By Alberto Macchione
Tourists, the world over, often visit the Vatican City in Rome to see the Pope, St Peter’s Basilica and the the highly recognisable spear wielding court jesters that guard the sacred city. Unbeknownst to many, these elaborately adorned security detail are a very serious battalion known as the ‘Pontifical Swiss Guard’.
Unlike the equally iconic Queen’s Royal Guard in the United Kingdom who are instructed to ‘stamp their foot and request that any nuisance step away’ the Swiss Guard are a highly skilled elite fighting force who are not only highly adept with hand weapons but also possess one of the most impressive munition stocks of army piercing weaponry on the planet.
In the 15th Century, Switzerland’s small army had a reputation of overcoming much larger rivals. As Switzerland was an impoverished country with few prospects for many, individual soldiers and small groups of mercenaries often loaned themselves out to other armies or leaders. The relationship with Rome began with Pope Sixtus IV who had a strategic relationship with Swiss rulers. The Pontifical Guard were officially appointed on January 22nd 1506 by Pope Julius II. This makes the Swiss Guard one of the oldest standing military units in the world.