The Wise Man is Never Merely a Private Citizen: The Roman Stoa in Hugo Grotius' De Jure Praedae (1604-1608)

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    12 Citations (Scopus)


    The possible Stoic origins of the natural rights and natural law theories of the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) has been a subject a scholarly debate in recent years yet discussions about Grotian sociability tend to focus exclusively on the meaning of appetitus societaus in De Jure Praedae (written in 1604-1608) and De Jure Belli ac Pacis (1625), with little reference to the historical context Insufficient consideration has beengiven to the intended audicence(s) of these works, Grotius' purpose in writing them, and the possible correlation between his overarching argument and his working methods. This article examines Giotius' use and abuse of Seneca's philosophical works in De Jure Praedae, commissioned by the directors of the Dutch East India Company (or VOC) in autumn 1604.

    The brutal murder of Sebald de Weert on the island of Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka) in June 1603 is analyzed from a Stoic perspective in Chapter 15 of De Jure Praedae Following his refusal to hand over Portuguese prisoners, De Weert and his crew were butchered on the beach of Battiacaloa by Wilama Dharma Surya, the ruler of the island's interior Grotius blamed the victim VOC commanders in monsoon Asia should suppress any residual loyalty which they might been towards Christendom It was imperative to conclude alliances with native rulers against the Iberian colonial powers, regardless of the rulers' (lack of) faith or their horrific treatment of prisoners As Grotius noted in Chapter 8 of De Jure Praedae, Seneca distinguished between "two kinds of commonwelath, the world state and the city state "spanish and Portugene violations of the natural law-freedom of trade and navigation in particular - deserved condign punishment for the sake of both the fellowship of mankind and, naturally, the VOC and Dutch Republic

    In assessing the uses of Stoicism in De Jure Praedae, much can be learned from the physical characteristics of Ms BPL 817 in Leiden University Library, its sole surviving manuscript copy Seneca's philosophical works are not cited at all in the original text of Ms BPL 917, which Grotius copied out in 1604-1605 Instead, quotations from De Ira, De Clementie and De Beneficus appear in the top and bottom margins of folio-pages or on inserted sheets of paper, which can be dated to 1607-1608. These quotations serve to flesh out an existing argument about the VOC's just war(s) in the East Indies A case in point is the heavily rewritten Chapter 2 Grotius added quotations from De Clementia at the same time as he reformulated two natural laws on f 8-9, a folio sheet inserted in or after January 1607 This was no coincidence Revenging the past misdeeds of the Portugese, which Grotius had described in great detail in Chatper 11, could not longer be considered the main or only priority of the VOC Instead, Grotius contended on f 8-9 that "evil deeds must be corrected" so as to achieve, in Seneca's words, "universal security" Acting as a kind of global police force, the VOC should punish transgressors of the natural law on account of "that world community" envisioned by the Stoics The practical consequences were felt during the Twelve Years Truce (1609-1621) Despite a cessation of arms in Europe, the VOC continued to engage in hostilities in the East Indies The author of De Jure Praedae supported the Company on this. Like Cicero before him, he had successfully harnessed the Stoa to the cause of empire (C) 2009 Elsevier Ltd All rights reserved

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-18
    Number of pages18
    JournalHistory of European Ideas
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2010


    • Hugo Grotius
    • De Jure Pracdae
    • Materiality of Texts
    • Stoicism Dutch East India Company
    • Sebald de Weert
    • Wimala Dharma Surya
    • Ceylon


    Dive into the research topics of 'The Wise Man is Never Merely a Private Citizen: The Roman Stoa in Hugo Grotius' De Jure Praedae (1604-1608)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this