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Acquiring Empire by Law: From Roman Doctrine to Early Modern European Practice

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 February 2010


What role did the Roman legal concept of res nullius (things without owners), or the related concept of terra nullius (land without owners), play in the context of early modern European expansion? Scholars have provided widely different answers to this question. Some historians have argued that European claims based on terra nullius became a routine part of early modern interimperial politics, particularly as a response by the English and French crowns to expansive Iberian claims supported by papal donations. Others have countered that allusions to terra nullius marked a temporary phase of imperial discourse and that claimants relied more often on other rationales for empire, rarely mentioning res nullius or terra nullius and often explicitly recognizing the ownership rights, and even the sovereignty, of local polities and indigenous peoples.

Copyright © the American Society for Legal History, Inc. 2010

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1. On terra nullius as a “doctrine of a legal vacuum,” see Slattery, Brian, “Paper Empires: The Legal Dimensions of French and English Ventures in North America,” Despotic Dominion: Property Rights in British Settler Societies, ed. in McLaren, J., Buck, A. R. and Wright, N. E. (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2005), 51Google Scholar. Armitage, David discusses vacuum domicilium and terra nullius in tandem in his The Ideological Origins of the British Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 97CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For a discussion of the obscure origins of the “seductive” term vacuum domicilium, sometimes as synonymous with terra nullius, see Paul Corcoran, “John Locke on the Possession of Land: Native Title vs. the ‘Principle’ of vacuum domicilium,” Proceedings, Australasian Political Studies Association Annual Conference (Melbourne: Monash University, 24–26 September 2007),

2. For the doctrine of things common to all, see Perruso, Richard, “The Development of the Doctrine of Res Communes in Medieval and Early Modern Europe,” Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 70 (2002): 6994CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Perruso emphasizes the weight of classical, especially Stoic, philosophy for the development of ideas of res communes in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

3. Elliott, J. H., Empires of the Atlantic World. Britain and Spain in America, 1492–1830 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2006), 12Google Scholar.

4. Ibid., 30.

5. Ibid., 32.

6. Pagden, Anthony, Lords of All the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain and France, c.1500–c.1800 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995)Google Scholar. More specifically, Elliot cites two pages (and sometimes one page) from Pagden's book: 76–77.

7. We will discuss Pagden's somewhat different analysis of res nullius in another of his works below.

8. Pagden, Lords of All the World, 76.

9. Armitage, The Ideological Origins of the British Empire, 97. For a critique of elevating vacuum domicilium to a position of prominence in early English discourse, see Corcoran, “John Locke on the Possession of Land.” It is worth pointing out that Armitage characterizes terra nullius as “a standard foundation” rather than “the standard foundation” of English dispossession of indigenous peoples, an important difference that, if emphasized, brings the claim more closely into line with our approach and with that of Pagden's later works discussed below.

10. This debate has been most pointed among Australian historians. Curiously, a reexamination of Roman legal ideas and their early modern applications has been mostly marginalized from this debate. For example, Michael Connor accuses some Australian historians of elevating terra nullius to the position of a central doctrine in the conquest of Australia and the dispossession of Aborigines when there is no record of imperial agents using the term until after it surfaced in late nineteenth-century international law cases. But he repeats the error in defining terra nullius as “land without sovereignty” rather than “land without owners.” The former definition emerged in a late nineteenth-century international law and lightly distorts the view that would have been available, by analogy, to earlier imperial agents in Australia and that might easily have informed their strategies, in the same way that Europeans in early modern empire employed Roman legal rationales while also citing them unsystematically. Connor, Michael, The Invention of Terra Nullius: Historical and Legal Fictions on the Foundation of Australia (Paddington, N.S.W.: Macleay, 2005)Google Scholar.

11. Tuck, Richard, The Rights of War and Peace: Political Thought and the International Order from Grotius to Kant (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 123–25Google Scholar.

12. Slattery, Brian, “Paper Empires: The Legal Dimensions of French and English Ventures in North America,” in Despotic Dominion: Property Rights in British Settler Societies, ed. McLaren, John, Buck, A. R., and Wright, Nancy E. (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2005), 72Google Scholar. Slattery's is an unfortunate choice of words, as occupation is precisely the method of choice when it comes to acquisition of res or terra nullius.

13. Banner, Stuart, “Why Terra Nullius? Anthropology and Property Law in Early Australia,” Law and History Review 23 (1) (2005): 95CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Banner, Stuart, How the Indians Lost Their Land: Law and Power on the Frontier (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

14. Banner, How the Indians Lost Their Land, 47–48.

15. Seed, Patricia, Ceremonies of Possession in Europe's Conquest of the New World, 1492–1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995)Google Scholar; Seed, Patricia, American Pentimento: The Invention of Indians and the Pursuit of Riches (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001)Google Scholar.

16. Ken MacMillan, Sovereignty and Possession in the English World: The Legal Foundations of Empire, 1576–1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006); Slattery, “Paper Empires,” 52.

17. On the idea of a global legal regime in the early modern period, see Benton, Lauren, Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400–1900 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002)Google Scholar.

18. As Slattery states, “the papal grants took effect only when the grantee assumed ‘actual and real possession’” (“Paper Empires,” 55). In not granting sovereignty, the papal donations did not construe extra-European lands as unoccupied or unclaimed. Instead, the grants effectively conferred the right to possess newly discovered territories and/or acquire them by conquest (through the subjugation of non-Christians who by implication held sovereignty at the time of discovery) or cession. See Korman, Sharon, The Right of Conquest: The Acquisition of Territory by Force in International Law and Practice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 4445Google Scholar.

19. Muldoon, James, Popes, Lawyers, and Infidels: The Church and the Non-Christian World, 1250–1550 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1979)Google Scholar; see also Benton, Law and Colonial Cultures, ch. 2.

20. See for this change in the doctrine of sources of law, Straumann, B., “‘Ancient Caesarian Lawyers’ in a State of Nature: Roman Tradition and Natural Rights in Hugo Grotius' De iure praedae,” Political Theory 34 (3) (2006): 330, 332CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

21. Gascoigne, John, The Enlightenment and the Origins of European Australia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 8Google Scholar; Kercher, Bruce, “Native Title in the Shadows: The Origins of the Myth of Terra Nullius in Early New South Wales Courts,” in Colonialism and the Modern World: Selected Studies, Blue, Gregory, Bunton, Martin P., and Crozier, Ralph C. (Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 2002), 100119Google Scholar.

22. Connor (Invention of Terra Nullius) goes on to accuse other historians of political motives in adopting uncritically the assumption that terra nullius had featured prominently in nineteenth-century debates and to criticize jurists for suggesting that the term had historical relevance in the decision in Mabo v. The State of Queensland (1992) establishing native title. For a comment on his position, see note 10 above. Our hope is that Connor and his critics might gain something from our analysis of res nullius in early modern discourse and colonial practice.

23. Fitzmaurice, Andrew, “A Genealogy of Terra Nullius,” Australian Historical Studies 129 (2007): passim, 6Google Scholar. For an extension of his arguments, see Fitzmaurice, Andrew, “Moral Uncertainty in the Dispossession of Native Americans,” in The Atlantic World and Virginia, 1550–1624, ed. Mancall, P. C. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 383409Google Scholar, where an excellent account of the Salamancan School's stance on empire is given.

24. Banner, Stuart, Possessing the Pacific: Land, Settlers, and Indigenous People from Australia to Alaska (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007), 3Google Scholar.

25. Pagden, , “The Struggle for Legitimacy and the Image of Empire in the Atlantic, to c. 1700,” in The Origins of Empire, ed. Canny, Nicholas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 3454Google Scholar; it is unclear, however, why discovery would constitute a necessary condition for occupation—obviously one can occupy something without having discovered it first.

26. Ibid., 50. Pagden, continues this approach in a still more recent article (“Law, Colonization, Legitimation, and the European Background,” in The Cambridge History of Law in America, Vol. I, Early America (1580–1815), ed. Grossberg, Michael and Tomlins, Christopher [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008], 131)Google Scholar. But here Pagden again emphasizes the term terra nullius as a key part of the wider discourse, while also stating that the term itself was not used until the nineteenth century. The distinction between his presentation in this article and our understanding of the influence of Roman legal ideas about res nullius is subtle but, we think, important. Pagden writes that in Roman law “any territory that had not been formally enclosed in some manner and could not be defended, or had once been occupied, but was now abandoned, was held to be vacant” (200). We emphasize that such an explicit definition was present mainly within critiques of empire, but its implicit form emerged only indirectly in imperial practice, and in somewhat muddled form, through a congeries of strategies for asserting and defending claims.

27. Slattery, “Paper Empires,” 61.

28. We will not here engage in a discussion of the thorny question of the respective weight of the Corpus iuris, the Glossa ordinaria, and the later interpretations of the commentators. When we speak of the influence of Roman law, we do not wish to deny the importance of the glossators and the commentators. For the purposes of this article and the level of generality at which it operates, however, nothing seems to hinge on a more fine-grained rendering of what Roman law meant to our writers and imperial agents. On the influence of the Roman law on the natural law ideas of the glossators, see Weigand, Rudolf, Die Naturrechtslehre der Legisten und Dekretisten von Irnerius bis Accursius und von Gratian bis Johannes Teutonicus (Munich: Max Hueber, 1967)Google Scholar.

29. Cic. de off. 1, 21: Sunt autem privata nulla natura, sed aut vetere occupatione, ut qui quondam in vacua venerunt, aut victoria, ut qui bello potiti sunt, aut lege, pactione, condicione, sorte; ex quo fit, ut ager Arpinas Arpinatium dicatur, Tusculanus Tusculanorum; similisque est privatarum possessionum discriptio. The translations are taken from Cicero, , On Duties, ed. Griffin, M. T. and Atkins, E. M. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991)Google Scholar and have on occasion been modified.

30. See Dyck, A. R., A Commentary on Cicero, De Officiis (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996), 110Google Scholar.

31. For the property law of the late republican period, see Watson, A., The Law of Property in the Later Roman Republic (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968), 71Google Scholar and passim.

32. Gai. Dig. 41, 1, 1–3: the translation is taken from Watson, A., ed., The Digest of Justinian, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985)Google Scholar.

33. See Kaser, Max, Römisches Privatrecht, 16th ed. (Munich: Beck, 1992), 122Google Scholar.

34. See Dig. 41, 7, 2pr. See also Buckland, W. W., A Text-Book of Roman Law from Augustus to Justinian, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1932), 206Google Scholar.

35. Inst. 2, 1, 39.

36. Ibid.

37. See Buckland, Text-Book, 219.

38. For usucapio, see Dig. 41, 3, 1.

39. See Cic. top. 4, 23.

40. Johnston, David, Roman Law in Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 56CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

41. Ibid.

42. For a similar argument, see Fitzmaurice, “Genealogy of Terra Nullius,” 6–9; Fitzmaurice, “Moral Uncertainty in the Dispossession of Native Americans.”

43. The comment was made in 1613. See Straumann, “‘Ancient Caesarian Lawyers,’” 329.

44. The bull Romanus Pontifex can be found in Davenport, Frances G., ed., European Treaties bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies, 4 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1917), 1:2026Google Scholar. The original text in Latin is in the same volume, at pages 13–20. See also Grewe, Wilhelm G., Epochen der Völkerrechtsgeschichte, 2nd ed. (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 1988), 301n1Google Scholar.

45. For the treaty of Saragossa, see Fahl, Gundolf, Der Grundsatz der Freiheit der Meere in der Staatenpraxis von 1493–1649. Eine rechtsgeschichtliche Untersuchung (Cologne: Heymann, 1969), 2633Google Scholar.

46. Grewe, Epochen, 301: “Der ausschliessliche Herrschaftsanspruch der iberischen Nationen über die Weltmeere kam demnach in beiden Dokumenten unmissverständlich zum Ausdruck, wenngleich man davon absah, ihn juristisch zu qualifizieren.” For the edict and the treaty, see Davenport, European Treaties, 1:72.

47. Most modern scholars agree that these papal bestowals did not have the power to create binding norms of international law. The bulls, however, succeeded in giving the supported claims more weight, which was important, for example, with regard to treaty negotiations. See Fisch, Jörg, Die europäische Expansion und das Völkerrecht. Die Auseinandersetzungen um den Status der überseeischen Gebiete vom 15. Jahrhundert bis zur Gegenwart (Stuttgart: Steiner, 1984), 4654Google Scholar; the book by Fisch is an invaluable resource. Fahl, Grundsatz, 129, concludes that the papal bulls were less important as the formal legal foundation of the Iberian claims than commonly assumed, yet he acknowledges that they were instrumental as a source of legal arguments.

48. Vitoria, , “On the American Indians,” in Political Writings, ed. with trans. by Pagden, Anthony and Lawrance, Jeremy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991)Google Scholar, 239f., q. 1, art. 1.

49. Ibid., 251, q. 1, concl.

50. Ibid.

51. Ibid., 264f., q. 2, art. 3. See the excellent comments by Fisch, Europäische Expansion, 214.

52. Vitoria's argument clearly applies to both sovereignty (“public ownership”) and private ownership; pace Fitzmaurice, “Genealogy of Terra Nullius,” 12.

53. Ibid., 278ff., q. 3, art. 1.

54. Ibid., 280.

55. Ibid. Cf. Inst. 2, 1, 12: Ferae igitur bestiae et volucres et pisces, id est omnia animalia, quae in terra mari caelo nascuntur, simulatque ab aliquo capta fuerint, iure gentium statim illius esse incipiunt: quod enim ante nullius est, id naturali ratione occupanti conceditur. “Wild beasts, birds, fish, that is, all animals, which live either in the sea, the air, or on the earth, so soon as they are taken by any one, immediately become by the law of nations the property of the captor; for natural reason gives to the first occupant that which had no previous owner.” Translated by Thomas Collett Sandars, The Institutes of Justinian, with intr., trans., and notes (London, 1922; repr. Westport, Conn., 1970), 95. Pagden and Lawrance mistakenly hold that the relevance of that passage from the Institutes with respect to dominium rerum is denied by Vitoria in De Indis, q. 2, art. 3; but there, Vitoria aims quite clearly not primarily at dominium rerum, but at sovereignty.

56. Ibid., 281.

57. For Domingo de Soto's life and works, see Plans, Juan Belda, La Escuela de Salamanca (Madrid, 2000), 399500Google Scholar. For the text of the Relectio, see the first edition by J. Brufau Prats, with an introduction and Spanish translation; Domingo de Soto, RelecciónDe Dominio,” edited by Jaime Brufau Prats (Granada: Universidad de Granada, 1964). For Soto's role in the Spanish controversy of the Indies, and for an excellent account of the reliance of that controversy on classical models, see Lupher, David, Romans in a New World: Classical Models in Sixteenth-Century Spanish America (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003), 43102Google Scholar; our English translations are taken from Lupher, Romans in a New World, 61.

58. Soto, RelecciónDe Dominio,” 162: Quo ergo iure retinemus Imperium quod modo reperitur ultramarinum? Re vera ego nescio.

59. Soto in fact found Julius Caesar to have usurped his imperium unlawfully; see Soto, RelecciónDe Dominio,” 150: dato quod romani ius haberent supra aliquas nationes, tamen Iulius Caesar, ut in ipsius Commentariis compertum est, tyrannice et per discordiam civilem obtinuit Imperium. For the medieval theory of translatio imperii, see Goez, Werner, Translatio imperii: ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Geschichtsdenkens und der politischen Theorien im Mittelalter und in der Neuzeit (Tübingen: Mohr, 1958)Google Scholar.

60. Dig. 14, 2, 9; in Mommsen's translation: Ego orbis terrarum dominus sum. See Soto, RelecciónDe Dominio,” 154. For the use of this passage (lex Rhodia) in medieval legal writings, see Ullmann, W., Law and Politics in the Middle Ages: An Introduction to the Sources of Medieval Political Ideas (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1975), 57fGoogle Scholar.

61. Soto, RelecciónDe Dominio,” 152: Nam romani non potuerunt dare Imperatori nisi quod habebant; sed romani numquam habuerunt Imperium totius orbis, numquam enim memoriae traditum est pervenisse romanos ad antipodas vel ad has terras quae modo inveniuntur; ergo, non potuerunt romani tradere Imperium harum nationum alicui, quia non habebant illud, non magis quam galli possunt facere regem Hispaniae.

62. Nam ut Sotus ubi supra recte ait, non eis concessit imperium universi orbis, sed tantum partis eius. We have used the following edition, which is transcribed from the 1564 editio princeps: de Menchaca, F. Vázquez, Controversiarum illustrium aliarumque usu frequentium libri tres, ed. Alcalde, F. Rodriguez, vol. 2 (Valladolid, 1931), c. 20, 31Google Scholar. See also c. 20, 37 For an excellent discussion of Vázquez de Menchaca's political thought and its relation to the School of Salamanca, see Brett, Annabel, Liberty, Right and Nature: Individual Rights in Later Scholastic Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 165204Google Scholar.

63. Ulp. Dig. 50, 17, 54: nemo plus iuris ad alium transferre potest quam ipse habet.

64. For this mode of acquisition of ownership iure gentium, see above, and Inst. 2, 1, 12ff.; Dig. 41, 1, 3–6.

65. Gentili, De iure belli libri tres 1. 19, 144; the following edition has been used: Gentili, Alberico, De iure belli libri tres, The Classics of International Law 16, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1933)Google Scholar. We slightly modified the translation by John C. Rolfe contained in the second volume.

66. Vattel, Le droit des gens, 1, 18, 208. de Vattel, Emer, Le droit des gens ou principes de la loi naturelle appliqués à la conduite et aux affaires des nations et des souverains, ed. de Lapradelle, Albert, 3 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1916)Google Scholar. Cf. Fisch, Europäische Expansion, 275ff; Tuck, The Rights of War and Peace, 191ff. It is worth mentioning that with regard to the earlier Spanish expansion, Vattel's arguments were equally critical of empire, since the autochthonous civilizations of Middle and South America were believed to have lived up to Vattel's civilizational standards.

67. With the exception of John Locke, and the possible exception of Richard Zouche, although both Locke and Zouche seem to think in terms of private law occupation, not occupation with effects on sovereignty; see Fisch, Europäische Expansion, 248. Our view runs counter to that of scholars such as Antony Anghie and Robert Williams and is more closely aligned with Andrew Fitzmaurice's position. See Anghie, A., Imperialism, Sovereignty, and the Making of International Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 1331CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Williams, R., The American Indian in Western Legal Thought (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 105ff.Google Scholar; Fitzmaurice, “Moral Uncertainty in the Dispossession of Native Americans,” 386f.

68. See Inst. 2, 1, 1; Dig. 1, 8, 2, for the qualification of the sea as res communis. Cf. Perruso, “The Development,” who suggests plausibly that the early modern natural lawyers depended for this idea not solely on the Digest but also and more importantly on philosophical works by Cicero and Seneca.

69. See Ulp. Dig. 47, 10, 13, 7, granting an action for insult (actio iniuriarum) for being prohibited from fishing in the sea.

70. Hugo Grotius, Mare liberum, The freedom of the seas, or, The right which belongs to the Dutch to take part in the East indian trade, trans. with a revision of the Latin text of 1633 by Ralph van Deman Magoffin, ed. with an introductory note by J. B. Scott (New York, 1916), 22 (henceforth ML): Mare ad Indos aut ius eo navigandi non esse proprium Lusitanorum titulo occupationis.

71. See Grotius's description of the rightful original occupation of the empty area Holland—a res nullius—by the Batavi in his historical work De antiquitate reipublicae Batavicae, 2, 1: eaque loca, ut Tacitus narrat, cultoribus vacua occupantibus cessisse, aequissima naturae lege, qua rerum sine domino iacentium domini fiunt qui primi eas possident. (“[A]nd that this area was empty [as Tacitus records] when they took possession of it to use it as farmland, on the basis of this very just law of nature, which says that those who first take possession of unoccupied territory become its lords.”) Grotius, Hugo, The Antiquity of the Batavian Republic, ed. and trans. Waszink, J. (Assen: Van Gorcum, 2000), 56fGoogle Scholar.

72. Grotius, De Iure Praedae 12, fol. 103 (=ML 5, 30): Mare igitur proprium omnino alicuius fieri non potest, quia natura commune hoc esse non permittit, sed iubet. The following facsimile edition of De Iure Praedae Commentarius (hereafter cited as IPC) has been used: Grotius, Hugo, De Iure Praedae Commentarius. A Collotype Reproduction of the Original Manuscript of 1604 in the Handwriting of Grotius belonging to the State University of Leyden, The Classics of International Law 22, vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1950)Google Scholar. For the English translation we used the following recent edition (which reproduces the translation prepared by Gwladys L. Williams in 1950 for the Classics of International Law series): Commentary on the Law of Prize and Booty, ed. and with an introduction by Martine Julia van Ittersum (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 2006).

73. IPC 12, fol. 106 (=ML 5, 39): Quia enim prima, ut diximus, occupatio res proprias fecit, idcirco imaginem quandam dominii praefert quamvis iniusta detentio.

74. For Grotius as an early exponent of a theory of a natural state, see Straumann, Benjamin, Hugo Grotius und die Antike. Römisches Recht und römische Ethik im frühneuzeitlichen Naturrecht (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2007), 3258Google Scholar; Straumann, “‘Ancient Caesarian Lawyers,’” 337ff.

75. IPC 12, fol. 102' (=ML 5, 28).

76. IPC 12, fol. 104 (=ML 5, 34).

77. IPC 12, fol. 102' (=ML 5, 29): Haec igitur sunt illa quae Romani vocant communia omnium iure naturali. Three passages adduced from the Digest stem from the discussion in book 41 of the acquisition of ownership: Dig. 41, 1, 14; 41, 1, 50; 41, 3, 45. One is taken from book 43, dealing with interdicts preventing anything from being done in public places (Dig. 43, 8, 3f.), and one from book 47 which deals with obligations arising from delicts (Dig. 47, 10, 13, 7). The rest are from Dig. 1, 8, 10; 8, 4, 13.

78. IPC 12, fol. 105 (=ML 5, p. 36): Verum est loqui Iurisconsultum [Ulpianum] delege privata, sed in territorio et lege populorum eadem hic est ratio, quia populi respectu totius generis humani privatorum locum obtinent.

79. There is more—the French supposedly enacted possession by observing their acceptance by inhabitants and the Dutch through mapping. Patricia Seed, Ceremonies of Possession. For an older treatment of acts of possession that shows the variety and flexibility of ceremonies and their shared symbols, see Keller, Arther, Lissitzyn, Oliver, and Mann, Frederick, Creation of Rights of Sovereignty through Symbolic Acts 1400–1800 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1938)Google Scholar. Also compare MacMillan, Sovereignty and Possession in the English World.

80. See, for example Elliott, J. H., Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America, 1492–1830 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2006), 31Google Scholar.

81. Keller et al., Creation of Rights of Sovereignty.

82. Horn, James, “The Conquest of Eden: Possession and Dominion in Early Virginia,” in Environing an English Empire: Jamestown and the Making of the North Atlantic World, ed. Appelbaum, Robert and Sweet, John Wood (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), 31 and 33Google Scholar.

83. The document was drawn up on the spot and was signed by a notary and eleven witnesses. Keller et al., Creation of Rights of Sovereignty, 129.

84. Dunn, William Edward, “The Spanish Search for La Salle's Colony on the Bay of Espiritu Santu, 1685–1689,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly Online 19 (4) (April 1916): 323–69Google Scholar, (accessed December 27, 2008).

85. Tyacke, “English Charting of the River Amazon,” 75.

86. Keller et al., Creation of Rights of Sovereignty, 59.

87. Sir Walter Raleigh, The Discovery of the Large, Rich, and Beautiful Empire of Guiana, 62, 53.

88. The instructions for Solís began by ordering him to make a clearing and erect “some small building” in the presence of an escribano and “the greatest possible number of witnesses.” Keller et al., Creation of Rights of Sovereignty, 3f.

89. For further analysis of the context of this case, see Lauren Benton, A Search for Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires, 1400–1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), ch. 2.

90. Biggar, Henry, ed., The Works of Samuel de Champlain, vol. 2 (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1922–1936), 30Google Scholar.

91. This is a feature of Pagden's earlier discussions of terra nullius and of the approach of Tuck, both discussed in the second section above.

92. Corcoran, “John Locke on the Possession of Land.”

93. We know that many Spaniards were very familiar with a private law doctrine of possession through the Siete Partidas, the thirteenth-century law code adopted in Castile, which relied heavily on Roman law sources. Owensby shows that ritual actos de posesión (acts of possession) were routinely used by both Spaniards and Indians in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century New Spain to announce claims in land, which might then be further supported or challenged through documentation and evidence of continuous occupation and productive use. Owensby describes acts of possession as “the public touchstone of property relations in colonial Mexico.” Owensby, Brian, Empire of Law and Indian Justice in Colonial Mexico (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2008), 91Google Scholar, and the rest of ch. 4.

94. Richard Tuck, Rights of War and Peace, 124.

95. Banner, How the Indians Lost Their Land, 21.

96. Fitzmaurice, Humanism and America, 144–45.

97. See, for example, James Horn, “The Conquest of Eden: Possession and Dominion in Early Virginia.”

98. Fitzmaurice, Humanism and America, 146.

99. On this “legal posturing,” see Benton, A Search for Sovereignty, ch. 1; cf. Reid, John Phillip, Law for the Elephant: Property and Social Behavior on the Overland Trail (San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library Press, 1980)Google Scholar.