AskDefine | Define mercenaries

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Plural of mercenary

Extensive Definition

A mercenary is a person who takes part in an armed conflict who is not a national or a party to the conflict and "is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a Party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party" (Additional Protocol to the Geneva Convention of August 1949).
As a result of the assumption that a mercenary is essentially motivated by money, the term "mercenary" carries negative connotations. There is a blur in the distinction between a "mercenary" and a "foreign volunteer", when the primary motive of a soldier in a foreign army is uncertain. For instance the French Foreign Legion and the Gurkhas are not mercenaries under the laws of war, since although they may meet many of the requirements of Article 47 of the 1949 Additional Protocol, they are exempt under clauses 47(a)(c)(d)(e)&(f), but some journalists do describe them as mercenaries.

Laws of war

While the United States and many other countries are not signatories to the Protocol Additional GC 1977 (APGC77), it provides the most widely accepted international definition of a mercenary, albeit one not universally accepted. In the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977 it is stated:
All the criteria (a - f) must be met, according to the Geneva Convention, for a combatant to be described as a mercenary.
According to the GC III, a captured soldier must be treated as a lawful combatant, and, therefore, is a Protected Person, with Prisoner of War (PoW) status until facing a competent tribunal (GC III Art 5). That tribunal may decide that the soldier is a mercenary using criteria in APGC77 or some equivalent domestic law. At that juncture, the mercenary soldier becomes an unlawful combatant, but still must be "treated with humanity and, in case of trial, shall not be deprived of the rights of fair and regular trial", because they are still covered by GC IV Art 5. The only exception to GC IV Art 5 is if he is a national of the authority imprisoning him, but, in which case, he would not be a mercenary soldier as defined in APGC77 Art 47.d.
If after a regular trial, a captured soldier is found to be a mercenary, then he can expect treatment as a common criminal and may face execution. As mercenary soldiers are not PoWs, they cannot expect repatriation at war's end. The best known post-World War II example of this was on June 28 1976 when at the end of the Luanda Trial an Angolan court sentenced three Britons and an American to death, and nine other mercenaries to prison terms ranging from 16 to 30 years. The four mercenaries sentenced to death were shot by a firing squad on July 10 1976.
The legal status of civilian contractors depends upon the nature of their work and their nationalities with respect to that of the combatants. If they have not "in fact, taken a direct part in the hostilities" (APGC77 Art 47.b) they are not mercenaries but civilians who have non-combat support roles and are entitled to protection under the Third Geneva Convention (GCIII 4.1.4).
On 4 December 1989 the United Nations passed resolution 44/34 the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries. It entered into force on 20 October 2001 and is usually known as the UN Mercenary Convention. Article 1 contains the definition of a mercenary. Article 1.1 is similar to Article 47 of Protocol I, however Article 1.2 broadens the definition to include a non-national recruited to overthrow a "Government or otherwise undermining the constitutional order of a State; or Undermin[e] the territorial integrity of a State;" and "Is motivated to take part therein essentially by the desire for significant private gain and is prompted by the promise or payment of material compensation..." — under Article 1.2 a person does not have to take a direct part in the hostilities in a planned coup d'état to be a mercenary.
Critics have argued that the convention and APGC77 Art. 47 are designed to cover the activities of mercenaries in post colonial Africa, and do not address adequately the use of private military companies by sovereign states.
The situation during the Iraq War and the continuing occupation of Iraq after the United Nations Security Council sanctioned hand over of power to the Iraqi government shows the difficulty in defining what is a mercenary soldier. While the United States governed Iraq, any U.S. citizen working as an armed guard could not be defined a mercenary, because he was a national of a Party to the conflict (APGC77 Art 47.d). With the hand-over of power to the Iraqi government, if one does not consider the Coalition forces to be a continuing Parties to the conflict in Iraq, but that their soldiers are sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces (APGC77 Art 47.f), then unless U.S. citizens working as an armed guards declare themselves residents in Iraq, i.e. a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict (APGC77 Art 47.d), if they are involved in a fire-fight in the continuing conflict they are mercenary soldiers. However, those who acknowledge the United States and other coalition forces to still be Parties to the conflict would insist that U.S. armed guards cannot be called mercenaries (APGC77 Art 47.d). In such cases, if no trial of accused mercenaries occurs, allegations evaporate in the heat of accusations, counter-accusations and denials.

Municipal law

The municipal laws of some countries forbid their citizens fighting in foreign wars unless they are under the control of their own national armed forces. In Austria, anyone who voluntarily serves in the armed forces of another country automatically loses Austrian citizenship. In 2003, France criminalized mercenary activities, as defined by the protocol to the Geneva convention for French citizens, permanent residents and legal entities. (Penal Code, L436-1, L436-2, L436-3, L436-4, L436-5). In Italy, it is illegal to recruit Italians on Italian soil for fighting in behalf of a foreign government without the approval of the Italian government. In 1927, Switzerland banned its nationals from serving as mercenaries, except for being the Vatican Swiss Guards. In 1998 South Africa passed the "Foreign Military Assistance Act" that banned citizens and residents from any involvement in foreign wars, except in humanitarian operations, unless a government committee approved its deployment. In 2005, the legislation was reviewed by the government because of South African citizens working as security guards in Iraq during the American Iraq occupation and the consequences of the mercenary soldier sponsorship case against Mark Thatcher for the "possible funding and logistical assistance in relation to an alleged attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea" organized by Simon Mann. United Kingdom of Great Britain passed the Foreign Enlistment Act in the late 18th century, making it illegal for British subjects to join the armed forces of any state warring with another state at peace with Great Britain. In the Greek War of Independence British volunteers fought with the Greek rebels, which could have been illegal; it was unclear whether or not the Greek rebels were a "state" per the Foreign Enlistment Act, but the law was clarified, saying that the rebels were a state. The government considered using the Act against British subjects fighting for the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War and the FNLA in the Angolan Civil War (see above); nothing happened.
The existence of the Atholl Highlanders, apparently Europe's only legal, private army. By a quirk of history, this is a Scottish regiment, not part of the British Army, commanded by the Duke of Atholl; today it is a primarily ceremonial uniformed force. The Anti-Pinkerton Act of 1893 (5 USC 3108) forbade the US Government from using Pinkerton National Detective Agency employees, or similar private police companies. In 1977, the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals interpreted this statute as forbidding the US Government's employing companies offering mercenary, quasi-military forces for hire. United States ex rel. Weinberger v. Equifax, 557 F.2d 456, 462 (5th Cir. 1977), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1035 (1978). There is a disagreement over whether or not this proscription is limited to the use of such forces as strikebreakers, because it is stated thus: The purpose of the Act and the legislative history reveal that an organization was "similar" to the Pinkerton Detective Agency only if it offered for hire mercenary, quasi-military forces as strikebreakers and armed guards. It had the secondary effect of deterring any other organization from providing such services lest it be branded a "similar organization." The legislative history supports this view and no other. In the June 7, 1978 Letter to the Heads of Federal Departments and Agencies, the Comptroller General interpreted this decision in a way that carved out an exemption for "Guard and Protective Services."
A US Department of Defense interim rule (effective 16 June 2006) revises DoD Instruction 3020.41 to authorize contractors, other than private security contractors, to use deadly force against enemy armed forces only in self-defense. 71 Fed. Reg. 34826. Per that interim rule, private security contractors are authorized to use deadly force when protecting their client's assets and persons, consistent with their contract's mission statement. [One interpretation is that this authorizes contractors to engage in combat on behalf of the US Government.] It is the combatant commander's responsibility to ensure that private security contract mission statements do not authorize performance of inherently Governmental military functions, i.e. preemptive attacks or assaults or raids, et cetera.
Otherwise, civilians with US Armed Forces lose their law of war protection from direct attack, if and for such time as they directly participate in hostilities. On 18 August 2006, the US Comptroller General rejected bid protest arguments that US Army contracts violated the Anti-Pinkerton Act by requiring that contractors provide armed convoy escort vehicles and labor, weapons, and equipment for internal security operations at Victory Base Complex, Iraq. The Comptroller General reasoned the act was unviolated, because the contracts did not require contractors to provide quasi-military forces as strikebreakers. Yet, on 1 June 2007, the Washington Post reported: "A federal judge yesterday ordered the military to temporarily refrain from awarding the largest security contract in Iraq. The order followed an unusual series of events set off when a U.S. Army veteran, Brian X. Scott, filed a protest against the government practice of hiring what he calls mercenaries, according to sources familiar with the matter".
The contract, worth about $475 million, calls for a private company to provide intelligence services to the US Army and security for the Army Corps of Engineers on reconstruction work in Iraq. The case, which is being heard by the US Court of Federal Claims, puts on trial one of the most controversial and least understood aspects of the Iraq war: the outsourcing of military security to an estimated 20,000 armed contractors who operate with little oversight''.< similar rules apply to Gurkhas of the Indian Army. French Foreign Legionnaires are formed units of the French Foreign Legion, which deploys and fights as an organized unit of the French Army. This means that as members of the armed forces of Britain, India, and France these soldiers are not mercenary soldiers per APGC77 Art 47.e and APGC77 Art 47.f.

Private Military Companies (PMCs)

mainarticle Private Military Company The Private military company (PMC) is the contemporary strand of the mercenary trade, providing logistics, soldiers, military training, and other services. Thus, PMC contractors are civilians (in governmental, international, and civil organizations) authorized to accompany an army to the field; hence, the term civilian contractor. Nevertheless, PMCs may use armed force, hence defined as: "legally established enterprises that make a profit, by either providing services involving the potential exercise of [armed] force in a systematic way and by military means, and/or by the transfer of that potential to clients through training and other practices, such as logistics support, equipment procurement, and intelligence gathering".
Private paramilitary forces are functionally mercenary armies, not security guards or advisors; however, national governments reserve the right to control the number, nature, and armaments of such private armies, arguing that, provided they are not pro-actively employed in front-line combat, they are not mercenaries. That said, PMC "civilian contractors" have poor repute among professional government soldiers and officers — the US Military Command have questioned their war zone behavior. In September 2005, Brigadier General Karl Horst, deputy commander of the Third Infantry Division charged with Baghdad security after the 2003 invasion, said of DynCorp and other PMCs in Iraq: These guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There's no authority over them, so you can't come down on them hard when they escalate force... They shoot people, and someone else has to deal with the aftermath. It happens all over the place.
If PMC employees participate in pro-active combat, the press call them mercenaries, and the PMCs mercenary companies. In the 1990s, four news media-identified mercenary companies, and the wars were:
In 2004 the PMC business was boosted, because the US and Coalition governments hired them for security in Iraq. In March 2004, four Blackwater USA employees escorting food supplies and other equipment were attacked and killed in Fallujah, in a videotaped attack; the killings and subsequent dismemberment were a cause for the First Battle of Fallujah. Afghan war operations also boosted the business. Many PMC employees are bodyguards for heads of state such as Hamid Karzai.
In 2006, a U.S. congressional report listed a number of PMCs and other enterprises that have signed contracts to carry out anti-narcotics operations and related activities as part of Plan Colombia. DynCorp was among those contracted by the State Department, while others signed contracts with the Defense Department. Other companies from different countries, including Israel, have also signed contracts with the Colombian Defense Ministry to carry out security or military activities.
The United Nations disapprove of PMCs (still, the UN hired Executive Outcomes for African logistic support work). Controversy arose elsewhere with the scandal of Dyncorp's pedophiliac sex trafficking in Bosnia during the Balkan war of the 1990s. The question is whether or not PMC soldiers are as accountable for their war zone actions as are the Bosniak armed forces. A common argument for using PMCs (used by the PMCs themselves; Sandline's Corp's whitepapers), is that PMCs may be help combat genocide and civilian slaughter where the UN are unwilling or unable to intervene.
In February 2002, a British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) report about PMCs noted that the demands of the military service from the UN and international civil organizations might mean that it is cheaper to pay PMCs than use soldiers. Yet, after considering using PMCs to support UN operations, the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, decided against it.
In October 2007 the United Nations released a two year study that stated, that although hired as "security guards", private contractors were performing military duties. The report found that the use of contractors such as Blackwater was a "new form of mercenary activity" and illegal under International law; however the United States is not a signatory to the 1989 UN Mercenary Convention banning the use of mercenaries.



Ancient Egypt

An early recorded use of foreign auxiliaries dates back to Ancient Egypt, the thirteenth century BC, when Pharaoh Ramesses II used 11,000 mercenaries during his battles. A long established foreign corps in the Egyptian forces were the Medjay - a generic term given to tribal scouts and light infantry recruited from Nubia serving from the late period of the Old Kingdom through that of the New Kingdom. Other warriors recruited from outside the borders of Egypt included Libyan, Syrian and Canaanite contingents under the New Kingdom and Sherdens from Sardinia who appear in their distinctive horned helmets on wall paintings as body guards for Ramesses II.

20th century

In the 20th century, mercenaries have been mostly involved in conflicts on the continent of Africa and in several cases brought about a swift end to bloody civil war by comprehensively defeating the rebel forces. There have been a number of unsavory incidents in the brushfire wars of Africa, some involving recruitment of naïve European and American men "looking for adventure" and thrusting them into combat situations where they would not survive to get paid.
Many of the adventurers in Africa who have been described as mercenaries were in fact ideologically motivated to support particular governments, and would not fight "for the highest bidder". A good example of this would be the British South Africa Police (BSAP), a paramilitary, mounted infantry force formed by the British South Africa Company of Cecil Rhodes in 1889/1890 that evolved and continued until 1970.
Notorious mercenaries include:
Congo Crisis
The Congo Crisis (1960-1965) was a period of turmoil in the First Republic of the Congo that began with national independence from Belgium and ended with the seizing of power by Joseph Mobutu. During the crisis mercenaries were employed by various factions, and also at times helped the United Nations and other peace keepers.
In 1960 and 1961 Mike Hoare worked as a mercenary commanding a unit called "4 Commando" supporting a faction in Katanga, a province trying to break away from the newly independent Congo.
In 1964. Congolese Prime Minister Moïse Tshombe hired "Colonel" Mike Hoare to lead a military unit called "5 Commando" made up of about 300 men most of whom were from South Africa. The unit's mission was to fight a breakaway rebel group called Simba. Later Hoare and his mercenaries worked in concert with Belgian paratroopers, Cuban exile pilots, and CIA hired mercenaries who attempted to save 1,600 civilians (mostly Europeans and missionaries) in Stanleyville from the Simba rebels in Operation Dragon Rouge. This operation saved many lives.
Mercenaries fought for the Biafrans in the Fourth Commando Brigade during the Nigerian Civil War, (1967-1970). Other mercenaries flew aircraft for the Biafrans. In October 1966, for example, a Royal Air Burundi DC-4M Argonaut, flown by mercenary Heinrich Wartski, also known as Henry Wharton, crashlanded in Cameroon with military supplies destined for Biafra.
In May 1969, Carl Gustaf von Rosen formed a squadron of five light aircraft known as the "Babies of Biafra", which attacked and destroyed Nigerian jet aircraft on the ground.
In the mid-1970s John Banks, a Briton, recruited mercenaries to fight for the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) against the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in the civil war that broke out when Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975. When captured, John Derek Barker's role as a leader of mercenaries in Northern Angola led the judges to send him to face the firing squad. Nine others were imprisoned. Three more were executed: American Daniel Gearhart was sentenced to death for advertising himself as a mercenary in an American newspaper; Andrew McKenzie and Costas Georgiou (the self styled "Colonel Callan"), who had both served in the British army, were sentenced to death for murder. to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea in Malabo. Currently eight South African apartheid-era soldiers (the leader of whom is Nick du Toit) and five local men are in Black Beach prison on the island. They are accused of being an advanced guard for a coup to place Severo Moto in power. . Six Armenian aircrew, also convicted of involvement in the plot, were released in 2004 after receiving a presidential pardon. CNN reported on August 25, that:
Defendant Nick du Toit said he was introduced to Thatcher in South Africa last year by Simon Mann, the leader of 70 men arrested in Zimbabwe in March suspected of being a group of mercenaries heading to Equatorial Guinea.
It was planned, it is alleged, by Simon Mann (a founder of Executive Outcomes) a former SAS officer. On 27 August 2004 he was found guilty in Zimbabwe of purchasing arms, allegedly for use in the plot. (He admitted trying to procure dangerous weapons, but said that they were to guard a diamond mine in DR Congo.) It is alleged that there is a paper trail from him which implicates Sir Mark Thatcher, Lord Archer and Ely Calil (a Lebanese-British oil trader).
The BBC reported in an article entitled "Q&A: Equatorial Guinea coup plot":
The BBC's Newsnight television programme saw the financial records of Simon Mann's companies showing large payments to Nick du Toit and also some $2m coming in - though the source of this funding they say is largely untraceable.
The BBC reported on 10 September 2004 that in Zimbabwe:
''[Simon Mann], the British leader of a group of 67 alleged mercenaries accused of plotting a coup in Equatorial Guinea has been sentenced to seven years in jail... The other passengers got 12 months in jail for breaking immigration laws while the two pilots got 16 months...The court also ordered the seizure of Mann's $3m Boeing 727 and $180,000 found on board.''


15th and 16th centuries

The Saika mercenary group of the Kii Province, Japan, played a significant role during the Siege of Ishiyama Hongan-ji that took place between August 1570 to August 1580. The Saikashuu were famed for the support of Ikko Buddhist sect movements and greatly impeded the advance of Oda Nobunaga's forces.

19th century

The Taiping Rebellion was deemed the worldwide second tier most bloody revolt after WWII, with a estimated death toll of 20-30 million, and took place in 17 provinces of China between 1850 and 1873. Many North-Americans and British mercenaries helped the Qing Dinasty (and the wealthy British opium trade) to survive, including Frederick Townsend Ward and Charles George Gordon, often known as "Chinese Gordon" .

20th century

In the warlord period of China, many American and English mercenaries thrived such as Homer Lea, Philo Norton McGriffin,, Morris Cohen, and Francis Arthur "One Armed Sutton".
During the early stages of the Second Sino-Japanese War (before Pearl Harbor) America did not want to become overtly involved in the conflict (due to a non-aggression pact with Japan), yet felt an obligation to assist the Chinese in stopping Japanese aggression. So the United States sent Claire Chennault to assist China and created the American Volunteer Group (AVG), better known as Flying Tigers. The pilots earned roughly $600-700 basic pay per month, plus an extra $500 per confirmed Japanese aircraft that was shot down, courtesy of the then Chinese President Chiang Kai-shek.
During the Soviet war in Afghanistan, many warlords, including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Northern League warlord Rashid Dostum can fit comfortably under that category.


Classic era

Many Greek mercenaries fought for the Persian Empire during the early classic era. For example:
  • Xerxes I, king of Persia, who invaded Greece in 484 BC employed Greek mercenaries. The best remembered is Demaratus, for his warning to Xerxes not to underestimate the Spartans before the Battle of Thermopylae.
  • In Anabasis, Xenophon recounts how Cyrus the Younger hired a large army of Greek mercenaries (the "Ten Thousand") in 401 BC to seize the throne of Persia from his brother, Artaxerxes II. Though Cyrus' army was victorious at the Battle of Cunaxa, Cyrus himself was killed in battle and the expedition rendered moot. Stranded deep in enemy territory, the Spartan general Clearchus and most of the other Greek generals were subsequently killed by treachery. Xenophon played an instrumental role in encouraging "The Ten Thousand" Greek army to march north to the Black Sea in an epic fighting retreat.
  • Memnon of Rhodes (380 – 333 BC): was the commander of the Greek mercenaries working for the Persian King Darius III when Alexander the Great of Macedonia invaded Persia in 334 BC and won the Battle of the Granicus River. Alexander also employed Greek mercenaries during his campaigns. These were men who fought for him directly and not those who fought in city-state units attached to his army.
  • Carthage contracted Balearic Islands shepherds as slingshooters during the Punic wars against Rome. The vast majority of the Carthaginian military - except the highest officers, the navy, and the home guard - were mercenaries.
  • Members of independent Thracian tribes such as the Bessi and Dii often joined the ranks of large organized armies as mercenaries.
  • The Sons of Mars were Italian mercenaries used by the Greek kings of Syracuse until after the Punic Wars.
  • Celtic mercenaries were a staple of many ancient armies. The king of Bythnia hired Galatians to his armies and gave them a parcel of land, which became Galatia, after their defeat, brought on by their raids and warfare against the various cities in the regions. There were also the semi-mythic amsaig, noted foremost as the mercenaries of Cu Chullain, but the term advanced later as a term for various Gaelic mercenaries. Another figure in oral legend, Milesius was given the princess Scota after conducting a successful campaign for Ancient Egypt.
In the late Roman Empire, it became increasingly difficult for Emperors and generals to raise military units from the citizenry for various reasons: lack of manpower, lack of time available for training, lack of materials, and, inevitably, political considerations. Therefore, beginning in the late 4th century, the empire often contracted whole bands of barbarians either within the legions or as autonomous foederati. The barbarians were Romanized and surviving veterans were established in areas requiring population. The Varangian Guard of the Byzantine Empire is the best known formation made up of barbarian mercenaries. (see next section)

Medieval warfare

Byzantine Emperors followed the Roman practice and contracted foreigners especially for their personal corps guard called the Varangian Guard. They were chosen among war-prone peoples, of whom the Varangians (Vikings) were preferred. Their mission was to protect the Emperor and Empire and since they did not have links to the Greeks, they were expected to be ready to suppress rebellions. One of the most famous guards was the future king Harald III of Norway, also known as Harald Hardrada ("Hardreign"), who arrived in Constantinople in 1035 and was employed as a Varangian Guard. He participated in eighteen battles and became Akolythos, the commander of the Guard, before returning home in 1043. He was killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 when his army was defeated by an English army commanded by King Harold Godwinson.
In England at the time of the Norman Conquest, Flemings (natives of Flanders) formed a substantial mercenary element in the forces of William the Conqueror with many remaining in England as settlers under the Normans. Contingents of mercenary Flemish soldiers were to form significant forces in England throughout the time of the Norman and early Plantagenet dynasties (11th and 12th centuries). A prominent example of these were the Flemings that fought during the English civil wars, known as the Anarchy or the Nineteen-Year Winter (AD 1135 to 1154), under the command of William of Ypres, who was King Stephen's chief lieutenant from 1139 to 1154 and who was made Earl of Kent by Stephen.
In Italy, the condottiero was a military chief offering his troops, the condottieri, to city-states. During the ages of the Taifa kingdoms of the Iberian peninsula, Christian knights like El Cid could fight for some Muslim ruler against his Christian or Muslim enemies. The Almogavars originally fought for Catalonia and Aragon, but as the Catalan Company, they followed Roger de Flor in the service of the Byzantine Empire. Spanish (Catalan) and German mercenaries also had prominent role in the Serbian victory over Bulgarians in the Battle of Velbuzd 1330.
During the later Middle Ages, Free Companies (or Free Lances) were formed, consisting of companies of mercenary troops. Nation-states lacked the funds needed to maintain standing forces, so they tended to hire free companies to serve in their armies during wartime. Such companies typically formed at the ends of periods of conflict, when men-at-arms were no longer needed by their respective governments. The veteran soldiers thus looked for other forms of employment, often becoming mercenaries. Free Companies would often specialize in forms of combat that required longer periods of training that was not available in the form of a mobilized militia. The White Company commanded by Sir John Hawkwood is the best known English Free Company of the 14th century. A Welshman Owain Lawgoch (Owain of the Red Hand) formed a free company and fought for the French against the English during the Hundred Years War, before being assassinated by a Scot by the name of Jon Lamb under the orders of the English Crown in 1378 during the siege of Mortagne.

15th and 16th centuries

Pier Gerlofs Donia, a legendary folk hero, freedom fighter and warrior annex pirate, lead a group of highly trained mercenaries, the Arumer Black Heap. They fought (mainly), against other mercenaries such as the Count of Nychlenborch, a Frisian nobleman, Burgundian-vassal and warrior by trade. Swiss mercenaries were sought after during the late 15th and early 16th centuries as being an effective fighting force, until their somewhat rigid battle formations became vulnerable to arquebuses and artillery being developed at about that period. See Swiss Guard.
It was then that the German landsknechts, colorful mercenaries with a redoubtable reputation, took over the Swiss forces' legacy and became the most formidable force of the late 15th and throughout the 16th century, being hired by all the powers in Europe and often fighting at opposite sides. St Thomas More in his Utopia advocated the use of mercenaries in preference to citizens. The barbarian mercenaries employed by the Utopians are thought to be inspired by the Swiss mercenaries.
At approximately the same period, Niccolò Machiavelli argued against the use of mercenary armies in his masterpiece The Prince. His rationale was that since the sole motivation of mercenaries is their pay, they will not be inclined to take the kind of risks that can turn the tide of a battle, but may cost them their lives. He also noted that a mercenary who failed was obviously no good, but one who succeeded may be even more dangerous. He astutely pointed out that a successful mercenary army no longer needs its employer if it is more militarily powerful than its supposed superior. This explained the frequent, violent betrayals that characterized mercenary/client relations in Italy, because neither side trusted the other. He believed that citizens with a real attachment to their home country will be more motivated to defend it and thus make much better soldiers.

17th and 18th centuries

During the 17th and 18th century extensive use was made of foreign recruits in the now regimented and highly drilled armies of Europe, beginning in a systematized way with the Thirty Years' War. After the signing of the Treaty of Limerick (1691) the soldiers of the Irish Army who left Ireland for France took part in what is known as the Flight of the Wild Geese. Subsequently, many made a living from working as mercenaries for continental armies, the most famous of whom was Patrick Sarsfield, who, having fallen mortally wounded at the Battle of Landen fighting for the French, said "If this was only for Ireland".
About a third of the infantry regiments of the French Royal Army prior to the French Revolution were recruited from outside France. The largest single group were the twelve Swiss regiments (including the Swiss Guard). Other units were German and one Irish Brigade (the "Wild Geese") had originally been made up of Irish volunteers. By 1789 difficulties in obtaining genuinely Irish recruits had led to German and other foreigners making up the bulk of the rank and file. The officers however continued to be drawn from long established Franco-Irish families. During the reign of Louis XV there were also a Scottish (Royal-Écossais), a Swedish (Royal-Suédois), an Italian (Royal-Italien) and a Walloon (Horion-Liegeois) regiments recruited outside the borders of France. The foreign infantry regiments comprised about 20,000 men in 1733, rising to 48,000 at the time of the Seven Years' War and being reduced in numbers thereafter.
The Spanish Army also made use of permanently established foreign regiments. These comprised three Irish regiments (Irlanda, Hiberni and Ultonia); one Italian (Napoles) and five Swiss (Wimpssen, Reding, Betschart, Traxer and Preux). In addition one regiment of the Royal Guard was recruited from Walloons. The last of these foreign regiments was disbanded in 1815, following recruiting difficulties during the Napoleonic Wars. One complication arising from the use of non-national troops occurred at the Battle of Bailén in 1808 when the "red Swiss" (so-called from their uniforms) of the invading French Army clashed bloodily with "blue Swiss" in the Spanish service.

In popular culture

Like piracy, the mercenary ethos resonates in popular films and novels with idealized notions of adventure, mystery and danger. Many are called adventurers, filibusters, soldiers of fortune, gunslingers, gunrunners, ronin, and knights errant. A magazine ostensibly written for mercenary soldiers is Soldier of Fortune (SOF). The popularity of SOF led to a several similar magazines with titles such as Survive, Gung Ho!, New Breed, Eagle, Combat Illustrated, Special Weapons and Tactics, Combat and Survival, and Combat Ready that have mostly ceased publication
The film The Wild Geese (1978) is considered by reviewers to be the benchmark film about mercenaries in Africa, and it inspired other such films, including a sequel. The film is also noteworthy in that the technical adviser was former mercenary leader Michael Hoare.
In the film Rambo (film) (2008) , the protagonist John Rambo teams up with a group of mercenaries, to save a group of volunteered missionaries, who are held as prisoners in Burma.
The novel The Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth and the film (1981) with the same name, which go into some detail about an actual if fictionalized mercenary operation in Africa in the 1960s. Films about mercenaries also include Man on Fire (2004), about a former mercenary hired as a bodyguard for a young girl in Mexico City who subsequently gets kidnapped; and Blood Diamond (2006), about a mercenary and diamond smuggler. Board games such as Warhammer, Dogs of War involve mercenary armies. Computer game series such as Jagged Alliance and MechWarrior are about mercenaries. Also, the game Army of Two is mainly about mercenaries and corruption in mercenary corporations.

See also


Further reading

* United Nations Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the rights of peoples to self-determination


mercenaries in Arabic: مرتزق
mercenaries in Bulgarian: Наемник
mercenaries in Catalan: Mercenari
mercenaries in Czech: Žoldnéř
mercenaries in Danish: Lejesoldat
mercenaries in German: Söldner
mercenaries in Spanish: Mercenario
mercenaries in Esperanto: Soldulo
mercenaries in French: Mercenaire
mercenaries in Galician: Mercenario
mercenaries in Indonesian: Tentara bayaran
mercenaries in Italian: Mercenario
mercenaries in Hebrew: שכיר חרב
mercenaries in Lithuanian: Samdinys
mercenaries in Hungarian: Zsoldos
mercenaries in Dutch: Huursoldaat
mercenaries in Japanese: 傭兵
mercenaries in Norwegian: Leiesoldat
mercenaries in Polish: Wojsko najemne
mercenaries in Portuguese: Mercenário
mercenaries in Russian: Наёмник
mercenaries in Simple English: Mercenary
mercenaries in Slovak: Žoldnier
mercenaries in Slovenian: Najemnik
mercenaries in Serbo-Croatian: Najamnik
mercenaries in Finnish: Palkkasotilas
mercenaries in Swedish: Legosoldat
mercenaries in Yiddish: שכיר חרב
mercenaries in Chinese: 僱傭兵
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1