The soldier of fortune is one of the oldest occupations in the field of warfare. Armed professionals, skilled in the art of war have sold their expertise to the highest bidder for millennia and have taken part in every major military action of history. The legacy of the mercenary remains into the 21st century in the form of Private Military Corporations, such as the infamous company Blackwater, and deploy alongside peacekeepers to troubled regions around the globe. Despite their negative connotation, the mercenary has been an integral part of history, providing weaker powers with the necessary means to defend themselves against a stronger enemy. They have also forged their paths of destruction and became minor powers in their right.
When Alexander the Great crossed the Hellespont into Asia, he faced off against the armies of Darius III of Persia. Within the ranks of the Persian army stood Greek mercenary soldiers, trained and armed in the same tactics as those of Alexander’s army. These soldiers had sold their services to the Persian king because of the lucrative arrangements proposed in Asia. In many cases, these mercenaries would switch sides to Alexander after it appeared continued service to the Persian king was futile.
Mercenaries were also an instrumental part of the Roman military system. In their wars to expand the empire, Rome would use local soldiers to serve alongside their Legions. While not technically mercenaries, the Roman Auxiliary system recruited non-Roman soldiers to supplement the Legions and to serve throughout the Empire. After 20 years of service, these soldiers would be granted Roman citizenship, a retirement, and land for their service to the Empire. Because of the wide diversity of cultures within the Roman Empire, auxiliary forces could be made up of Greeks, Britons, Gaul’s, Egyptians, or any other territory that encompassed the vast empire.
Another organization that has been called mercenaries, but shares more similarities to the Roman Auxiliary, is the French Foreign Legion. Established in 1831, the Foreign Legion recruits members from around the world to serve within its ranks. Like the Roman system, these soldiers serve a period (usually 5 or more years) of time, and they are granted French citizenship. Foreign Legion soldiers have fought in every major conflict France has been involved in since 1831, including both of the World Wars. Other nations have emulated the Foreign Legion concept, although France is the only one that allows anyone to serve regardless of race and religion.
Look for more information regarding the history of mercenaries in the upcoming Strategy & Tactics issue #295 with the article “The Catalan Grand Company” and join the conversation on Facebook!