In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda

  • Introduction
  • Biographies and Introductory Textbooks
  • Latin Edition Collections
  • Translations of Sepúlveda’s Works
  • Collections of Papers
  • Friends, Associates, and Patrons

Renaissance and Reformation Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda
Luna Nájera
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 September 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 September 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0334


Born in Los Pedroches, Cordoba, into a family of Old Christians with humble origins (possibly tanners), Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda (b. c. 1490–d. 1573) was a Medici client, official royal chronicler of Charles V, and tutor of Philip II. An expert in Greek and Latin, Sepúlveda studied theology and canon law at the Universidad de Alcalá, obtaining a doctorate in arts and theology from the Collegio de San Clemente in Bologna, in 1523. At San Clemente, he studied under the direction of Pietro Pomponazzi, an Averroist and leading Aristotle expert. Sepúlveda’s Maecenases included, among other renowned figures, a number of cardinals (Cisneros, Cajetan, Quiñones) and Italian princes (Alberto Pio and Ercole Gonzaga). Their patronage gave him a vantage point from which to witness and respond to numerous crises in the early modern period, the most prominent of which were the reformations of the Catholic Church and the controversy over the justice of the Spanish conquest of America. Sepúlveda’s oeuvre is diverse. It includes translations of Aristotle’s works, an endeavor to which he dedicated most of his life, as well as books on philosophy and ethics, theology, law, history, and political theory. Until the middle of the 20th century, when Spanish and British scholars recognized the richness of Sepúlveda’s works for understanding the cultures of the Renaissance, the Apología en favor del libro sobre las justas causas de la guerra attracted a larger share of scholarly attention than any of his other works. The recent efforts in the 1990s of a group of scholars who have published scholarly editions and translations of the humanist’s entire oeuvre are currently yielding a number of landmark studies in the fields of philology and philosophy that re-situate Sepúlveda in the Italian civic humanism tradition. These efforts have deepened investigations into his use of the classics and his engagement with the ideas of major political thinkers and theologians, such as Machiavelli, Erasmus, Giovio, Luther, and others. Renewal in the studies of Sepúlveda’s writings has also opened up new lines of inquiry that examine his thought from multidisciplinary approaches, including gender studies, cultural studies, and postcolonial criticism.

Biographies and Introductory Textbooks

Muñoz Machado 2012 offers the most current and thorough intellectual biography of Sepúlveda. Although it is dated, the Losada 1949 biography of Sepúlveda is still invaluable because it contains archival documents that shed light on the humanist’s life. While Bell 1925 is the only existing biography of Sepúlveda in English, biographical sketches in English can be found in Fernández-Santamaría 1977 and Hernández 2011. For a general introductory study of Sepúlveda’s political thought Castilla Urbano 2000 is a good starting point (the text is appropriate for graduate level courses). Castilla Urbano 2013 provides a more concentrated study of Sepúlveda’s thought, offering a profile of his ideas within a historical and intellectual context.

  • Bell, Aubrey F. G. Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda. London: Oxford University Press, 1925.

    Written in English, this brief biography (108 pages) is based on Sepúlveda’s correspondence. Bell outlines the highlights of his life and his intellectual network and provides a summary of his controversial exchanges with Erasmus, Luther, and Las Casas, as well as a brief review of his endeavors as historian and humanist.

  • Castilla Urbano, Francisco. Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda (1490–1573). Madrid: Ediciones del Orto, 2000.

    An introductory study of Sepúlveda’s views on America, just war theory, and government that takes into account Sepúlveda’s Demócrates primero, Demócrates segundo, and Acerca de la monarquía. It includes an appendix containing excerpts from the latter two treatises. This book is suitable for specialists and graduate students.

  • Castilla Urbano, Francisco. El pensamiento de Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda: Vida activa, humanismo y guerra en el Renacimiento. Madrid: Centro de Estudios Políticos y Constitucionales, 2013.

    In this introductory study of Sepúlveda’s political works, the author discusses the major themes that run through the humanist’s works. Through philosophical and historically informed analyses, the author re-situates Sepúlveda’s thought within broader Renaissance intellectual currents. This book is suitable for specialists and graduate students.

  • Fernández-Santamaría, J. A. The State, War and Peace: Spanish Political Thought in the Renaissance, 1516–1559. Cambridge Studies in Early Modern History. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511896804

    In this study, the author provides a survey of Spanish theories of war, with attention to how they deal with the Augustinian legacy and the challenges of Erasmus. A condensed biographical account of Sepúlveda’s life and times is included.

  • Hernández, Albert. “Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda.” In Beyond the Pale: Reading Theology from the Margins. Edited by Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas and Miguel A. De La Torre, 79–86. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2011.

    This brief sketch of Sepúlveda’s early life and intellectual trajectory focuses on the impact of his intervention in the Spanish conquest controversy on the lives of communities of color. Although the bibliography is dated and the biographical sketch ignores other dimensions of Sepúlveda’s thought, it is suitable for undergraduate readers.

  • Losada, Angel. Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda a través de su “Epistolario” y nuevos documentos. Madrid: CSIC, 1949.

    This biography is based on archival sources related to Sepúlveda’s family origins, financial interactions, university records, privileges, and titles. It offers an account of Sepúlveda’s network and his intellectual preoccupations, as well as a catalogue and history of his published and unpublished works. The prefaces of his translations of Aristotle’s works are included.

  • Muñoz Machado, Santiago. Biografía de Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda. 17 vols. Obras completas. Pozoblanco, Spain: Ayuntamiento de Pozoblanco, 2012.

    This is a complete biography that offers a detailed and rich account of the intellectual trajectory of Sepúlveda’s work in the context of his historical milieu. It contains an updated and substantive bibliography of his works and a solid overview of scholarly treatments of his major works.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.