Native soldiers in colonial troops

Native soldiers in colonial troops

  • Dahomey: militiaman, undress.


  • Indochina: trumpet artilleryman.


  • Senegal: spahi, full dress.


To close

Title: Dahomey: militiaman, undress.

Author : FREVILLE (-)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Storage location: Quai Branly Museum - Jacques Chirac website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Picture reference: 94-055118 / 75.5039

Dahomey: militiaman, undress.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Indochina: trumpet artilleryman.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Senegal: spahi, full dress.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Publication date: July 2009

Historical context

Birth and development of colonial troops

The constitution of the marine troops at the beginning of the XVIIe century must provide a force to explore, occupy, develop and defend the territories that France is beginning to conquer overseas. In 1622, Cardinal Richelieu created the Ordinary Sea Companies which, numbering one hundred, became the “Marine” regiment in 1626. The mid-eighteenth centurye century saw the birth of the first recruitments of native soldiers, first the Sepoys in India (1750), then the Laptots de Gorée in Senegal (1765), then in Dahomey and Indochina from the 19th century.e century. Intended to reorganize these troops, which had become more and more diverse and more and more substantial, the ordinance of May 14, 1831 regrouped them into two marine infantry regiments, the 1er and 2e R.I.M. With the extension of its colonial domain, France had, in the mid-nineteenthe century, four marine infantry regiments, or 120 companies, and a marine artillery regiment of 27 companies. By the law of July 7, 1900, the Navy troops became colonial troops.

Image Analysis

Three native soldiers from colonial troops

The three images are the work of G. Fréville, who produced a whole series of drawings on the various colonial troops and battalions. Uniforms and equipment allow their production to be placed between 1870 and 1914.

Made in watercolor, the drawings each show a native soldier, posing standing (face-on or three-quarter-length) in military uniform. The representation is colorful and precise: all the details of the uniforms are rendered with care. The artist has also clearly individualized the faces, most often giving them an expression that is at the same time dignified, severe and warlike. Under each drawing is a title that indicates what type of soldiers and uniforms it is.

The Dahomey militiaman wears the "little outfit": blue jacket and pants, red cap and white low shoes. Recognizable by his braid and headgear, the Indochina gunner wears an Asian-cut white jacket and pants with red calf bands. Barefoot, he faces the painter and looks at him harshly, his trumpet in his hand. Finally the Senegalese spahi in "full dress" stands with folded arms. He wears the white helmet, the red jacket, the blue baggy pants, the black boots and the saber all typical of this cavalry corps.


Immortalize and enhance the colonial troops

Fréville "specialized" in the representation of the new colonial troops: it was about making them known and, for documentary and historical reasons, immortalizing these newcomers in the French army. He wanted to show the diversity of the men and their equipment.

The designs are certainly "exotic", since the uniforms and faces clearly mark the origin of the soldiers of the different army corps. But what wins him is the image of fighters who seem both formidable and genuinely committed to their function, ready to serve France in these distant lands, and soon in Europe. The almost "official" character of these drawings as well as the dignified pose of the men suggest the idea that they too serve the greatness of France - which extends not only in Europe, but also, among others, in Asia and in Europe. Africa.

It is difficult to measure the reception that Fréville's work had in his time, but it was fully in line with the development of the political, military, ethnological, cultural and artistic interest that the colonial troops aroused in France. Interest which is itself linked to the second colonization movement characterizing the Second Empire and especially the IIIe Republic.

  • Senegalese tirailleurs
  • Third Republic
  • colonial troops


Jules-Louis LEWAL, Les troupes coloniales, Paris, Baudoin, 1894. Jean MEYER, Annie REY-GOLDZEIGUER, Jean TARRADE, Jacques THOBIE, Histoire de la France coloniale, des origines à 1914, Paris, Armand Colin, 1990.

To cite this article

Alban SUMPF, "Indigenous soldiers in colonial troops"

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