Standing army

Last updated

A standing army is a permanent, often professional, army. It is composed of full-time soldiers who may be either career soldiers or conscripts. It differs from army reserves, who are enrolled for the long term, but activated only during wars or natural disasters, and temporary armies, which are raised from the civilian population only during a war or threat of war and disbanded once the war or threat is over. Standing armies tend to be better equipped, better trained, and better prepared for emergencies, defensive deterrence, and particularly, wars. [1] The term dates from approximately 1600 CE, although the phenomenon it describes is much older. [2]



Ancient history


Sargon of Akkad, the founder of the Akkadian Empire, is believed to have formed the first standing professional army. [3] [4] Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria (ruled 745–727 BC) created the first Assyria's standing army. [5] [6] Tiglath-Pileser III disbanded militias and instead paid professional soldiers for their services. His army was composed largely of Assyrian soldiers, but was supplemented with foreign mercenaries and vassal states. The standing army he created was the most sophisticated administrative and economic institution of its time, and was the engine of Assyrian economy which capitalized on warfare. [7]

Ancient Greece

In ancient Greece, the city-states (poleis) armies were essentially drafted citizen militias. [8] The exception was in ancient Sparta, which had a standing army that trained year-round (and not only in summertime). Through the 5th century, they comprised the only professional soldiers in ancient Greece, aside from hired mercenaries. However, the Spartan army commonly consisted of helots (serfs), who considerably outnumbered the Spartiates, as well as numerous allies of Sparta. [9]

Philip II of Macedon instituted the first true professional Hellenic army, with soldiers and cavalrymen paid for their service year-round, rather than a militia of men who mostly farmed the land for subsistence and occasionally mustered for campaigns. [8]

Ancient China

In Ancient China, the Xia dynasty, Shang dynasty, and Predynastic Zhou formed political systems that required militaries to support their interests. They were led by nobility but heavily relied upon peasants and slaves. [10] The Western Zhou maintained a standing army, enabling them to effectively control other city states and spread their influence. [11] Unlike the Western Zhou, the Eastern Zhou initially did not have a standing army. Instead they drafted militias from around 150 city states. While the Eastern Zhao did not initially maintain a standing army, the state of Jin became the first to do so in 678 BCE. [11] The first professional army in China was established by the Qin dynasty in 221 BCE, which ushered Imperial China. [12] Under the Qin dynasty, wars were fought by trained vocational soldiers instead of relying on peasants. [13]

Ancient India

In Ancient India, warfare was first attested during the Vedic period. However, warfare was primarily waged between various clans and kingdoms solely by the kshatriya class during times of conflict. [13] True standing armies in India developed under the Mahajanapadas, which relied on paid professional soldiers year round. [14] The most prominent of the Mahajanapadas was the Kingdom of Magadha. It is accepted that the first standing army of India was created in Maghada by the ruler Bimbisara. [15] The use of standing armies during this time is attested in the works of Pāṇini.

The Nanda Empire is recognized for forming the first true empire in South Asia, and did so by maintaining a large standing army. According to Pliny the Elder, the Nanda Empire employed 200,000 infantry, 20,000 cavalry, 3,000 elephants, and 2,000 chariots at their peak. The Maurya Empire overthrew the Nanda Empire, and formed the largest standing army of its time. [16] They initially relied on multiethnic mercenaries and eventually formed a large professional army of 600,000 infantry, 30,000 cavalry, and 9,000 elephants according to Pliny. During the Maurya Empire, Chanakya detailed the branches and roles of the standing army in his work Arthashastra. According to the Arthashastra, recruitment into the Mauryan army wasn't strictly reserved for the kshatriya class as in the past, and employed people of all communities.

Ancient Rome

Under the reign of Augustus, the first Roman emperor, a standing professional army of the Roman Empire was gradually instituted, with regularized pay. This professional force of legionaries was expensive to maintain, but supported the authority of the empire, not only as combat troops but also as provincial police forces, engineers, and guards. [17] Legionaries were citizen volunteers entitled to a discharge bounty upon 25 years of honorable service; supplementing the legions were the auxilia, auxiliary forces composed of non-citizens in the provinces who typically earned citizenship as a reward for service. [17]

Post-classical history

Ottoman Empire

The first modern standing armies on European soil during the Middle Ages were the Janissaries of the Ottoman Empire, which were formed in the 14th century under sultan Murad I. [18] [19]


The first Christian standing army since the fall of the Western Roman Empire to be paid with regular wages, instead of feudal levies, was established by King Charles VII of France in the 1430s while the Hundred Years' War was still raging. As he realized that France needed professional reliable troops for ongoing and future conflicts, units were raised by issuing "ordonnances" to govern their length of service, composition and payment. These compagnies d'ordonnance formed the core of the French gendarmes that dominated European battlefields in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. They were stationed throughout France and summoned into larger armies when needed. Provisions were also made for franc-archers and foot soldiers raised from the non-noble classes, but those units were disbanded at the end of the Hundred Years' War. [20]

The bulk of the infantry for warfare was still provided by urban or provincial militias, raised from an area or city to fight locally and named for their recruiting grounds. Gradually these units became more permanent, and in the 1480s, Swiss instructors were recruited and some of the 'bandes' (militia) were combined to form temporary 'legions' of up to 9,000 men. The men would be paid and contracted and would receive training.

Henry II further regularised the French army by forming standing infantry regiments to replace the militia structure. The first, the Régiments de Picardie, Piémont, Navarre and Champagne, were called Les Vieux Corps (The Old Corps). It was normal policy to disband regiments after a war was over to save costs. The Vieux Corps and the King's own Household Troops (the Maison militaire du roi de France) were the only survivors.


The Black Army, established in 1462 by Hungarian King, Matthias Hunyadi was the first Central/Eastern European standing army. [21] However, while the Black Army was certainly the first standing field army in that part of Europe, Hungary in fact had maintained a permanent army in the form of garrisons of border fortresses since the 1420s. [22]

Modern history


The Spanish Empire tercios were the first Spanish standing units composed of professional soldiers. Their pike and shot composition assured predominance in the European battlefields from the 16th century to the first half of the 17th century. Although other powers adopted the tercio formation, their armies fell short of the fearsome reputation of the Spanish, whose core of professional soldiers gave them an edge that was hard for other states to match. [23]

Songhai Empire

In West Africa, the Songhai Empire under the Askia Mohammad I (1493–1528) possessed a full-time corps of warriors. Al-Sa'di, the chronicler who wrote the Tarikh al-Sudan, compared Askia Mohammad I's army to that of his predecessor; "he distinguished between the civilian and the army unlike Sunni Ali [1464–92] when everyone was a soldier." Askia Mohammad I is said to have possessed cynical attitudes towards kingdoms that lacked professional armies like his, notably in reference to the neighboring kingdoms in the land of Borgu. [24]

England and Great Britain

Prior to the influence of Oliver Cromwell, England lacked a standing army, instead relying on militia organized by local officials, private forces mobilized by the nobility and hired mercenaries from Europe. This changed during the English Civil War, when Cromwell formed his New Model Army of 50,000 men. This professional body of soldiers proved more effective than untrained militia, and enabled him to exert control over the country. The army was disbanded by Parliament following the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, and the Cromwellian model was initially considered a failure due to various logistical and political problems with the force. [25]

The Militia Act of 1661 prohibited local authorities from assembling militia without the approval of the king, to prevent such a force being used to oppress local opponents. This weakened the incentive for local officials to draw up their own fighting forces, and King Charles II subsequently assembled four regiments of infantry and cavalry, calling them his guards, at a cost of £122,000 paid out of his regular budget. This became the foundation of the permanent British Army. By 1685 it had grown to 7,500 soldiers in marching regiments, and 1,400 men permanently stationed in garrisons. The Monmouth Rebellion in 1685 provided James II with a pretext to increase the size of the force to 20,000 men, and there were 37,000 in 1688, when England played a role in the closing stage of the Franco-Dutch War. In 1689, William III expanded the army to 74,000, and then to 94,000 in 1694.

Nervous at the power such a large force afforded the king whilst under his personal command, Parliament reduced the cadre to 7,000 in 1697. Scotland and Ireland had theoretically separate military establishments, but they were de facto merged with the English force. The Bill of Rights 1689 officially reserved authority over a standing army to Parliament, not the king. [26] [27]

In his influential work The Wealth of Nations (1776), economist Adam Smith comments that standing armies are a sign of modernizing society, as modern warfare requires the increased skill and discipline of regularly trained standing armies. [28]

United States

In the British Thirteen Colonies in America, there was a strong distrust of a standing army not under civilian control. [29] [30] The U.S. Constitution in (Article 1, Section 8) limits federal appropriations to two years, and reserves financial control to Congress, instead of to the President. The President, however, retains command of the armed forces when they are raised, as commander-in-chief. [1] The Framers' suspicion of a standing army is reflected in the constitutional requirement that the appointment and promotion of high-ranking military officers (like civil officers) be confirmed by the Senate. [31] At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Elbridge Gerry argued against a large standing army, comparing it, mischievously, to a standing penis: "An excellent assurance of domestic tranquility, but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure." [32] After the Battle of Bladensburg in 1814, during the War of 1812, in which the Maryland and Virginia militias were soundly defeated by the British Army, President James Madison commented, "I could never have believed so great a difference existed between regular troops and a militia force, if I not witnessed the scenes of this day." [33]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Army</span> Military branch for ground warfare

An army, ground force or land force is a fighting force that fights primarily on land. In the broadest sense, it is the land-based military branch, service branch or armed service of a nation or country. It may also include aviation assets by possessing an army aviation component. Within a national military force, the word army may also mean a field army.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cavalry</span> Soldiers or warriors fighting from horseback

Historically, cavalry are soldiers or warriors who fight mounted on horseback. Cavalry were the most mobile of the combat arms, operating as light cavalry in the roles of reconnaissance, screening, and skirmishing in many armies, or as heavy cavalry for decisive shock attacks in other armies. An individual soldier in the cavalry is known by a number of designations depending on era and tactics, such as cavalryman, horseman, trooper, cataphract, knight, hussar, uhlan, mamluk, cuirassier, lancer, dragoon, or horse archer. The designation of cavalry was not usually given to any military forces that used other animals for mounts, such as camels or elephants. Infantry who moved on horseback, but dismounted to fight on foot, were known in the early 17th to the early 18th century as dragoons, a class of mounted infantry which in most armies later evolved into standard cavalry while retaining their historic designation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Medieval warfare</span> History and description of warfare in the European Middle Ages

Medieval warfare is the warfare of the Middle Ages. Technological, cultural, and social advancements had forced a severe transformation in the character of warfare from antiquity, changing military tactics and the role of cavalry and artillery. In terms of fortification, the Middle Ages saw the emergence of the castle in Europe, which then spread to the Holy Land.

The Roman legion was the largest military unit of the Roman army, composed of 5,200 infantry and 300 equites (cavalry) in the period of the Roman Republic and of 5,600 infantry and 200 auxilia in the period of the Roman Empire.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mercenary</span> Soldier who fights for hire

A mercenary, sometimes also known as a soldier of fortune or hired gun, is a private individual, particularly a soldier, that joins a military conflict for personal profit, is otherwise an outsider to the conflict, and is not a member of any other official military. Mercenaries fight for money or other forms of payment rather than for political interests. Beginning in the 20th century, mercenaries have increasingly come to be seen as less entitled to protections by rules of war than non-mercenaries. The Geneva Conventions declare that mercenaries are not recognized as legitimate combatants and do not have to be granted the same legal protections as captured service personnel of the armed forces. In practice, whether or not a person is a mercenary may be a matter of degree, as financial and political interests may overlap.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Janissary</span> Elite infantry units and standing army of the Ottoman Empire (active 1363–1826)

A Janissary was a member of the elite infantry units that formed the Ottoman Sultan's household troops and the first modern standing army in Europe. The corps was most likely established under sultan Orhan (1324–1362), during the Viziership of Alaeddin.

<i>Landsknecht</i> Type of mercenary infantry in 16th century Europe

The Landsknechte, also rendered as Landsknechts or Lansquenets, were Germanic mercenaries used in pike and shot formations during the early modern period. Consisting predominantly of pikemen and supporting foot soldiers, their front line was formed by Doppelsöldner renowned for their use of Zweihänder and arquebus. Originally organized by Emperor Maximilian I and Georg von Frundsberg, they formed the bulk of the Holy Roman Empire's Imperial Army from the late 1400s to the early 1600s, fighting in the Habsburg-Valois wars, the Habsburg-Ottoman wars, and the European wars of religion.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Siege of Vienna (1529)</span> Attempt by the Ottoman Empire to capture the city of Vienna, Austria

The siege of Vienna, in 1529, was the first attempt by the Ottoman Empire to capture the capital city of Vienna, Austria, Holy Roman Empire. Suleiman the Magnificent, sultan of the Ottomans, attacked the city with over 100,000 men, while the defenders, led by Niklas Graf Salm, numbered no more than 21,000. Nevertheless, Vienna was able to survive the siege, which ultimately lasted just over two weeks, from 27 September to 15 October, 1529.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Military of the Ottoman Empire</span> History of the combined military forces of the Ottoman Empire

The military of the Ottoman Empire was the armed forces of the Ottoman Empire.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Songhai Empire</span> Empire in western Africa from c. 1430 to 1591

The Songhai Empire was a state that dominated the western Sahel/Sudan in the 15th and 16th century. At its peak, it was one of the largest states in African history. The state is known by its historiographical name, derived from its leading ethnic group and ruling elite, the Songhai. Sonni Ali established Gao as the capital of the empire although a Songhai state had existed in and around Gao since the 11th century. Other important cities in the empire were Timbuktu and Djenné, conquered in 1468 and 1475 respectively, where urban-centered trade flourished and to the south is the north Akan state of Bonoman. Initially, the empire was ruled by the Sonni dynasty, but it was later replaced by the Askia dynasty (1493–1901).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roman army</span> Armies of Ancient Rome

The Roman army was the armed forces deployed by the Romans throughout the duration of Ancient Rome, from the Roman Kingdom to the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and its medieval continuation, the Eastern Roman Empire. It is thus a term that may span approximately 2,205 years, during which the Roman armed forces underwent numerous permutations in size, composition, organisation, equipment and tactics, while conserving a core of lasting traditions.

Ancient warfare is war that was conducted from the beginning of recorded history to the end of the ancient period. The difference between prehistoric and ancient warfare is more organization oriented than technology oriented. The development of first city-states, and then empires, allowed warfare to change dramatically. Beginning in Mesopotamia, states produced sufficient agricultural surplus. This allowed full-time ruling elites and military commanders to emerge. While the bulk of military forces were still farmers, the society could portion off each year. Thus, organized armies developed for the first time. These new armies were able to help states grow in size and become increasingly centralized.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Early modern warfare</span> Warfare during the gunpowder era

Early modern warfare is the era of warfare following medieval warfare. It is associated with the start of the widespread use of gunpowder and the development of suitable weapons to use the explosive, including artillery and firearms; for this reason the era is also referred to as the age of gunpowder warfare. This entire period is contained within the Age of Sail, which characteristic dominated the era's naval tactics, including the use of gunpowder in naval artillery.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Irregular military</span> Any non-standard military organization

Irregular military is any non-standard military component that is distinct from a country's national armed forces. Being defined by exclusion, there is significant variance in what comes under the term. It can refer to the type of military organization, or to the type of tactics used. An irregular military organization is one which is not part of the regular army organization. Without standard military unit organization, various more general names are often used; such organizations may be called a troop, group, unit, column, band, or force. Irregulars are soldiers or warriors that are members of these organizations, or are members of special military units that employ irregular military tactics. This also applies to irregular infantry and irregular cavalry units.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Byzantine army</span> Land branch of the armed forces of the Byzantine Empire

The Byzantine army was the primary military body of the Byzantine armed forces, serving alongside the Byzantine navy. A direct continuation of the Eastern Roman army, shaping and developing itself on the legacy of the late Hellenistic armies, it maintained a similar level of discipline, strategic prowess and organization. It was among the most effective armies of western Eurasia for much of the Middle Ages. Over time the cavalry arm became more prominent in the Byzantine army as the legion system disappeared in the early 7th century. Later reforms reflected some Germanic and Asian influences – rival forces frequently became sources of mercenary units e.g.; Huns, Cumans, Alans and Turks, meeting the Empire's demand for light cavalry mercenaries. Since much of the Byzantine military focused on the strategy and skill of generals utilizing militia troops, heavy infantry were recruited from Frankish and later Varangian mercenaries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Black Army of Hungary</span> Professional army of Matthias Corvinus

The Black Army, also called the Black Legion/Regiment – possibly after their black armor panoply – is a common name given to the military forces serving under the reign of King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary. The ancestor and core of this early standing mercenary army appeared in the era of his father John Hunyadi in the early 1440s. The idea of the professional standing mercenary army came from Matthias' juvenile readings about the life of Julius Caesar.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Byzantine army (Palaiologan era)</span>

The Palaiologan army refers to the military forces of the Byzantine Empire under the rule of the Palaiologos dynasty, from the late 13th century to its final collapse in the mid-15th century. The army was a direct continuation of the forces of the Empire of Nicaea, which itself was a fractured component of the formidable Komnenian army of the 12th century. Under the first Palaiologan emperor, Michael VIII, the army's role took an increasingly offensive role whilst the naval forces of the empire, weakened since the days of Andronikos I Komnenos, were boosted to include thousands of skilled sailors and some 80 ships. Due to the lack of land to support the army, the empire required the use of large numbers of mercenaries.

The Seleucid army was the army of the Seleucid Empire, one of the numerous Hellenistic states that emerged after the death of Alexander the Great.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chariots in ancient China</span>

The ancient Chinese chariot was used as an attack and pursuit vehicle on the open fields and plains of ancient China from around 1200 BCE. Chariots also allowed military commanders a mobile platform from which to control troops while providing archers and soldiers armed with dagger-axes increased mobility. They reached a peak of importance during the Spring and Autumn period, but were largely superseded by cavalry during the Han Dynasty.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Military of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth</span> Overview of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealths military

The military of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth consisted of two separate armies of the Kingdom of Poland's Crown Army and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania's Grand Ducal Lithuanian Army following the 1569 Union of Lublin, which joined to form the bi-conderate elective monarchy of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The army of each country was commanded by their respective Hetmans. The most unique formation of both armies were the Winged hussars. The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth Navy never played a major role and ceased to exist in the mid-17th century.


  1. 1 2 Wills, Garry (1999). A Necessary Evil, A History of American Distrust of Government New York, N.Y.; Simon & Schuster. ISBN   0-684-84489-3
  2. "Standing army | Definition of Standing army at". ORIGIN OF STANDING ARMY. Retrieved 2021-04-20. First recorded in 1595–1605
  3. "First standing army". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 2021-01-07.
  4. Bang, Peter Fibiger; Scheidel, Walter (2013-01-31). The Oxford Handbook of the State in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean. OUP USA. ISBN   978-0-19-518831-8.
  5. Howard, Michael (2002). Transnationalism in Ancient and Medieval Societies: The Role of Cross-Border Trade and Travel. McFarland. p. 36. ISBN   978-0786468034 . Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  6. Schwartzwald, Jack (2014). The Ancient Near East, Greece and Rome: A Brief History. McFarland. p. 24. ISBN   978-0786478064.
  7. Axelrod, Alan (2019-08-26). 100 Turning Points in Military History. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN   978-1-4930-3746-9.
  8. 1 2 The Encyclopædia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences and General Literature. Werner. 1893.
  9. Legault, Roch (1996). Elite Military Formations in War and Peace. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 33–34. ISBN   978-0-275-94640-1.
  10. Shi, Li. The Military History of Remote Antiquity Period and The Three Dynasties (Xia, Shang and Zhou Dynasty). DeepLogic.
  11. 1 2 Zhao, Dingxin (2015-10-16). The Confucian-Legalist State: A New Theory of Chinese History: A New Theory of Chinese History. Oxford University Press. ISBN   978-0-19-935174-9.
  12. Sahay, Dr R. K. (2016-05-24). History of China's Military. Vij Books India Pvt Ltd. ISBN   978-93-86019-90-5.
  13. 1 2 Westfahl, Gary (2015-04-21). A Day in a Working Life: 300 Trades and Professions through History [3 volumes]: 300 Trades and Professions through History. ABC-CLIO. ISBN   978-1-61069-403-2.
  14. Roy, Kaushik (2015-06-03). Warfare in Pre-British India – 1500 BCE to 1740 CE. Routledge. ISBN   9781317586913.
  15. Roy, Kaushik (2015-06-03). Warfare in Pre-British India - 1500BCE to 1740CE. Routledge. ISBN   978-1-317-58691-3.
  16. "The Maurya and Gupta Empires (article)". Khan Academy. Retrieved 2021-01-07.
  17. 1 2 Christopher J. Fuhrmann, Policing the Roman Empire: Soldiers, Administration, and Public Order (Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 104–05, 239–40.
  18. Lord Kinross (1977). Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire. New York: Morrow Quill Paperbacks, 52. ISBN   0-688-08093-6.
  19. Goodwin, Jason (1998). Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire. New York: H. Holt, 59,179–181. ISBN   0-8050-4081-1.
  20. Trevor N. Dupuy, Harper Encyclopedia of Military History (1993)
  21. Pál, Földi (2015). A Fekete Sereg (The Black Army). Budapest, Hungary: Csengőkert Kiadó. pp. 2–208. ISBN   9786155476839.
  22. Palosfalvi, Tamas - From Nicopolis to Mohács: A History of Ottoman-Hungarian Warfare, 1389-1526, Brill (September 20, 2018), pg.32
  23. Lynch, John. The Hispanic World in Crisis and Change, 1578–1700 Cambridge: Blackwell, 1992. Page 117.
  24. Thornton, John K.. Warfare in Atlantic Africa, 1500–1800 (Warfare and History) (Kindle Locations 871–872). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
  25. Lord Macaulay The History of England from the accession of James the Second (C.H. Firth ed. 1913), 1:136–38.
  26. David G. Chandler, ed., The Oxford history of the British army (2003), pp. 46–57.
  27. Correlli Barnett, Britain and her army, 1509–1970: a military, political and social survey (1970) pp 90–98, 110–25.
  28. Smith, Adam. (1776) An Inquiry into the Nature And Causes of the Wealth of Nations Book 5. Chapter 1. Part 1.
  29. Hamner, Christopher. American Resistance to a Standing Army., Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.
  30. Dawes, Thomas. An Oration Delivered March 5, 1781, at the Request of the Inhabitants of the Town of Boston, to Commemorate the Bloody Tragedy of the Fifth of March 1770, pp. 14–15, printed by Thomas and John Fleet, Boston, 1781.
  31. Mitchel A. Sollenberger (2015). "President and Congressional Relations: An Evolution of Military Appointments". In Colton C. Campbell & David P. Auerswald (ed.). Congress and Civil-Military Relations. Georgetown University Press. pp. 29–31. ISBN   978-1626161801.
  32. Isaacson, Walter (2003). Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. p.  456. ISBN   0-684-80761-0.
  33. Benn, Carl (2002). The War of 1812. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. p. 20. ISBN   978-1-84176-466-5.