National armies, largely composed of mercenaries, reappeared after the introduction of gunpowder. An example is the Italian condottiere, who hired mercenaries to fight for the prince who was able to pay the most. German and Swiss mercenaries served all over Europe in the 15th and 16th cent. Professional soldiers were also a notable feature of the armies of the Ottoman Turks, who threatened to destroy the forces of Western Europe in the 16th cent. Eventually, as a result of the writings of such political theorists as Niccolo Machiavelli, national or standing armies developed—armies of professional soldiers led mostly by officers from the country's aristocracy.
After the Thirty Years War (1618–48), France emerged as the preeminent European military power. Under Louis XIV and his war minister, the marquis de Louvois, that country organized a national standing army that became the pattern for all Europe until the French Revolution. A professional body, set apart from civilian life and ruled under an iron discipline, the standing army reached harsh perfection under Frederick II of Prussia.
In the late 18th cent. the American and French revolutions brought about the return of the nonprofessional, citizen army. The introduction of conscription during the French Revolutionary Wars led to mass armies built around a professional nucleus. Officers could be from any class. Conscription also transformed non-European armies, such as that of Egypt during the early 19th cent.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.