- A corruption of Sip-ah, Persian for “army,” and a general term commonly, although somewhat inaccurately, used to refer to an infantryman of the lowest rank in the British-led Indian armies. Sepoys were recruited from the native Indian population by the British East India Company as early as 1667 and later by the British government in response to the French adoption of the practice. Many British army units in India initially had native officers of high rank, but they were gradually replaced by officers of European origin. The term was therefore applied to any Indian soldier below officer rank who had been trained and equipped according to European tradition. Sepoys were serious, in equal parts possibly, about religion and military professionalism. Hindu and Muslim holy men typically blessed regimental colors and sent sepoys into action with a prayer, but sepoys also sought to face the same risks in battle as their British counterparts and often resented the practice of putting British troops in the positions of greatest danger.See also <
>; < >.FURTHER READING:Farwell, Byron. Queen Victoria ’ s Little Wars. New York: W. W. Norton, 1972;James, Lawrence. Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India. New York: St. Martin’s, 1997.CARL CAVANAGH HODGE
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.