What Is a Mercenary in Ancient Greece?

In ancient Greece, a mercenary was a hired soldier who fought for pay rather than loyalty to a particular city-state. Mercenaries were often used in times of war when the Greek city-states needed more soldiers than they could provide themselves.

Who Were the Mercenaries?

Mercenaries were typically foreigners who came from all over Greece and beyond. They could be Greeks from other city-states, or even non-Greeks such as Thracians, Persians, or even Celts. These foreign soldiers were often regarded with suspicion by the Greek citizens, who saw them as outsiders with no loyalty to their cause.

Why Were They Hired?

The Greek city-states had their own armies, but they were not always sufficient to defend their cities or fight wars against other city-states. In times of need, the Greeks would hire mercenaries to supplement their own forces. Mercenaries were also used because they were often more skilled and experienced than the average Greek soldier.

The Risks of Hiring Mercenaries

Hiring mercenaries had its risks. The foreign soldiers could turn on their employers if they felt they were not being paid enough or if they believed that their lives were at risk. This happened in several instances throughout ancient Greek history.

One famous example is the Ten Thousand who fought for Cyrus the Younger during his failed revolt against his brother Artaxerxes II of Persia in 401 BC. The Ten Thousand consisted mainly of Greek mercenaries who found themselves stranded in Persia after Cyrus was killed in battle. They had no choice but to fight their way back home through hostile territory.

The Role of Mercenaries in Greek Warfare

Mercenaries played an important role in ancient Greek warfare. They were often used as shock troops and placed at the front lines where they could inflict maximum damage on the enemy forces.

The Greeks also used mercenaries for specialized tasks such as archery or cavalry. Mercenaries were often employed by the Greeks to fight in naval battles, where their skills as rowers and sailors could prove invaluable.

The Legacy of Mercenaries in Ancient Greece

The use of mercenaries in ancient Greece had a lasting impact on warfare. It showed that soldiers could be hired and paid for their services rather than relying solely on the loyalty of citizens. It also demonstrated the importance of training and specialization in warfare, which would be further developed in later eras.

In conclusion, mercenaries played a vital role in ancient Greek warfare and were often used when the Greeks needed to supplement their own armies. Though hiring foreign soldiers had its risks, it was a necessary measure for the survival of the Greek city-states. The use of mercenaries had a lasting impact on warfare and demonstrated the importance of training and specialization in battle.