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large armed land force, under regular military control, organization, and discipline.

Ancient Armies

Although armies existed in ancient Egypt, China, India, and Assyria, Greece was the first country known for a disciplined military land force. The Greeks made military service obligatory for citizens and training was rigorous. As a result of Greek military successes, leaders of other nations sought the services of Greek mercenaries. In time, a class of professional soldiers developed. They sold their services to other rulers as well as to wealthy Greeks who chose to avoid required military service (see XenophonXenophon
, c.430 B.C.–c.355 B.C., Greek historian, b. Athens. He was one of the well-to-do young disciples of Socrates before leaving Athens to join the Greek force (the Ten Thousand) that was in the service of Cyrus the Younger of Persia.
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Like the Greek armies, the Roman army was originally composed of citizen soldiers. As the Roman Empire expanded, a professional standing army came into being; it became increasingly composed of barbarian mercenaries. The Roman army was divided into legionslegion,
large unit of the Roman army. It came into prominence c.400 B.C. It originally consisted of 3,000 to 4,000 men drawn into eight ranks: the first six ranks, called hoplites, were heavily armed, while the last two, called velites, were only lightly armed.
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, each of which included heavy and light infantry, cavalry, and a siege train. The army became a political force that often determined who ruled the empire.

Feudal Armies

In Islam, slave soldiers were often trained from youth to be loyal only to their owners. These slave armies often established dynasties of their own (see MamluksMamluk
or Mameluke
[Arab.,=slaves], a warrior caste dominant in Egypt and influential in the Middle East for over 700 years. Islamic rulers created this warrior caste by collecting non-Muslim slave boys and training them as cavalry soldiers especially loyal to their
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; JanissariesJanissaries
[Turk.,=recruits], elite corps in the service of the Ottoman Empire (Turkey). It was composed of war captives and Christian youths pressed into service; all the recruits were converted to Islam and trained under the strictest discipline.
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). In medieval Japan and Europe, samuraisamurai
, knights of feudal Japan, retainers of the daimyo. This aristocratic warrior class arose during the 12th-century wars between the Taira and Minamoto clans and was consolidated in the Tokugawa period.
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 and knightsknight,
in ancient and medieval history, a noble who did military service as a mounted warrior. The Knight in Ancient History

In ancient history, as in Athens and Rome, the knight was a noble of the second class who in military service had to furnish his own mount
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, respectively, owed military service to a lord. The European system depended on the feudal levy, which required knights and yeomanry to provide a fixed number of days of military service per year to a great lord. Because of this limitation on service and the poorly trained force that it produced, sustained military operations were difficult. Feudal armies were undermined by the development in England of the longbow, but they were destroyed by the introduction of gunpowdergunpowder,
explosive mixture; its most common formula, called "black powder," is a combination of saltpeter, sulfur, and carbon in the form of charcoal. Historically, the relative amounts of the components have varied.
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. Armed knights became easy victims of hand-carried firearms and castle walls could now be breasted by cannon.

Professionals and Conscripts

National armies, largely composed of mercenaries, reappeared after the introduction of gunpowder. An example is the Italian condottiere, who hired mercenaries to fight for the prince who was able to pay the most. German and Swiss mercenaries served all over Europe in the 15th and 16th cent. Professional soldiers were also a notable feature of the armies of the Ottoman Turks, who threatened to destroy the forces of Western Europe in the 16th cent. Eventually, as a result of the writings of such political theorists as Niccolo MachiavelliMachiavelli, Niccolò
, 1469–1527, Italian author and statesman, one of the outstanding figures of the Renaissance, b. Florence. Life

A member of the impoverished branch of a distinguished family, he entered (1498) the political service of the
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, national or standing armies developed—armies of professional soldiers led mostly by officers from the country's aristocracy.

After the Thirty Years War (1618–48), France emerged as the preeminent European military power. Under Louis XIV and his war minister, the marquis de LouvoisLouvois, François Michel Le Tellier, marquis de
, 1641–91, French statesman, minister during the reign of King Louis XIV. After 1654 he was associated in office with his father, Michel Le Tellier, and from 1666 he functioned as war minister, officially replacing his
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, that country organized a national standing army that became the pattern for all Europe until the French Revolution. A professional body, set apart from civilian life and ruled under an iron discipline, the standing army reached harsh perfection under Frederick II of Prussia.

In the late 18th cent. the American and French revolutions brought about the return of the nonprofessional, citizen army. The introduction of conscriptionconscription,
compulsory enrollment of personnel for service in the armed forces. Obligatory service in the armed forces has existed since ancient times in many cultures, including the samurai in Japan, warriors in the Aztec Empire, citizen militiamen in ancient Greece and Rome,
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 during the French Revolutionary Wars led to mass armies built around a professional nucleus. Officers could be from any class. Conscription also transformed non-European armies, such as that of Egypt during the early 19th cent.

The Modern Army

With the advent of railroads and, later, highway systems it became possible after the mid-19th cent. to move large concentrations of troops, and the nations of the world were able to benefit from enlarging their manpower bases by conscription. Armies changed technologically as well. Trench warfaretrench warfare.
Although trenches were used in ancient and medieval warfare, in the American Civil War, and in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–5), they did not become important until World War I.
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 resulted from improvements in small arms and prompted the development of various weapons designed to end the stalemates and murderous battles that entrenched forces produced. The growing role of artilleryartillery,
originally meant any large weaponry (including such ancient engines of war as catapults and battering rams) or war material, but later applied only to heavy firearms as opposed to small arms.
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 made logistics even more important. From the first, armies had needed soldiers to supply the fighting troops—even when the armies simply lived off the land. No formal distinction orginally was made between service troops and combat troops, but with the creation of the great citizen armies after the French Revolution formal specialization proliferated, and quartermasters, ordnance troops, engineers, and medical specialists were organized into separate units. The development of mechanized warfaremechanized warfare,
employment of modern mobile attack and defense tactics that depend upon machines, more particularly upon vehicles powered by gasoline and diesel engines.
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 in the 20th cent. made armies powerful and highly mobile and yet did not always provide them with the capabilities needed to fight so-called asymmetric opponents, such as they face in guerrilla warfareguerrilla warfare
[Span.,=little war], fighting by groups of irregular troops (guerrillas) within areas occupied by the enemy. When guerrillas obey the laws of conventional warfare they are entitled, if captured, to be treated as ordinary prisoners of war; however, they are
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 and terrorismterrorism,
the threat or use of violence, often against the civilian population, to achieve political or social ends, to intimidate opponents, or to publicize grievances.
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The term army is still applied to all the armed land forces of a nation, but it is also used to designate a self-contained unit with its own service and supply personnel. In many armies today the division (usually about 15,000 persons) is the smallest self-contained unit (having its own service and supply personnel). Two or more divisions generally form a corps; and an army (c.100,000 persons or more) is two or more corps. In World War II, army groups were created, including several armies (sometimes from different allied forces). Above the groups is the command of a theater of operations, which in the United States is under the control of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

See Defense, United States Department ofDefense, United States Department of,
executive department of the federal government charged with coordinating and supervising all agencies and functions of the government relating directly to national security and military affairs.
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; strategy and tacticsstrategy and tactics,
in warfare, related terms referring, respectively, to large-scale and small-scale planning to achieve military success. Strategy may be defined as the general scheme of the conduct of a war, tactics as the planning of means to achieve strategic objectives.
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; warfarewarfare,
violent conflict between armed enemies. In modern times warfare has usually been conducted by the armed forces (e.g., army, navy, and air force) of a nation or other politically organized group.
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See A. Vagts, A History of Militarism (1937); L. L. Gordon, Military Origins (1971); J. Keegan and R. Holmes, Soldiers (1986); R. O'Connell, Of Arms and Men (1989).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) Land troops (land forces) on a level with a naval fleet.

(2) Totality of armed forces of a state.

(3) Large operational unit designated for the conducting of operations.

In the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries the term “army” meant troops united under a single command in one theater of operations, hence the names Rhine Army, Danube Army, and so on.

The growth in numbers of national armed forces, the difficulty of controlling troops located along a broad front and operating in different directions, and the appearance of new factors which influenced the conduct of battles (the railroad, and in the 20th century first automobile and then air transport) made it necessary to create individual armies within a single theater of operations. Instead of one army carrying out a strategic task throughout the whole theater, a number of armies appeared, each under the command of one person (the commander of the army), and each representing a large operational unit of troops intended to carry out the individual operational tasks in the theater. The army had a headquarters staff and the necessary logistic agencies; it was usually designated by an ordinal number. Such individual armies in a single military theater appeared in Russia before the Patriotic War of 1812, when all the forces were divided into three armies. In 1812, Napoleon, too, began to organize individual armies (groups); previously he had made all the corps directly subordinate to himself. Later, individual armies appeared in Prussia (1866), Japan, (1904–05), and other states. During World War I, Russia had 13 armies (1916), Germany had 15 (1918), and France had ten (1918). During the Civil War (1918–1920) a new type of army unit—the mounted army—appeared in the Soviet Armed Forces.

Initially, armies did not have a permanent organization; their composition was determined by the tasks they carried out, the characteristics of the military theater, the strength of the enemy, the existing possibilities for security of troop control, and other conditions. Beginning with the 19th century, armies generally consisted of three to six or more corps, and corps consisted of two to four divisions. In the Civil War the Soviet Army had no corps; it was made up directly of divisions. In addition to corps (divisions), armies included various auxiliary units. The numerical composition of armies was not constant: thus, the Russian First Army numbered 127,000 men in 1812, and the Second Army 40,000 men; the Prussian First Army numbered 140,000 men in 1866, the Second Army, 115,000 men; in 1916 the Russian Eighth Army included 225,000 men, the Ninth Army, 165,000 men. In the Great Patriotic War (1941–45), German fascist armies included 120,000–250,000 men; Soviet armies numbered 60,000–100,000 men.

Before the appearance of automobiles, automatic weapons, airplanes, and tanks, the foundation of the army was infantry, cavalry, and artillery. The shock force of the army was based on bayonets, its maneuverability on the mobility of the infantry (25–30 km in a 24-hour period). Armies of World War I and Soviet armies of the Civil War were of a transitional type. They were distinguished from previous armies primarily by the increased saturation of war matériel—that is, automatic weapons, mortars, and guns—and the appearance of an air force, armored-vehicle troops, chemical troops, antiaircraft defense troops, motor transport units, road units, and other units. The cavalry did not lose its importance. However, these armies were nonetheless unmounted armies with an inherently low level of maneuverability. The infantry and artillery constituted the basic shock force. Tanks, planes, and motorized transport were not widely employed; they had not been perfected technically and thus could not fundamentally alter combat capabilities.

By the start of World War II (1939–45) the engine and the combat vehicle had become prominent in the armies of developed states. Tank armies (in the USSR and Germany), airborne armies, and air armies appeared in World War II along with combined arms armies. The combat strength of combined arms armies had become more varied than that of the period of World War I. In addition to infantry (rifle) units, they began to include tank and mechanized (motorized) units. On the Soviet-German front the composition of combined arms armies fluctuated from three to five army corps (ten to 16 infantry divisions) and from two to eight tank and motorized divisions. Soviet combined arms armies had from three to five infantry corps (nine to 14 divisions) and one or two tank (mechanized) corps. The German tank army consisted of two or three tank corps. The Soviet tank army usually consisted of three corps (one or two mechanized and one or two tank corps). Combined arms and tank armies had a great number of different means of reinforcement. The American and British forces had no tank armies.

After World War II, the army as a large operational unit of troops developed further as a result of the combat experience that was acquired, the rearmament of troops with the new combat technology, the mechanization and motorization of troops, and the appearance of rocket troops in the 1960’s.


Engels, F. Izbr. voennye proizvedeniia. Moscow, 1958.
Lenin, V. I. “Voisko i revoliutsiia.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 12.
Lenin, V. I. “Armiia i narod.” Ibid, vol. 13.
Frunze, M. V. Sobr. soch., vols. 1–3. Moscow-Leningrad, 1926–29.
Frunze, M. V. Izbr. proizv. Moscow, 1965.
Triandafillov, V. Kharakter operatsii sovremennykh armii, 4th ed. Moscow, 1937.
50 let Vooruzhennykh Sil SSSR (1918–1968). Moscow, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


The land military forces of a nation.
A unit of the U.S. Army made up of two or more army corps.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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