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I need to design a country in which the military is owned by the priesthood of the land. Soldiers are ultimately more loyal to the faith and those who administer it than the state. Governship is considered secular, and ultimately subservient to the priesthood. The king/queen "leads" the country and the government takes care of day to day affairs of running the nation. However, they must ask the priesthood to declare war, and they have the final say in the most important matters.

As far as I know, this has never been done in history. How can I set this up in a plausible way and make it sustainable?

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    $\begingroup$ Sounds like Iran today, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Oct 26 '18 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ I'd agree with the above 'Iran' statement...up to the "sustainable" part $\endgroup$ – Joe Oct 26 '18 at 17:18
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    $\begingroup$ Religious interests have run militaries many many times in history. $\endgroup$ – James Oct 26 '18 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ They can keep chanting Walala-O until the military is converted to their cause. $\endgroup$ – Renan Oct 26 '18 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ The process of the church taking over the military was also described quite well in the fictional setting of A Song of Fire and Ice. $\endgroup$ – Cyn Oct 26 '18 at 17:54
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Your best bet is to use real world historic models as a template.

As far as I know, this has never been done in history.

Time for a history lesson!

1) As others have mentioned. Modern day Iran is a Theocracy run by the Ayatollah.

2) The Papal States. From 754 to the 1800's the Papacy controlled large sections of central Italy.

3) Many Roman Emperors, Egyptian Pharaohs, Japanese Emperors and Chinese Emperors have claimed to be gods, or descended from gods.

4) The overlap of politics and religion (including 1) 2) and 3) above) happens regularly throughout history. Some other examples.

5) Christian religious military orders


This list is by no means all inclusive. A couple things to note when applying these examples to a fictional world.

Most commonly you don't see a religion with a military AND a separate military under the control of a civilian authority. Though when you do there many examples of conflict.

The most direct example to your question is probably the religious military orders.

In general when you have the controlling military power in a region you are, by default, the government. One of the core requirements to be "the government" is to have a monopoly on violence (or at least being far more powerful than other actors).

Control. Religion was/is often used to control the populous of a given nation.

How do you get there? Religion can come to control militaries in many ways by many factors.

  • A state collapses and religion takes over. This can take many forms. During the middle ages this was common in Europe. Weak political leaders and small states meant that the common thread across the land was religion.

  • Revolution. Read up on the Iranian Revolution in the late 1970's

  • Conquered. The holy land was conquered by religious orders/armies during the crusades. The conquerors became the defacto political and religious leaders.

  • Conversion. Read up on Constantine. He was a emperor that adopted Christianity on his deathbed and had previously made it the state religion. This was largely a move to improve the stability of the Empire...but still.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is an excellent and well-researched answer. Maybe consider adding a mention for Bushido as related to Kamikaze. $\endgroup$ – John Wu Oct 27 '18 at 7:19
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If your country is feudal in nature, it could very well be that it is governed by an aristocrat while a significant portion of the rural population lives on lands of the church, leading to a situation where the clergy controls most of the levies that the King relies on. If you need a more modern, centralised state with a standing army, there could simply be historical reasons - the church built this army over time and successfully defended the country with it for centuries, they still control it and officers are loyal to them. Government can't just swoop in and say "You do my bidding now" because - well, who listens to a guy without an army?

For some historical context, I would recommend reading up on military orders (especially the Teutonic Order) who were in the service of feudal rulers.

In the end, it boils down to this: The clergy are just another estate in a country. There is no reason why they are less capable of using their land, income and manpower to field an army.

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    $\begingroup$ The Teutonic Order was not "in the service" of feudal rulers: they were the feudal rulers. They had their own sovereign state, the State of the Teutonic order, which they conquered by the sword and eventually lost by the sword. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Oct 26 '18 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ The relevant point I'm referring to here is how they got there - they were a military order that was granted land by a feudal lord in exchange for military service. $\endgroup$ – Krateng Oct 26 '18 at 20:10

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