In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Militia

  • Introduction
  • Europe, Early Modern and Colonial Era, 1500 to 1789
  • Noncolonial Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, 1900 to Present
  • Modern Non-Nation State, 1900 to Present

Military History Militia
Robert R. Mackey
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0116


In the field of military history, militia is often defined simply as a group of individuals or citizens who serve part-time in military service. It is often differentiated from standing, regular armies. While other, newer uses of the term (such as paramilitary independent citizens’ groups in the United States and elsewhere) exist, it is the traditional “militia” that is the subject of this article. The militia system, it can be argued, has served as the basis of all military systems since Antiquity; in contrast, the regular standing army, with the exception of the Roman legions, is a relatively recent invention, dating from after the era of the Thirty Years’ War. This article is organized by chronological sequence as well as by regional/national focus. Consequently, each section is given a short introduction before discussion of relevant key bibliographic works. The European experience with militias, including European colonial militias, is the subject of the first section of this survey. The second section focuses on the American (United States) experience. Given the relatively large body of work in American military history on the subject of militias, the section is further divided into several parts. After the general introduction, four sections address the Colonial and Revolutionary War Eras, 1600 to 1783, the Early Republic and Antebellum Era, 1783 to 1861, and the American Civil War to 1920, 1861 to 1920, and the Modern United States, 1920 to the Present, and a section specifically focused on Militias and the Second Amendment (gun rights) debate is included. The final section covers non-Western militia systems, and it is subdivided into India, China, Central Asia and Middle East and Islamic sections, from 4000 BCE to 1900 CE, followed by a summary of modern works (see Noncolonial Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, 1900 to the Present). The state-organized militia, not the unorganized militia or armed gang, is the focus and subject of this article. However, given the spread of armed militia groups, especially in Africa and Asia, a section is provided that addresses non-nation-state and semiofficial state militias in the modern world (see Modern Non-Nation-State, 1900 to Present).

Europe, Ancient to Renaissance Era, 5000 BCE to 1500 CE

From the beginnings of recorded European history to the Renaissance, armed and organized violence among tribes, city-states, empires, and kingdoms was based largely on militias. Few actors could afford the expense, and the political threat, of large, long-service, standing armies, yet they had a permanent requirement for military forces. Consequently, with the exception of the Roman imperial legions, and arguably the Macedonian armies of Phillip II and Alexander, all armies of the period had their basis in some type of militia system. These systems varied greatly, from the brutal discipline of the Spartans to the loose feudal system of the Middle Ages, and they ended with the semiprofessional and semipermanent militia companies of the Renaissance.

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