world oldest army?

I was playing Trivial Pursuit yesterday, and the following question came up: “Which country has the world’s oldest army” - and the answer was the Swiss Guards at the Vatican City, since 1503. Is that really accurate? There have been countries around a lot longer than them. How do they come to that conclusion?

Just a guess, but I suspect it has to do with the fact that it is ( perhaps ) the longest running executive regime with a force recruited from a particular area and organized in the same fashion.

Remember in 1503, Europe was pre-Nation State. All armies at that time were essentially mercenary bands ( leavened out with some local levies ). At any rate, none of the dynasties that held executive power then, hold power now. Same with the rest of the world - There are no dynasties/governments currently in place with executive authority that date back to 1503 ( i.e. the Japanese royal family for one, is still around, but it has never really held executive power ).

By contrast the Vatican has been hiring the same mercenary guard without break since 1503. So I think what they are countingf is continuity of tradition.

  • Tamerlane

This rather depends on one’s definitions. The primary function of the Swiss Guards was and is to act as the papal bodyguards. If this means that units of royal bodyguards count, the equivalent force at the English/British court, the Yeomen of the Guard, is slightly older, as they were founded in 1485. There were occasions in past centuries when the Yeomen were deployed in battle. It would however be stretching things to say that the British Army can therefore date its origins back to 1485.

I thought the Swiss Guard was the Vatican’s primary army. Did the swiss guard ever fight a battle? (perhaps during the many strugles for the papal seat?)

It seems there are Swiss Guards on the one hand, and Swiss Guards on the other.

Without delving too deeply into the matter, Swiss Guards fought in various European armies from the fifteenth to the ninetenth centuries.

The Vatican Swiss Guards have traditionally protected the Pope from possible Unpleasantness, but have never engaged in a set piece battle as far as I am aware.

I can’t seem to link to the page which gives details of the entry criteria for budding Swiss Guards but, in a nutshell, you need to be unmarried, about 18 to 25 years old, and good-looking. :slight_smile:

Oh, and it helps if you are Swiss. And a Roman Catholic.

Unfortunately, all previous posts are incorrect. :smack: ** The world’s oldest standing army–not bodyguards for the papacy–
“that is actually capable of fighting a war”, even two wars at the same time, is none other than the U.S. Army National Guard. HOOAH!!!** The game of Trivial Pursuit severely dropped the ball on this one!!! The U.S. Army National Guard traces its roots back to the first of the original Thirteen Colonies. They were organized in Salem, Mass. on December 13, 1636. In 1637, the English settlements in North America were a tiny fringe along the Eastern seaboard. As settlement pushed west into the interior, the institution of the militia, which the colonists brought with them from England, went with them. The militia tradition meant citizens organizing themselves into military units, responsible for their own defense. Organizing the militia into regiments increased its efficiency and responsiveness, which proved critical for the defense of their communities. The militia, called the National Guard since 1916, has served community, state, and nation for nearly 400 years, and citizen-soldiers have fought in every major American conflict from 1637 to present day operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Much has changed since the “first muster,” but more than 370 years later, the men and women of the National Guard are still defending their neighbors – and their nation. Yes, I understand that the year 1503 A.D. came before 1636 A.D. However, Swiss Papal Bodyguards hardly qualifies as an Army. The U.S. Army and Air National Guard numbers total nearly 500,000 service-members. Like I said, “actually capable of fighting a war.” To all the authors of the previous posts, I thought that Straight Dope was created to fight ignorance…not fuel it. National Guard Leads The Way! Fighting Ignorant Wahhabi Radical Pricks Since 9/11/01 and Destroying The Enemies of The United States of America in Close Combat Since 1636!!!

Former Combat Engineer Sergeant and Squad Leader
Served 2005-2013

Yes. They fought, for instance, imperial troops in 1527 during a siege of Rome - which they lost, leading to the Sack of Rome.

There is a lot of underlining and bolding in this post, but it may still be of interest to you that there were armed forces in the world before 1636.

This is not true. From a constitutional perspective, the British government dates back to times considerably earlier than 1503. Sure, the British constitution has evolved a lot since, but there never was a revolution overthrowing the regime and establishing a fundamentally new one - there was, of course, the Cromwell intermezzo, but the restoration afterwards did not establish a new monarchy conceptually distinct from the previous one; it reinstituted the previous regime. Likewise, the Republic of San Marino is, as a constitutional entity, in the line of an unbroken tradition dating back to the fourth century, even though the present constitutional document is from the year 1600.

You can also argue that the present Swiss government, or at least the governments of some of the cantons, are in the line of an unbroken tradition dating back to 1291.

Indeed :rolleyes:

This (zombie) question is one of those where you can get any answer you want as correct depending on how you qualify the question.

To me the notion that France after the overthrow of the monarchy is a different people or culture or country than before the revolution is truly baffling.

I could make a better case that the USA today is a different entity than it was before the retrocession of the Panama Canal or the Admission of Hawaii and Alaska as states.

I consider the US to have adopted a fundamentally new form of government in 1971, when the Post Office was demoted from Cabinet status.

Well if a change in the cabinet is your measure then surely the addition of Homeland Security must be when our government last fundamentally changed in 2002.

I know what you mean. Some people went postal.

BTW, joseph.pittman3’s post is copied without attribution from here.

That doesn’t count, because people like getting Christmas cards but nobody likes the TSA.

It didn’t become a different people or culture or country, and I never claimed that. But in terms of constitutional history - and this is what we should keep in mind if the question is whether there is today a government with executive authority in place dating back to a specified era -, the French revolution is surely a major watershed interrupting the tradition. British constitutional history has not had such a watershed since the Conquest, with the exception of the Cromwell intermezzo which was undone later on. American constitutional history has not had such a watershed since 1787 (you could argue that the Civil War was such a watershed, but given that the outcome of the Civil War was that states which purported to seced couldn’t do so, it would not be very convincing).

That’s the point at which your argument refutes itself. The 1636 Massachusetts militia was indeed copied from the existing militias in England. But those English militias can just as plausibly be said to survive, with continuous traditions from that date, and, as the Territorial Army, they still form a very real part of the British Army. Just to take the most obvious example, the Honourable Artillery Company of London certainly has an unbroken history back before 1636.

But militias usually don’t count as a ‘standing army’. That’s kind of the point.

Y’know, if joseph.pittman3’s National Guard unit takes 12+ years to react, ISTM it’s not a very combat capable force. Just sayin’. But that the current USNG would claim to be founded in 1636 as the Mass. Militia is just a piece of origins mythology hooah.

I’d buy that the Vatican Swiss Guard claim to be the longest continuous-service standing force of regulars that has not been itself dissolved/reconstituted or has had the same happen to the sovereignty it serves. But I would also find it plausible for specific regiments or forces around the world to claim similarly long continuities by dint of considering themselves successors to earlier units. Virtually all military forces between then and now have been at some point of another dissolved/demobilized/deflagged/reflagged/reconstituted/recommissioned/transferred and that’s not counting the governments themselves (and yes, some nations have had a radical enough change in both government and society to merit distinct before/after identities; regardless of what militia units may have been hanging around before, there was no “US Army” until the US Congress established one).

Again, this is just a silly claim/game and depending on how you qualify the question you can get any result you want.

Spain voted a new constitution in 1978 but the same army, same units, same everything continued. How is it that as far as seniority goes they lose it all?

The same army which served in Spain during the monarchy then served the republican government. What would make it in any way a different army?

France has also had some constitutional changes. Do they all count as “new government” and the military lose their seniority? Or only if there was mob violence involved? Does a general strike count or do we require some deaths? How much violence is needed? How many people need to die?

Cromwell in the UK does not count because the monarchy was restored? Well, in Spain the monarchy has been restored.

Is the UK the same today as it was before the union? If so how so? If not why not?

In any case, why would political things affect whether a military unit or army continues?

The notion that the American National Guard (of what state?, And they’re not even countries to qualify for the question) is the oldest army of any country in the world is just silly by any measure but if it makes our new visitor feel happy then OK. Rah Rah Rah!