• Legis Scriptor

History of International Law

Authored by - Aman Porwal

Keywords - History ofInternational Law, Treaties, Europeans, Romans, Middle East, India, Jeremy Bentham, World War I, World War II, United States, Russia, Abraham Accord, Isreal-UAE Deal.


International Law is a collection of rules that govern the relations between different nations. This collection of rules has helped in the development of relations among various countries, from time to time in all the three eras; ancient, medieval, and modern era. Many academic scholars and historians have also defined the term international law’, which has helped in a deeper understanding of International law with its wide history and comprehensive nature.


International Law is a body of legal rules, norms, and standards that apply between two or more nations across the world. Mostly these legal norms are published and well known to the public at large and also to the non party countries. This definition of ‘International law’ was given by Jeremy Bentham. Jeremy Bentham has also mentioned that International law can be called public International law or the law of the nations.

History of International Law

International Law has been in existence for many centuries. Although in the early era, it was not recognized as a formal treaty or agreement it was considered as mutual agreements between neighbor states. International law has also substantially developed in all these eras. Many different scholars have interpreted this definition and questioned the ambit of such a wide-ranging law.

Prof. L. Oppenheim says that the“Law of Nations or International Law is the name for the body of customary and conventional rules which are considered legally binding by the civilized states in their intercourse with each other.”

While J.L. Brierlyclaims, “The Law of Nations or International Law may be defined as the body of rules and principles of action, which are binding upon civilized states in their relations with one another.” Torsten Gihl- “The term International Law means the body of rules of law, which applies within the International Community or society of Sates.”

In Queen v. Keyn[1], Chief Justice has defined International law as “The law of nations is that collection of usages which civilized States have agreed to observe in their dealings with one another.”. Similarly, in Danzing Railways Official Case[2], the Court for International Justice laid down that, in any treaty, the intention of the parties is to confer on some individuals, certain rights, that international law will recognize and enforce them.

Ancient Era and International Law

In the ancient period, there were many states which were initially referred to as ‘kingdoms’. These States were well known to make an alliance, attack, or fight with their enemies. They also maintained friendly relations to give and receive assistance in the need of the hour, like in droughts and floods. The earliest formal treaties were formed during the European Renaissance as they used to collaborate and form treaties in accordance with the ancient middle East. The first treaty which came in light was between the rulers of Lagash and Umma in 2100 BCE and then an agreement between two rulers of the Middle East Ramses II and Hatusilis III in 1258 BCE. After this, there were a number of treaties and agreements which were signed by many states in ancient India (Bharat), China, and Israel also.

Medieval Era and International Law

In the Medieval period, there were a number of princely states that were formed by the breaking of earlier regimes. Some were by invasion and some were by newly emerging rulers after wars. The Roman Empire lead the foundation of International law in the Medieval period, The Romans used a term in Latin‘jus Gentium which interprets as the law of the nations. The principle of Natural Law has made a significant impact in the middle ages as the Romans and the Greeks were involved in several pacts. The religious angles and their reservations against adopting a foreign ruler also lead to the demolition of many rulers.

Modern Era and International Law

Majorly the Modern Era in International Law revolves around World War I and World War II where many nations signed a treaty of “family of nations”. This included the states of Western Europe, then the nations of the new world, and later the countries in Asia also signed this treaty. The law of neutrality played an important role in getting many countries together and also succeeded in pushing for the freedom of the seas. The declaration of Paris and the Geneva Convention have played a significant role in uplifting International laws before the world wars. During World War I, many treaties were signed pertaining to prisoners of war, salvage at sea, communication, peace, mutual agreements to fight together, for migrant laborers, etc.

In World War II, many treaties were violated, many pacts were not followed, and the situation created high tensions for human living and international relations. The evolution of guns and new age war arms were used. Many strong nations were also involved, people died and their bodies were never found. The failure of the League of Nations and the Kellogg Briand pact leads to the formation of the United Nations. The International law commission was also established by the United Nations in 1947.

The New Age International Law is far different and peaceful in comparison to the earlier period. This new age International law is termed as the nuclear and space age. There are a number of international treaties and pacts which were signed. These include the Internationalization of Antarctica 1959, Satellite Communications 1963, the agreement of Strategic Arms Limitation talks by the United States and Russia in 1972, the Law of the Sea treaty in 1982, Global Warming in 1992 and the latestAbharam Accord between Israel – United Arab Emirates Peace Deal, which was signed on the 13th of August 2020.


International law is quite a broad and extensive concept because it covers all the treaties, agreements, conventions which have been signed between two or more nations across the world. International law has a vast history because of the deviation in-laws by many rulers and kingdom sthatarose from time to time in ancient history. The medieval history majorly saw invaders, expansionists, and increasing territory by use of power. In the Modern era, these laws had a special impact after the World Wars because no country would like to go on a war situation after the loss, they saw during World War II. However, the significant increase in relations from time to time among the nations has led to huge development in the field of International Law.

[1] 2 Ex. D. 63, 153, 154 (1876). [2] PCIJ (11928) Services B, No. 15



[2][3] law/evolution-of-international-law