The Hague celebrates the 400th anniversary of the publication of Hugo Grotius’ Mare Liberum (Leiden, Publishing House of Elsevier) with an extensive program of activities. It commemmorates the fact that Grotius wrote his book in The Hague with exhibitions, theater/musical plays, films, publications and lectures in museums and libraries.
Mare liberum is a small pocket-sized booklet of 68 pages in latin, the lingua franca of the educated elite of that time, with the official title: Mare Liberum sive De iure quod Batavis competit ad Indicana commercia dissertatio.
In thirteen chapters Grotius states his ideas of the principle of the ‘Free Sea’. The sea was to be considered international territory and all nations were free to use it for trade. In view of the Dutch competing with the Spanish, Portuguese and the English over navigating, trading and fishing issues, this was a controversial view. In reaction to Grotius’ view John Selden (1584–1654) wrote Mare Clausum.
Grotius’ ideas eventually became the foundation of the modern regime of the high seas. The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea shows Grotius’ heritage in the principle of the Common Heritage of Mankind.
The Peace Palace Library has an original copy of Mare Liberum (TMD 541, in the famous Ter Meulen/Diermanse Bibliographie de Grotius). There are probably 30 to 50 first editions in the world.
Excellent reading on Mare Liberum is The Free Sea. Grotius. Edited and with an introduction by David Armitage. ISBN 0865974306 (2004).
Two new translations of Mare Liberum, in Dutch by Arthur Eyffinger and in English by Robert Feenstra and Jeroen Vervliet are due before the end of the year.