Sources in the modern tradition: The nature of Europe’s classical law of nations

Randall Lesaffer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterScientificpeer-review


This chapter considers how the modern historiography of international law has ascribed pride of place to the jurisprudence of the law of nature and nations of the Early Modern Age. Whereas the writers from this period have had a significant influence on nineteenth-century international law, their utility as a historical source has been far overrated. The development of the law of nations in that period was much more informed by State practice than historians have commonly credited. Moreover, historiography has overestimated the novelty of the contribution of Early Modern jurisprudence and has almost cast its major historical source of inspiration into oblivion: the late medieval jurisprudence of canon and Roman law. It is thus important to restore medieval jurisprudence to its rightful place in the grand narrative of the evolution of international law.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford handbook of the sources of international law
EditorsSamantha Besson , Jean d’Aspremont
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9780198745365
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


  • 1815 to world war I
  • Choice of law
  • General principles of international law


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