View synonyms for martial law

martial law


  1. the law temporarily imposed upon an area by state or national military forces when civil authority has broken down or during wartime military operations.
  2. the law imposed upon a defeated country or occupied territory by the military forces of the occupying power.

martial law


  1. the rule of law established and maintained by the military in the absence of civil law

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Word History and Origins

Origin of martial law1

First recorded in 1525–35

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Example Sentences

Before the two weeks of martial law had ended, a grand jury indicted 14 men in connection with the destruction — but not for the lynching of Hughes.

Alleging threats of communist subversion and “insurgency,” Marcos instituted national martial law in 1972 that would last 14 years.

From Time

There was little doubt that we came within a couple minutes of martial law.

From Time

While the English translation is new, The Membranes was first published in 1995, just a few years after a decades-long period of martial law in Taiwan was lifted.

Under pressure from Moscow, the Polish government imposed martial law and cracked down on Solidarity.

From Ozy

Nothing is particularly clear because Thailand is in the middle of political upheaval and governed by martial law.

Martial law descends on the city while the KGB knocks on doors of known dissidents.

After months of political crisis, the generals declare martial law.

While some polling shows a majority of ordinary Thais approve of martial law, the political class is roiled with suspicion.

In Cambridge, Maryland, martial law was declared after demonstrations devolved into violence.

He was considered a harsh Governor because his martial law administration was characterized by severe punishment for wrongdoing.

It was found necessary on the 20th of December to proclaim martial law, and the militia of the different parishes was called out.

It was further thought advisable that proclaimed districts should, to a certain extent, be subjected to martial law.

Governor Tod of Ohio had already called out the militia and proclaimed martial law.

They must give way in every instance before the irresistible barrier of martial law.


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More About Martial Law

What is martial law?

Martial law is when a state is put under control of the military, usually temporarily and as a result of an emergency or crisis that has broken down the usual civil authority and order.

How is martial law pronounced?

[ mahr-shuhl law ]

The meaning of martial law 

The phrase martial law dates back to the 1530s, with the adjective martial meaning “pertaining to the military” and ultimately taken from Mars, the Roman god of war.

The exercise of martial law generally occurs in one of two situations: 1) an invading force imposes itself on an occupied territory or 2) a civil authority transfers power over to the military to control a domestic situation.

Many ancient powers, including the Mongolian marauders and Alexander the Great, effectively ruled under martial law in their conquered territories. In more recent history, the American South was put under martial law by the Union Army in the aftermath of the Civil War and on the Hawaiian Islands after Pearl Harbor. In contemporary times, countries like Syria and Egypt have intermittently ceded to martial law during civil unrest.

The phrase and concept is especially associated with states of emergency, when civil leaders respond to dangerous circumstances, such as during natural disasters, violent protests, acts of terrorism, and coups d’état. When they are declared, states of emergency unusually give the military expanded powers of authority and many sometimes implement temporary martial law.

During the 2000–10s in countries including the US and Philippines, the increased militarization of local police forces and concerns over government suspension of the normal rule of law (e.g., as it applies to illegal immigrants or drug users) have led some citizens to fear the imposition of martial law on the citizenry. Here, martial law is associated with tyranny, oppression, and abuse of power.

How is martial law used in real life?

Outside of instances of its imposition, martial law is often warned of during times of high tension and conflict within a country. Countries that have previously experienced martial law, such as the Republic of Ireland, may cite the phrase as a remembrance of past conflict.

Martial law is also the title of several pieces of media, including the 1998 TV show Martial Law, about a Chinese police officer fighting crime in LA, and Martial Law, a 1991 film starring David Carradine as a cop who practices martial arts. These titles, though, pun on martial as it’s used in martial arts.

More examples of martial law:

“Pay attention to this language. This is the kind of language that has preceded the abolition of the right to protest in other countries, as well as calls for martial law in the name of national security.”
—@leahmcelrath, June 2018

“The office of a government-appointed board that compensated victims of human rights abuses in the Philippines during 1972-81 martial law closed permanently at 5 pm on May 11.”
—Melo Acuna, La Croix International, June 2018


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.




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