The attachment to distinguishing individuals with special insignia for having accomplished feats of particular brilliance goes back well into the history of Humanity. Already, in ancient Egypt, Pharaohs felt the stirring to grant distinctions in recognition of admirable actions.
The Greeks, meanwhile, used crowns of glory and Romans awarded laurel wreaths or, later, collars of honour. In the Middle Ages, the ritual conferring knighthood on the young noble was spiritual in nature.
The first Orders of Knighthood: The Order of Malta and Order of the Temple were not intended to commend, but were directly linked to the feudal system and to the concept of hereditary nobility. These were in fact, international organisations that brought together knights in an Order with religious, military, or hospitality purposes.
With the gradual collapse of the feudal system, European sovereigns found it necessary to establish Orders to rally around them the faithful followers who served their policy.
Initially international, the Order of Knighthood became national, and members were bound to the sovereign by a personal allegiance. The model Order was the Golden Fleece of the Dukes of Burgundy, founded in 1429.
Later, the emergence of bourgeois and military classes consisting of non-noble individuals rendered necessary the establishing Orders rewarding merit rather than pedigree. The first military Order rewarding merit was founded by the King of France, Louis the 14th. The Order of Saint-Louis became the true forefather to the national Orders that exist throughout the world today.
The culmination of a lengthy development, the National Order is a reward that inducts its holder into a closed group most often placed under the authority of a Grand Master and expected to follow specific rules of discipline.
Modern national Orders are thus associations of people that have distinguished themselves by their merit, without regard to any considerations related to class or origin. Consequently, rewards can be given for military valour, services rendered in the senior Civil Service (Magistrates, Ministers, etc.), and selfless action in service of society (doctors, lawyers, etc.).
Senegal has two national Orders. The first is the National Order of the Lion, rewarding distinguished contributions, and the second is the Order of Merit, honoring outstanding contributions.
This reflects the fact that, as the Order of the Lion can be granted only sparingly in order not to discredit it,many worthy actions could otherwise go without any official recognition. That is why the second order, the Order of Merit, was created – to reward actions of outstanding merit, the aim being to widen