Mercenaries and Sellswords

As long as there have been armies, there have been mercenaries. It was and still is a common occurrence when the armies of a state are the citizens levied to fight for their land. There are those who fight because they are told to, or do so out of patriotism, or because not to would lead to a worse situation than the current one. Most armies were composed of the first group- those who fought because they were told to. Each citizen had to be trained, equipped, and drilled to work with his fellow citizens. In the olden days, citizens were required to equip themselves. Only those with land could afford the investment into weapons and armor as the state did not supply these items, and when it came to trading blows, most armies were little more than simple mobs under a noble or royal commander. The Romans, of course, were a different story after the Marian Reforms, but they were the noteworthy exception.

Professional soldiers were different. They fought for a living. They provided their own weapons and kit, and most were blooded veterans who had seen combat and thrived in it. Veterans were highly prized in ancient armies- combat was up close and personal, and terrifying in the extreme. Seneca once wrote that constant exposure to dangers breeds contempt for them. Veterans have been exposed to such mortal danger. They have fought and survived. They were no cowards, or those with false bravado. Those men died, or fled, or returned to their farms. Veterans remained, and knew their courage was true. Such men gave those around them the courage to stand fast in the path of charging enemies, and to fight with skill. They often made the difference between victory and defeat.

Mercenaries were such veterans. They fought for gold, true, but also because they knew or had little else. They were placed on the flanks- the most dangerous positions- because the commanders knew they would not run. And many would die, saving the commander their pay as dead man received no pay or benefits. They were also professionals who fleshed out the thinning ranks of the citizen soldiers with a tough core, and as long as they were well-treated, most fought honorably for their employers. Sometimes they were specialists in a certain type of battle, other times used as a stiffening force for raw recruits, other times they were auxiliary forces that provided services the main army could not.

Citizens fought and died- and often lost the very lands for which they were fighting if they died. Defeat was worse- If they were defeated, their lands were subject to confiscation by the victors. They themselves could be enslaved. But there was a way to escape that horrid fate. Many such remnants of defeated armies became mercenaries.

Mercenaries have a long history of existence, though throughout most of that history they were looked down upon by kings and princes alike. Many heads of states frowned upon mercenaries as men who fought simply for gold, and thus were not to be as trusted as men who fought for their farms. Machiavelli wrote much of the dangers of letting mercenaries grow too strong in ones forces, and accuses them of being cowards motivated solely by coin- which may or may not have been true in his day, but was definitely in the head of most kings who hired them. Still, they were hired. Mercenaries were to be used and discarded, or killed.

This stigma was not always unearned. There are several notable examples in history where mercenaries did as little as required, or blatantly turned their coats to join the opposing force. There are also many instances where a city turned on its own mercenaries by refusing payment, or playing the Company Store trick to indebt the mercenaries to them, or simply betrayed them. Carthage fought a war against their own mercenaries after trying to cheat them. They almost lost, had lost, when the mercenaries expanded the conflict to include claims for the local troops and ended up inciting a revolt among the Libyan villages. Carthage called upon Hamilcar Barca, who brutally ended the uprising. Those are the exceptions. In most other cases where mercenaries were hired, they performed well and were paid as agreed. The fact that so many existed yet we know of so few incidents leads one to conclude that most mercenaries were indeed professional warriors and their employers honorable in paying for the services rendered.

Cyrus the Younger hired Xenophon and ten thousand others to make himself king. They won the Battle of Cunaxa which would have made Cyrus king, had he not been killed in the battle. Gallic warriors often served as the staple mercenary for many ancient armies- from Bythinia in the East to Carthage in the south to the cavalry of Rome- though the latter were often employed as regular soldiers and were granted citizenship after serving twenty-five years under the Eagles. The Varangian Guard of the Byzantine Emperors were originally composed of Scandinavian mercenaries, one of which was later known as Harald Hardråde- the King of Norway who died at Stamford Bridge trying to become King of England as well. All of these are examples of mercenaries fighting honorably under the terms of service.

Mercenaries hit their high point during the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries. They were found in virtually every European army. Irish mercenaries- the Wild Geese- were famous in French and Spanish armies for their willingness and ability to fight. Some even became officers and commanders in those armies, and settled in their employer's domains upon retirement.. The French commander at Sedan during the Franco-Prussian war-MacMahon- was a descendant of such. Some mercenaries even had bitter rivalries among themselves- notably the Swiss pikemen versus the German Landsknechte. They were in widespread use, and many organized under guilds or unions. Sometimes, as at the Battle of Bailen in 1808, mercenaries of the same guild ended up fighting one another, as the Red Swiss of the French Army traded shots with the Blue Swiss of the Spanish Army.

Since then the use of mercenaries has tapered gradually off as military-grade weaponry became easier to use and cheaper to produce, and the standing armies of nations becoming more and more professional in their own right. But mercenaries have yet to completely die out. They still exist today. The most famous mercenaries in the world today are the Swiss Guard, pikemen hired to serve as the Pope's bodyguard, and the only armed men allowed inside the Vatican. Others, like those hired by the late Muammar Khaddafi in his attempt to remain in power, are not as respectable.

Our virtual world reflects these professional warriors by allowing the recruiting of mercenaries into one's army. Any Family Member outside a city may check the local area for mercenaries looking to be hired . Simply select the Family member, click on the Mercenary Button (under the Build Fort/Watchtower button) and see which sell-swords are for hire in that province. They will be displayed on a bar with quantity of units and chevrons, if any. Simply left click on those you wish to hire then OK. Simple!

Mercenaries vary in frequency and also by region. Some, like the Barbarian Mercenaries, are available over all of Western and Eastern Europe- and parts of Anatolia. Others, like the elusive and powerful Mercenary War Elephants, are limited to a single province or two and show up once in a blue moon. The others fall in between.

There are two caveats concerning sell-swords of which you should be aware. The first concerns replacing losses. Mercenaries cannot be reconstituted by retraining. They may gain improved benefits through retraining at armories and foundries, or gain bonuses from temples and the like, but the only way to rebuild their strength is to merge with another mercenary unit of the same type, an action which may cost the elite unit some of its hard-earned chevrons.

The second, obviously, is price. Mercenaries will, on average, cost much more than comparable faction units to recruit. Barbarian Mercenaries cost almost double the rate of the Dacian, Gallic, or Briton warband- eight hundred denarii versus four hundred twenty. But in return, the Barbarian mercenaries are available now, whereas the player must wait at least one turn to recruit his own warband. One general with a sack of gold and a rich recruitment pool can build an army within a season- versus the penny-pincher who will build slowly and cheaply, yet may lose his province because he does not have his forces available on time.

You can view the details of Rome:Total War's mercenaries on this page.