The History of International Law

This concise timeline maps the broad history of public international law with particular attention paid to the signing of major treaties, the foundation of fundamental institutions, the birth of major figures in international law and milestones in the development of some of the field’s best-known doctrines. There are varying opinions on where to start in the history of international law, as well as arguments around periodising the dynamic developments, though for this project we have started with the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. Explore some of the major developments in the history of international law and read more by clicking through to freed-up chapters from the Oxford Historical Treaties, the Max Planck Encyclopaedia of Public International Law, relevant book chapters, blog pieces and journal articles. (Background image: Réception d'un ambassadeur français à Constantinople, Vanmour Jean-Baptiste (1671-1737). (c) RMN-Grand Palais / A. Danvers. Licensed and used with permission.)

1494-06-07 08:43:50

Treaty of Tordesillas

The treaty was an agreement (capitulación) between the monarchs of what was later called Spain, Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, on the one hand, and John II, King of Portugal, on the other.

1529-07-20 08:43:50

Treaty of Zaragoza

Marks the first time that one of the Iberian states bases its claim to territory on a right of first discovery rather than on papal edict.

1537-06-18 08:43:50

Francisco de Vitoria delivers lectures

Presenting at the University of Salamanca on the legal position of newly colonised natives of the West Indies and what laws of war apply to them.

1548-05-13 23:50:17

Birth of Francisco Suárez

Francisco Suárez is one of the best known members of a major 16th- and 17th-century intellectual movement known as the ‘School of Salamanca’ or the ‘second scholastic’.

1552-05-10 23:50:17

Birth of Alberico Gentili

Alberico Gentili, jurist, is born on 14 January 1552 in Castello di San Ginesio.

1555-05-29 00:00:00

Treaty of Amasya

The first treaty between Muslim entities (Ottomans and Safavids).

1555-09-25 08:43:50

Religious Peace of Augsburg

A landmark in the history of sovereignty, establishing equal respect for the principalities and estates of the Holy Roman Empire adhering to the Catholic and Lutheran confessions

1576-06-06 08:43:50

Jean Bodin on sovereignty

Frenchman Jean Bodin offers a classic definition of sovereignty: "the Sovereign has supreme power over citizens and subjects and is not bound by any laws"

1583-04-10 08:43:50

Birth of Hugo Grotius

In 1625 Grotius publishes De iure belli ac pacis (On the Law of War and Peace). The work reveals a modern conception of natural law which, whilst still recognizing God as the ultimate legitimating authority, frees international law from some of its theological baggage and offers warring confessions some neutral ground on to find peace in the 30 Years War.

1602-01-19 00:00:00

Foundation of the Dutch East India Company

The Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC helped to establish global trade.

1630-01-18 00:00:00

Madrid Peace Treaty

Marks the first time that two seafaring nations (England and Spain) agree that all of the seas are governed by law, not just those within so-called "lines of amity".

1648-04-16 08:43:50

The Westphalian Treaties

The term ‘Peace of Westphalia’ principally denotes the Treaty of Peace between France and the Holy Roman Empire and the Treaty of Peace between the Holy Roman Empire and Sweden.

1650-01-13 00:00:00

Richard Zouche publishes the first manual of international law

Find out more about Zouche and the origins of international law, with a chapter from Brierly's Law of Nations: An Introduction to the Role of International Law in International Relations.

1666-05-22 00:00:00

Treaty of Peace between France and Iroquois Indians of the nation of Tsonnot8an [Tsonnotuan]

The first treaty between a European power and a North American indigenous policy

1667-07-31 19:38:46

The Peace of Breda

The conclusion of the Second Anglo-Dutch War had lasting implications for both nations’ standing in international affairs.

1672-01-15 00:00:00

Publication of Pufendorf's Law of Nature and Nations

The law of nations is that which enables States to regulate their self-interest among each other by the basic rule of ‘sociability’.

1713-04-11 08:43:50

Peace of Utrecht

The peace settlement that put an end to one of the major and most devastating wars in early-modern European history, the War of the Spanish Succession (1700–1713/1714).

1714-05-25 08:43:50

Birth of Emer de Vattel

Author of 'The Law of Nations' is born in Switzerland.

1725-07-15 06:26:44

League of Hanover

An alliance between Louis XV of France, George I of Great Britain/Hanover and Frederick William I of Brandenburg/Prussia

1756-01-09 00:00:00

Seven Years War

First major conflict between European nations being fought outside of Europe.

1776-07-04 08:43:50

US Declaration of Independence

Brings the concept of self-determination to the world stage. Explore this concept with a chapter from Commentary on UN Charter from OSAIL.

1791-06-24 08:43:50

French Revolutionary Constitution

Adopts provisions on non-intervention in other state's affairs, and the treatment of aliens.

1793-04-19 08:43:50

Declaration Du Droit des Gens

A catalogue of fundamental rights and duties is set forth, the Declaration du Droit des Gens, authored by Henri Grégoire.

1798-03-18 08:43:50

Birth of Francis Lieber

author of the Lieber Code, also known as A Code for the Government of Armies in the Field, as Authorized by the Laws and Usages of War on Land (1863)

1803-01-01 08:43:50

Creation of Haiti

Sparks off independence movement in Latin America

1806-08-06 08:43:50

Napoleon brings the Holy Roman Empire to an end

1807-03-25 00:00:00

Slave Trade Act 1807

Britain bans the international slave trade in 1807, and the US does so in 1808.

1815-06-01 08:43:50

Congress of Vienna

The Congress of Vienna marked the establishment of a new political and legal order for Europe after more than two decades of turmoil and war following the French Revolution.

1823-06-20 08:43:50

Monroe Doctrine promulgated

The USA made it a foreign policy aim to prevent European States from establishing new footholds as against the newly independent States in the Americas.

1823-08-01 00:00:00

Johnson v M’Intosh

US Supreme Court decision defines the Doctrine of Discovery and what it means for European acquisition of land from indigenous peoples

1824-02-26 08:43:50

Birth of Carlos Calvo

Originator of the Calvo Clause and Calvo Doctrine

1826-02-10 08:43:50

Simon Bolivar's Panama Congress

Heralds a new era of autonomy and regionalism in Latin America

1827-02-17 08:43:50

Great Powers' intervention in Greek uprising

This intervention was seen by some as the birth of humanitarian intervention

1831-02-11 08:43:50

Convention on the Navigation of the Rhine

Marks the beginning of agreements on shared resources

1836-02-12 08:43:50

Mexico gains independence from Spain

Read more about Mexico's independence in the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law.

1842-02-18 08:43:50

Treaty of Nanking

Cedes Hong Kong to Britain

1843-02-16 08:43:50

Birth of Sir Ernest Satow

Author of the leading text on diplomatic law and practice

1846-02-12 08:43:50

Repeal of the Corn Laws

Turns Great Britain into protector of the high seas of free trade

1847-05-31 00:09:41

The Treaty of Erzurum

The first serious attempt by the two leading powers of the Middle East – Persia and the Ottoman Empire - to demarcate a precise border

1854-02-10 08:43:50

Ryuku-US Treaty

The first international treaty under modern international law to which Japan was a party

1856-02-09 08:43:50

Ottoman Empire admitted to the Concert of Europe

A sign that the empire had secured recognition as a full-fledged ‘European’ State

1858-02-12 08:43:50

Official takeover of the government of India

Colonial rule of the Indian subcontinent began through infiltration of trade monopolies such as the British East India Company (Colonialism).

1858-02-12 08:43:50

Birth of L. F. L. Oppenheim

Author of what is still (in its 9th edition) the leading treatise on international law in English.

1863-02-07 08:43:50

International Committee of the Red Cross founded

The ICRC was established in Geneva in 1863.

1863-06-19 08:43:50

Lieber Code signed by President Abraham Lincoln

Named after its drafter Francis Lieber.

1864-06-16 08:43:50

The first Geneva Convention is signed

The “Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field” marked the start of international attempts to codify the treatment of the sick, wounded and shipwrecked.

1865-02-22 08:43:50

International Telegraph Union established

This was the first international organisation established.

1871-02-16 08:43:50

Sino-Japan Treaty of Amity

The first treaty China agreed with another East Asian state

1873-02-06 08:43:50

Institut de Droit International

Seen by leading scholar Martti Koskenniemi as marking the birth of international law as a profession.

1885-02-13 08:43:50

Formation of pro-independence Indian National Congress

The formation of the Indian National Congress (‘INC’) in 1885.

The History of International Law

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