Roman Law and the Early Historiography of International Law: Ward, Wheaton, Hosack and Walker

57 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2007

See all articles by Randall Lesaffer

Randall Lesaffer

Tilburg Law School; KU Leuven - Faculty of Law

Date Written: February 23, 2007


The significance of Roman law for the evolution of international law is an issue as complex as it is contentious. It has two main dimensions: the continuity between Roman 'international law' and that of later times and the impact of Roman private law on the further development of international law. As several legal historians and international lawyers of the 20th century - among whom Hersch Lauterpacht is foremost - have indicated, this historical debate is overshadowed by concerns about current international law.

In this article, the works of four Anglo-American historians of international law from the 19th century are analysed in relation to Roman law. These early historians of international law all viewed the question of the Roman contribution to modern international law in terms of their understanding of that law. As was the case during the 20th century, and as Lauterpacht had claimed, the discussion on Roman law reflected the great debate between positivists and naturalists. Of course, each waged the debate in the terms of his day and age. None of these authors reduced international law to the positive public international law of the 19th century, based upon the sovereign state. None of them was over-concerned with consensualism and voluntarism, at least not directly. The central issue was the other one Lauterpacht had forwarded: the question whether States were subjected to the same morals and laws as individuals.

Keywords: international law, roman law, historiography, nineteenth century

JEL Classification: K10, K33

Suggested Citation

Lesaffer, Randall C. H., Roman Law and the Early Historiography of International Law: Ward, Wheaton, Hosack and Walker (February 23, 2007). Available at SSRN: or

Randall C. H. Lesaffer (Contact Author)

Tilburg Law School ( email )

PO Box 90153
Tilburg, 5000 LE
0031 13 4662294 (Phone)


KU Leuven - Faculty of Law

Tiensestraat 41
Leuven, B-3000

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