- "In peace one is despoiled by mercenaries; in war by one's enemies."
- –Niccolo Machiavelli
- "Being a mercenary, though . . . Hey, we just go wherever there's a mixture of money and trouble."
- –Howard Tayler
Human civilization has always reveled in war. And soon some clever people learned that other (less-clever) people were ready to fight and die for money. This was the beginning of mercenaries — a well-established profession which exists in the present day.
In the Middle Ages mercenary companies become increasingly common in different parts of the world, and start structuring their trade. They serve not only as active combatants in the wars of rulers, but also as private bodyguards to rich merchants or important statesmen. In other words, they don't only kill - they also safeguard. And so, the first professional armies in human history are born.
Civilopedia entry Edit
Since the dawn of civilization, men have killed and died for money (more sensible than for honor, faith, love, or other nonsense). No one is quite sure the first time a tribal chieftain hired mercenaries to augment his ill-trained (and likely reluctant) militia or guard his person, but after the Qin conquest of the other warring states, the Qin and Han dynasties employed nomadic horse archers from the steppes to insure security. Xenophon recounts that Cyrus the younger hired “Ten Thousand” Greek mercenaries in 401 BC to seize the throne of Persia, and Macedonia, Carthage and Rome employed “barbarian” mercenaries in their wars.
But it was during the Medieval Age that mercenaries came to the fore in war. The Byzantine emperors followed the old Roman practice of contracting foreigners as a personal bodyguard, notably the fearsome Norsemen formed into the Varangian Guard. In England, William the Conqueror employed Flemish archers to first win and then rule the land. In Italy, condottieri companies were in service to any city-state willing to pay for their professionalism in the internecine wars that marked the 12th through 15th centuries … though they switched sides at the drop of a coin. And El Cid wasn’t the only Christian to fight for a Muslim ruler.
The so-called “free companies” evolved after the Peace of Brétigny in 1360 ended (for nine years) the Hundred Years' War when hundreds of experienced soldiers chose to continue the life (and looting) they had known. Since most nations of the time couldn’t afford to maintain standing armies, there was no lack of work. Following colorful and ruthless commanders such as Sir John Hawkwood, Arnaud de Cervole, Rodrigo de Villandrando and Werner von Urslingen, these companies dominated warfare across Europe into the 1600s. In the British Isles and France, the bloody-minded Scottish gallóglaigh (literally “foreign young warriors”) made their mark by slaughtering all sorts of Englishmen. Then there were the famed Swiss mercenaries, some of whom formed the Papal Guard of the Vatican.
The tradition continues …
- The second introductory quote is from the famed webcomic, Schlock Mercenary.