Rank in the Military (Magill’s Guide to Military History)
Rank fosters command and control of a military organization by denoting each member’s level of responsibility within its formal hierarchy. In the past, feathers, special hats, cockades, variations in uniform, or badges could denote rank; modern military organizations use insignia worn on the collar or sleeve. In general, two categories of rank exist. Officers are unit leaders, commissioned by their government to discharge executive duties. Enlisted personnel, who sign up for limited terms of service, perform functional duties specific to a unit. For instance, the riflemen in an infantry platoon are enlisted, while the platoon leader is an officer.
Development of Rank
Ancient Greek, Roman, and Chinese literature, as well as the Bible, mention rank bestowed on certain men, often by election, to lead soldiers in battle. During the Middle Ages in the West, the right to raise and lead troops for specific campaigns became the duty of a hereditary aristocracy. Modern rank structure evolved from the early Renaissance, when kings and leaders of city-states began to keep permanent armies.
The oldest term still in use is captain (hauptmann in German), derived from Latin caput, “head,” the chief of a company of warriors. For training and maintaining discipline, a captain had assistants called servientes, whose modern form is sergeant. As large armies became common, they traveled in columns commanded by a...
(The entire section is 784 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!