• A group of civilians who are trained to serve as soldiers for the benefit of their local area or community but are not an active part of the military
  • All members of a community who are available to perform military duties
  • A local, often insurgent fighting force that combats an established authority


With the same prefix as the word "military," the word militia relates to the armed forces. Specifically, militia refers to a localized fighting force made up of ordinary citizens who are trained as soldiers. These regiments are usually created to serve an individual community, and as a result the fighters who belong to them are often resident citizens. Militias are not typically part of any national or formal military, and so their soldiers are not professional fighters. Much like volunteer firemen, the citizen soldiers of a militia spend the majority of their time involved in ordinary lives and occupations. However, in times of emergency they can take up arms to protect their communities. Similarly, militia is sometimes used to refer to all local citizens who possess the necessary training or who are physically able to perform military duties, especially for defensive purposes.

Many Americans are familiar with the term militia because of its association with the Revolutionary War, when able-bodied colonial men were trained to defend their towns and hamlets against British soldiers. However, the word has recently taken on new context with the rise of conflict in places like the Middle East and North Africa. The use of militia can by extension refer to any insurgent combat force that opposes a larger power or established authority. Thus, the term is frequently mentioned in reference to guerilla fighting groups jostling for power in regions experiencing political unrest. Militias in this context can be considered terrorist organizations or they may be collections of citizens and military forces looking to instate a new regime, such as some of the groups involved in the Arab Spring.

A militia should not, however, be automatically classified as a terrorist group. The designation of such a fighting force as positive or negative often depends on the perspective one adopts. For example, although they are lauded in American history, colonial militias were often referred to by the British as "rebels" and "traitors." However militia is used, though, it generally retains the concept of unofficial militants clashing with a higher authority.

Example: Armed with sticks and slingshots, the local kids formed a militia to combat bullies.

Example: Afraid of the fickle temperaments of the despot and his police forces, a number of local farmers formed a militia to protect their community.

Derivative Words

Militiaman (Pl. Militiamen) describes a member of a militia.

Example: Although a farmer by the day, Harry was also a militiaman ready to defend his town during emergencies.


A cognate of the Latin word for "combat" or "military duty," militia was first used in English during the late 16th century to describe the structure of military organizations. It would take another century or so for militia to take on its present-day meaning of "a group of civilian soldiers," and its usage during the American Revolution helped to further expand its definition in the U.S. to encompass all citizens eligible by law to perform military duties.

In Literature

From Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice:

…however bare of news the country in general might be, they always contrived to learn some from their aunt. At present, indeed, they were well supplied both with news and happiness by the recent arrival of a militia regiment in the neighborhood; it was to remain the whole winter, and Meryton was the headquarters.

Here, militia refers to a group of soldiers who happen to be staying in town - much to the delight of gossip-hungry sisters Lydia and Catherine!


  • A million militant militias means many soldiers!


Armies, Conflict, Revolution, Uprisings, Volunteers

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of militia. Did you use militia in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.