A mutiny is an organized group rebellion against established authority, usually with an aspect of conspiracy among the organizers. The term is usually used in the context of the military, since it has a clear chain of authority that is remarkably easy to disrupt in this way. It is also used to discuss rebellions on ships, which have an organizational system similar to that used in the military. Usually, a mutiny arises because of grievances on the part of the mutineers.
The word comes from an obsolete English verb, “mutine,” taken from the French mutiner, “to revolt.” The concept has existed long before the word itself, however. Historical documentations of mutinies date back to Ancient Greek and Roman times, when soldiers and mercenaries sometimes turned on their superior officers for various reasons. Historically, these acts have been severely punished to discourage imitators.
Typically, a mutiny includes several organizers and a group of people whom the organizers have managed to ally to their cause. The rebellion may involve violence, as was the case with the mutiny on the Bounty, or it may be bloodless, in the instance of soldiers refusing to take up arms in the trenches of the First World War. The power of a the rebellion lies in its contraversion of authority, which can be terrifying for a government or ship captain, since it entirely disrupts what was thought to be a static system. The threat has the potential to severely destabilize an entire government, if carried out on a large enough scale.
A mutiny is most successful when it involves a large group of actors, since it impresses authority figures with its seriousness. A small uprising with only a few individuals can also be quickly put down and hushed up, while a larger mutiny will attract attention and potential additional mutineers. Modern militaries have measures in place to prevent rebellions, including more reasonable working conditions. As a result, group acts of mutiny are rare, although individual acts of insubordination certainly still occur.
Often, a mutiny resembles a strike, since it is intended to result in better working conditions. Especially on board ship, men often held them to get better food or shorter working hours. In other cases, it is intended to overthrow the existing authority, an act that might more closely resemble piracy. A strike is potentially much easier to deal with, since individuals in charge may be able to meet the demands of a mutineers without compromising themselves.