The Virtuti Militari medal is Poland’s highest decoration for military achievements. King Stanislaw August Poniatowski instituted the honor on June 22, 1792, and awarded the first two medals to Prince Jozef Poniatowski and Tadeusz Kosciuszko.
Originally the medal was either gold or silver, and shaped like a coin, but in 1809 it was changed to a cross, and five divisions were created, including the Silver Cross and the Grand Cross.
From 1807-1815 the honor was called the Military Order of the Duchy of Warsaw. In 1815 the name was changed to the Polish Military Order, and in 1832 it was abolished altogether by the Russian Tsar. The Virtuti Militari was restored in 1919, and has been awarded to soldiers for extraordinary valor since.
During wartimes and in other exceptional circumstances the cross can be given to civilians or foreigners as well as members of the Polish military.
Comparable honors of other nations would be the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor and the British Victoria Cross.