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Admiral=Arabic "amir-al-bahr"

Posted by Bruce Kah on September 21, 2000

In Reply to: Rear admiral posted by ESC on September 21, 2000

: : : Why "rear"?

Admiral comes from the Arabic term amir-al-bahr meaning commander of the seas. Crusaders learned the term during their encounters with the Arabs, perhaps as early as the Eleventh Century. The Sicilians and later Genoese took the first two parts of the term and used them as one word, amiral. The French and Spanish gave their sea commanders similar titles. As the word was used by people speaking Latin or Latin-based languages it gained the "d" and endured a series of different endings and spellings leading to the English spelling "admyrall" in the Fourteenth Century and to "admiral" by the Sixteenth Century.

King Edward I appointed the first English Admiral in 1297 when he named William de Leyburn "Admiral of the sea of the King of England." Sometime later the title became Lord High Admiral and appeared to be concerned with administering naval affairs -rather than commanding at sea. Admirals did become sea commanders by the Sixteenth or Seventeenth Century. When he commanded the fleet the Admiral would either be in the lead or the middle portion of the fleet. When the Admiral commanded from the middle portion of the fleet his deputy, the Vice Admiral, would be in the leading portion or van. The "vice" in Vice Admiral is a Latin word meaning deputy or one who acts in the place of another. The Vice Admiral is the Admiral's deputy or lieutenant and serves in the Admiral's place when he is absent. The British Vice Admiral also had a deputy. His post was at the rear of the fleet so instead of calling him the "Vice-Vice Admiral" his title became Rear Admiral. He was the "least important" of the flag officers so he commanded the reserves and the rear portion of the fleet. Sometimes he was called "Admiral in the rear." The British have had Vice and Rear Admirals since at least the Sixteenth Century.

US Naval Ranks
Let's go from the top down.

Fleet Admiral (Five Star) [Not used since WWII because it is reserved for time of war]
Admiral (Four Star)
Vice Admiral (Three Star)
Rear Admiral (Two Star)
Rear Admiral (Lower Half) (One Star)
Captain (Silver Eagle)
Commander (Silver Oak Leaf)
Lieutenant Commander (Bronze Oak Leaf)
Lieutenant (Two Silver Bars)
Lieutenant (Junior Grade) (Single Silver Bar)
Ensign (Single Bronze Bar)
Warrant Officer Four
Warrant Officer Three
Warrant Officer Two
Warrant Officer One [Not used any more]
Master Chief Petty Officer
Senior Chief Petty Officer
Chief Petty Officer
Petty Officer 1st Class
Petty Officer 2nd Class
Petty Officer 3rd Class
Seaman
Seaman Apprentice
Seaman Recruit