Il Condottiere

Leonardo da Vinci's Il Condottiero, 1480.

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 I to the Geneva Convention of August 1949).[1][2] A non-conscript professional member of a regular army is not considered to be a mercenary although he gets monetary reward from his service.

As a result of the assumption that a mercenary is essentially motivated by money, the term "mercenary" usually carries negative connotations, though that can be a compliment in some contexts. 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 I, they are exempt under clauses 47(a)(c)(d)(e)&(f); some journalists describe them as mercenaries regardless.[3][4]

Laws of war Edit

The Protocol Additional GC 1977 (APGC77) provides the most widely accepted international definition of a mercenary, though not endorsed by some countries, including the United States. 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 states:


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, as a protected person with prisoner-of-war status until facing a competent tribunal (GC III Art 5). That tribunal, using criteria in APGC77 or some equivalent domestic law, may decide that the soldier is a mercenary. 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", being still covered by GC IV Art 5. The only possible exception to GC IV Art 5 is when he is a national of the authority imprisoning him, 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 may not qualify as 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.[5]

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.[6] 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 (PMCs) by sovereign states.[7]

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 of defining a mercenary soldier. While the United States governed Iraq, no U.S. citizen working as an armed guard could be classified as 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 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 armed guards are lawfully certified residents of Iraq, i.e., a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict (APGC77 Art 47.d), and 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 as continuing parties to the conflict might insist that U.S. armed guards cannot be called mercenaries (APGC77 Art 47.d).

See also privateer, Letter of marque, private military contractor.

National laws Edit

The laws of some countries forbid their citizens to fight in foreign wars unless they are under the control of their own national armed forces.[8]


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). This law does not prevent French citizens from serving as volunteers in foreign forces. The law applies to military activities with a specifically mercenary motive or with a mercenary level of remuneration.

South Africa

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.[9]

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom of Great Britain passed the Foreign Enlistment Act in the late eighteenth 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.

United States

The Anti-Pinkerton Act of 1893 forbade the U.S. 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: Template:Quote 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.[10] 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." Though Scott had filed the protest at the Court of Federal Claims, the court order was the result of other bidders intervening in the case. Scott did not submit a bid, however, when the bidders who did submit a bid tried to protest at GAO, their GAO bid protests were dismissed due to the fact that Scott had filed a case at the court and deprived GAO of further jurisdiction in the matter. Scott's case had been dismissed at GAO and was eventually dismissed at the court. The court order was in response to one of the legitimate contractors and Brian X. Scott had no role in obtaining that order.[11]

The contract, worth about $400 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.[11]

Gurkha and French Foreign Legion Edit


In the 150 years of its existence the French Foreign Legion has had over 600,000 men serving in its ranks.

The better-known combat units in which foreign nationals serve in another country's armed forces are the Gurkha regiments of the British and Indian armies, and the French Foreign Legion.

Foreign nationals recruited from countries of the Commonwealth of Nations in the British Army swear allegiance to the British monarch and are liable to operate in any unit. Gurkhas however operate in dedicated Gurkha units of the British Army (specifically units that are administered by the Brigade of Gurkhas; however, although they are nationals of a country that is not part of the Commonwealth, they still swear allegiance to the British monarch and abide the rules and regulations under which all British soldiers serve;[12] 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) Edit

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".[13]

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.[14]

If PMC employees participate in pro-active combat, the press calls them mercenaries, and the PMCs mercenary companies. In the 1990s, the media identified four mercenary companies:

  • Executive Outcomes – Angola, Sierra Leone, and other locations worldwide (closed 31 December 1998)
  • Sandline International – Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone (closed 16 April 2004)
  • Gurkha Security Guards, Ltd – Sierra Leone.
  • DynCorp International – Bosnia, Somalia, Angola, Haiti, Colombia, Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan (active)

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.[15] Afghan war operations also boosted the business.[16]

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.[17]

The United Nations disapproves of PMCs (still, the UN hired Executive Outcomes for African logistic support work). 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), is that PMCs may be able to help combat genocide and civilian slaughter where the UN is unwilling or unable to intervene.[18][19][20][21]

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.[22]

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. Many countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, are not signatories to the 1989 United Nations Mercenary Convention banning the use of mercenaries.[23]

History Edit

Africa Edit

Ancient Egypt Edit

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.[24]

20th century Edit

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 1980.

Notorious mercenaries include:

  • Mike Hoare was involved in the Congo Crisis in the early 1960s and a failed coup in Seychelles in 1978.
  • Bob Denard was involved in numerous African campaigns in many countries, often with the covert support of France. However, his particular specialty was intervening in the Comoros. The last time was in 1995, when he staged a coup which failed (the military of the French Government intervened to oust Denard).
  • Simon Mann was involved with Executive Outcomes ventures in Angola and Sierra Leone (see below). In 2004 he was found guilty in Zimbabwe of "attempting to buy weapons" (BBC 27 August) allegedly for a coup in Equatorial Guinea (see below).
Congo Crisis Edit

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 Simbas. 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.[25]

In 1966 and 1967 mercenaries loyal to Tshombe, who had led Katanga during the attempted secession, staged the Mercenaries' Mutinies.

Biafra Edit

Mercenaries fought for the Biafrans in the Fourth Commando Brigade during the Nigerian Civil War, (1967–1970).[26] 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.[27]

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[28] and delivered food aid. Von Rosen was assisted by ex-RCAF fighter pilot Lynn Garrison.

Angola Edit

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.[5]

Executive Outcomes employees, Captains Daniele Zanata and Raif St Clair (who was also involved in the aborted Seychelles Coup of 1981), fought on behalf of the MPLA against UNITA in the 1990s in violation of the Lusaka Protocol.Template:Citation needed

Sierra Leone Edit

American Robert C. MacKenzie was killed in the Malal Hills in February 1995, while commanding Gurkha Security Guards (GSG) in Sierra Leone. GSG pulled out soon afterwards and was replaced by Executive Outcomes. Both were employed by the Sierra Leone government as military advisers and to train the government soldiers. It has been alleged that the firms provided soldiers who took an active part in the fighting against the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

In 2000, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC-TV) international affairs program "Foreign Correspondent" broadcast a special report "Sierra Leone: Soldiers of Fortune", focussing on the exploits of South African pilot Neall Ellis and his MI-24 Hind gunship.[29] The report also investigated the failures of the UN Peacekeeping Force, and the involvement of mercenaries/private military contractors in providing vital support to UN operations and British military Special Operations in Sierra Leone in 1999–2000.

Synopsis and transcript at:

Equatorial Guinea Edit
Main article: 2004 Equatorial Guinea coup d'état attempt

A fictional portrait of mercenary operations in the 1970s is Frederick Forsyth's book, The Dogs of War, which was set on the island of Malabo – renamed "Zangaro" in the novel – and given a platinum deposit. Since the discovery of oil there in the mid-1990s, it does not need a fictional platinum deposit for it to be of interest to financiers and mercenaries. In August 2004 there was a plot, which later became known as the "Wonga Coup",[30] 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.[31][32] 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.[33]

It was planned, allegedly, 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).[34]

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.[35]

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.[36]

East Asia Edit

Warring States Edit

Mercenaries were regularly used by the kingdoms of the Warring States period. Military advisers and generals trained through the works of Mohisim and Sun Tzu would regularly offer their services to kings and dukes.

After the Qin conquest of the Warring States, the Qin and later Han Empires would also employ mercenaries – ranging from nomadic horse archers in the Northern steppes or soldiers from the Yue kingdoms of the South. The 7th century Tang Dynasty was also prominent for its use of mercenaries, when they hired Tibetan and Uighur soldiers against invasion from the Göktürks and other steppe civilizations. Template:Citation needed

15th to 18th centuries Edit

The Saika mercenary group[37] 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. Ninja were peasant farmers who learnt the art of war to combat the daimyo's samurai. They were hired out by many as mercenaries to perform capture, infiltration and retrieval, and, most famously, assassinations. Ninjas possibly originated around the 14th century, but were not widely known or used till the 15th century and carried on being hired till the mid 18th century.

20th century Edit

In the warlord period of China, many American and English mercenaries thrived such as Homer Lea, Philo Norton McGriffin,[38] Morris "Two Gun" Cohen, and Francis Arthur "One Armed" Sutton.[39]

During the early stages of the Second Sino-Japanese War, a number of foreign pilots served in the Chinese Air Force, most famously in the 14th Squadron, a light bombardment unit often called the International Squadron, which was briefly active in February and March 1938.[40]

The United States could not become overtly involved in the conflict, due to Congressional restrictions, yet felt an obligation to assist the Chinese in stopping Japanese aggression. So in 1941 the Roosevelt administration authorized the formation of three American Volunteer Groups, of which the 1st AVG was deployed to Burma and China and became famous as the Flying Tigers. The pilots earned $600–$750 basic pay per month, plus $500 for each Japanese aircraft confirmed destroyed in the air or on the ground.[41] The 2nd AVG, a bomber group, was recruited in November 1941 but aborted followed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

OH-6 Cayuse, LZ Washington

Blackwater operated helicopter with mercenaries riding inside.

Europe Edit

Classic era Edit

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.
  • 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.Template:Citation needed 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 Edit

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.Template:Citation needed

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. Catalan and German mercenaries also had prominent role in the Serbian victory over Bulgarians in the Battle of Velbuzd in 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[42] 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.[43]

See also: Bertrand du Guesclin, Scottish clan.

15th and 16th centuries Edit


Landsknechts, etching by Daniel Hopfer, c. 1530.

Pier Gerlofs Donia, a Frisian freedom fighter, lead a group of mercenaries, the Arumer Black Heap. They fought (mainly), against other mercenaries. 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 Edit

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. Between 1618 and 1640 some 40,000 Scotsmen – perhaps 15% of the total males in Scotland – crossed to Europe to fight in the Thirty Years' War.[44] 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".[45]

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.

In Italy, during inter-family conflicts such as the Wars of Castro, mercenaries were widely used to supplement the much smaller forces loyal to particular families[46]. Often these were further supplemented by troops loyal to particular duchies which had sided with one or more of the belligerents.

During the American Revolution, King George III of England, hired German mercenary soldiers from some of the German principalities to supplement his Royal Army. Although the German mercenaries came from a number of states, the majority came from the German state of Hesse-Kassel. This resulted in their American opponents referring to all of King George's German mercenaries as "Hessians", whether the Germans were actually from Hesse-Kassel or not.

The Spanish Army also made use of permanently established foreign regiments. These comprised three Irish regiments (Irlanda, Hiberni and Ultonia); one Italian (Naples) 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.

19th and 20th centuries Edit

The Atholl Highlanders, a private Scottish infantry regiment of the Duke of Atholl, was formed in 1839 purely for ceremonial purposes. It was granted official regimental status by Queen Victoria in 1845 and is the only remaining legal private army in Europe.

In popular culture Edit

Main article: Mercenaries in popular culture

Like piracy, the mercenary ethos resonates in popular films and novels with idealized notions of adventure, mystery and danger.

See also Edit

References Edit

Further reading Edit

Status in International Law

Footnotes Edit

  1. Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol 1) Article 47
  2. "mercenary" in Webster's Dictionary. "one that serves merely for wages; especially a soldier hired into foreign service."
  3. Hall, Macer. Student joins Foreign Legion for his gap year Sunday Telegraph, 19 March 2000
  4. McLynn, Frank. Killer elite New Statesman 17 January
  5. 5.0 5.1 1976: Death sentence for mercenaries BBC On this day June 28
  6. International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries A/RES/44/34 72nd plenary meeting 4 December 1989 (UN Mercenary Convention) Entry into force: 20 October 2001
  7. Milliard References Page 5. Paragraph 1
  8. Independent Online. "South Africa". Retrieved 2010-05-26.
  9. Reuters South Africa to review mercenary law, targets Iraq February 2005
  10. Brian X. Scott B-298370; B-298490, August 18, 2006,
  11. 11.0 11.1 Alec Klein and Steve Fainaru. Judge Halts Award Of Iraq Contract Washington Post, 2 June 2007; Page D01
  12. Gurkha terms and conditions of serviceTemplate:Dead link
  13. What is a Private Military Company or PMC? Web article cites Ortiz, Carlos. Regulating Private Military Companies: States and the Expanding Business of Commercial Security Provision, in L. Assassi, D. Wigan and K. van der Pijl (eds). Global Regulation. Managing Crises After the Imperial Turn. Houndmills / New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, p. 206.
  14. Jonathan Finer Security Contractors in Iraq Under Scrutiny after Shootings Washington Post September 10, 2005.(a backup site)
  15. Spencer E. Ante and Stan Crock. The Other U.S. Military: The private contractor biz is hot, vast, and largely unregulated. Is it out of control?, Business Week, May 31, 2004
  16. Jonathan Finer. Security Contractors in Iraq Under Scrutiny after Shootings. Washington Post. September 10, 2005.
  17. Private Security Transnational Enterprises in Colombia José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers' Collective February, 2008.
  18. Privatising Protection by David Shearer in The World Today (RIIA) Published by Chatam House
  19. Peacekeepers, Inc. by P.W. Singer in the Policy Review Published by the Hoover Institution
  20. Peacekeepers, Inc. by P.W. Singer in the Policy Review June 2003 this copy available at the The Brookings Institution
  21. Dogs of Peace by Eric Pape and Michael Meyer in Newsweek International
  22. Dogs of war into doves of peace BBC 11 November 2002
  23. Higgins Alexander G.US rejects UN mercenary report USA Today, October 17, 2007 (syndicated article by Associated Press)
  24. Healy, Mark; New Kingdom Egypt
  25. "Changing Guard". Time Magazine. 19 December 1965. Accessed 2007-06-06.
  26. The Mercenaries in Time Magazine October 25, 1968
  27. Tom Cooper Civil War in Nigeria (Biafra), 1967–1970 November 13, 2003. Second paragraph.
  28. Gary Brecher. Biafra: Killer Cessnas and Crazy Swedes 15 October 2004.
  29. "Gunship for Hire". September 28, 2000
  30. Adam Roberts The Wonga Coup, Profile Books Ltd, ISBN 1861979347.
  31. How oil brought the dogs of war back to Malabo The Independent September 2, 2004
  32. Allan Laing "'Scratcher' and the battle for Guinea" Glasgow Herald 26 August 2004
  33. CNN MALABO, Equatorial Guinea (Reuters) Nick du Toit said he was introduced to Thatcher in South Africa last year by Simon Mann, 25 August 2004:
  34. BBC Mann guilty of purchasing weapons 27 August 2004
  35. BBC Q&A: Equatorial Guinea coup plot 13 January 2005
  36. BBC Zimbabwe jails UK 'coup plotter' 10 September 2004
  37. 雑賀衆, saikashuu
  38. Davis, Richard Harding Real Soldiers of Fortune (1906)
  39. Drage, Charles General of Fortune (1954)
  40. Ray Wagner, Prelude to Pearl Harbor: The Air War in China, 1937–1941, San Diego Aerospace Museum 1991, p.28
  41. Daniel Ford, Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and His American Volunteers, 1941–1942, HarperCollins 2007, pp.44–45
  42. Project Gutenberg e-text of The White Company by Arthur Conan Doyle
  43. "Owain Lawgoch (English:Owain of the Red Hand, French:Yvain de Galles)". Retrieved 2010-05-26
  44. "Europe in crisis, 1598–1648". Geoffrey Parker (2001). p.17. ISBN 0631220283
  45. Patrick Sarsfield Wild Geese Heritage Museum and Library
  46. A Companion to Vergil's Aeneid and Its Tradition by Joseph Farrell & Michael C. J. Putnam, 2010
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