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An oil canvas portrait of Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson from 1799 HoratioNelson1.jpg
An oil canvas portrait of Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson from 1799

Admiral is one of the highest ranks in some navies, and in many navies is the highest rank. In the Commonwealth nations and the United States, a "full" admiral is equivalent to a "full" general in the army, and is above vice admiral and below admiral of the fleet, or fleet admiral. In NATO, admirals have a rank code of OF-9 as a four-star rank.



The word admiral in Middle English comes from Anglo-French amiral, "commander", from Medieval Latin admiralis, admirallus. These evolved from the Arabic Amīral (أمير الـ) – Amīr (أمير), “king, prince, chief, leader, nobleman, lord, a governor, commander, or person who rules over a number of people,”and al (الـ), the Arabic article answering to “the.” In Arabic, admiral is also represented as Amīr al-Baḥr (أمير البحر) or (البحر أمير), where al-Baḥr (البحر) means “the sea.” [1] [2] [3]

The 1818 edition of Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language, edited and revised by the Rev. Henry John Todd, states that the term “has been traced to the Arab. emir or amir, lord or commander, and the Gr. ἄλιος, the sea, q. d. prince of the sea. The word is written both with and without the d, in other languages, as well as our own. Barb. Lat. admirallus and amiralius. V. Ducange. Barb. Græc. ἄμηρχλιος. V. Meursii Gloss. Græco-Barbarum, edit. 1610. p. 29. Fr. admiral and amiral. Dan. the same. Germ. ammiral. Dutch, admirael or ammirael. Ital. ammiraglio. Sp. almirante. Minsheu, in his Spanish Dictionary, says ‘almiralle is a king in the Arabian language.’ Amrayl is used by Robert of Gloucester, in the sense of a prince, or governour.” [4]

The quote from John Minsheu’s Dictionarie in Spanish and English (1599), given in Johnson’s Dictionary, has been confirmed as being accurate. [5] Additionally, the definition of Amīr (أمير), as given in Edward William Lane's Arabic-English Lexicon, concurs, in part, with Minsheu's definition, stating that the term means “One having, holding, or possessing, command; a commander; a governor; a lord; a prince, or king.” [3]

While other Greek words of the period existed to indicate “belonging to the sea,” or “of the sea,” the now obsolete Gr. ἄλιος mentioned in Johnson’s Dictionary is expressly defined as "of the sea, Lat. marinus, epith. of sea-gods, nymphs, etc." [6]

Though there are multiple meanings for the Arabic Amīr (أمير), the literal meaning of the phrase Amīr al-Baḥr (أمير البحر) is “Prince of the Sea.” [7] [8] This position, versus “commander of the sea,” is demonstrated by legal practices prevailing in the Ottoman Empire, whereas it was only possible for Phanariots to qualify for attaining four princely positions, those being grand dragoman, dragoman of the fleet, and the voievods of Moldavia and Wallachia. Those Phanariots who attained the princely position of dragoman of the fleet served under the Ottoman admiral having administration of the Aegean islands and the Anatolian coast. [9]

Modern acknowledgement of the phrase Amīr al-Baḥr (أمير البحر) meaning “Prince of the Sea” includes a speech made in an official U.S. military ceremony conducted in an Arabic port, and a news article published by an Arabic news outlet: On 24 May 2012, in a change of command ceremony aboard aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65), while docked at Khalifa Bin Salman Port, Bahrain, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, Commander, U.S. Central Command, introduced Vice Admiral Mark I. Fox as “Admiral Fox, the prince of the sea, emir of the sea - to translate ‘admiral’ from the Arabic to English;” [10] On 04 Feb 2021, in an announcement of his coronavirus-related death, the Arabic news website Saudi 24 News referred to Admiral Edmond Chagoury by the title “Prince of the Sea.” [11]

An alternate etymology proposes that the term admiral evolved, instead, from the title of Amīr al-Umarāʾ (أمير الأمراء‎). Under the reign of the Buyid dynasty (934 to 1062) of Iraq and Iran, the title of Amīr al-Umarāʾ, which means prince of princes, [2] came to denote the heir-apparent, or crown prince.

This alternate etymology states that the term was in use for the Greco-Arab naval leaders of Norman Sicily, which had formerly been ruled by Arabs, at least by the early 11th century. During this time, the Norman Roger II of Sicily (1095–1154) employed a Greek Christian, known as George of Antioch, who previously had served as a naval commander for several North African Muslim rulers. Roger styled George in Abbasid fashion as Amir of Amirs , or Amīr al-Umarāʾ, with the title becoming Latinized in the 13th century as ammiratus ammiratorum. [12]

The Sicilians and later Genoese took the first two parts of the term and used them as one word, amiral, from their Aragon opponents. [13] The French and Spanish gave their sea commanders similar titles while in Portuguese the word changed to almirante. [14] As the word was used by people speaking Latin or Latin-based languages it gained the "d" and endured a series of different endings and spellings leading to the English spelling admyrall in the 14th century and to admiral by the 16th century. [15] [16]

Further history

The word "admiral" has come to be almost exclusively associated with the highest naval rank in most of the world's navies, equivalent to the army rank of general. However, this was not always the case; for example, in some European countries prior to the end of World War II, admiral was the third highest naval rank after general admiral and grand admiral. [17]

The rank of admiral has also been subdivided into various grades, several of which are historically extinct while others remain in use in most present day navies. The Royal Navy used the colours red, white, and blue, in descending order to indicate seniority of its admirals until 1864; for example, Horatio Nelson's highest rank was vice admiral of the white. The generic term for these naval equivalents of army generals is flag officer. [18] Some navies have also used army-type titles for them, such as the Cromwellian "general at sea". [19]

Admiral insignia by country

The rank insignia for an admiral often involves four stars or similar devices, or three stripes over a broad stripe, but there are many cases where the insignia do not involve four stars or similar devices.

National ranks







Post-World War II rank is Bakurocho taru kaishō or Kaishō serving as Chief of Staff, Joint Staff with limited function as an advisory staff to Minister of Defense (Japan), compared to Kaigun-taishō (Imperial Japanese Navy) during 1872–1873 and 1898–1945.






United Kingdom

United States

See also


  1. Chief of Joint Staff of the Japan Self-Defense Forces and Chief of Staff of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force

Related Research Articles

Vice admiral is a senior naval flag officer rank, equivalent to lieutenant general and air marshal. A vice admiral is typically senior to a rear admiral and junior to an admiral. In many navies, vice admiral is a three-star rank with a NATO code of OF-8, although in some navies like the French Navy it is an OF-7 rank, the OF-8 code corresponding to the four-star rank of squadron vice-admiral.

Rear admiral is a senior naval flag officer rank, equivalent to a major general and air vice marshal and above that of a commodore and captain, but below that of a vice admiral. It is regarded as a two star "admiral" rank. It is often regarded as a two-star rank with a NATO code of OF-7.

General officer Military rank

A general officer is an officer of high rank in the armies, and in some nations' air forces, space forces, or marines.

Air marshal

Air marshal is a three-star air-officer rank which originated and it is used by the Royal Air Force. The rank is also used by the air forces of many countries which have historical British influence, including the Commonwealth, and it is sometimes used as the English translation of an equivalent rank in countries which have a non-English air force-specific rank structure.

General admiral

General admiral or Admiral general was a Danish, Dutch, German, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish naval rank. Its historic origin is a title high military or naval dignitaries of early modern Europe sometimes held, for example the (nominal) commander-in-chief of the Dutch Republic's navy.

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History of Russian military ranks

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Counter admiral is a rank found in many navies of the world, but no longer used in English-speaking countries, where the equivalent rank is rear admiral. The term derives from the French contre-amiral. Depending on the country, it is either a one-star or two-star rank.

An admiral of the fleet or fleet admiral is a military naval officer of the highest rank. In many nations the rank is reserved for wartime or ceremonial appointments. It is usually a rank above admiral, and is often held by the most senior admiral of an entire naval service.

Ranks in the French Navy

The rank insignia of the French Navy are worn on shoulder straps of shirts and white jackets, and on sleeves for navy jackets and mantels. Until 2005, only commissioned officers had an anchor on their insignia, but enlisted personnel are now receiving them as well. Although the names of the ranks for superior officers contain the word "Capitaine", the appropriate style to address them is "Commandant", "Capitaine" referring to "lieutenant de vaisseau", which is translated as lieutenant. The two highest ranks, Vice-amiral d'escadre and Amiral (Admiral), are functions, rather than ranks. They are assumed by officers ranking Vice-Amiral (Vice-Admiral).

Military ranks of the Soviet Union

The military ranks of the Soviet Union were those introduced after the October Revolution of 1917. At that time the Imperial Russian Table of Ranks was abolished, as were the privileges of the pre-Soviet Russian nobility.

Five-star rank

A five-star rank is a very senior military rank, first established in the United States in 1944, with a five-star general insignia, and corresponding ranks in other countries. The rank is that of the most senior operational military commanders, and within NATO's "standard rank scale" it is designated by the code OF-10.

A four-star rank is the rank of any four-star officer described by the NATO OF-9 code. Four-star officers are often the most senior commanders in the armed services, having ranks such as (full) admiral, (full) general, or air chief marshal. This designation is also used by some armed forces that are not North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) members.

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Two-star rank

An officer of two-star rank is a senior commander in many of the armed services holding a rank described by the NATO code of OF-7. The term is also used by some armed forces which are not NATO members. Typically, two-star officers hold the rank of rear admiral, counter admiral, major general, or in the case of those air forces with a separate rank structure, air vice-marshal.

Captain (naval) Naval military rank

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The Military ranks of Iraq are the military insignia used by the Iraqi Armed Forces.

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The Military ranks of Turkey are the military insignia used by the Turkish Armed Forces.


  1. "Definition of ADMIRAL". Merriam-Webster .
  2. 1 2 Catafago, Joseph (1858). An English and Arabic Dictionary, In Two Parts, Arabic and English, and English and Arabic. Bernard Quaritch, Oriental and Philological Bookseller. London. pp. 26, 30, 324.
  3. 1 2 Lane, Edward William (1968). Arabic-English Lexicon, in Eight Parts. Part 1. Librairie du Liban. Beirut, Lebanon. p. 97.
  4. Johnson, Samuel and H. J. Todd, editor (1818). "Definition of Admiral." A Dictionary of the English Language in which the words are deduced from their originals; and illustrated in their different significations, by examples from the best writers: together with A History of the Language, and an English Grammar. In Four Volumes. Vol. 1. Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown. London.
  5. Minsheu, John (1599). Dictionarie in Spanish and English. p. 20.
  6. Liddell, Henry George and Robert Scott (1883). Greek-English Lexicon. Seventh Edition. Harper & Brothers. New York. p. 62.
  7. Khalilieh, Hassan S. (2019). "Glossary of Non-English Terms." Islamic Law of the Sea. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, UK. p. 11. ISBN   978-1-108-48145-8.
  8. ""Definition of Admiral." Scottish National Dictionary (1700-)". Dictionaries of the Scots Language. Archived from the original on 2 December 2018. Retrieved 25 February 2021.
  9. Ágoston, Gábor and Bruce Masters (2009). Encyclopedia of The Ottoman Empire. Facts on File Library of World History. New York. p. 458. ISBN   978-0-8160-6259-1.
  10. "Vice Adm. Miller Takes Helm of U.S. Navy in Middle East and Combined Maritime Forces". Combined Maritime Forces (CMF). 24 May 2012. Archived from the original on 27 September 2020. Retrieved 25 February 2021.
  11. "Corona kidnaps the Prince of the Sea, Admiral Shaguri, in the protection of God - Al-Bina newspaper". Saudi 24 News. 4 February 2021. Retrieved 25 February 2021.
  12. David Abulafia (2011). The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean. London: Allen Lane. ISBN   978-0-7139-9934-1.
  13. Harry Thurston Peck; Selim Hobart Peabody; Charles Francis Richardson, eds. (1899) [1885]. The International Cyclopedia: A Compendium of Human Knowledge. 1. Dodd, Mead & Co. p. 103.
  14. Antonio Vieyra (1851). A dictionary of the English and Portuguese languages. 2. p. 48.
  15. The English Charlemagne Romances: The Boke of Duke Huon de Bordeaux. 1534. p. 143.
  16. John Ehrman (2011) [1953]. The Navy in the War of William III 1689-1697: Its State and Direction. Cambridge University Press. p. 190. ISBN   978-1-107-64511-0.
  17. Erich Raeder (2001). Grand Admiral (1st ed.). Da Capo Press. p. 430. ISBN   0306809621.
  18. Brian Lavery (2003). Horatio Lord Nelson. Trustees of the National Maritime Museum. p. 139. ISBN   0-8147-5190-3.
  19. William Hepworth Dixon (1885). Robert Blake, Admiral and General at Sea: Based on Family and State Papers. Ballantyne Press.