Laws of war and peace – “Pierino Belli,” Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy (Springer 2018)

David Lloyd Dusenbury, “Pierino Belli”, Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy, ed. Marco Sgarbi (Springer 2018, forthcoming). Several excerpts from my typescript are copied below:

Pierino Belli was Pierino Belli, d. 1575born in 1502 in the Piedmontese city of Alba. His family belonged to the city’s minor nobility, and Belli affixed the name of Alba to his own. In Latin, he is Petrinus Bellus, Albensis. Nothing definite is known about his youth.

There is reason to believe that Belli read Roman law – and perhaps, too, canon law – at the University of Perugia. Two of Europe’s most commanding 14th-century legists, Bartolus of Sassoferrato and Baldus de Ubaldis, taught in Perugia. Predictably, both rank among Belli’s supreme legal authorities.

Belli seems to have been marked out from the age of thirty-three as “a man of high affairs” (Vernazza di Freney 1783, p. 8). In 1535, he was made a military judge (auditore di guerra) in the imperial forces of Charles V. After the emperor’s death, Belli was made a counsellor of war (consigliere di guerra) by Philip II of Spain. This office brought with it a lordly income – 400 crowns per annum – that he presumably drew from that point onward.

Belli himself notes that in the year 1558 (though he likely means 1559) he was writing A Treatise on Military Matters and Warfare in Eleven Parts (De re militari et bello tractatus, divisus in partes XI). Thus, scholars roughly date the work’s composition to 1558 and 1559. It is Belli’s only systematic work, and its massive alphabetical index (index rerum) suggests that he meant for jurists to consult it in the course of their duties (Gaurier 2007, pp. 3–4). The work appeared in 1563 with a Piedmontese printer in Venice, Franciscus de Portonarijs. It bears a dedication to Philip II, whom Belli hails as “the only hope of the Christian world” (spes unica Christiani orbis).

With the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559), Henry II of France ceded the Piedmont back to its hereditary ruler – Emmanuel Philibert, the Duke of Savoy. In 1561, Emmanuel Philibert invited Belli to serve him as a counsellor of state (consigliere di stato). Belli held this office for the rest of his life, and a number of the legal opinions he wrote in this time were printed in 16th and 17th-century collections of consilia. He died in Turin in 1575, and in 1589 his bones were reinterred in a chapel of the cathedral of Asti …

Alberico Gentili refers to Belli, in passing, in his Encomiums to the Universities of Perugia and Oxford (Laudes Academiae Perusinae et Oxoniensis, 1605); but he fails to mention Belli in the first pages of his magnum opus, On the Law of War (De jure belli libri tres, 1588). Perhaps due to this slight by Gentili, Belli tends to be forgotten by historians of Renaissance philosophy.

Pierino Belli is a fine examplar of a late-medieval style of juristic reasoning which is open to humanistic influences, and which is beginning to grapple with the dissolution of the medieval res publica Christiana, and the rise of sovereign states in Europe.


Primary literature

Belli, Pietrino. 1563. Pietrino Belli, Albensis, De Re militari & Bello tractatus, divisus in partes XI. In quo, praeterea, quae de Re militari tractantur, obiter multa, quae ad ciuilem administrationem attenent, attinguntur; omnibus iudicibus apprimè necessarius. Venetijs [= Venice]: Franciscus de Portonarijs.   

Belli, Pierino. 1936. De Re Militari et Bello Tractatus: The Photographic Reproduction of the Edition of 1563. Washington, D.C.: The Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Belli, Pierino. 1936. A Treatise on Military Matters and Warfare in Eleven Parts (trans. Herbert C. Nutting). Washington, D.C.: The Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Belli, Pietrino. 2007. Pietrino Belli, d’Alba, Traité sur l’art militaire et la guerre (ed. and trans. Dominique Gaurier). Alba, Italy: Fondazione Ferrero.

Belli, Pietrino. 2007. Pietrino Belli, Albensis, De Re militari & Bello tractatus. Facsimile of the Venice, 1563 edition. Alba, Italy: Fondazione Ferrero.

Secondary literature

Chialvo, Guido. 1907. Nuove ricerche intorno a Pierino Belli. Bollettino storico-bibliografico subalpino 12.

Gaurier, Dominique. 2007. Pietrino Belli, d’Alba: L’auteur et son ouvrage. Pietrino Belli, d’Alba, Traité sur l’art militaire et la guerre (ed. and trans. Dominique Gaurier). Alba, Italy: Fondazione Ferrero.

Mulas, Efisio. 1878. Pierino Belli da Alba, precursore di Grozio. Turin: Unione Tipografico.

Rondolino, Ferdinando. 1890. Pietrino Belli. Sua vita e suoi scritti. Nuove ricerche. Miscellanea di Storia Italiana 28.

Vernazza di Freney, Giuseppe. 1783. Vita di Pietrino Belli di Alba, signore di Grinzane, e di Bonvicino, consigliere di stato di Emanuel Filiberto. Turin: Stamperia Reale.

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