Mercenary Armies

Mercenary Armies


forces composed of professional soldiers hired by states, cities, or individual feudal lords.

There were mercenary armies (detachments) in ancient Egypt, Persia, Carthage, and especially in ancient Rome. In Rome mercenary armies developed after the Second Punic War (218–201 B.C.), when the economic ruin of the free peasantry led to the organization of a professional army to replace the former militia of a slaveholding society. In the Roman Army the mercenaries received a salary, weapons, clothing, and other necessities from the state. After serving a set term of 16 years in the army, the soldier received a plot of land as a reward.

In the period of feudalism feudal lords began enlisting mercenary detachments in their service in the 11th century. With the formation of centralized states in Western Europe in the early 14th century, kings, in order to consolidate their power, created their own army of mercenary soldiers, which gradually replaced the feudal militia. In the 14th century, large detachments of mercenary soldiers appeared alongside the feudal militia in Italy, France, Germany, and several other countries. In the late 15th and early 16th centuries mercenary armies and fleets became the main military forces in a number of countries. The mercenary armies recruited burghers and free peasants, impoverished knights, and sons of the urban aristocracy, as well as foreigners (Swiss and Scottish mercenaries and German lansquenets).

To form a mercenary army, which was composed of regiments of several thousand men and which was recruited mainly in wartime, the head of state issued a patent to the military commander to recruit a prescribed number of troops and supplied him with the necessary sum of money. The military commander offered military professionals the rank of colonel, and the colonels selected captains to form companies. The captains had lieutenants (deputies) directly in charge of recruitment. Discipline of the mercenaries was maintained by both the regular payment of a salary and the use of physical means of compulsion. From his salary a mercenary had to pay for weapons, ammunition, clothing, and food.

With the formation of feudal absolutist states in the 16th century, Western European countries (Spain, the Netherlands, France, and Prussia) replaced mercenary armies created during wartime with standing mercenary armies. Many foreigners served in the standing armies, especially in France and Prussia, although noblemen formed the bulk of the officers’ corps. Many states (for instance, France from 1688) had militia troops in addition to standing mercenary armies. The important naval powers—Spain, Britain, and the Netherlands—had permanent mercenary navies in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Uniform training based on ruthless discipline and blind obedience was introduced in the standing mercenary armies in the late 16th century. The strategy of belligerents at that time amounted to avoiding big engagements and winning the war by maneuvers on enemy communications lines. Such military operations were necessitated by the desire to preserve the expensive standing mercenary army, difficulties in supplying the troops with food, the low morale of the mercenaries, and widespread desertion. Russia and several other countries, such as Sweden, never had mercenary armies.


References in periodicals archive ?
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