We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Coup?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Historical Index is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Historical Index, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A coup, or coup d’etat, derives from the French verb couper, which means to strike. Etat means "the state." It can be translated to a strike to the state, or a blow to a government. The term may refer to a military victory or overthrow of a government. It is usually a total victory that renders the acting government’s military powerless and thus signifies takeover of the government.

When people refer to the coup d’etat, they often call it a military coup. There are four types, according to Samuel Phillips Huntington. Huntington is a political scientist who believes most takeovers in the 21st century will be those where the people rise up against the government. The four types are:

  • breakthrough,
  • veto,
  • guardian, and
  • bloodless coup.

Technically any coup can be bloodless. Takeover of a government is gained merely by threat and not by using violence. However, most examples involve the loss of many lives.

The breakthrough coup occurs when a revolutionary group overthrows the seated government and takes over as the new leaders. A guardian coup occurs when someone seizes top-level power from another, usually stating that doing so is necessary because of mass disorder in the state. A veto coup refers to the army having to put down rebellion and organization by the people of the state. This tends to be the worst kind because many civilians may be killed in the process.

Another type is the counting coup. In many Native American tribes, it was considered much greater honor to strike rather than kill an enemy. Some warriors had staffs, which were marked with the number of times they were able to perform a strike in battle, rather than in killing someone. Since "coup" to the Native American was still a French derived word, the idea of striking rather than killing may have been tied to the concept of “touché,” a touch of the opponent in dueling, rather than a kill.

Completely unrelated to battle is the use of the term to mean a victory or benefit in numerous different fields. A fundraising committee who gets a popular singer to sing at a charitable function would consider this a coup. Hosting the Olympics might be considered a coup to a country, just as getting to televise the Olympics is a coup to a television station.

The term can relate to politics in a non-violent way. For example, in 2006 the Democratic wins in the United States' House and Senate were considered a coup to the Democratic Party. Since this does confer some political power to the Democrats, this could be seen in loosest definition as a bloodless coup.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Historical Index contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon265021 — On Apr 30, 2012

The Cuban communist revolution was a revolution inherently; it is by no means a coup d'etat. The primary actors in coup d'etat are the military and the state and the insurrection and disposal of the government is done by its own military force.

By Bertie68 — On May 20, 2011

For me, the scariest revolution or coup happened on the island of Cuba in the 1950's. The leader at the time was a military dictator. A Cuban communist rebel had been hiding up in the hills with his followers. He believed in the same brand of communism as the Russian leaders. This communist rebel, named Fidel Castro, finally took over the government.

In the beginning, many people liked communism - everyone got enough to eat, could go to school, and work at a job. As time went on, the economics didn't work so well, and people lost their jobs. People became unhappy when freedom of speech and other rights were restricted.

Some parents were so afraid of the government that they sent their children by plane over to Florida, where most of them were adopted. The parents just broke up, to see their kids going so far away. But, they thought they would have a better life in the U.S. Revolution can be so cruel to children and everyone.

By anon119231 — On Oct 17, 2010

A coup is also regarded as the national sport and popular summer pastime in the nation of Fiji.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Historical Index contributor, Tricia...
Learn more
Historical Index, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Historical Index, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.