Sepoy

Last updated

Sepoy
"Sipahi"
Knave (Hyder Ali from Mysore) from Court Game of Geography MET DP862917.jpg
Hyder Ali as a sepoy
Active16th to 21st centuries
Country Mughal Empire
British Raj
India
Pakistan
Nepal
Branchinfantry and artillery
Equipment Rifle

Sepoy ( /ˈspɔɪ/ ) was originally the designation given to a professional Indian infantryman, usually armed with a musket, in the armies of the Mughal Empire.

Contents

In the 18th century, the French East India Company and its other European counterparts employed locally recruited soldiers within India, mainly consisting of infantry designated as "sepoys". The largest of these Indian forces, trained along European lines, was that belonging to the British East India Company. [1]

The term "sepoy" is still used in the modern Indian, Pakistan and Nepalese armies, where it denotes the rank of private.

Etymology

In Persian اسپ (Aspa) means horse and Ispahai is also the word for cavalrymen.

The term sepoy is derived from the Persian word sepāhī ( سپاهی ) meaning the traditional "infantry soldier" in the Mughal Empire.

In the Ottoman Empire the term sipahi was used to refer to cavalrymen. [2]

Unit

The sepoys of the Mughal Empire were infantrymen usually armed with a musket and a talwar, although they sometimes operated artillery pieces and even rockets. They wore the colors of the "Great Moghul" and sometimes used war elephants for transport.

The French East India Company was the first to employ locally-recruited sepoys during the Carnatic Wars. Soon other European powers did the same, to protect their interests.

In its most common application, sepoy was the term used in the British Indian Army and, earlier, in the army of the British East India Company, for an infantry private. A cavalry trooper was a sowar .

Historical usage

The term sepoy came into common use in the forces of the British East India Company in the eighteenth century, where it was one of a number of names, such as peons, gentoos , mestees and topasses , used for various categories of native soldier. Initially it referred to Hindu or Muslim soldiers without regular uniforms or discipline. It later generically referred to all native soldiers in the service of the European powers in India. [2] Close to ninety-six percent of the British East India Company's army of 300,000 men were native to India and these sepoys played a crucial role in securing the subcontinent for the company. [3]

Equipment

The earliest sepoys used matchlock muskets and operated bulky and inefficient cannons to a limited extent during the reigns of Babur Akbar when archery and fighting from horseback was more common. By the time of Aurangzeb the Mughal armies had advanced significantly and utilized a wider range of weapons to win battles.

During the Carnatic Wars and Anglo-Mysore Wars the sepoys of the Mughal Empire employed more advanced types of musket, as well as blunderbuss and rocket weapons.

History

Mughal Empire 16th–18th centuries

A Sipahi or a sepoy was an infantryman armed with a musket in the army of the Mughal Empire.

The earliest sepoys were armed with daggers, talwars and matchlocks. [4] By the mid to late 17th century they began to utilize more upgraded forms of muskets and even rockets. These sepoys also operated and mounted artillery pieces and sharpshooter upon war elephants which were also used for transport, hauling artillery and in combat. [5]

By the 18th century individual Nawabs employed their own sepoy units as did the European merchant companies established in parts of India.

Sepoys became more visible when they gained European arms and fought for various fragmented polities of the Mughal Empire during the Carnatic Wars and the Bengal War. After which the importance of the local sepoy diminished and were replaced by the "European hired Sepoy".

Sepoys in British service

The East India Company initially recruited sepoys from the local communities in the Madras and Bombay Presidencies. The emphasis here favored tall and soldierly recruits, broadly defined as being "of a proper caste and of sufficient size". [6] In the Bengal Army however, recruitment was only amongst high caste Brahmin and Rajput communities, mainly from the present day Uttar Pradesh and Bihar regions. Recruitment was undertaken locally by battalions or regiments often from the same community, village and even family. The commanding officer of a battalion became a form of substitute for the village chief or gaon bura. He was the mai-baap or the "father and mother" of the sepoys making up the paltan (from "platoon"). There were many family and community ties amongst the troops and numerous instances where family members enlisted in the same battalion or regiment. The izzat ("honour") of the unit was represented by the regimental colours; the new sepoy having to swear an oath in front of them on enlistment. These colours were stored in honour in the quarter guard and frequently paraded before the men. They formed a rallying point in battle. The oath of fealty by the sepoy was given to the East India Company and included a pledge of faithfulness to the salt that one has eaten. [2]

The salary of the sepoys employed by the East India Company, while not substantially greater than that paid by the rulers of Indian states, was usually paid regularly. Advances could be given and family allotments from pay due were permitted when the troops served abroad. There was a commisariat and regular rations were provided. Weapons, clothing and ammunition were provided centrally, in contrast to the soldiers of local kings whose pay was often in arrears. In addition local rulers usually expected their sepoys to arm themselves and to sustain themselves through plunder. [2]

This combination of factors led to the development of a sense of shared honour and ethos amongst the well drilled and disciplined Indian soldiery who formed the key to the success of European feats of arms in India and abroad. [2]

Following the Indian Rebellion of 1857 the surviving East India Company regiments were merged into a new Indian Army under the direct control of the British Crown. The designation of "sepoy" was retained for Indian soldiers below the rank of lance naik, except in cavalry where the equivalent ranks were sowar or "trooper".

Sepoys in French service

Following the formation of the French East India Company (Compagnie des Indes) in 1719, companies of Indian sepoys ( cipayes ) were raised to augment the French regulars and Swiss mercenary troops available. By 1720 the sepoys in French service numbered about 10,000. [7] Although much reduced in numbers after their decisive defeat in India at the Battle of Wandewash in 1760, France continued to maintain a Military Corps of Indian Sepoys (corps militaire des cipayes de l'Inde) in Pondicherry until it was disbanded and replaced by a locally recruited gendarmerie in 1898. [8] The 19th century diplomat Sir Justin Sheil commented about the British East India Company copying the French Indian army in raising an army of Indians:

It is to the military genius of the French that we are indebted for the formation of the Indian army. Our warlike neighbours were the first to introduce into India the system of drilling native troops and converting them into a regularly disciplined force. Their example was copied by us, and the result is what we now behold.

Sir Justin Sheil (1803–1871). [9]

Sepoys in Portuguese service

Sepoys were also recruited in Portuguese India. The term cipaio (sepoy) was also applied by the Portuguese to African soldiers in Angola, Mozambique and Portuguese Guinea, plus African rural police officers. Cipaios from Angola provided part of the garrison of Goa during the final years of Portuguese rule of that Indian territory.

Contemporary sepoys

The title of "sepoy" is still retained in the modern Nepalese Army, Indian Army and Pakistan Army. In each of these it designates the rank of private. [10]

Other usages

The same Persian word reached English via another route in the forms of sipahi and spahi . Zipaio, the Basque version of the word, is used by leftist Basque nationalists as an insult for members of the Basque Police, [11] implying that they are not a national police of the Basque region due to their connection with the Spanish government.

In Hispanic American countries, especially in Argentina, the word cipayo has historically been used as a pejorative colloquial expression referring to individuals considered as serving foreign interests, as opposed to serving their own country. [12]

See also

Related Research Articles

Sipahi Elite Ottoman Cavalry, similar to Knights

Sipahi were professional cavalrymen deployed by the Seljuks, and later two types of Ottoman cavalry corps, including the fief-holding provincial timarli sipahi, which constituted most of the army, and the regular kapikulu sipahi, palace troops. Other types of cavalry which were not regarded sipahi were the irregular akıncı ("raiders"). The sipahi formed their own distinctive social classes, and were notably in rivalry with the Janissaries, the elite corps of the Sultan.

Musketeer

A musketeer was a type of soldier equipped with a musket. Musketeers were an important part of early modern armies, particularly in Europe as they normally comprised the majority of their infantry. The musketeer was a precursor to the rifleman. Muskets were replaced by rifles as the almost universal firearm for modern armies during the period 1850 to 1860. The traditional designation of "musketeer" for an infantry private survived in the Imperial German Army until World War I.

Battle of Plassey 1757 battle of the Seven Years War

The Battle of Plassey was a decisive victory of the British East India Company over a much larger force of the Nawab of Bengal and his French allies on 23 June 1757, under the leadership of Robert Clive. The battle helped the Company seize control of Bengal. Over the next hundred years, they seized control of most of the Indian subcontinent, Myanmar, and Afghanistan.

Indian Rebellion of 1857 1857–58 Indian uprising against the rule of the British East India Company

The Indian Rebellion of 1857 was a major, but ultimately unsuccessful, uprising in India in 1857–58 against the rule of the British East India Company, which functioned as a sovereign power on behalf of the British Crown. The rebellion began on 10 May 1857 in the form of a mutiny of sepoys of the Company's army in the garrison town of Meerut, 40 mi (64 km) northeast of Delhi. It then erupted into other mutinies and civilian rebellions chiefly in the upper Gangetic plain and central India, though incidents of revolt also occurred farther north and east. The rebellion posed a considerable threat to British power in that region, and was contained only with the rebels' defeat in Gwalior on 20 June 1858. On 1 November 1858, the British granted amnesty to all rebels not involved in murder, though they did not declare the hostilities to have formally ended until 8 July 1859. Its name is contested, and it is variously described as the Sepoy Mutiny, the Indian Mutiny, the Great Rebellion, the Revolt of 1857, the Indian Insurrection, and the First War of Independence.

British Indian Army 1858–1947 land warfare branch of British Indias military, distinct from the British Army in India

The British Indian Army was the main military of the British Indian Empire before its decommissioning in 1947. It was responsible for the defence of both the British Indian Empire and the princely states, which could also have their own armies. The Indian Army was an important part of the British Empire's forces, both in India and abroad, particularly during the First World War and the Second World War.

Mangal Pandey Indian soldier and freedom fighter

Mangal Pandey was an Indian soldier who played a key part in the events immediately preceding the outbreak of the Indian rebellion of 1857. He was a sepoy (infantryman) in the 34th Bengal Native Infantry (BNI) regiment of the British East India Company. In 1984, the Indian government issued a postage stamp to remember him. His life and actions have also been portrayed in several cinematic productions.

Light cavalry Type of highly mobile soldier on horseback

Light cavalry comprises lightly armed and armored cavalry troops mounted on fast horses, as opposed to heavy cavalry, where the mounted riders are heavily armored. The missions of the light cavalry were primarily raiding, reconnaissance, screening, skirmishing, patrolling and tactical communications. They were usually armed with swords/sabers, spears, javelins and bows, and later on with pistols, shotguns or carbines.

Line infantry

Line infantry was the type of infantry that composed the basis of European land armies from the late 17th century to the middle of the 19th century. Maurice of Nassau and Gustavus Adolphus are generally regarded as its pioneers, while Turenne and Montecuccoli are closely associated with the post-1648 development of linear infantry tactics. For both battle and parade drill, it consisted of two to four ranks of foot soldiers drawn up side by side in rigid alignment, and thereby maximizing the effect of their firepower. By extension, the term came to be applied to the regular regiments "of the line" as opposed to light infantry, skirmishers, militia, support personnel, plus some other special categories of infantry not focused on heavy front line combat.

Madras Regiment Regiment in the Indian Army

The Madras Regiment is the oldest infantry regiment of the Indian Army, originating in the 1750s. The regiment took part in numerous campaigns with both the British Indian Army and the post-independence Indian Army.

Carnatic Wars 18th century wars between the French and the British

The Carnatic Wars were a series of military conflicts in the middle of the 18th century in India's coastal Carnatic region, a dependency of Hyderabad State, India. Three Carnatic Wars were fought between 1746 and 1763.

Sowar

Sowar was originally a rank during the Mughal Empire and Maratha Empire. Later during the British Raj it was the name in Anglo-Indian usage for a horse-soldier belonging to the cavalry troops of the native armies of British India and the feudal states. It is also used more specifically of a mounted orderly, escort or guard. It was also the rank held by ordinary cavalry troopers, equivalent to sepoy in the infantry — this rank has been inherited by the modern armies of India and Pakistan.

Siege of Delhi Decisive conflict of the Indian rebellion of 1857, caused the fall of the Mughal Empire

The Siege of Delhi was one of the decisive conflicts of the Indian rebellion of 1857.

Colonial troops

Colonial troops or colonial army refers to various military units recruited from, or used as garrison troops in, colonial territories.

Daud Khan Panni or simply as Daud Khan was a Mughal commander, Nawab of the Carnatic and later Nawab of Kurnool. He was an ethnic Pashtun from the Panni tribe and was from Bijapur, Karnataka.

Historians have identified diverse political, economic, military, religious and social causes of the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

Siege of Arcot

The Siege of Arcot took place at Arcot, India between forces of the British East India Company led by Robert Clive and forces of Nawab of the Carnatic, Chanda Sahib, assisted by a small number of troops from the French East India Company. It was part of the Second Carnatic War.

Siege of Trichinopoly (1743) 1743 siege and capture of Trichinopoly by Nizam of Hyderabad

The siege of Trichinopoly was part of an extended series of conflicts between the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Maratha Empire for control of the Carnatic region. On 29 August 1743, after a six-month siege, Murari Rao surrendered, giving Nizam ul Mulk (Nizam) the suzerainty of Trichinopoly. By the end of 1743, the Nizam had regained full control of Deccan. This stopped the Maratha interference in the region and ended their hegemony over the Carnatic. The Nizam resolved the internal conflicts among the regional hereditary nobles (Nawabs) for the seat of governor (Subedar) of Arcot State, and monitored the activities of the British East India company and French East India Company by limiting their access to ports and trading.

The siege of Jinji,, began when the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb appointed Zulfiqar Ali Khan as the Nawab of the Carnatic and dispatched him to besiege and capture Jinji Fort, which had been sacked and captured by Maratha Empire troops led by Rajaram, they had also ambushed and killed about 300 Mughal Sowars in the Carnatic. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb then ordered Ghazi ud-Din Khan Feroze Jung I to protect the supply routes leading to Jinji Fort and to support and provide reinforcements to Zulfiqar Ali Khan when needed.

Army of the Mughal Empire

The Army of the Mughal Empire was the force by which the Mughal emperors established their empire in the 15th century and expanded it to its greatest extent at the beginning of the 18th century. Although its origins, like the Mughals themselves, were in the cavalry-based armies of central Asia, its essential form and structure was established by the empire's third emperor, Akbar.

Purbiya was a common term used in medieval India for Rajput and Brahmin led mercenaries and soldiers from the eastern Gangetic Plain - areas corresponding to present-day western Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. The Purbiyas played a significant role in the militaries of various principalities in Western India including the Marwar army.

References

  1. Gerald Bryant (1978). "Officers of the East India Company's army in the days of Clive and Hastings". The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History. 6 (3): 203–27. doi:10.1080/03086537808582508.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Mason, Philip (1974). A Matter of Honour . London: Holt, Rhinehart & Winston. ISBN   0-03-012911-7.
  3. "India's Sepoy Mutiny". Fsmitha.com. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  4. Nicolle, David (1993). Mughul India 1504-1761 . p.  12. ISBN   1-85532-344-3.
  5. Nicolle, David (1993). Mughul India 1504-1761 . p.  15. ISBN   1-85532-344-3.
  6. Mason, Philip (1986). A Matter of Honour - An Account of the Indian Army, its Officers and Men. p. 125. ISBN   0-333-41837-9.
  7. Rene Chartrand, Louis XV's Army — Colonial and Naval Troops, ISBN   1-85532-709-0
  8. pages 50–51, Les Troupes de Marine 1622–1984, ISBN   2-7025-0142-7
  9. Glimpses of Life and Manners in Persia by Lady Mary Leonora Woulfe Sheil, with additional notes by Sir Justin Sheil
  10. John Keegan, pages 312 and 545 Armies of the World, ISBN   0-333-17236-1
  11. La AN condena a dos años de cárcel al autor de los destrozos en el "bosque de Oma" [ permanent dead link ], Deia, 12 January 2005. Quoting a sentence from the Audiencia Nacional : «siendo público y notorio que el término "zipaio" es el que se da a los miembros de la Policía» vasca.
  12. Qué significan cipayo, gorila fondos bruite y otras palabras que todos repiten y pocos conocen. Apertura.com