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Hugo Grotius (1583–1645). The Rights of War and Peace. 1901.

Book III

Chapter VIII: On Empire Over the Conquered

  • Civil and sovereign jurisdiction acquired by conquest—Effects of such acquisition—Absolute power or mixed power gained by conquest—Incorporeal rights acquired in the same manner—Thessalian bond considered.

  • I. IF individuals can reduce each other to subjection, it is not surprising that states can do the same, and by this means acquire a civil, absolute, or mixed, dominion. So that, in the language of Tertullian, victory has often been the foundation of dominion, and it often happens, as Quintilian remarks, that the boundaries of states and kingdoms, of nations and cities, can only be settled by the laws of war.

    Quintus Curtius relates of Alexander, that he said, it was for conquerors to dictate laws, which the conquered were bound to receive. This has always been a general opinion and rule, thus Ariovistus, in Caesar, laid it down as an indubitable right of war, for the conqueror to impose whatever terms he pleased upon the conquered, nor did he suppose the Roman people would allow any one to interpose with them in the discretionary use of this right.

    By conquest, a prince succeeds to all the rights of the conquered sovereign or state; and if it be a commonwealth, he acquires all the rights and privileges, which the people possessed. He gains the same right, which the state had before, to alienate the possessions, or to transmit them if he chuses to his descendants, by which means they will become a patrimonial territory.

    II. The right of conquest may go even beyond this. A state may hereby lose its political existence, so far as to form an appendage to another power, which was the case with the Roman provinces: or if a king engaged in war against a state, at his own expence, has reduced it to complete subjection, his authority over it becomes an absolute, rather than a limited sovereignty. It can no longer be called an independent state, but, by the right of conquest, forms an integral part of the prince’s immediate dominions. Xenophon in drawing the character of Agesilaus, commends him for requiring no other services and obedience of the cities he had conquered, than what is usually paid by subjects to their lawful sovereigns.

    III. From hence it will be easy to understand what is meant by a mixed government, composed partly of civil, and partly of absolute power;—it is a government, where subjection is united with some degree of personal liberty.

    We sometimes read of nations, that have been so far subdued, as to be deprived of the use of all warlike arms, being allowed to retain no instruments of iron, but the implements of husbandry; and of others, that have been compelled to change their national customs and language.

    IV. States as well as individuals may lose their property by the laws of war: and even a voluntary surrender is in reality nothing more than giving up what might have been taken by force. For as Livy says, where all things submit to the power of arms, the conqueror may impose whatever terms, and exact whatever fines he pleases. Thus the Roman people by the victories of Pompey acquired all the territories, which Mithridates had gained by conquest.

    The incorporeal rights too, belonging to one state, may pass to another by the rights of conquest. Upon the taking of Alba, the Romans retained all the rights belonging to that city. From hence it follows, that the Thessalians were released from the obligation of paying a sum of money, which they owed to the Thebans; Alexander, upon the taking of Thebes, having, as a conqueror, forgiven the debt. Nor is the argument used by Quintilian in favour of the Thebans, at all convincing: he maintains that nothing but what is of a tangible nature can pass by right of conquest, a class of things to which incorporeal rights can never be reduced: and that there is a material difference between inheritance and victory, the former of which may convey incorporeal rights, but the latter can give nothing except things of a solid and visible substance.

    But on the other hand it may be justly said, that whoever is master of the persons, is master also of all the rights and things, which are vested in those persons, who are in that case considered as having nothing of their own. Indeed if any one should leave to a conquered people their rights, as a state, still there are some things belonging to that state, which he might appropriate to himself. For it is in his own power to determine, to what extent his generosity, or the exertion of his right shall go. Caesar imitated the conduct of Alexander, in forgiving the Dyrrachians a debt, which they owed to some one of the opposite party. But the kind of war, in which Caesar was engaged does not fall within the rules of the law of nations.