Discovery, Conquest, and Occupation of Territory

Andrew Fitzmaurice

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of International Law

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199599752
Published online December 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Law

Discovery, Conquest, and Occupation of Territory


This chapter notes that the history of the conventions employed to justify European expansion from the 16th to the 20th centuries is a triumph of the idea of occupation over its rivals of discovery and conquest. Occupation prevailed over the rival legal understandings of empire because the theory of occupation developed in tandem with the progressive theory of history. It triumphed as a convention in international law because it could be employed not only to justify European expansion, but also to condemn it. This discussion suggests the need to revise the image of international law as a mere agent of European expansion. It was an agent of empire, without question, but it was also a discourse in which profound debates were conducted over the justice of empire, and in which tools were created that could be employed to defend the rights of non-European peoples as much as to attack them.

Keywords: European expansion; European occupation; international law; empire

Article.  10985 words. 

Subjects: Law ; History of Law ; International Law

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