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MERCENA´RII (μισθωτοί, μισθοφόροι, more commonly ξένοι or τὸ ξενικόν), mercenary troops. At an early period there was no such thing as a standing army, or mercenary force, in the Greek republics. The former would have excited jealousy, lest it should oppress the people, as; the chosen band did at Argos (Paus. 2.20.2; Thuc. 5.81); and for the latter there was rarely any occasion. The citizens of every state formed a national militia for the defence of their country, and were bound to serve for a certain period at their own expense, the higher classes usually serving in the cavalry or heavy-armed infantry, the lower classes as light-armed troops. Foreigners were rarely employed; the Carians, Cretans, and Arcadians, who served as mercenaries (Hdt. 1.171; Paus. 4.8.3; 10.1; 19.4; Wachsmuth, Hell. Alterth. vol. i. pt. i. p. 30; Schömann, Ant. jur. pub. Gr. p. 159), are an exception to the general rule. In the Persian war we find a small number of Arcadians offering to serve under Xerxes (Hdt. 8.26); and they seemed to have used themselves to such employment down to a much latter period, much as the somewhat similarly situated people of Switzerland did in the 16th century. (Xenoph. Hellen. 7.1.23; Schömann, op. cit. p. 409.) The practice of maintaining a standing force was introduced by the tyrants, who kept guards and soldiers in their pay (δορυφόροι, μισθοφόροι) to prevent insurrections of the people, and preserve their influence abroad. As it was unsafe to trust arms in the hands of their own subjects, they usually employed foreigners. (Thuc. 6.55; Diod. 11.67, 72; Ar. Pol. 3.14, 7.) It will be sufficient on this topic to refer to Jason of Pherae and his successors, and the Siceliot tyrants of Gela and Syracuse, as instances. From their history the dangers of the system as [p. 2.165]well as its use can be traced out (see Grote, Hist. of Greece, 10.613 if.; 11.286 if.; 12.540 ff.). Hence, and because citizen soldiers used to fight without pay, ξένοι came to signify mercenaries. (Harpoc. s. v. Ξενιτευομένους.) We must distinguish, however, between those who fought as auxiliaries, whether for pay or otherwise, under commission from their own country, and those who did not. The former were ἐπίκουροι, not ξένοι. (Hdt. 1.64, 3.45, 5.63; Thuc. 1.60, 115, 3.34, 4.80.) The terms ξένοι and ξενικὸν implied that the troops were independent of, or severed from, their own country.

The first Grecian people who commenced the employment of mercenaries on a large scale were the Athenians. While the tribute which they received from the allies placed a considerable revenue at their disposal, the wars which their ambition led them into compelled them to maintain a large force, naval and military, which their own population was unable to supply. Hence they swelled their armies with foreigners. Thucydides makes the Corinthian ambassador at Sparta say, ὠνητὴ Ἀθηναίων δύναυις (1.121). They perceived also the advantage of employing men of different nations in that service for which from habit they were best qualified; as, for instance, Cretan archers and slingers, Thracian peltastae. (Thuc. 6.25, 7.27; Aristoph. Ach. 159.) At the same time the practice of paying the citizens was introduced; a measure of Pericles, which was indeed both just and unavoidable (for no man was bound by law, or could be expected, to maintain himself for a long campaign); but which tended to efface the distinction between the native soldier and the foreigner. Other Greek nations soon imitated the Athenians (Thuc. 4.76), and the appetite for pay was greatly promoted by the distribution of Persian money among the belligerents. (Thuc. 8.5, 29, 45; Xenoph. Hellen. 1.5.3.) At the close of the Peloponnesian war, large numbers of men who had been accustomed to live by war were thrown out of employment; many were in exile or discontented with the state of things at home (Isocr. Archid. § 68); all such persons were eager to engage in a foreign service. Hence there arose in Greece a body of men who made arms their profession, and cared little on which side they fought, provided there were a suitable prospect of gaining distinction or emolument. Conon engaged mercenaries with Persian money. Agesilaus encouraged the practice, and the Spartans allowed the members of their confederacy to furnish money instead of men for the same purpose. (Xenoph. Hell. 3.4.15; 4.3.15; 5.2.21.) The Greeks who followed Cyrus in his expedition against Artaxerxes, were mercenaries. (Xenoph. Anab. 1.3.21.) So were the famous peltastae of Chabrias and Iphicrates. (Harpocr. s. v. Ξενικὸν ἐν Κορίνθῳ: Aristoph. Pl. 173.) The Phocians, under Philomelus, Onomarchus, and Phayllus, carried on the sacred war by the aid of mercenaries, paid out of the treasures of the Delphian temple. (Diod. 16.30, &c.) But higher pay and richer plunder were in general to be found in Asia, where the disturbed state of the empire created continued occasions for the services of Greek auxiliaries, whose superior discipline and courage were felt and acknowledged by the Barbarians. Even the Spartans sent their king Agesilaus into Egypt, for the sake of obtaining Persian gold. Afterwards we find a large body of Greeks serving under Darius against Alexander. It is proper here to notice the evil consequences that resulted from this employment of mercenaries, especially to Athens, which employed them more than any other Greek state. It might be expected that the facility of hiring trained soldiers, whose experience gave them great advantages, would lead to the disuse of military service by the citizens. Such was the case. The Athenian citizens stayed at home and became enervated and corrupted by the love of ease and pleasure; while the conduct of wars, carried on for their benefit, was entrusted to men over whom they had little control. Even the general, though commonly an Athenian, was compelled frequently to comply with the humours, or follow the example of his troops. To conciliate them, or to pay them their arrears, he might be driven to commit acts of plunder and outrage upon the friends and allies of Athens, which thus found enemies where she least expected. It was not unusual for the generals to engage in enterprises foreign to the purposes for which they were sent out, and unconnected with the interests of> their country, whose resources they wasted, while they sought their own advantage, like the condottieri of the 14th and 15th centuries. The expeditions of Chabrias and Iphicrates to Egypt are examples of this. But the most signal example is the conduct of the adventurer Charidemus. Upon all these matters we may refer the reader more particularly to Demosthenes, whose comments upon the disastrous policy pursued by his countrymen were no less just than they were wise and statesmanlike. (Demosth. Philip. i. p. 46.27; c. Aristocr. pp. 666, § § 163-166; περὶ τοῦ στεφ. τῆς τριηρ. p. 1232, &c.; Isocr. Paneg. § 195, ad Philipp. § 112; Grote, Hist. of Greece, vol. xi. pp. 390 ff.)

Among the Romans before the Empire the non-Roman part of the army was composed of auxiliary troops from states allied or subject, which cannot strictly be called mercenaries. (See however EXERCITUS Vol. I. p. 785.) To this it is true there is some exception in the employment, even in the Punic and Jugurthine wars, of mercenary light troops, as archers and slingers, from Africa, Crete, Syria, &c. (Liv. 22.37, 24.20; Appian, App. Hisp. 89, &c.) But this was very different from such a case as that of Carthage, who was conspicuously and unfortunately prominent as the example of a state depending for her protection on mercenary troops. As the Roman empire grew, the fact that legions were levied in various countries out of Italy did not make them mercenaries in the proper sense: but the system of donatives, especially to the praetorian guards, gradually gave to Roman troops the character and the danger of a mercenary force. Moreover, whereas the armies at first consisted of Roman citizens, and the conquered provinces supplied tribute for their support, when the provincials received the civitas it followed that the poor became soldiers and the rich supplied money. This tendency was strengthened by the law that those who paid the land tax should not bear arms (on which point Gibbon 3.65 seems to be in error), [p. 2.166]and accordingly under Constantine we find the army recruited by slaves and barbarians, and in great measure of a mercenary character. In the wars of Justinian we find a twofold army: (1) levied by conscription of citizens in various provinces, and of barbarians who were allowed to occupy certain lands on condition of military service; and (2) another kind, and that too the best and strongest portion, provided by princes dwelling on the borders of the empire, such as the Heruli and Gepidae, who received subsidies and provided troops under their own leaders. Instances of wholesale desertion by such alien contingents (which may remind us of the Swiss mercenaries of the age of Charles V.) occur even under so great a general as Belisarius. It would be out of place here to pursue the question into greater detail: reference may be made to Finlay, Hist. of Greece, 1.144, 204, 2.27, &c.

[C.R.K] [G.E.M]

hide References (32 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (32):
    • Aristophanes, Acharnians, 159
    • Aristophanes, Plutus, 173
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 11.67
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 11.72
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 16.30
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.171
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.64
    • Herodotus, Histories, 3.45
    • Herodotus, Histories, 5.63
    • Herodotus, Histories, 8.26
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.20.2
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 4.10.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 4.19.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 4.8.3
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.115
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.60
    • Thucydides, Histories, 3.34
    • Thucydides, Histories, 4.80
    • Thucydides, Histories, 5.81
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.25
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.55
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.27
    • Thucydides, Histories, 8.29
    • Thucydides, Histories, 8.45
    • Thucydides, Histories, 8.5
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 3.4.15
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 4.3.15
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 5.2.21
    • Appian, Wars in Spain, 14.89
    • Thucydides, Histories, 4.76
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 24, 20
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 22, 37
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