Militia is the activity of one or more citizens organized to provide defense or paramilitary service, or those engaged in such activity. The word can have five somewhat different meanings:

  • Defense activity, as well as those engaged in it, when it is defense of the public, its territory, property, and laws
  • The entire able-bodied male population of a community, town, or state, which can be called to arms against an invading enemy, to enforce the law, or to respond to a disaster
  • A private, non-government force, not necessarily directly supported or sanctioned by its government
  • An official reserve army, composed of citizen soldiers, also called an Army Reserve, National Guard, or State Defense Forces
  • The national police forces in Russia, and other former CIS countries, or the former Soviet Union: Militsiya

In any of these cases, a militia is distinct from a regular army. It can serve to supplement the regular military, or it can oppose it, for example to resist a military coup. In some circumstances, the "enemies" against which a militia is mobilized are domestic political opponents of the government, such as strikers. In many cases the role, or even the existence of a militia, is controversial. For these reasons legal restrictions may be placed on the mobilization or use of militia.

Central to the complete concept of "militia" as used by the Founders was that it be "well-regulated", which meant well-trained and well-organized, but not necessarily by government. Thus, the term would not have been properly used to refer to an armed, unruly mob, but only to persons who behave in a responsible, law-enforcing mode, and who might act to control an armed, unruly mob as an "insurrection".

In recent times there has developed what appears to be a campaign to stigmatize the term by having journalists and others apply the term to unsavory armed groups. A leading organization in this effort has been the Anti-Defamation League, which has been criticized for doing so.

Select MilitiaEdit

During the Constitutional Convention and Ratification Debates of the U.S. Constitution a distinction was made between "miltia" and "select militia", the latter being a subset of the whole population. It was argued by some that militia of the whole population was impractical and unnecessary for most purposes, and that there should be a focus on training and organizing of a smaller number. This provoked opposition by many of the Founders who argued that a "select militia" could emerge that would not be broadly representative of the population as a whole, but consist of a faction with interests and an agenda contrary to the general population. Some warned that a select militia could take on the character of a standing army, which was feared as a potential instrument of civil war or oppression. The opponents prevailed, and established that being broadly representative of the whole population is a key element of the correct understanding of the concept of militia. From their viewpoint, the use of the term "militia" to refer to the armed partisans to which it is often applied today would be a misuse of the term.


The English term "militia" is derived from Latin roots:

  • miles /MEE-lace/ : a fighter or warrior
  • -itia /EE-tee-ah/ : a state, quality, condition, or activity

In its original sense, therefore, militia meant "the state, quality, condition, or activity of being a fighter or warrior." It can be thought of as "combattant activity", "the fighter frame of mind", "the militant mode", "the soldierly status", or "the warrior way".

In common usage, a "militia" is a body of private persons who respond to an emergency threat to public safety, usually one that requires an armed response, but which can also include ordinary law enforcement or disaster responses. The act of bringing to bear arms contextually changes the status of the person, from peaceful citizen, to warrior citizen. The militia is the sum total of persons undergoing this change of state.

Persons are usually said to engage in militia in response to a "call up" by any person aware of the threat requiring the response, and thence to be in "called up" status until the emergency is past. There is no minimum size to militia, and a solitary act of defense, including self-defense, can be thought of as one person calling up himself to defend the community, represented by himself or others, and to enforce the law. See citizen's arrest.

Militia service is distinguished from military service in that the latter is normally a commitment for a fixed period of time, probably at least a year, for a salary. Militia persons are normally expected to provide their own weapons, equipment, or supplies, although they may later be compensated for losses or expenditures.

The original meaning of the Latin word is "military activity", or, since the ancient Romans had the same people fight crime or respond to disasters, "defense activity". In the idiom of English during the 18th century, the same word would often be used for an activity and for those who engage in it, so "militia" meant both defense activity and those who engage in it, whether as individuals or in concert with others. In later times the term has come to be used mainly to refer to armed groups, but it would be a mistake to use it that way in discussions of the concept in the U.S. Constitution.

A related concept is the jury, which can be regarded as a specialized form of militia convened to render a verdict in a court proceeding (trial jury) or to investigate a public matter and render a presentment or indictment (grand jury).



Militia was an alternative name for the Citizens' Military Forces (CMF), the reserve units of the Australian Army between 1901 and 1980. After Australian federation, the six former colonial militias were merged to form the CMF. Initially the CMF infantry forces formed the vast bulk of the Australian Army, along with standing artillery and engineer units.

The Defence Act of 1903 granted the Australian federal government the powers to conscript men of military age for home defence. However, these powers were unpopular and were used only for short periods at a time. The government was also forbidden by law from deploying the CMF outside Australian territories, or using it in strikes and other industrial disputes.

As a result of the ban on foreign service, during World War I and World War II, all-volunteer Australian Imperial Forces were formed for overseas deployment. CMF units were sometimes scorned by AIF soldiers as "chocolate soldiers" or "chockos", because "they would melt under the pressure" of military operations; or in an alternative version of the story of the origin of this term, as a result of the 1930s' uniforms of Militia soldiers, these soldiers were considered by AIF volunteers and some civilians as soldiers only for show like the soldiers in garish 19th-century dress uniforms shown on tins of chocolates that were commonly sold in Australia in the 1930s, hence the name "chocolate-tin soldiers" for Militia members.

Nevertheless, some Militia units distinguished themselves in action against the Empire of Japan during the Pacific War, and suffered extremely high casualties. In mid-1942 Militia units fought in two significant battles, both in New Guinea, which was then an Australian territory. The exploits of the young and poorly trained soldiers of the 39th (Militia) Battalion during the rearguard action on the Kokoda Track remain celebrated to this day, as is the contribution of the 7th Brigade at the Battle of Milne Bay.

Later in the war, the law was changed to allow the transfer of Militia units to the 2nd AIF; of these Militia units, 65% of their personnel had volunteered for overseas service. Another change allowed Militia units to serve anywhere south of the Equator in South-East Asia. Consequently they also saw action against Japanese forces in the Dutch East Indies.

In addition to the CMF, the Volunteer Defence Corps, a volunteer force modeled on the British Home Guard, was formed in 1940 and had a strength of almost 100,000 men across Australia at its peak.

After the war, CMF units continued to form the bulk of the peacetime army, although the creation of standing infantry units — such as the Royal Australian Regiment — from 1947, meant that the regular army grew in importance. By 1980, when the name of the CMF was changed to the Army Reserve, the regular army was the more significant force.


In Canada the title Militia historically referred to the land component of the armed forces, both regular (full time) and reserve). In 1940 the Permanent Active Militia and Non-Permanent Active Militia were renamed to become the Canadian Army. The term Militia continued from then to the present day to refer to the part-time army reserve component of the Canadian Forces. Currently, Militia troops usually train one night a week and every other weekend of the month, except in the summer; summertime training may consist of courses, individual call outs, or concentrations (unit and formation training of 1 to 2 weeks' duration). In addition, primary reserve members are increasingly used for voluntary service as augmentation to the regular force overseas - usually NATO or United Nations missions. Most Canadian cities have one or more militia units.

People's Republic of ChinaEdit

PRC's Militia, a mass force engaged in daily production under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CCP), forms part of the Chinese armed forces. Under the command of the military organs, it undertakes such jobs as war preparation services, security and defense operation tasks and assistance in maintaining social order and public security.[1]


The first notable militia in French history was the resistance of the Gauls to invasion by the Romans until they were defeated by Julius Caesar.

The next notable militia was organized and led by Joan of Arc until her capture and execution in 1431. It settled the succession to the Franch crown and laid the basis for the formation of the modern nation of France.

During World War II under German occupation, militia usually called the French Resistance emerged to conduct a guerrilla war of attrition against German forces and prepare the way for the D-Day Allied Invasion of France.



The name Freikorps (German for "Free Corps") was originally applied to voluntary armies. The first freikorps were recruited by Frederick II of Prussia during the Seven Years' War. The freikorps were regarded as unreliable by regular armies, so that they were mainly used as sentries and for minor duties.

However, after 1918, the term was used for far-right paramilitary organizations that sprang up around Germany as soldiers returned in defeat from World War I. They were one of the many Weimar paramilitary groups active during that time. They received considerable support from Gustav Noske, the German Defence Minister who used them to crush the Spartakist League with enormous violence, including the murders of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg on January 15, 1919. They were also used to put down the Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1919. They were officially "disbanded" in 1920, resulting in the ill-fated Kapp Putsch in March 1920.

Some future members and, indeed, leaders of the Nazi Party were members of a Freikorps, including Ernst Röhm, future head of the Sturmabteilung or SA, and Rudolf Höß, the future Kommandant of Auschwitz.


The earliest historical record of militia is found in the Old Testament and particularly the Book of Judges, when the Israelites fought as militia against threatening neighboring tribes. A prominent instance of that was the militia led by Deborah against the Caananites.

In modern times there is a universal military service requirement for male Israeli citizens that leaves most of them in the reserves of the Israeli Defense Forces, authorized to keep certain military weapons in their homes and workplaces.


Ancient Rome required her male citizens to serve as needed for defense, law enforcement, and disaster response, the activity from which the term "militia" is derived. Roman militia united Italy under Roman rule and fought the Punic Wars against Carthage. The practice of militia was replaced by a standing army under the emperors beginning with Augustus.

In the Medieval and Renaissance period while Italy was divided into contending city-states, militia were important for the survival of such states. Machiavelli wrote in his Discourses on Livy that militia were critical for the survival of a free republic.

The Italian patriot Garibaldi organized and led various militia, such as i Mille, from about 1848 until Italy was united in 1870, sometimes acting with official sanction and sometimes independently.

New ZealandEdit

Many localised Militia saw service, together with British Imperial troops, during the New Zealand land wars. The Militia were disbanded and reformed as the Territorial Army in 1911.


One of the most famous and ancient militias is the Swiss Armed Forces. Switzerland long maintained, proportionally, the second largest military force in the world, with about half the proportional amount of reserve forces of the Israeli Defence Force, a militia of some 33% of the total population. Article 58.1 of the 1999 Swiss constitution provides that the armed forces (armee) is "in principle" organized as a militia, implicitly allowing a small number of professional soldiers. In 1995, the number of soldiers was reduced to 400,000 (including reservists, amounting to some 5.6% of the population) and again in 2004, to 200,000 (including 80,000 reservists, or 2.7% of the population). However, the Swiss Militia continues to consist of the entire adult male population, with voluntary participation by women and children, required to keep an automatic rifle and ammunition at home and to periodically engage in combat and marksmanship training.

The Swiss Militia was admired by the American Founders, who regarded it as a model for the militia system they provided for in the U.S. Constitution.

United KingdomEdit

The earliest historical record of militia in Britain was the force organized and led by Boudica, queen of the Iceni, one of the tribes, against the occupying forces of Rome, which achieved several stunning victories before being defeated in 61 AD at the Battle of Watling Street.

In modern British usage, the term paramilitary is more widely used in regard to non-government forces such as the UVF, UDA and Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland. The use of this term in such circumstances has negative connotations.

The British military is controlled by the government of the day, through Parliament, which has access to the resources to maintain a standing army.

Until the late 17th century, at various times, the Crown and Parliament were in strong disagreement, but Parliament's economic ability to use the army was counterbalanced by the Crown's traditional ability to organise militia forces. The English Bill of Rights (1689) declared, amongst other things: "that the raising or keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with consent of Parliament, is against law..." and "that the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defense suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law." The Militia Act 1757 which substantiated the raising of militia, did not apply in Scotland. This was resented by some and the Militia Club, soon to become the Poker Club, was formed to promote the raising of a Scottish militia. This and several other Edinburgh clubs became the crucible of the Scottish Enlightenment.

The Crown still officially controls the use of the army. However, successive British governments were able to circumvent the intent of the Bill of Rights through annual continuation notices, and the technical legality of the British Army, in times of peace, still rests on these notices. A large standing army had come into existence by the mid-19th century; the British government of the day commands it and both declares and wages wars.

Following the creation of a large standing army, the word militia fell into disuse in the UK, although many units retained the distinction of being designated "militia" units as extra battalions of regular regiments and Irish militia were heavily relied upon to suppress rebellion in Ireland. With the establishment of the Territorial Force (later Territorial Army) in 1908, the militia transferred to the Special Reserve. The Special Reserve reverted to its militia designation in 1921, then to Supplementary Reserve in 1924, though the units were effectively placed in "suspended animation" until disbanded in 1953.

Three units still maintain their militia designation in the British Army, two in the Territorial Army and one in the Army Cadet Force. These are the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (formed in 1539), the Jersey Field Squadron (The Royal Militia Island of Jersey) (formed in 1337), and the Royal Alderney Militia (created in the 13th Century and reformed in 1984). Additionally, the Atholl Highlanders are a (ceremonial) private army maintained by the Duke of Atholl — they are the only legal private "army" in the United Kingdom.

United StatesEdit


There is a long history of militia in the United States, starting before the country became a country, with the colonial militias normally consisting of all adult male citizens of a community, town, or local region. This practice was continued after the signing of the U.S. Constitution, and remained relatively unchanged until the late 1800s. After the Civil War, state guard units composed of select militia were created. After 1903, the militia was divided into two groups, unorganized and organized. Organized units were created from portions of the former state guards and became state National Guard units. Some states later created State Defense Forces for assistance in local emergencies. Privately organized militias, not affiliated with any government organization, and usually formed by citizens suspicious of the activities and politics of Federal and state governments, blossomed in the mid 1990s.

The Constitutional Militia Movement consists of citizen groups who espouse strict construction of the U.S. Constitution according to the original understanding and intent of the Founding Fathers of the United States, especially in regard to the right to keep and bear arms (see Second Amendment to the United States Constitution). Constitutional Militias train in the proper and safe use of firearms, that they may be effective if called upon to uphold liberty, protect the people in times of crisis (i.e. disasters such as Hurricane Katrina), or to defend against invasion and terrorism. U.S. Constitution, Art. I Sec. 8 Cl. 15 & 16.

According to Title 10, USC, Section 311, all able bodied males between the ages of 17 and 45 not serving in the armed forces or state national guard units are considered the unorganized militia, as well as all commissioned female officers of state national guard units.

"That the People have a right to keep and bear Arms; that a well regulated Militia, composed of the Body of the People, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe Defence of a free state..." --George Mason, declaration of "the essential and unalienable Rights of the People," later adopted by the Virginia ratification convention, 1788.

Private militia organizationsEdit

Private militia organizations are organized militia groups which may or may not be condoned by their respective government. Traditionally, they are organized into county units with the country sheriff serving as county militia commander, if he is willing, or election of a commander by those who attend musters if not. Most private militia groups are armed or espouse the use of arms, however some groups (mostly U.S. groups) espouse political protest and more peaceful means of bringing about political change, and take up arms only for traditional or ideological reasons, or as a protest against restrictions on such activities.

Left-wing militias Edit

Left-wing militias generally consider themselves to be freedom fighters and espouse various causes, from national liberation movements in regions under foreign occupation, to civil insurrection - as with, for example, the Red Brigades - and guerrilla activity in Central America. As their funding and armament in the 20th century came almost entirely from the Soviet Union, Maoist China (1949-1976) and other Marxist-Leninist states, many of these organizations declined in their activities during the 1990s, as these governments fell or changed their nature.

For information on U.S. left-wing militia groups see article Left wing militia in the United States.

List of Militia and Patriot Forums USAEdit

List of militiasEdit

Official army unitsEdit

State sponsored militiasEdit

Constitutional Militias USAEdit

Private militiasEdit


Rest of the worldEdit

None of the following would have been considered "militias" by the Founders.

See alsoEdit

de:Miliz es:Milicia fr:Armée de milice hr:Milicija id:Milisi he:מיליציה nl:Militie ja:ミリシア no:Milits nn:Milits pl:Milicja pt:Milícia ro:Miliţie fi:Miliisi zh:民兵

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