College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
BA (Bachelor of Arts)
Session and Year of Graduation
Honors Major Advisor
Paul R. Greenough
This thesis examines the malleability of the concept of “martial races,” the classification system by which British imperial officers recruited soldiers for the Indian Army, the mainstay of British military power in India. Though led by British officers, the army was composed of Indian soldiers known as sepoys. Seeking to ensure the loyalty and effectiveness of sepoys, British officers only recruited groups they considered to be martial races. This imposed classification was based on traits, like physique and bravery, which were considered innate to certain Indian ethnic groups, referred to as “races” by the British. The concept of martial races was central to army organization, and the British did not question its validity. Using India Office Military Department documents, this thesis argues that just who was considered a martial race was the subject of much more debate than has previously been appreciated. A martial race could be lauded by one British officer but scorned by another. Different martial races came and went, recruited and discharged following the conflicting opinions of different officers. Sepoys were caught at the center of this back and forth, but they were not helpless, as the value the British attached to martial status, combined with the threat of mutiny, gave sepoys indirect influence over their compensation and treatment.
sepoy, martial race, Indian Army, recruitment, British Empire, South Asia
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