Military in Vatican City

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Pontifical Swiss Guard
Active 22 January 1506– present (509 years)
Country   Vatican City
Allegiance Pope Francis
Branch Army
Type Foot Guards
Role Close Protection
Size 110 men - One reinforced company
Garrison/HQ Vatican City
Patron Martin of Tours
Saint Sebastian
Nicholas of Flüe
Motto "Acriter et Fideliter"
Bravely and Faithfully
Colors Red, Yellow & Blue
Engagements Sack of Rome (1527)
Christoph Graf
Ceremonial chief Pope Francis
Coat of arms of the Vatican City.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Vatican City

The State of Vatican City is an enclave country which lies entirely within Rome, the capital of Italy. The responsibility for defending the state from an aggressor lies primarily with the Italian Armed Forces. Vatican City has within its territory 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. It controls access to the entrances to the city-state together with the Corps of Gendarmerie of Vatican City, a civilian force maintained by Vatican City. Ever since it was founded in 1929 Vatican City has never been at war and has only seen anything close to military action when it was bombed during World War II.

Historically, a number of other military units existed in the territory of Vatican City State with ceremonial rather than military duties. The Noble Guard and the Palatine Guard were abolished by Pope Paul VI in 1970.

Pontifical Swiss Guard

Swiss Guard at the Bronze Door

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. During the periods of "sede vacante" (which is when there is no pope), the Swiss Guard instead guards the College of Cardinals, so as to ensure that the Cardinals, meeting in Conclave, are able to perform their duty in electing a new Pope.

Like various European powers, earlier Popes recruited Swiss mercenaries as part of an army. The Pontifical Swiss Guard was founded by Pope Julius II on 22 January 1506 as the personal bodyguard of the Pope and continues to fulfil that function.[1] It is listed in the Annuario Pontificio under "Holy See", not under "State of Vatican City".[2] At the end of 2005, the Guard had 134 members. Recruitment is arranged by a special agreement between the Holy See and Switzerland. All recruits must be Catholic, unmarried males with Swiss citizenship who have completed their basic training with the Swiss Army with certificates of good conduct, be between the ages of 19 and 30,[3] and be at least 175 cm (5 ft 9 in) in height. Members are armed with small arms and the traditional Halberd (also called the Swiss voulge),[4] and trained in bodyguarding tactics.[5]

Officers' ranks

Since 1970, the Pontifical Swiss Guard has been the only active military in 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.

Equivalent NATO Code OF-10 OF-9 OF-8 OF-7 OF-6 OF-5 OF-4 OF-3 OF-2 OF-1 OF(D) and Student Officer
Vatican City Vatican City
No equivalent
Colonel Lieutenant Colonel Major Captain No equivalent
Oberst Oberstleutnant Major Hauptmann

List of former military units owing allegiance to the Pope

  • Corsican Guard, a papal militia in Rome active from 1603 to 1662.
  • 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).
  • Papal Gendarmerie Corps (transformed in 1970 into a civilian police corps).

See also


  1. Pontifical Swiss Guards, History
  2. Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2013), p. 1269]
  3. Pontifical Swiss Guards, Become a Guard
  4. Halberd
  5. See videos at Pontifical Swiss Guards, Gallery[dead link]

External links

es:Guardia Suiza Pontificia