred to the foundation of a new city or settlement, more often than not with nonviolent means (but see for instance the Athenian re-colonisation of Melos after wiping out the earlier settlement). The term colony is derived from the Latin colonia, which indicated a place meant for agricultural activities; these Roman colonies and others like them were in fact usually either conquered so as to be inhabited by these workers, or else established as a cheap way of securing conquests made for other reasons. The name of the German city Cologne also derives from colonia.
During the time of the Western (European and later Japanese) expansion (roughly 1400s - 1945), the term "colony" came to mean an overseas district with a native population, administered by a distant colonial government. (Exceptions occurred: Russian colonies in Central Asia and Siberia and German colonies in Eastern Europe fail the "overseas" test; British colonies (or "overseas territories") like the Falkland Islands and Tristan da Cunha lacked a native population.) Most non-European countries were colonies of Europe at one time or another, or were handled in a quasi-colonial manner.
The independence of these colonies began with that of 13 colonies of Britain that formed the United States, finalised in 1783 with the conclusion of a war begun in 1776, and has continued until about the present time, with for example Algeria and East Timor being relinquished by European powers only in 1962 and 1975 respectively (although the latter was forcibly made an Indonesian possession instead of becoming fully independent). This process is called decolonization, though the use of a single term obscures an important distinction between the process of the settler population breaking its links with the mother country while maintaining local political supremacy and that of the indigenous population reasserting themselves (possibly through the expulsion of the settler population).
The Latin name colonia also became the name of several towns, the most famous of which is Cologne.