Actions

Ancient and medieval ranks::Military rank

::concepts

Ranks::officer    Officers::military    Their::general    United::command    States::marine    Company::military

Ancient and medieval ranks

Greek ranks

From 501 BC the Athenians annually elected ten individuals to the rank of strategos, one for each of the ten "tribes" that had been created with the founding of the democracy. Strategos literally means "strategist" which was considered the army leader and so it is usually translated as "general". Originally these generals worked together with the old polemarchos ("warlord") but over time the latter figure was absorbed into the generalship: each of the ten generals would rotate as polemarch for one day, and during this day his vote would serve as tie-breaker if necessary.

The ten generals were equal to one another; there was no hierarchy among them, however a basic form of democracy was in effect: For example, at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, the generals determined the battle plan by majority vote. Particular assignments, however, might have been given to individual generals; inevitably there was a regular division of responsibilities.

The rank that was subordinate to a top general was a taxiarchos or taxiarhos, something akin to the modern brigadier. In Sparta, however, the title was polemarchos. Below this was the syntagmatarchis, which can be translated as "leader of a regiment" (syntagma) and was therefore like a modern colonel. Below him was the tagmatarches, a commanding officer of a tagma (near to the modern battalion). The rank was roughly equivalent to the legatus of a Roman legion. Next was the lokhagos, an officer who led an infantry unit called a lokhos that consisted of roughly a hundred men, much the same as in a modern company led by a captain.

A Greek cavalry (hippikon) regiment was called a hipparchia and was commanded by an epihipparch. The unit was split into two and led by two hipparchos or hipparch, but Spartan cavalry was led by a hipparmostes. A hippotoxotès was a mounted archer. A Greek cavalry company was led by a tetrarchès or tetrarch.

The rank and file of the military in most of the Greek city states was composed of ordinary citizens. Heavily armed foot soldiers were called hoplitès or hoplites and a hoplomachos was a drill or weapons instructor.

Once Athens became a naval power, the top generals of the land armies had authority over the naval fleets as well. Under them, each warship was commanded by a trièrarchos or trierarch, a word which originally meant "trireme officer" but persisted when other types of vessels came into use. Moreover, as in modern navies, the different tasks associated with running a ship were delegated to different subordinates. Specifically, the kybernètès was the helmsman, the keleustēs managed the rowing speed, and the trièraulès was the flute player who maintained the strike rate for the oarsmen. Following further specialization, the naval strategos was replaced by a nauarchos, a sea officer equating to an admiral.

With the rise of Macedonia under Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great, the Greek military became professional, tactics became more sophisticated and additional levels of ranking developed. Foot soldiers were organized into heavy infantry phalanxes called phalangites. These were among the first troops ever to be drilled, and they fought packed in a close rectangular formation, typically eight men deep, with a leader at the head of each column (or file) and a secondary leader in the middle so that the back rows could move off to the sides if more frontage was needed.

A tetrarchia was a unit of four files and a tetrarchès or tetrarch was a commander of four files; a dilochia was a double file and a dilochitès was a double-file leader; a lochos was a single file and a lochagos was a file leader; a dimoiria was a half file and a dimoirites was a half-file leader. Another name for the half file was a hèmilochion with a hèmilochitès being a half-file leader.

Different types of units, however, were divided differently and therefore their leaders had different titles. For example, under a numbering system by tens, a dekas or dekania was a unit of ten led by a dekarchos, a hekatontarchia was a unit of hundred led by a hekatontarchos and a khiliostys or khiliarchia was a unit of a thousand led by a khiliarchos.

The cavalry, for which Alexander became most famous (in a military sense), grew more varied. There were heavy cavalry and wing cavalry (ilè) units, the latter commanded by an ilarchos.

Roman ranks

The use of formalized ranks came into widespread use with the Roman legions after the reforms by Marius. Comparisons to modern ranks, however, can only be loose because the Roman army's command structure was very different from the organizational structure of its modern counterparts, which arose from the medieval mercenary companies, rather than from the writings of Fourth Century Roman writer Vegetius and Caesar's commentaries on his conquest of Gaul and the civil war.

Military command properly so-called was a political office in Rome. A commander needed to be equipped with imperium, a politico-religious concept. The king of course possessed it (the rex sacrorum was strictly forbidden to have it to avoid a return to the monarchy). In the Republic, commanding was confined to consuls or (seldom) to praetor, or in cases of necessity a dictator. Proconsuls, after the establishment of the office, would also be used. In Imperial times, each legion was commanded by the emperor, who was technically either consul or proconsul.

The commander could appoint a deputy, a so-called legate (legatus). The association of "legatus" with "legion" is folk etymology, as the meaning of legatus is "proxy" or "envoy". Legates were typically drawn from the Roman Senate for a three-year term. The political nature of high military command was even reflected here, in that legions were always subordinate to the governor, and only the second and further legions stationed in a province had their own legatus legionis. The real commanders and the legates together were, in modern terms, the general officers.{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B= {{#invoke:Category handler|main}}{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}[citation needed] }}

Immediately beneath the commander (or his legate) were six military tribunes (tribuni militum), five of whom were young men of equestrian rank and one of whom was a nobleman who was headed for the Senate. The latter is called laticlavian tribune (tribunus laticlavius) and was second in command. If in modern divisions the deputy commander is a brigadier general, the laticlavian tribune can perhaps be translated with this rank, though he commanded no formation of his own. The other tribunes are called tribuni angusticlavii and are equivalent to staff officers in both senses of the term: of ranks major, lieutenant colonel, colonel, and with administrative duties. They did not command a formation of their own. The term military tribune is even sometimes translated into English as "colonel" — most notably by the late classicist Robert Graves in his "Claudius" novels and his translation of Suetonius' Twelve Caesars — to avoid confusion with the political "tribunes of the people"; in addition, they must not either be confused with the "military tribunes with consular authority", who in early Republican times could replace the consuls.

The third highest officer of a legion, above the angusticlavian tribunes, was the praefectus castrorum. He too would have colonel rank in modern armies, yet he differed much from the tribunes in that his office was not part of the rather administrative cursus, but normally filled by former centurions. (Modern armies have a similar distinction on a lower scale, i.e. between commissioned and non-commissioned officers.)

The fighting men in the legion were formed into ranks, rows of men who fought as a unit. Under Marius's new system, legions were divided into ten cohorts (cohortes) (roughly equivalent to battalion and immediately subject to the legion), each consisting of three manipula, each of them of two centuries (a rather small company in modern terms), each consisting of between 60 and 160 men. Each century was led by a centurion (centurio, traditionally translated as captain), who was assisted by a number of junior officers, such as an Optio. Centuries were further broken into ten contubernia of eight soldiers each. The manipula were commanded by one of their two centurions, the cohorts by one of their three manipulum's centurions; the most senior cohort-commanding centurions was called primus pilus. The ranks of centurions in the individual cohorts were, in descending order, pilus prior, pilus posterior, princeps prior, princeps posterior, hastatus prior, and hastatus posterior.<ref>http://www.roman-empire.net/army/career.html</ref> Individual soldiers were referred to as soldiers (milites) or legionaries (legionarii).

Roman discipline was severe, with all ranks subject to corporal and capital punishment at the commander's discretion. For example, if a cohort broke in battle, the typical punishment was decimation, in which every tenth soldier, selected by lot, was killed. Decimation was not commonplace as lack of men would reduce combat effectiveness, which would eventually overcome the psychological "benefit" of keeping the troops in line.

Turko-Mongol ranks (Ancestral Central Asian Tribes)

There were no ranks in the modern sense of a hierarchy of titles, although the army was organized into a hierarchical command. The organization of the army was based on the decimal system, employed by Oghuz Khagan. The army was built upon a squad of ten (aravt) led by an appointed chief. Ten of these would then compose a company of a hundred (zuut), also led by an appointed chief. The next unit was a regiment of a thousand (myangat) led by an appointed noyan. The largest organic unit was a ten thousand man unit (tumen) also led by an appointed noyan.<ref name=Tobchi'an>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}</ref>

Persian ranks

The army of ancient Persia consisted of manageable military groupings under the individual commands. Starting at the bottom, a unit of 10 was called a dathabam and was led by a dathapatis. A unit of 100 men was a 'satabam' led by a 'satapatis'. A unit of 1,000 was a hazarabam and was commanded by a hazarapatis. A unit of 10,000 was a baivarabam and was commanded by a baivarapatis. The Greeks called such masses of troops a myrias or myriad. Among mounted troops, an asabam was a cavalry unit led by an asapatis.

Historians have discovered the existence of the following ranks in Parthian and Sassanian armies:

Medieval ranks

Medieval militaries did not have a unified rank structure; while the feudal lords were in some ways equivalent to modern officers, they didn't have a strict hierarchy—a king was conceived of as first among equals, not a monarch as later or ancient societies understood the concept, and all nobles were theoretically equals (hence "peers"). A nobleman was obligated to bring a set number of troops when asked by his liege-lord, a king or merely a higher-ranked noble who had obtained his service by the gift of land. The troops' lord retained at least nominal control over them—many medieval military planning sessions involved negotiating each lord's role in the coming battle—and each lord was allowed to leave after a predetermined amount of time had passed.

High command in medieval armies

The king’s army was placed under the command of the High Constable as commander-in-chief. The High Constable had authority over the local constables, commanders of the garrisons of major castles. The High Constable had the help of the Field Marshal, an officer that set up the army’s camp. (Marshals acted as chiefs of logistics and were also employed by royal and noble courts.) The High Constable derived his authority over the army from his role of head of the Cavalry.

Origins of modern ranks

As the Middle Ages came to an end, the rank structure of medieval armies became more formalized. The top officers were known as commissioned officers because their rank came from a royal commission. Army commissions were reserved for the best— the aristocracy of mainland Europe and the aristocracy and gentry of Great Britain.

The basic unit of the medieval army was the company, a band of soldiers assigned (or raised) by a vassal lord on behalf of his lord (in later times the king himself). The vassal lord in command of the company was a commissioned officer with the rank of captain. Captain was derived from the Late Latin word capitaneus (meaning "head man" or chief).

The commissioned officer assisting the captain with command of the company was the lieutenant. Lieutenant was derived from the French language; the lieu meaning “place” as in a position; and tenant meaning “holding” as in “holding a position”; thus a “lieutenant” is somebody who holds a position in the absence of his superior. When he was not assisting the captain, the lieutenant commanded a unit called a platoon, particularly a more specialized platoon. The word is derived from the 17th-century French peloton, meaning a small ball or small detachment of men, which came from pelote, a ball.

The commissioned officer carrying the (infantry) company’s flag was the ensign. The word ensign was in fact derived from the Latin word insignia. In cavalry companies the equivalent rank was cornet. In English usage, these ranks were merged into the single rank of second lieutenant in the 19th Century.

Not all officers received a commission from the king. Certain specialists were granted a warrant, certifying their expertise as craftsmen. These warrant officers assisted the commissioned officers but ranked above the non-commissioned officers. They received their authority from superior officers rather than the king. The first NCOs were the armed servants (men-at-arms) of the aristocracy, assigned to command, organize and train the militia units raised for battle. After years of commanding a squad, an NCO could be promoted to sergeant, the highest NCO rank. While a sergeant might have commanded a squad upon promotion, he usually became a staff officer. While commissioned staff officers assisted their commander with personnel, intelligence, operations and logistics, the sergeant was a jack of all trades, concerning himself with all aspects of administration to maintain the enlisted men serving under his commander. Over time, sergeants were differentiated into many ranks as various levels of sergeants were used by the commanders of various levels of units.

A corporal commanded a squad. Squad derived from the Italian word for a “square” or “block” of soldiers. In fact, corporal was derived from the Italian caporal de squadra (head of the squad). Corporals were assisted by lancepesades. Lancepesades were veteran soldiers; lancepesade was derived from the Italian "lancia spezzata" meaning broken spear - the broken spear being a metaphor for combat experience, where such an occurrence was likely. The first lancepesades were simply experienced privates; who either assisted their corporal or performed the duties of a corporal themselves. It was this second function that made armies increasingly regard their lancepesades as a grade of corporal rather than a grade of private. As a result, the rank of lance corporal was derived from combining lancepesade and corporal.

As the Middle Ages came to an end, kings increasingly relied on professional soldiers to fill the bottom ranks of their armies instead of militiamen. Each of these professionals began their careers as a private. The private was a man who signed a private contract with the company commander, offering his services in return for pay. The money was raised through taxation; those yeomen (smallholding peasants) who did not fulfill their annual 40-day militia service paid a tax that funded professional soldiers recruited from the yeomanry. This money was handed to the company commanders from the royal treasury, the company commanders using the money to recruit the troops.

Origins of higher ranks

As armies grew larger, composed of multiple companies, one captain was granted general (overall) authority over the field armies by the king. (National armies were the armies of the kings. Field armies were armies raised by the king to enter the battle field in preparation for major battles.) In French history, lieutenant du roi was a title born by the officer sent with military powers to represent the king in certain provinces. A lieutenant du roi was sometimes known as a lieutenant général to distinguish him from lieutenants subordinate to mere captains. The sergeant acting as staff officer to the captain general was known as the sergeant-major general. This was eventually shortened to major general, while captain general was shortened to simply general. This is the reason a major outranks a lieutenant, but a lieutenant general outranks a major general.

As armies grew bigger, heraldry and unit identification remained primarily a matter of the regiment. Brigades headed by brigadier generals were the units invented as a tactical unit, by the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus the second ("Gustav II Adolf," who was killed at the battle of Lützen 1632). It was introduced to overcome the normal army structure, consisting of regiments. The so-called “brigada” was a mixed unit, comprising infantry, cavalry and normally artillery too, designated for a special task. The size of such “brigada” was a reinforced company up to two regiments. The “brigada” was a 17th-century form of the modern “task force”. In some armies "brigadier general" has been shortened to "brigadier".

Around the end of the 16th century, companies were grouped into regiments. The officers commissioned to lead these regiments were in fact called colonels (column officers). They were first appointed in Spain by King Ferdinand II of Aragon where they were also known as coronellos (crown officers) since they were appointed by the Crown. Thus the English pronunciation of the word colonel.{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B= {{#invoke:Category handler|main}}{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}[citation needed] }}

The first colonels were captains granted command of their regiments by commission of the king. The lieutenants of the colonel were the lieutenant colonels. In the 17th century, the sergeant of the colonel was the sergeant major. These were field officers, third in command of their regiments (after their colonels and lieutenant colonels), with a role similar to the older, army-level sergeants major (although obviously on a smaller scale). The older position became known as sergeant major general to distinguish it. Over time, the sergeant was dropped from both titles since both ranks were used for commissioned officers. This gave rise to the modern ranks of major and major general.

The full title of sergeant major fell out of use until the latter part of the 18th century, when it began to be applied to the senior non-commissioned officer of an infantry battalion or cavalry regiment.

Regiments were later split into battalions with a lieutenant colonel as a commanding officer and a major as an executive officer.


Military rank sections
Intro  Etymology   Ancient and medieval ranks    Modern ranks    Appointment    Types of rank    Size of command    See also    Notes    References    External links   

Ancient and medieval ranks
PREVIOUS: IntroNEXT: Etymology
<<>>