Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
An Order is a decoration, awarded by a government to an individual, usually for distinguished service to a nation or to humanity.
Modern orders and decorations can trace its origin back to the medieval Orders of Chivalry. By the time of the Renaissance, most European monarchs either acquired an existing Order of Chivalry, or created new orders of their own, to reward loyal civilian and especially military officials. Some of modern Europe's highest honours, such as Britain's Order of the Garter and Denmark's Order of the Elephant, were created during that era.
Such orders remained out of reach to the general public, however, until the nineteenth century. In 1802 Napoleon created the Légion d'honneur (Legion of Honour), which is still France's highest award; it can be awarded to any person, regardless of status, for bravery in combat or for 20 years of distinguished service.
The Legion of Honour serves as the model for numerous modern orders of merit in the Western World, such as the Order of Leopold (Belgium, 1832) and the Order of the British Empire (United Kingdom, 1917). These orders typically have five classes, each wearing a badge (usually enamelled) on a ribbon, as a sash for the senior class, around the neck or on the left chest for the lower grades (ladies may wear the badge on a bow on the left chest). The two highest classes also wear a star (or 'plaque') on the chest. In special cases the senior class may wear the badge on a collar, which is an elaborate chain around the neck. Military awards may have crossed swords added onto the insignias.
In Communist countries orders of merit usually come in one to three grades, with only a badge worn with or without a ribbon on the chest. An example of a Communist order was the one-class Order of Lenin (USSR, 1930). Unlike the Western orders, however, Communist orders can be awarded more than once to an individual. After the collapse of the Soviet bloc most Eastern European countries have reverted to the Western-style orders originally established before the rise of Communism.
Today almost all countries have some form of orders or decorations. Both Thailand's Order of the White Elephant and Japan's Order of the Rising Sun are over 100 years old. Canada has the Order of Canada; Australia similarly has the Order of Australia; even the United States has the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.
Modern orders are usually open to all citizens of a particular country, regardless of status, sex, race or creed (although some countries require their citizens to have reached a certain age before becoming elligible). Nominations are either made by private citizens, or by government officials, depending on the country. Once awarded, an order may be revoked if the individual dies, commits a crime, or renounces citizenship.
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