Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Mercenaries in Ancient Greece

Mercenaries are men who fight for a country other than their own in return for payment. They are usually hired for a particular job or for a specified period of time.

In ancient Greece most states fielded armies made up of their own citizens. However, mercenaries would be hired if they offered specialist skills that could not be found elsewhere.

The Thracians from lands to the north of Greece produced troops who fought as peltasts (see page 84). Thracians were hired by many Greek states and sometimes even fought on both sides of a war at once.

The men of Crete were famous as archers. Cretans were hired as mercenary archers by many states, but only if the Cretan government gave permission first.

The island of Rhodes produced men who practised with the sling every day. These men worked as mercenaries throughout the Greek world and charged high prices for their services.

Mercenaries were famous for the greed and violence with which they looted enemy territory. Some commanders actually promised mercenaries that they would be allowed to loot the enemy.

In 402bc Prince Cyrus the Younger began a civil war against his brother Artaxerxes, Emperor of Persia. He hired 10,000 Greek hoplite mercenaries to face the light Persian infantry.

After Cyrus was killed at the Battle of Cunaxa, the 10,000 Greek mercenaries had to fight their way through 1,000 km of Persian territory to get home. The march took 215 days.

At the Battle of Granicus in 334bc about 10,000 Greek mercenaries fought on the Persian side against Alexander the Great (see page 36). Alexander saw this as treachery and had the mercenaries killed.

King Cleomenes III of Sparta hired a large force of mercenaries to fight against Achaea in 222bc. When Cleomenes failed to pay their wages on time, the mercenaries left. Sparta lost the following battle at Sellasia.

From the book

1000 Facts on Ancient Greece by Rupert Matthews

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