In a certain old text dealing with the Spanish conquest of the Americas, I found the following phrase:

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El restituirle el derecho, y acciones de Patron, que le tiene quitado, y el Titulo de Conquistador de las Provincias, y gente del Parana, Uruguay, y Tape, que habiendolas conquistado V.M. con su hacienda, y con sus armas, y Soldados Españoles, a costa de muchas vidas, y trabajos, se nombran los dichos Padres Conquistadores, diciendo facilisamente, que esta conquista la han hecho ellos solos, y las llaman en sus libros impresos Conquista espiritual, hecha por las padres de la Compañia, no siendo hechas sino por Compañias, y Exercitos de Soldados de V.M. quitandole el titulo, y derecho de Conquistador, que es Lux belli, para darsele quiza a algun tyrano.

Or in English:

The restitution to you of the right, and of the actions of Patron, that have been removed from you, and the Title of Conquerer of the Provinces, and the people of Parana, Uruguay, and Tape, for having Your Majesty conquered them with your Treasury, and with your weapons, and with Spanish soldiers, at the cost of many lives, the aformentioned name themselves the Conquering Fathers, saying with the utmost ease, that this conquest has been theirs alone, and they call it in their printed books the Spiritual Conquest, carried out by the Fathers of the Company, not having been done but by Companies, and Armies of Soldiers of Your Majesty, taking from you the title and right of Conquerer, which is lux belli, to be given perhaps to some tyrant.

What interests me is a Latin phrase that appears here. What does Lux belli mean in this context? Literally, it is "light of war", correct? It appears to refer to the title of conquerer in some fashion. But how was it used?

  • 1
    @ExpeditoBipes - With a Latin phrase, though, "Lux belli". That's not Spanish. – Obie 2.0 Apr 29 '20 at 2:09
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    I wonder whether it's a typo for Lex belli, which is a well-established phrase even in classical times, meaning 'the custom of war, the right of the conqueror,' which certainly makes sense in this context. – cnread Apr 29 '20 at 4:01
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    @cnread Do you want to write that into an answer? It sounds very likely, and in any case it's a good option to have in mind. – Joonas Ilmavirta Apr 29 '20 at 9:31

(Converting comment to answer, as requested)

This is just a guess, but lex belli is a well-established phrase in classical Latin and means, according to the Oxford Latin dictionary (definition 7a of lex), 'the custom of war, the right of the conqueror.'

For example, in actio 2, book 1, section 57 of the Verrines, Cicero contrasts Verres's private plunder of temples through crime and robbery (per scelus et latrocinium), where everything ended up in Verres's own house and his friends' houses, with Publius Servilius's removal of a captured enemy city's statues and other adornments in accordance with the lex belli (also described here as the privilege of a general, imperatorium ius), where everything utimately ended up deposited in the treasury in Rome.

tu quae ex fanis religiosissimis per scelus et latrocinium abstulisti, ea nos videre nisi in tuis amicorumque tuorum tectis non possumus: P. Servilius quae signa atque ornamenta ex urbe hostium vi et virtute capta belli lege atque imperatorio iure sustulit, ea populo Romano adportavit, per triumphum vexit, in tabula publica ad aerarium perscribenda curavit.

The things which you carried off from the holiest temples with wickedness, and like a robber, we cannot see, except in your own houses, or in those of your friends. The statues and decorations which Publius Servilius brought away from the cities of our enemies, taken by his courage and valour, according to the laws of war and his own rights as commander-in-chief, he brought home for the Roman people; he carried them in his triumph, and took care that a description of them should be engraved on public tablets and hid up in the treasury.

(Trans. C. D. Yonge)


I think that Cnread is right on in his guess that Lux belli is a typo. Another possibility (besides Lex belli) might be Dux belli, i.e., a war leader or conquistador.

Besides meaning "leader", Dux at this time could also mean "Duke", a formal title bestowed or revoked by a monarch.

  • Subjectively I would say that dux makes more sense in context than both lex and lux. – Sebastian Koppehel May 2 '20 at 21:48

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