View Full Version : Mercenaries throughout history? (and fiction)

03-05-2008, 08:21 PM
Okay, there seems to be a cliche of mercs being money hoarding foreigners that loot and are loose with their morals, w/e.

So what are some historic exams that people can point me towards? How did they come about? What did they do? etc

Also, are there any good fiction examples that buck the trend?

I know the huzzar started as mercs... (hussar if you prefer) and then became respected warriors. So what else is out there?


03-05-2008, 09:48 PM
Mercenaries thrived during the Renaissance, the Hundred Years War, the Thirty Years War, plus sea mercenaries known as privateers..

03-05-2008, 09:56 PM
For fiction, I'd recommend the Belisarius series by David Drake and Eric Flint. Begins with An Oblique Approach. It's an alternate history set in Roman times. Belisarius is a Roman general who both hires and has to fight mercenaries in his campaigns.

03-05-2008, 10:00 PM
Blackwater is a good, watch-it-in-action current example:


03-05-2008, 10:01 PM
I believe Florence and Genoa both used mercenaries exclusively - possibly the other Italian city-states as well - in lieu of standing armies of their own.

03-05-2008, 10:11 PM
The White Company by Sir Walter Scott.

03-05-2008, 10:14 PM
Check out 'Hawkwood' by Frances Stonor Saunders, published in 2004 by Faber and Faber.
Sir John Hawkwood was a highly succesful English mercenary captain who operated in France and Italy in the 14th Century. There is a memorial to him in Florence Cathedral.

03-05-2008, 10:16 PM
The White Company by Sir Walter Scott.

That's by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle isn't it?

03-05-2008, 10:18 PM
That's by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle isn't it?

You are right. I am wrong. Embarrassing.

03-05-2008, 10:46 PM
Medieval Mercenaries by William Urban

I've not read it but it looks interesting and is on my to read list.

03-06-2008, 12:20 AM
Machiavelli has an illuminating chapter on them in 'the Prince.'

03-06-2008, 01:12 AM
The British hired german mercenaries, Hessians, during the US Revolutionary War.

You should be able get information on them at Google.

03-06-2008, 01:39 AM
For mercs with a serious moral code, look into the Greeks who served Darius I. They remained loyal even when it was clear they were going to die with him.

03-06-2008, 02:06 AM
Privateers weren't your classic mercenaries in that they usually didn't get paid anything. They were given the right under the law to capture ships sailing under a certain flag and they could then despense of their 'booty' as they choose.

One society that depended heavily on mercinaries was the Byzantine Empire.

03-06-2008, 02:31 AM
Google search for Varangian Guard

03-06-2008, 09:42 AM
Okay, there seems to be a cliche of mercs being money hoarding foreigners that loot and are loose with their morals, w/e.

So what are some historic exams that people can point me towards?

Herodotus has quite a bit about the Greek mercenaries who served Pharaoh Ahmose II in Egypt (c. 525 BC). They weren't rapacious looters as much as they were military settlers, trading their skill at close-order fighting for Egyptian gold. Not to be outdone, the Persian army of King Cambyses brought a contingent of mercenaries from the island of Samos with him when he came to conquer Egypt.

In the 5th century, you have the trials and tribulations of Xenophon and the 10,000: Greek mercenaries hired by a Persian prince to oust his brother, King Artaxerxes II Mnemon. The 10,000 -- comprised of a corp of Spartans under Clearchus and Greeks from various city-states -- won the Battle of Cunaxa but lost the war and were forced to retreat through hostile territory. The Anabasis is the story of their march to the sea.

In the 3rd century BC, Darius III, the Persian king who opposed Alexander the Great, was said to have had 50,000 Greek mercenaries in his employ, including Memnon of Rhodes (he who provided me with this spiffy screen name) -- though Memnon wasn't strictly a mercenary, since he was related to the royal house by marriage (his wife, Barsine, was the daughter of Artabazus, a Persian satrap who was the grandson of one of Darius III royal predecessors, Artaxerxes II Mnemon, and cousin of Artaxerxes III Ochus). BUT, because of Alexander's ill treatment of the Greek mercs he captured after the Battle of Granicus River -- slaughtering most and condemning the rest to slavery -- most of the mercenaries remained loyal to Darius till the bitter end. It took the aforementioned Artabazus, who knew Alexander as a child and who was a guest-friend of Alexander's father King Philip II, to broker their surrender.

As for fiction: Steven Pressfield's Tides of War presents what life may have been like for Greek mercenaries during the Peloponnesian War.

Hope this helps!


03-06-2008, 04:13 PM
As far as 20th century mercenaries in fiction, read Frederick Forsyth's Dogs of War.
That'd probably give you what you need to know.

Richard White
03-06-2008, 05:11 PM
Historically, the Swiss had some of the most reliable mercenary troops in existance. (Note: The Swiss Guard at the Vatican traces its history back to Swiss mercenaries in service to the Papal States.)

In fiction - The Black Company series by Glen Cook is one of the best books featuring mercenaries I've read for fantasy. In Science Fiction - I'd have to go with the Hammer's Slammers series by David Drake.

Both men aren't afraid to make their mercenaries human. They have very dark moments, but at times the loyalty to the unit and to their companions make them very noble. However, neither unit is one you'd want to cross if you had hopes for a long life.

These people are professionals for a reason, you know . . . *grin*

03-06-2008, 07:24 PM
Thank you everyone for the great examples!

Cleveland W. Gibson
03-08-2008, 08:47 PM
Mercenaries(native soldiers) fought alongside the Zulus against the British in the Zulu wars.

03-09-2008, 03:05 AM
Mercenaries(native soldiers) fought alongside the Zulus against the British in the Zulu wars.Can you classify them as mercernaries?

The natives were hired as soldiers (or levies) for the duration of the occupation, rather than for a particular campaign.