“Where does the Pope live?” is one of the questions your kids would ask you whenever they see the pontiff on TV. If you’re not Catholic, chances are you found out about the Pope in your history classes. Whatever the case may be, the answer would be “Vatican City.”

Vatican City from the Vatican City Gardens. Krzysztof Golik CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Vatican City is one of the smallest internationally recognized states in the world. It has a land area of 0.49 kmor literally just 1/8th the size of Central Park in New York. The Pope, along with the Holy See, had treated Vatican City as the city state at the head of the Catholic faith since 1870. It officially gained independence from Italy on February 11, 1929. This was when the Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy was signed.

Today, the Vatican is one of the few states without a standing army or any official armed forces. So, how did they survive World War I, World War II, and defend themselves if they were to be attacked? More so, who guards the state during the normal, day-to-day occasions when tourists arrive within its borders?

The More Ancient Papal Defenders

No, the papal defenders isn’t a football team, contrary to what it might sound like. Before the Vatican state existed, there thrived the Papal States, otherwise known as the “Stato Pontificio.” These were parcels of land given to the Pope by kingdoms heavily inspired by Christianity.

Such leaders were Charlemagne – King of the Franks, Pepin the Short, and other Christian kings who were after the blessing of the Pope with their numerous undertakings. By the end of its time as the collective territories of the Pope until around the 1870s, as Italy had invaded them, it had amassed the majority of modern-day Italy.

Well then, how did it last so long throughout 756 to 1870 in terms of military capability? The Papal States had a military back then. It was composed of religious volunteers and mercenaries from allies around their territories. Some of these volunteers were from religious, military orders such as the famed Knights Templar, Knights Hospitaller, and the Teutonic Knights, all of whom fought in the Crusades.

In the 1860s, the Pope was protected by the Papal Army, which had two regiments from the Italian Infantry, two regiments from the Swiss, some Irishmen, and some dragoons. No, not dragons. Dragoons are light cavalry and formed a sort of police force.

A Papal Zouave in Uniform, 1860 (Wikicommons Media). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Comte_Robert_de_Bourbon-Busset,_zouave_pontifical.jpg
A Papal Zouave in Uniform, 1860 (Wikicommons Media).

In 1860, Louis Juchault de Lamoriciere created a company out of some French and Belgian Tirailleurs. This quickly turned into the Papal Zouaves in 1861, which were composed of Belgian, French, Dutch, Italian, Canadians, Prussians,  Spaniards, British, and Swiss, to name a few. They were led by a Swiss Colonel, M. Allet. At their strongest, they had 4,592 men and fought in the Battle of Mentana, and defended the Papal States against the Kingdom of Italy. A papal navy also existed from 849 to 1878. However, it was very small and served no purpose as the present-day Vatican is landlocked.