What Does Mercenary Mean in World History?

Mercenaries have been a part of world history for centuries. They have played significant roles in wars, conflicts, and other military campaigns.

But what exactly does the term “mercenary” mean? Let’s dive into the history of mercenaries and explore their importance throughout history.

The Definition of Mercenary

A mercenary is a soldier who fights for money rather than loyalty to a country or cause. They are often hired by governments or private military companies to fight in wars or conflicts. Mercenaries are not part of the regular army and are not bound by the same rules and regulations.

The History of Mercenaries

The use of mercenaries can be traced back to ancient times. In ancient Greece, mercenaries were commonly used in battles. The most famous example is the 10,000 Greek mercenaries who fought for Cyrus the Younger in his failed attempt to seize the Persian throne.

During the medieval period, mercenaries were often used as knights or archers. They were hired by lords and kings to fight in wars or protect their lands from invaders.

In the 16th century, Swiss mercenaries were highly sought after due to their skill with pikes and guns. They were hired by various European countries to fight in wars.

The use of mercenaries continued into modern times. During World War II, both sides employed foreign volunteers as soldiers. The French Foreign Legion is an example of a group that has been around since 1831 that allows foreign nationals to serve as soldiers for France.

The Pros and Cons of Using Mercenaries

There are advantages and disadvantages to using mercenaries in war.


  • Flexibility – Mercenaries are not bound by political constraints that regular armies face.
  • Experience – Many mercenary soldiers have extensive military experience.
  • Cost-Effective – It can be cheaper to hire mercenaries than to train and equip regular soldiers.


  • Lack of Loyalty – Mercenaries often only care about being paid, rather than fighting for a cause or country.
  • Unreliable – Some mercenaries may choose to switch sides if they are offered more money or face certain defeat.
  • Moral and Ethical Concerns – The use of mercenaries raises questions about the legality and morality of using soldiers who are not part of a regular army.

The Legacy of Mercenaries in World History

The legacy of mercenaries is a mixed one. While they have provided valuable services in many wars, they have also been associated with atrocities and war crimes. Additionally, the use of mercenaries has often created political instability in regions where they have been employed.

In conclusion, the history of mercenaries is a long and complex one. While they have played important roles in many conflicts throughout history, their use raises serious moral, ethical, and legal concerns. As we continue into the future, the role of mercenaries in warfare will likely continue to evolve.