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Related to Guards: Red Guards, Swiss Guards, Grenadier Guards
select, privileged units of troops. Guards already existed in the slaveowning age and were most highly developed in Persia (the corps of 10,000 “immortals”) and Rome (the Praetorian Guard).
The term “guard” appeared in Italy in the 12th century and meant a crack detachment for the protection of the state banner. With the organization of standing mercenary armies, guards were established in various European countries. They were distinguished by better armament, uniforms, and training, and in addition to combat tasks, they protected the monarch. The earliest guards were formed in France in the early 15th century and then in England, Sweden, Russia, and Prussia in the 17th century. In the Orient in the Middle Ages the role of guards was filled by bodyguards and select units of mercenaries and slaves, who played a great role in political life and repeatedly carried out palace revolutions (for example, the Janissaries in Turkey from the 16th to the early 19th century). In the 19th century guard units were formed in Turkey and Japan.
The largest units of guards were in France, Russia, and Germany. In France the guards reached a strength of 4,000 under Louis XI in the 15th century and 10,000 in the first half of the 16th century. (They were primarily Swiss and Scots.) In addition to its other functions, under Louis XIV the guard was a training school for officers. During the Great French Revolution the Royal Guard was abolished, and the National Guard was established. Under the Directory the guard was restored and was later called the Consular Guard. In 1805 the Imperial Guard was formed of elite soldiers from all the combat arms and the navy, and from 1809 it was divided into the Old Guard and the newly established, less privileged Young Guard. In 1812 it consisted of 22 infantry and seven cavalry regiments, 13 artillery companies, and engineering and other units, totaling up to 60,000 men. Under the Bourbons the size of the guard was reduced, and it was abolished in 1830. It was restored under Napoleon HI and existed from 1854 to 1870. In Prussia the guard arose in the late 17th century under the Brandenburg Elector Fredrick III (later Fredrick I, king of Prussia). In the early 20th century the German guard included 11 infantry and nine cavalry regiments. It was abolished in 1918. At the present time several capitalist states, such as Great Britain, Sweden, and Denmark, have guards for the personal protection of the monarch or the president.
In Russia, guards (life guards) were established by Peter I the Great in 1687 from among the young tsar’s regiments for military games—the Preobrazhenskii and Semenovskii regiments. (They were officially called guards in 1700.) In 1721 the Cavalry Regiment was formed. It was named the Life Guards Regiment in 1722, the Cavalry Guard in 1730, and the Life Guards Cavalry Regiment in 1801. In the 18th century the guard was a military school to train commanders for the army. According to the Table of Ranks of 1722, officers of the guard received a seniority of two ranks over army officers. In the first half of the 18th century the guards were recruited primarily from the nobility, and they had great political influence, actively participating in palace revolutions. In the second half of the 18th century the proportion of noblemen among soldiers was reduced, and in the 19th century the guards were recruited only from the lower estates. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the number of guard units was increased and included all combat arms and the navy. The Young Guard, which had a seniority of one rank over other units, was established in 1813. Under Alexander III the Young Guard lost its seniority, and the Old Guard’s seniority was reduced one rank. In the early 20th century the guard was composed of 12 infantry, four rifle, and 13 cavalry regiments, three artillery brigades, a horsedrawn artillery brigade, an engineering battalion, a navy crew, and several ships. The guards took part in all the wars fought by Russia.
After the Patriotic War of 1812 revolutionary sentiments spread among the guard units, some of which were the basic military force in the uprising of the Decembrists in 1825. Later the tsarist state transformed the guards into a stronghold of reaction. The officers staff of the guards was composed mainly of representatives of the rich hereditary nobility, and the soldiers were recruited from among physically strong, tall, and politically reliable men. In the Revolution of 1905-07 the guards played a counterrevolutionary role, participating in the massacre of Jan. 9, 1905, in St. Petersburg and suppressing the December armed uprising in Moscow. In World War I (1914-18) the guards suffered great losses among its personnel. The masses of the guard soldiers and the army bore the brunt of the war and ceased to be a bulwark of tsarism. In the February and October revolutions the majority of the guard regiments went over to the side of the revolutionary masses and played an important role in the victory of the revolution. An exception to this was a considerable portion of the officers corps, which played a prominent role among the White Guard troops. In 1918 the guard was disbanded in connection with the dissolution of the old army.
In the USSR, “guard” is an honorary title that is conferred on units of various sizes that have most distinguished themselves in battles.