Napoleon 1792

Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the most famous generals in history

A General is a rank in the military that connotes the command of an army. There are two definitions for "General": a person who holds the literal high-ranking title of General, or a person who is in command of an army that does not necessarily have the title of "full General". In most armies, there are the ranks of Brigadier general, Major general, Lieutenant general, and "full General".


Spanish general

A general of Spain in the 18th century

Since the dawn of mankind, there have been war leaders, but most military leaders were either the rulers (i.e. kings, chiefs, emperors, etc.) or nobles (i.e. family members, aristocrats, or landowners). However, the Roman Republic and Greece were the first civilizations to give military titles to those worthy of them, with Roman legates being taken from the patricians, but not just because of their nobility. During the Middle Ages, some generals could be as lowly as mayors or priests, and in the later centuries it became the norm that generals would be given noble titles in exchange for their service rather than nobles gaining the title of General due to their nobility.

"General" was not a rank until the 1600s and 1700s, when the military was reformed in several countries to now have specific ranks. A General had superiority over colonels, while having to answer to Field marshals or any other higher ranks. However, at peacetime, General was the highest military rank that a person could hold. In the modern military, there are multiple ranks of "General", ranging from Brigadier general at the bottom to "full General" at the top, which can be called "General of the Army" or "Colonel General".