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Military ranks are a system of hierarchical relationships in armed forces,[1] police,[2] intelligence agencies or other institutions organized along military lines. The military rank system defines dominance, authority, and responsibility in a military hierarchy. It incorporates the principles of exercising power and authority into the military chain of command – the succession of commanders superior to subordinates through which command is exercised. The military chain of command constructs an important component for organized collective action.[3]

Usually, uniforms denote the bearer’s rank by particular insignia affixed to the uniforms. Ranking systems have been known for most of military history to be advantageous for military operations, in particular with regards to logistics, command, and coordination; as time went on and military operations became larger and more complex, military ranks increased and ranking systems themselves became more complex.

Rank is not only used to designate leadership, but to establish pay-grade as well. As rank increases, pay-grade follows, but so does amount of responsibility.[4]

Within modern armed forces, the use of ranks is almost universal. Socialist states have sometimes abolished ranks (e.g., the Soviet Red Army 1918–1935,[5] the Chinese People’s Liberation Army 1965–1988,[6] and the Albanian Army 1966–1991[7]), but they had to re-establish them after encountering operational difficulties of command and control.
The rank that was subordinate to a top general was a taxiarchos or taxiarhos, something akin to the modern brigadier. In Sparta, however, the title was polemarchos. Below this was the syntagmatarchis, which can be translated as “leader of a regiment” (syntagma) and was therefore like a modern colonel. Below him was the tagmatarches, a commanding officer of a tagma (near to the modern battalion). The rank was roughly equivalent to the legatus of a Roman legion. Next was the lokhagos, an officer who led an infantry unit called a lokhos that consisted of roughly a hundred men, much the same as in a modern company led by a captain.

A Greek cavalry (hippikon) regiment was called a hipparchia and was commanded by an epihipparch. The unit was split into two and led by two hipparchos or hipparch, but Spartan cavalry was led by a hipparmostes. A hippotoxotès was a mounted archer. A Greek cavalry company was led by a tetrarchès or tetrarch.

The rank and file of the military in most of the Greek city states was composed of ordinary citizens. Heavily armed foot soldiers were called hoplitès or hoplites and a hoplomachos was a drill or weapons instructor.

Once Athens became a naval power, the top generals of the land armies had authority over the naval fleets as well. Under them, each warship was commanded by a trièrarchos or trierarch, a word which originally meant “trireme officer” but persisted when other types of vessels came into use. Moreover, as in modern navies, the different tasks associated with running a ship were delegated to different subordinates. Specifically, the kybernètès was the helmsman, the keleustēs managed the rowing speed, and the trièraulès was the flute player who maintained the strike rate for the oarsmen. Following further specialization, the naval strategos was replaced by a nauarchos, a sea officer equating to an admiral.

With the rise of Macedonia under Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great, the Greek military became professional, tactics became more sophisticated and additional levels of ranking developed. Foot soldiers were organized into heavy infantry phalanxes called phalangites. These were among the first troops ever to be drilled, and they fought packed in a close rectangular formation, typically eight men deep, with a leader at the head of each column (or file) and a secondary leader in the middle so that the back rows could move off to the sides if more frontage was needed.

A tetrarchia was a unit of four files and a tetrarchès or tetrarch was a commander of four files; a dilochia was a double file and a dilochitès was a double-file leader; a lochos was a single file and a lochagos was a file leader; a dimoiria was a half file and a dimoirites was a half-file leader. Another name for the half file was a hèmilochion with a hèmilochitès being a half-file leader.

Different types of units, however, were divided differently and therefore their leaders had different titles. For example, under a numbering system by tens, a dekas or dekania was a unit of ten led by a dekarchos, a hekatontarchia was a unit of hundred led by a hekatontarchos and a khiliostys or khiliarchia was a unit of a thousand led by a khiliarchos.

The cavalry, for which Alexander became most famous (in a military sense), grew more varied. There were heavy cavalry and wing cavalry (ilè) units, the latter commanded by an ilarchos.

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