A BRIEF HISTORY OF COLONIAL INDIA
The first European power to arrive in India was the army of Alexander the Great in 327–326 BC. The colonies he established in the north west of the subcontinent quickly crumbled after he left. Later, trade was carried between Indian states and the Roman Empire by Roman sailors who reached India via the Red Sea and Arabian Sea, but the Romans never sought trading settlements or territory in India. The spice trade between India and Europe was one of the main trading sessions of the world economy and was the main catalyst for the period of European exploration.
Near the end of the 15th century, Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama became the first European to re-establish direct trade links with India since Roman times by being the first to arrive by circumnavigating Africa (1497-1499). Having arrived in Calicut, which by then was one of the major trading ports of the eastern world, he obtained permission to trade in the city from Saamoothiri Rajah.
Trading rivalries brought other European powers to India. The Netherlands, England, France, and Denmark established trading posts in India in the early 17th century. As the Mughal Empire disintegrated in the early 18th century and then the Maratha Empire became weakened after the third battle of Panipat, the relatively weak and unstable Indian states which emerged were increasingly open to manipulation by the Europeans through dependent "friendly" Indian rulers.
In the later 18th century the Britain and France struggled for dominance through proxy Indian rulers and also by direct military intervention. The defeat of the redoubtable Indian ruler Tipu Sultan in 1799 marginalized French influence. This was followed by a rapid expansion of British power through the greater part of the subcontinent in the early 19th century. By the middle of the century, the British had already gained direct or indirect control over almost all of India. British India contained the most populous and valuable provinces of the British Empire and thus became known as "the jewel in the British crown".