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Bio-Bibliographical Guide to Medieval and Early Modern Jurists

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Report No. t244

Petrinus Bellus

1502–1575

 

Alternative Names

Pierino Belli

 

Biography/Description

G. S. Pene Vidari offers an assessment of P. that we find convincing and that we attempt to summarize here: P. was from a prominent family of Alba (prov. Cuneo), where P. was born in 1502. His family were in military service to the marquis of Monferrato; P., however, dedicated himself to the study of law at Perugia. From 1533, he practiced law in service to Monferrato and the Empire, filling various offices in an area devastated by the local wars and by the widespread clashes between the French and the imperial forces. In 1546, he was appointed uditore generale di guerra (roughly, judge advocate general) of the imperial army operating in the area. In 1560, after the peace of Cateau Cambrésis, Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy appointed P. a councillor of state. He was successful in his work as consultant and diplomatic representative, and was known for his ability to handle difficult and complex international legal disputes. As a result, he rose socially and economically, and acquired land. He and his son became members of the ruling elite of the time. P. died in Torino in 1575.

P’s only known work, De re militari et bello, finished in 1558, published in Venezia in 1563 and reprinted in TUI 1584, was the product of long experience. As an author P’s method was that of Italian humanism rather than Italian Bartolism. He knew the sources, both ancient and more recent, that could be applied to the problems of military law and war, but his practical experience freed him from the excessively academic. His experience had convinced him that much in the practice of war in his time was morally and legally unacceptable especially as it concerned non-combatants. In his hands humanism became what we would call humanitarian, as he sought in his treatise to use reason and law to curb the excesses to which war had led in his time.

P. was aware that political changes in his time called for a revision of the traditional approaches to international relations. He was on the imperial side, but he recognized the plurality of princes. Unlike Alberico Gentili and Hugo Grotius, however, who later wrote on the same topics, P. did not recognize religious pluralism, but remained an orthodox Catholic. His understanding, moreover, was that of a writer of the mid-16th century. He did not foresee the new international legal order that would emerge in the 17th. He relied on the traditional principles of aequitas and naturalis ratio, making his vision more medieval than totally modern.

The De re militari deals with the question of the legitimacy of war. It distinguishes between ius ad bellum and ius in bello, and thus anticipates a distinction usually attributed either to Gentili or Grotius. He strongly supported the rights of the neutrals and the legal duty not to harm defenseless persons or goods unrelated to the belligerents. He supported the use of arbitration to prevent the use of force. In all these ways he anticipates much that is still with us in the field of public international law.

P’s De re militari seems to have been forgotten after the 16th century. It was rediscovered in the 20th with the publication of the Oxford edition of 1936 with an English translation (intr. Arrigo Cavaglieri) in the Classics of International Law series, followed by that of Alba in 2006 with and Italian translation (intr. Benedetto Conforti), and finally that of Alba in 2007 with a French translation by Dominique Gaurier.

Source: G. S. Pene Vidari, in DGI.

TUI database