Military of Vatican City

Military of Vatican City

The State of the Vatican City lies entirely within Rome, the capital of Italy. Therefore, its military defense is provided by Italy. Vatican City has no armed forces. It does, however, have within its borders the Pontifical Swiss Guard or Swiss Guard. The Swiss Guard is a small force maintained by the Holy See and is responsible for the safety of the Pope, including the security of the Apostolic Palace and access to the entrances to the city-state. It serves as the de facto if not de jure military of Vatican City. The Corps of Gendarmerie of Vatican City is a civilian force maintained by the Vatican City. The Vatican has never been involved in war in any major way and has only seen anything close to military action once when it was bombed during World War II.

Historically, a number of other units existed. The Noble Guard and the Palatine Guard were abolished by Pope Paul VI in 1970.


Pontifical Swiss Guard

The Corps of the Pontifical Swiss Guard or Swiss Guard (Ger: Schweizergarde, Ital. Guardia Svizzera Pontificia, Lat. Pontificia Cohors Helvetica or Cohors Pedestris Helvetiorum a Sacra Custodia Pontificis) is a small force responsible for the safety of the Pope, including the security of the Apostolic Palace.

List of former military units owing allegiance to the Pope

  • Corsican Guard, the papal militia at the time of the Papal States (abolished in 1860).
  • Papal Zouaves, one of the regiments comprising the army of the Papal States prior to the occupation of Rome in 1870 (abolished in 1870).
  • Noble Guard, the papal horse guards (abolished in 1970).
  • Palatine Guard, the papal militia (abolished in 1970).
  • Corps of Gendarmerie of Vatican City, border patrol and military police (military functions abolished in 1970). A new unit with the name Vigilanza Pontificia was then established and currently operates with a strength of 130 personnel. In popular parlance after 1970 it was often as the Gendarmeria and in 2002 it actually took the name Corps of Gendarmerie. However, this new unit, whether called Vigilanza or Gendarmeria, and though carrying out very similar functions to the pre-1970 Gendermeria, is officially classified as a civilian force (along with the Vatican Fire Brigade) rather than as a military force, which is the status on the contrary of the Italian Arma dei Carabinieri that regularly patrols Saint Peter's Square.

Officers' ranks

Since 1970, the Pontifical Swiss Guard has been the only active military of the Vatican City. The officers' rank markings illustrated here are those of the Swiss Guard. The Chaplain of the Guard ranks as a Lieutenant Colonel. The Commandant (who holds the rank of Colonel) is a senior member of the Papal Household, and his personal coat of arms or emblem appears at the centre of the Standard of the Swiss Guard for the duration of his command.

Military of the Vatican City (Swiss Guard) - officers' rank insignia
Rank (in German) Oberst Oberstleutnant Major Hauptmann Oberleutnant Leutnant
Rank (in English) Colonel1 Lieutenant Colonel2 Major Captain (1st) Lieutenant (2nd) Lieutenant
Insignia of rank Vat-swi-off-06.JPG Vat-swi-off-05.JPG Vat-swi-off-04.JPG Vat-swi-off-03.JPG No 'two-star' rank
is in use.
No 'one-star' rank
is in use.
1 Colonel is the most senior rank in the armed forces of the Vatican City; there are no General ranks. There is only one Colonel—the Commandant of the Swiss Guard.

2 There are two Lieutenant Colonels—the Vice-Commandant and the Chaplain of the Swiss Guard.

Note: Since the abolition of other units in 1970, the Swiss Guard is the only active unit of the military of the Vatican City.

See also

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