Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Conquest Definition:

The acquisition of territory by force of arms.

Related Terms: War, Discovery - International Law

"Conquest" propose the editors of the 2004 Cyclopedic Dictionary of International Law", is synonymous with the legal term subjugation,

"... the acquisition of territory by conquest followed by annexation, and often called title by conquest (and) had to be accepted into the scheme of odes of acquisition of title to territorial sovereignty in the period when the making of war was recognized as a sovereign right and war was not illegal(!)."

Mostly a reference to the significance in the common law of that moment in time where a territory is wrested by force or by intimidation from its then-present or aboriginal occupants and taken over by the conquering country who also declared and maintained the land as part of the conqueror's land and territory over which it has title and exclusive jurisdiction.

In his 2004 article in the Australian Journal of Legal History, Gavin Loughton proposed this statement of the law:

"(T)he ordinary meaning of the word (conquest) entails the acquisition of territory by force of arms.

"One of the most salient features of 'onquest at common law is the irrelevance or motivation or justification. An acquisition of land by force of arms counts as a legally valid conquest regardless of the justice or injustice of the act.

"As (Polish author) Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) has (the character) Marlow put it in the Heart of Darkness (1899), 'They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force'. Marlow adds that the practice (was) 'not a pretty thing when you look into it too much' ... (but) can be redeemed by an unselfish 'idea at the back of it'.

"But that there is a good or bad motive behind a conquest does not effect its characterization as a conquest or the validity of the conqueror's title to land so acquired.

"To common lawyers, acquisition of territory by force is an 'act of state' that municipal courts must simply accept.' The rule into whose origins we are enquiring can therefore be shortly paraphrased: when the king of England acquires a new land by force of arms then, regardless of the justice or injustice of the acquisition, the land belongs to the king and he may alter its laws, though until he does so the old laws of the place remain in force."

Examples abound in the annals of history such as the extensive conquests of the Roman empire, the conquest of England by the Normans and 1066 and then, the conquest of Wales by England in the 1130s, and then of Ireland by England in 1171.

Many contemporary events can be favorably described as conquests such as the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990.


  • Grant, John and Barker, CRaig, editors, Cyclopedic Dictionary of International Law, 2nd Ed., (New York: Oceana Publications Inc., 2004), page 96.

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