Colonel ˈ, abbreviated Col or COL, is a military rank
Military rank
Military rank is a system of hierarchical relationships in armed forces or civil institutions organized along military lines. Usually, uniforms denote the bearer's rank by particular insignia affixed to the uniforms...

 of a senior commissioned officer. It or a corresponding rank exists in most armies and in many air forces; the naval equivalent rank is generally "Captain". It is also used in some police
The police is a personification of the state designated to put in practice the enforced law, protect property and reduce civil disorder in civilian matters. Their powers include the legitimized use of force...

 forces and other paramilitary rank structures. A colonel is typically in charge of a regiment
A regiment is a major tactical military unit, composed of variable numbers of batteries, squadrons or battalions, commanded by a colonel or lieutenant colonel...

 in an army.

"Colonel" is usually the highest or second-highest field rank, and is below the general
A general officer is an officer of high military rank, usually in the army, and in some nations, the air force. The term is widely used by many nations of the world, and when a country uses a different term, there is an equivalent title given....


History and origins

As the office of colonel became an established practice, the colonel became the senior captain in a group of companies which were all sworn to observe his personal authority — to be ruled or regimented by him. This regiment, or governance, was to some extent embodied in a contract and set of written rules, also referred to as the colonel's regiment or standing regulation(s). By extension, the group of companies subject to a colonel's regiment (in the foregoing sense) came to be referred to as his regiment
A regiment is a major tactical military unit, composed of variable numbers of batteries, squadrons or battalions, commanded by a colonel or lieutenant colonel...

 (in the modern sense) as well.

With the shift from primarily mercenary to primarily national armies in the course of the seventeenth century, a colonel (normally a member of the aristocracy) became a holder (German Inhaber) or proprietor of a military contract with a sovereign. The colonel purchased the regimental contract — the right to hold the regiment — from the previous holder of that right or directly from the sovereign when a new regiment was formed or an incumbent was killed
Killed in action
Killed in action is a casualty classification generally used by militaries to describe the deaths of their own forces at the hands of hostile forces. The United States Department of Defense, for example, says that those declared KIA need not have fired their weapons but have been killed due to...


In French usage of this period the senior colonel in the army or in a field force — the senior military contractor — was the colonel general
Colonel General
Colonel General is a senior rank of General. North Korea and Russia are two countries which have used the rank extensively throughout their histories...

 and, in the absence of the sovereign or his designate, the colonel general might serve as the commander of a force. The position, however, was primarily contractual and it became progressively more of a functionless sinecure
A sinecure means an office that requires or involves little or no responsibility, labour, or active service...

. (The head of a single regiment
A regiment is a major tactical military unit, composed of variable numbers of batteries, squadrons or battalions, commanded by a colonel or lieutenant colonel...

 or demi brigade would be called a mestre de camp
Mestre de camp
Mestre de camp was a military rank in the Ancien Régime of France, equivalent to colonel. A mestre de camp commanded a regiment and was under the authority of a Colonel General, who commanded all the regiments in one "arme"...

or, after the Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

, a chef de brigade
Chef de brigade
Chef de brigade was a military rank, equivalent to colonel, in the French Revolutionary army, in command of a demi-brigade. Both that unit and that rank were created at the same time, in 1793. The two designations disappeared just before the institution of the French Empire, in 1803, with the...


By the late 19th century, colonel was a professional military rank
Military rank
Military rank is a system of hierarchical relationships in armed forces or civil institutions organized along military lines. Usually, uniforms denote the bearer's rank by particular insignia affixed to the uniforms...

 though still held typically by an officer in command of a regiment
A regiment is a major tactical military unit, composed of variable numbers of batteries, squadrons or battalions, commanded by a colonel or lieutenant colonel...

 or equivalent unit. Along with other ranks it has become progressively more a matter of ranked duties, qualifications and experience and of corresponding titles and pay scale than of functional office in a particular organization.

As European military influence has expanded throughout the world, the rank of colonel became adopted by nearly every nation in existence under a variety of names.

With the rise of communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

, some of the large Communist militaries saw fit to expand the colonel rank into several grades, resulting in the unique senior colonel
Senior Colonel
Senior Colonel is a field grade officer rank placed between a regular Colonel and a Major General. The rank typically exists in militaries that do not maintain a rank of Brigadier General/Brigadier....

 rank which was found and is still used in such nations as China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 and North Korea
North Korea
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea , , is a country in East Asia, occupying the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Its capital and largest city is Pyongyang. The Korean Demilitarized Zone serves as the buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea...


In modern English, the word colonel is pronounced similarly to kernel (of grain) as a result of entering the language from Middle French in two competing forms, dissimilated
In phonology, particularly within historical linguistics, dissimilation is a phenomenon whereby similar consonant or vowel sounds in a word become less similar...

 coronel and colonel. The more conservative spelling colonel was favored in written use and eventually became the standard spelling even as it lost out in pronunciation to coronel.


In many modern armies the 'regiment' has more importance as a ceremonial unit or a focus of common loyalty amongst its members, rather than as an actual battle formation. Troops tend to be deployed in 'Battalions' (commanded by a lieutenant colonel
Lieutenant colonel
Lieutenant colonel is a rank of commissioned officer in the armies and most marine forces and some air forces of the world, typically ranking above a major and below a colonel. The rank of lieutenant colonel is often shortened to simply "colonel" in conversation and in unofficial correspondence...

) as a more convenient size of military unit, and as such colonels have tended to have a higher profile in specialist and command roles rather than as actual commanders of regiments. However, in Commonwealth armies the position of the colonel as the figurehead of a Regiment is maintained in the honorary role of colonel-in-chief, usually held by members of the Royal Family
British Royal Family
The British Royal Family is the group of close relatives of the monarch of the United Kingdom. The term is also commonly applied to the same group of people as the relations of the monarch in her or his role as sovereign of any of the other Commonwealth realms, thus sometimes at variance with...

, the nobility, or retired senior military officers. The colonel-in-chief wears a colonel's uniform and encourages the members of the regiment, but takes no active part in the actual command structure or in any operational duties.

Colonel in individual military forces

The following articles deal with the rank of colonel as it is used in various national militaries.
  • Kolonel
    Kolonel is a rank of the Belgium, Malaysia, Estonia and Netherlands which corresponds to the rank of Colonel in other countries....

    (Belgium, Estonia & Netherlands)
  • Colonel (Canada)
    Colonel (Canada)
    In the Canadian Forces, the rank of colonel is an Army or Air Force rank equal to a captain of the Navy. A colonel is the highest rank of senior officer...

  • Colonel (India)
    Colonel (India)
    The Indian Army has followed British Army rank system since its independence from British Empire in 1947. However, the crown in the rank insignia has been replaced with the Ashoka Lion, which symbolizes the sovereignty of Government of India....

  • Colonel (Pakistan)
    Colonel (Pakistan)
    Pakistan Army has followed British Army rank system since its independence from British Empire in 1947. However, crown in the ranks has been replaced with a star and crescent, which symbolizes the sovereignty of Government of Pakistan....

  • Colonel (United Kingdom)
  • Colonel (United States)
    Colonel (United States)
    In the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, colonel is a senior field grade military officer rank just above the rank of lieutenant colonel and just below the rank of brigadier general...

Central and Eastern European equivalent ranks

Since the 16th century, the rank of regimental commander was adopted by several Central and Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

an armies, most notably the forces of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch. It was the largest and one of the most populous countries of 16th- and 17th‑century Europe with some and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million at its peak in the early 17th century...

, Cossack
Cossacks are a group of predominantly East Slavic people who originally were members of democratic, semi-military communities in what is today Ukraine and Southern Russia inhabiting sparsely populated areas and islands in the lower Dnieper and Don basins and who played an important role in the...

s and then Muscovy. In countries with slavic languages, the exact name of the rank maintains a variety of spellings, all descendant from the Old Slavonic
Old Slavonic
Old Slavonic may refer to:*Old Church Slavonic language*Common Slavonic language...

word plk or polk meaning unit of standing army (see The Tale of Igor's Campaign
The Tale of Igor's Campaign
The Tale of Igor's Campaign is an anonymous epic poem written in the Old East Slavic language.The title is occasionally translated as The Song of Igor's Campaign, The Lay of Igor's Campaign, and The Lay of...

), and include the following:
  • Plukovník (Czech Republic
    Czech Republic
    The Czech Republic is a landlocked country in Central Europe. The country is bordered by Poland to the northeast, Slovakia to the east, Austria to the south, and Germany to the west and northwest....

     and Slovakia
    The Slovak Republic is a landlocked state in Central Europe. It has a population of over five million and an area of about . Slovakia is bordered by the Czech Republic and Austria to the west, Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east and Hungary to the south...

  • Pułkownik (Poland
    Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

  • Pulkininkas (Lithuania
    Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

  • Polkovnik
    Polkovnik is often a military rank in Slavic countries which corresponds to a colonel in English-speaking states. However, in the Ukraine, polkovnyk was an administrative rank similar to a governor...

    Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

    , Slovenia
    Slovenia , officially the Republic of Slovenia , is a country in Central and Southeastern Europe touching the Alps and bordering the Mediterranean. Slovenia borders Italy to the west, Croatia to the south and east, Hungary to the northeast, and Austria to the north, and also has a small portion of...

    , Bulgaria
    Bulgaria , officially the Republic of Bulgaria , is a parliamentary democracy within a unitary constitutional republic in Southeast Europe. The country borders Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, as well as the Black Sea to the east...

  • Polkovnyk (Ukraine
    Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

  • Pukovnik (Bosnia and Herzegovina
    Bosnia and Herzegovina
    Bosnia and Herzegovina , sometimes called Bosnia-Herzegovina or simply Bosnia, is a country in Southern Europe, on the Balkan Peninsula. Bordered by Croatia to the north, west and south, Serbia to the east, and Montenegro to the southeast, Bosnia and Herzegovina is almost landlocked, except for the...

    , Croatia
    Croatia , officially the Republic of Croatia , is a unitary democratic parliamentary republic in Europe at the crossroads of the Mitteleuropa, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean. Its capital and largest city is Zagreb. The country is divided into 20 counties and the city of Zagreb. Croatia covers ...

    , Serbia
    Serbia , officially the Republic of Serbia , is a landlocked country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe, covering the southern part of the Carpathian basin and the central part of the Balkans...


The Hungarian
Hungary , officially the Republic of Hungary , is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. The...

 equivalent ezredes literally means "leader of a thousand" (i.e. of a regiment)

Western European equivalent ranks

  • Oberst
    Oberst is a military rank in several German-speaking and Scandinavian countries, equivalent to Colonel. It is currently used by both the ground and air forces of Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and Norway. The Swedish rank överste is a direct translation, as are the Finnish rank eversti...

    Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

    , Germany
    Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

    , Switzerland
    Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

    , Denmark
    Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

     and Norway
    Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

  • Överste
    Finnish Defense Forces rank of Eversti is comparable to Ranks of NATO armies officers as OF-5- 1600 - 1700 :Commander of a regiment that consisted of 1200 troops split into eight companies held this rank. One of the companies was called lifeguard company and was commanded by the överste himself...

    Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

  • Ofursti (Iceland
    Iceland , described as the Republic of Iceland, is a Nordic and European island country in the North Atlantic Ocean, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland also refers to the main island of the country, which contains almost all the population and almost all the land area. The country has a population...

  • Eversti/Överste
    Finnish Defense Forces rank of Eversti is comparable to Ranks of NATO armies officers as OF-5- 1600 - 1700 :Commander of a regiment that consisted of 1200 troops split into eight companies held this rank. One of the companies was called lifeguard company and was commanded by the överste himself...

    Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...


Other national equivalent ranks

Dagarwal (دګروال) Kolonel — Gndapet (գնդապետ) Polkovniki (პოლკოვნიკი)
Shang Xiao  Syntagmatarchis (Συνταγματάρχης) Sarhang (سرهنگ) Aluf Mishne
Aluf is the term used for General and Admiral in the Israel Defense Forces . In addition to the Aluf rank itself, there are four other ranks which are derivatives of the word...

 (אלוף משנה)
Sangchwa is a Korean military rank used by the armed forces of North Korea. The insignia for a Sangchwa is a shoulder board containing two stripes and three stars. This is influenced by the former Colonel insignia of the Soviet Union....

Daeryeong is a Korean military rank used by the armed forces of South Korea. The rank is denoted by three large starbursts worn as a collar insignia. The rank is uniform throughout the Korean Army, Air force, and Navy. The equivalent rank is most western militaries in Colonel, with Captain...

Taiwan , also known, especially in the past, as Formosa , is the largest island of the same-named island group of East Asia in the western Pacific Ocean and located off the southeastern coast of mainland China. The island forms over 99% of the current territory of the Republic of China following...

) Shang Hsiao
Xiao (rank)
Xiao is the rank held by field officers in the military of both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China. The People's Liberation Army uses four grades while the Republic of China uses only three, with the rank equivalent to the fourth being treated as a general officer rank. ...

Nai Phan
Military ranks of the Thai armed forces
-Royal Thai Army:The Royal Thai Army is the land based part of the Thai military.-Officers:-Other Ranks:Private 1st Class is a rank assigned to conscripts after they have finished specialist training...

 (TH: นายพัน) Chief of 1,000
    • Phan Ek (TH: พันเอก) First of 1,000: Colonel
    • Phan Tho (TH: พันโท) Second of 1,000: Lieutenant colonel

Albay Đại tá عقيد Aqid (Egypt and most Arab League
Arab League
The Arab League , officially called the League of Arab States , is a regional organisation of Arab states in North and Northeast Africa, and Southwest Asia . It was formed in Cairo on 22 March 1945 with six members: Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan , Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Yemen joined as a...

 member countries)

Colonel as highest ranking officer

Some military forces have a colonel as their highest ranking officer, with no 'general' ranks, and no superior authority (except, perhaps, the head of state as a titular commander-in-chief) other than the respective national government. Examples include the following (arranged alphabetically by country name):
  • Antigua and Barbuda (170 personnel)
  • Benin
    Military of Benin
    The Benin Armed Forces constitutes the army, navy, air force, and national gendarmerie of Benin. For a number of years, the Belgian Armed Forces have had an active programme of co-operation with Benin, offering training and coaching, donating redundant military equipment and using the county for...

     (4,500 personnel)
  • Costa Rica (about 8,000 personnel)
  • Gambia
    Military of the Gambia
    The Gambian National Army numbers about 2,500. A new batch of 620 recruits have recently joined. Recruits receive training from the Turkish-Gambian Training Team....

     (1,900 personnel)
  • Iceland
    Icelandic Crisis Response Unit
    The Iceland Crisis Response Unit or Íslenska Friðargæslan, is a 30-person unit with a capacity roster of up to 200 people operated by the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs...

     (100 personnel, employed only for peacekeeping duties)
  • Libya
    Libya is an African country in the Maghreb region of North Africa bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west....

     ( Commands all the Armed Forces - Muammar Gaddafi (Until 2011)
  • Luxembourg
    Military of Luxembourg
    The Luxembourg Army is the national military of Luxembourg. Luxembourg has no navy, as the country is landlocked, or air force, although it does have aircraft. The Luxembourg Army was integrated into the Force Publique which included the Gendarmerie and the Police. The Gendarmerie was merged...

     (has only one branch, the army, with a total of 1,500 personnel)
  • Monaco
    Military of Monaco
    The Principality of Monaco, which is the world's second smallest nation , has a very limited military capability, and would depend entirely upon its larger neighbour, France, for defence in the face of an aggressive world power...

     (two branches, with a total of about 250 personnel)
  • Niger
    Military of Niger
    The Niger Armed Forces comprises both the military and national police services of the West African nation of Niger, totaling around 12,000 active personnel and 5,000 reservists...

     (8,000 personnel)
  • Suriname
    Military of Suriname
    After the creation of the Statute of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Royal Netherlands Army was entrusted with the defence of Suriname, while the defence of the Netherlands Antilles was the responsibility of the Royal Netherlands Navy. The army set up a separate Troepenmacht in Suriname...

     (1,800 personnel)
  • Vatican City State
    Military of the Vatican City
    The State of the Vatican City lies entirely within Rome, the capital of Italy. Therefore, its military defense is provided by Italy. Vatican City has no armed forces. It does, however, have within its borders the Pontifical Swiss Guard or Swiss Guard...

     (135 personnel - the Swiss Guard
    Swiss Guard
    Swiss Guards or Schweizergarde is the name given to the Swiss soldiers who have served as bodyguards, ceremonial guards, and palace guards at foreign European courts since the late 15th century. They have had a high reputation for discipline, as well as loyalty to their employers...


Rank insignia for a colonel in several nations which have no higher military rank.
 Iceland  Monaco  Vatican City
Colonel CCP Colonel CSP
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