Greek Mercenaries in Antiquity

One from the FYROM argument as about the Greekness or not of the ancient Macedonians is the claim that the Greeks that fought Great Alexander’s army are most from that was allied. Is that true and if no why. I am tried to explain what a Greek mercenary was in the Greek classical epoch. A mercenary in Antiquity had different meaning from the today mercenary.
The mercenaries explored herein were military men. The majority of Greek mercenaries were probably the very citizens who formed the cores of poleis armies. The mercenary reflected Greek society because of the integral relationship between war, socio-economic organization and politics.

The mercenary, however, challenged the community values of ancient Greek society because a mercenary was not a member of the community for which he fought and had no stake in that society, being neither citizen nor landholder. The importance of mercenaries in transforming the nature of Greek society cannot be belittled. In the hoplite community war was highly political.

Mercenary service cut the links between citizen and community service, between a son and his household, between an independent farmer and his land, between the ideal amateur and the professional specialist. Mercenaries cut the link between war and the political life of the community and thus the independence of the citizen who abrogated his responsibilities in needing a specialist to defend his home and his state.
Economically, mercenaries were of major significance to Greek history.

When the first Greek mercenaries appeared in the Aegean cannot be known. It must have been very early in Greek history because of the endemic nature of war in ancient society.

From late in the 8th until the 6th century BC several of the Greek poleis of the Peloponnesus and Sicily, and Athens from the middle of the 6th century, came under the rule of tyrants. These ‘extra-constitutional strong men’ ruled communities of citizen-farmers. The tyrants were the first Greek employers of mercenaries. They used hired men to gain power, as bodyguards and as instruments to maintain their regimes. Diodorus Sikeliotis in his histories give the impression of large numbers of wandering foreigners, sometimes styled as misthophoroi, sometimes as xenoi, roaming Sicily in search of settlement, employment and plunder. Many may not even have been Greek.

In the early 4th century the authority of the Persian Empire began to disintegrate in its western satrapies. This was prefaced by the failed coup of Cyrus the Younger. He was the brother of the Great King, Artaxerxes II, and in 401 BC he led an expedition into the heart of the Persian Empire to overthrow his brother. His army included over 10,000 Greek mercenary hoplites, most of whom were Peloponnesians. While Cyrus and the Greeks won the ensuing battle, fought at Cunaxa near Babylon, Cyrus himself was killed. This left the Greeks a great distance from home with neither an employer nor a purpose. Xenophon the Athenian recorded the story of their successful march from Cunaxa back to the Greek world in his Anabasis.

Philip and Alexander both employed mercenary forces. Given the greater wealth that Macedonia could call upon after its gaining control of the gold and silver mines in the area of Mount Pangaeum and the lower Strymon, Philip had the resources to employ them on a much larger scale than other powers. Some of the sources give the impression that Philip used them frequently, but his operations are so ill-documented that it is hard to assess their importance. Apparently he increased their numbers after the mid-340s when he began to have access to Greek sources.

They were used for three types of duty. Firstly, they manned expeditions designed for limited and definite objectives such as the Euboean expedition of 342/341 or in the formation of a bridgehead in northwestern Asia Minor against the Persians in 336; they usually served in detachments of 2000 to 3000, though on one occasion a force of 10000 is mentioned. Secondly, mercenaries were used as permanent garrisons at important points, as at Thermopylae. Thirdly, they were hired for special skills such as the Cretans who were hired for their expertise in archery. Their role was to be more important under Alexander. In the initial invasion of Persia approximately five thousand mercenary infantry were employed.

Philip II came to the throne of the growing power of Macedon in 359 BC. Philip was the only victor of the Third Sacred War against Phocis, despite the coalition of states, including Thebes, that formed the alliance to defend the shrine of Delphi. Philip’s victory in the Third Sacred War facilitated his entry into the affairs of central Greece. The rise of Macedon provided another region of employment for Greeks abroad. Philip had ample resources to pay soldiers who were Macedonians and to buy the aid of foreigners. Philip’s army was the tool with which his son Alexander conquered Persia. Macedon was not the first among Greek mainland states to have a standing and professional army. Argos maintained a chosen group of soldiers called the logades in the 5th century (Thuc. 5.67.2). The Arcadians had established a core of trained and maintained troops, called the eparitoi, at the inception of the Arcadian confederacy in 369 BC, and Elis had also employed such specialists (Xen. Hell. 7.4.13, 4.34). Thebes had a similar group of men in their 300-strong Sacred Band. Even Athens maintained a picked body of chosen men, the epilektoi (Plut. Phoc. 13.2-3; Aisch. 2.169), and invested its resources in the ephêbeia, a group of trained young adult aristocratic but citizen soldiers. All these might loosely be termed professional military organizations in the fourth century BC. However, Philip’s army became both professional and national. It was these professionals who decisively defeated the amateur citizen-hoplites of Athens and Thebes at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC. This victory allowed Philip to dominate the Greek cities of the mainland. The professional soldier had progressively become more common on mainland Greece in the fourth century and, eventually, although citizen militias still appear in Polybius’ histories of the third century BC, he supplanted the amateur farmer-hoplite on the stage of Hellenistic warfare.
Philip’s son and successor Alexander III , conquered the Persian Empire in less than a decade. He used many Greek mercenaries in the process, and his adversary, the Great King Darius III, employed as many as 50,000 such men to oppose him. Alexander’s army was, essentially, professional. It left the Aegean basin in 334 BC, and ten years later very few of those men returned to their homes. When Alexander died in 323 BC, the Greek world had changed forever, and the Hellenistic period (323-30 BC) had replaced the Classical period just as a Greco-Macedonian empire had replaced the Persian.

Antiquity played a role in bringing to the modern world the image of the foreigner fighting for pay in a foreign land. The ambiguity of the figure of the mercenary is evident in ancient Greek ideology. The absence of a specific word denoting the mercenary illustrates ambivalence and ambiguity. The terms that were most commonly employed for such men were interchangeable with things that had nothing to do with military service; for example misthophoros might just as easily refer to a juryman as to a mercenary, epikouros to a guardian, and xenos simply to a foreigner.

This article  has concentrated on the Greek mercenary soldier in the Classical ages. Mercenaries became prolific in this period in several avenues of warfare. Firstly, naval warfare provided livelihoods for thousands of poor men in the fleets of Athens, Persia and Sparta. Naval warfare helped to influence land wars by monetization and sustained military campaigning. Constant warfare and growing instability in the whole Mediterranean region provided the context for this demand. Tyrants emerged at this time in the Greek cities of Sicily, and Persian satraps grew increasingly independent over regions of an unstable Persian Empire. These rulers willingly employed men from outside the states they ruled, to support their regimes and to wage aggressive wars. Mercenaries were a central feature of politics and warfare in the fourth century. Perhaps the most basic function of military strength, especially from the 5th century on, was the maintenance of a state’s political position or its very survival. In the Classical world, Greek mercenaries illustrate a wide range of social and economic relationships. Finally, what follows demonstrates that mercenary service interacted with Greek society in many ways and on many levels.

The mercenary, as the concept is understood today, was not familiar to the Greeks, and service for a foreign power in an imperialist endeavour was not perceived prima facie as bad or immoral. The mercenary was an ambiguous figure in Greek antiquity. Only when mercenary service transgressed specific boundaries that were seen as cultural or political taboos, like professionalism whereby a man became a specialist soldier and so became dependent on an employer or served against his own polis, was it frowned upon. The study of the Greek mercenary illuminates many aspects of society both in the Greek cities from which mercenaries came and in the tyrannies, kingdoms and empires that they served.

Michael Sage, Warfare in Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece History, Cambridge University Press, Greek Edition
Ancient Greece History, Oxford University Press
Osprey, Greek Hoplite, 480-323 B.C.
Trundle, Greek Mercenaries
Diodoros Sikeliotis, Historiai
Xenofon, Ellinika
Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War
9.      Plutarch, Alexander

 By Akritas