The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Marshal (more often spelled Marshall) is a word used in several official titles of various branches of society. The word derives from Old Germanic marah "horse" and scalc "servant", and originally meant "stable keeper". As marshals became betrusted members of the courts of medieval Europe, the title grew in reputation. During the last few centuries, it has been used for the most elevated offices.


In many countries, Field Marshal is the highest Army rank, outranking a General. Field Marshals are very sparsely appointed, and typically only in war-time (although this need not be the case). Their special symbol is a baton, and so their insignia often incorporate batons. Because they are one rank above four-star Generals, they may also have five stars. The United States Army has an equivalent rank, but calls it General of the Army. The naval equivalent of a Field Marshal is often called a Fleet Admiral.

In some countries, the word Marshal is also used instead of General in the highest Air Force ranks. The four highest Royal Air Force ranks are Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Air Chief Marshal, Air Marshal and Air Vice Marshal (although the first has been abolished as a peace-time rank). Most air forces, however, use the ranks of General, Lieutenant General and Major General instead.

Some historical rulers have used special Marshal titles to award certain subjects. Though not strictly military ranks, these honorary titles have been exclusively bestowed upon successful military leaders. Most famous are the Marshals of France (Marécheaux de France), not least under Napoleon I. Another such title was that of Reich Marshal (Reichsmarschall), that was bestowed upon Hermann Göring by Adolf Hitler.

Until the end of World War II, Japan also bestowed the honorary title of Marshal (元帥 gensui) to successful generals and admirals; they would however retain their ranks of general and admiral.

Law enforcement

Particularly in the United States, Marshal is used for various kinds of law enforcement officers with specialist status. They mainly protect the security of the courts and justice system.

At the federal level, the federal court system is served by the United States Marshal. The US Supreme Court maintains a Marshal of the Supreme Court who also controls the US Supreme Court Police, a security police service.

At the state, local or municipal court level, Marshals are petty court officers similar to Constables. Often their job is civil rather than criminal law enforcement.

In the American Old West, Marshals were appointed or elected police officers of small communities, with similar powers and duties to that of a sheriff. The word is still used in this sense, especially in the southwest United States.

In California, several counties maintained separate County Marshal's Offices which served as court officers similar to US Marshals. They have all since been merged with their County Sheriff's Office.

Sky Marshals are armed security police officers employed to protect commercial airliners from the threat of Skyjacking. (Though sometimes called Air Marshals, they are completely unrelated to the military rank mentioned above, and are not to be confused with it.)

Last updated: 07-30-2005 03:11:50
Last updated: 08-24-2005 08:56:31