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The Genesis of Conflict of Laws: Tracing the Origins Through Historical Lenses


The tangled web of international and interstate conflicts has been a subject of intricate analysis throughout history. In the realm of legal discourse, the study of conflicts law, or conflict of laws, delves into the complex arena where foreign cases intersect with the application of law. In this article, we embark on a historico-analytical journey to identify the foundational principles that have shaped the treatment of foreign cases in the annals of legal history.

Ancient Antecedents

In the Hellenic and Roman worlds, the treatment of foreigners was distinguishable, featuring special courts and arbitration for cases involving non-citizens. Specialized courts with distinct laws for racial groups within a political community existed, indicating an advanced stage in the amelioration of relations among different political groups. However, the cardinal principle of conflicts law, the application of foreign law to foreign cases, did not find acceptance in antiquity. These early institutions can be seen as precursors, marking the advancement in relations rather than the formal development of conflicts law.

The Evolution in the Middle Ages

The grand conception of a universal empire centered in Rome, with common citizenship and a general law codified in the Corpus Juris, was not conducive to conflicts law, which presupposes the integration of autonomous laws. The refinement in the administration of justice, emphasizing the application of more effective and useful laws in diverse situations, emerged during the legal renaissance in the Middle Ages. This shift was prompted by the complexities arising from commerce, which traversed the intricate web of personal laws and emerging territorial jurisdictions.

Aldricus, a contemporary of the celebrated "doctores of Bologna," proposed the discretionary application of the most effective and useful law in cases where parties were subject to different laws. The idea gained rapid acceptance, as seen in the provisions incorporated in the Siete Partidas of Castile in 1262, formally recognizing this groundbreaking conception.

Factors Influencing the Development

The causes that occasioned the development of conflicts law involved a breach with two seemingly exclusive ideas in prior legal thinking: that law is personal, and each court applies its own law. The shift from a personal to a territorial basis in the feudal system, the evolution of commerce within a decentralized political structure, a diminishing emphasis on racial distinctions, and a more scientific approach to legal problems contributed to the birth of conflicts law.

Critical Elements in Choice of Law

Throughout the history of conflicts law, certain postulates have played a pivotal role. In addition to the basic notions that each person is governed by the law of their community and each court decides based on its own practices and justice, critical elements in the choice of law include statutory intent, party agreements, territorial sovereignty, location of legal relations, and eclectic positivism, viewing legal reality through the fluctuating norms of the lex fori.


The evolution of conflicts law is a fascinating journey that intertwines with the progress of civilizations, the development of legal thought, and the ever-changing landscape of international relations. Understanding its origins provides valuable insights into the complexities of navigating legal disputes across borders and highlights the enduring principles that continue to shape the field today.

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