GREEK MERCENARIES: Aspects of Greek Mercenary Warfare from the Earliest Times, and Case Studies on the Impact of Mercenaries on Warfare in the Fourth Century

Posted on August 16, 2012



The subject of Greek warfare has enjoyed a considerable amount of scholarly attention over the past century, and more. From the traditional mode of citizen-hoplite pitched battles, to the huge armies of the Successors, there is no period that has not undergone extensive research. However, the role played by Greek mercenaries in this tradition has been limited to one book and a handful of articles since 1933. As with any boy growing up, I was fascinated with war and particularly interested in the role played by men willing to risk their life for money. I continued this fascination in college, and beginning with an interest in the role Swiss mercenaries played in the Holy Roman Empire, I was surprised to find that the only other period in history that spawned a comparable mercenary explosion was in Ancient Greece two thousand years earlier, and the issue had not received the attention I felt it deserved. This thesis will be broken into four distinct chapters, in which I will examine a number of aspects of Greek mercenary warfare from the earliest times, but with a strong emphasis on the fourth century. Some of these topics have already been examined, to which I will bring fresh attention, others have not yet been examined in respect to mercenaries and still others are new observations.

The opening chapter will examine the first instances we have extant in the sources referring to mercenaries in the Greek world. There seems to be a great deal of ambiguity in the sources regarding what exactly a mercenary soldier was. Most of the earlier terms used had connotations of ally, rather than the manner in which we would understand a mercenary soldier. I will closely examine the use of the word σύμμαχος in a fragment by Alcaeus, a passage Trundle mentions, but does not closely examine. Σύμμαχος poses a problem, as it is not listed in either the English-Greek or Greek-English lexicons to denote mercenaries, but it was undoubtedly used as such, in at least this passage. I will then go on to examine the more common and longer-lasting terms for mercenary. Trundle suggests that these words were used in a euphemistic manner1, a hypothesis I am reluctant to disagree with. However, he does not offer a hypothesis on the etymology of any of these words, a factor I will address. Due to the nature of the study in this chapter, it is necessary to include the original Greek text and for accuracy, as well as aestheticism, I will continue this practice throughout this thesis.

The second chapter will deal with the supply and demand basis of Greek mercenaries. Many factors need to be examined to account for the phenomenon now known as the ‘fourth century mercenary explosion’, but the most important of these are military, political and economic considerations. The military innovations of the Greeks led to the demand for them as mercenary troops, whilst the adverse economic and political conditions account for the supply. Each of these factors will be examined in turn. A particular focus of this chapter will be on the relationship between the citizen-soldier and the mercenary trooper. There seems to have been very little perceived difference between a Greek soldier fighting for his home πόλις and a foreign soldier fighting for fiscal remuneration. Due to the economic difficulties facing the majority of Greece in the century following the Peloponnesian war, there appears to be not only a surge in mercenaries fighting for personal reasons, but also an increase in occurrences whereby a city was forced to hire out a body of citizen-soldiers to a foreign power for the economic benefit of the entire community. This had a two-fold benefit on the city- not only was there money returning to the city by this service, but also the food supply, always an important issue in Greece, had to feed so many less mouths. In a time of huge inflation, this surely proved a great relief to the home city.

In the third chapter the provenance and prevalence of the mercenaries, created by the adverse conditions discussed in the second chapter, will be examined. As these conditions affected parts of Greece in different ways at different times, the availability of mercenaries seems to follow this pattern. I will also further examine the relationship between the citizen-soldier and the mercenary. The second part of this chapter will deal with the contemporary perceptions of mercenaries in ancient Greece. There is a lot of extant literature concerning mercenaries, and as to be expected, views vary widely, from the ‘scourge’ that Isocrates mentions2, to the more positive approach by Xenophon. However, one thing is constant- there is no mention in the sources that the notion of being paid to kill and plunder was unethical. Considerations of this nature would not have occurred to an ancient Greek, as warfare was seen as a legitimate economic necessity. Even Isocrates, who wrote the most vehement opposition to mercenaries, only criticises them for the potential instability they pose to Greece, not the fact they were making profit on the back of war. This attitude reveals a lot to us and helps in our understanding in why there was little perceived difference mercenaries and other troop types.

The final chapter will see a departure from the broad generalities of the previous chapters, to be concerned with more specific case studies of mercenary implementation of the fourth century. Through these studies, the broad factors that were previously discussed will gain a more solid basis. Although the most significant mercenary campaign of the fourth century was that of Cyrus, as related by Xenophon, this will have already made up a large part of the examples in the previous chapters. To avoid repetition, I will begin by examining the mercenary peltast force commanded by Iphicrates. This young commander showed the potential for a light-armed mercenary force under the right circumstances. Taking advantage of the lighter-armed troops under his command, Iphicrates destroyed a Spartan mora, using hit-and-run tactics. This exposed the weaknesses of the traditional hoplite if not adequately supported by skirmish troops. Next I will examine the Third Sacred War, where Phocis, a small, poor city-state managed to maintain a mercenary force in the field for nine years. By seizing the treasury at Delphi, the Phocians managed to avoid capitulation against Thebes and Macedon. It showed the potential of a small, well armed professional force in the face of more established enemies, a lesson Philip, and undoubtedly Alexander learned from. The invasion of Persia by Philip and Alexander will form the third case study. However, as there were a huge amount of mercenary troops fighting on both sides, I will divide the study in two. Initially looking at the ineffective manner in which the Persians utilized Memnon and his troops at the Granicus, and secondly examining the importance of mercenaries in the army of Alexander. As the campaign progressed and reinforcements from Macedon were harder to obtain, Alexander increasingly relied on his mercenary troops. Not only were these used as garrison troops, but they also had an important part to play at Gaugamela and subsequent battles. Tarn criticised Parke for largely passing over the mercenary flank guards at Gaugamela3, the importance of which will be discussed here in detail. Finally, I will have a brief look at the attitude towards mercenaries in the early years of the Successor kingdoms.

Chapter 1



This chapter will examine the language used in the sources to describe Greek mercenaries. The terminology is often ambiguous, as many of the words to denote mercenaries had variable meanings depending on many factors, including context, the period it was used and author. As such, we must define from the outset exactly what the term ‘Greek mercenary’ meant from the earliest times to the fourth century, and ensure that our modern preconceptions do not influence our view on this ancient phenomenon. There is also the problem of trying to categorize between a citizen soldier and a mercenary. This is a surprisingly difficult boundary and addressing this problem will be a common theme throughout these first three chapters.

This chapter is sub- divided into headings based on a chronological study of the most commonly used words and their first appearance in the sources. It is essential to retain the Greek in the body of the text to ensure accuracy, a practice I will retain for most of this work. I will also, where possible, give a hypothesis to the etymology of the words.

1. Difficulties in the sources

In the Oxford English Dictionary, the modern word for ‘mercenary’ is clearly defined as one who is, ‘working merely for money or other material reward; actuated or characterised by self-interest’.4 The word ‘hireling’ has a similar meaning in English, although with slightly more ‘contemptuous’ connotations.5 In ancient Greek there is no such convenient terminology. The reason for this is relatively simple. The change brought about on Greek society, through the emergence of mercenaries, was a very gradual process, so the terminology took time to evolve naturally. As well as this, the original mercenaries, as we would define the term, were largely viewed as something akin to allies in the sources. As such, different terms that emerged to denote the Greek mercenary. Trundle notes that,

‘The Greek words most commonly used for mercenaries carried alternative meanings in different contexts and appear to have changed over time’.6

To confound the problem, there is often little, or no, distinction between citizen-soldiers and those troops serving for pay. The reason for this stems from the fact that most ancient Greek troop types were categorised by the arms they wore, or their function on the battlefield. For example, the best- known Greek troop type, the heavily armed Hoplites (όπλιται), took their name from the large, heavy shield (τό όπλον) they would interlink for protection. These terms were extremely specific to the type of armaments carried by the soldier and there are over twenty Greek words with a prefix directly associated to όπλον alone. However, none of these words specifically refer to a mercenary bearing hoplite armament. For this reason our sources rarely offer a distinction between a hoplite serving his home πολίς and one doing so solely for fiscal remuneration. With the benefit of hindsight we can more easily make a distinction and apply modern terms to categorise each type, but to an ancient author, the increasing use of mercenaries would not have been so obvious.

2. ‘Allies’ or ‘Mercenaries’?

a. επίκουρος καί Ψαμμήτιχος
The earliest Greek words found to denote mercenaries, in the ancient sources, have connotations of ‘ally’- επίκουρος and σύμμαχος. The former, επίκουρος, literally means ‘fighter alongside’.7 Trundle tells us that the first usage of this word is in Homer, where the Lycian allies are referred to as επίκουροι, but at this early stage the word refers to valued allies rather than hired swords.8 There is little argument that the first extant source we have that used επίκουρος, to refer to mercenary troops, is by Archilochus of Paros. In a fragment, dating to the mid-seventh century BC, he wrote,

και δη ‘πίκουρος ώστε Καρ κεκλήσομαι

And I shall be called a Soldier of Fortune, like a Carian.9

There is very little doubt that επίκουρος here refers to a mercenary soldier, as the first known usage of mercenaries in the Mediterranean world was in 664/3 BC when Psammethicus I hired Ionian and Carian pirates to help him regain the throne of Egypt.10 In payment for their services, Psammethicus gave these χαλκέων ανδρων lands in the Nile delta to settle. 11 Although not mentioned by Trundle, this form of payment is not surprising, as this was a great period of Greek colonization and coinage had not yet penetrated the Mediterranean world. Garlan tells us that from the Greek settlement that sprung up on this land, the Saite dynasty obtained a constant supply of Greek mercenaries that continued to be the basis of their military power.12 As these Ionian and Carian soldiers had no vested interest in the land they were fighting for, there can be very little doubt that they were mercenary troops. Indeed, the very name they gave to the settlement that grew up on the land given to them by Psammethicus, Στρατόπεδα,13 has very obvious military connections, indicating its continued use as a military centre.

Herodotus, writing in the middle of the fifth century, still used the word interchangeably to denote both allies (Bk.III 45.14) and mercenaries (Bk.II 168.12). At this point, the notion of fighting solely for self-interest still appears to be a new, and perhaps unexpected phenomenon that is not differentiated from troops fighting in respect to an alliance. By the end of the century, Thucydides, writing on the Peloponnesian War, still used the word επίκουρος. As with Herodotus, he uses the word to denote both allies and mercenaries, and Lavelle tells us that on many occasions a passage ‘will admit of either sense’.14 It is probably due to this ambiguity that the word falls out of use by the fourth century and Trundle tells us that its absence is most conspicuous in Xenophon’s Anabasis, a work almost exclusively related to mercenary soldiers.15 Indeed, the word reverts to its more archaic meanings and we find Xenophon’s contemporary, Plato, using επίκουρος to denote the caste of people who fall into the second tier of his idealized society in the Republic.16 Plato almost certainly did not envisage this caste as mercenaries, as they were to have a vested interest in the society in which they lived. In my opinion, Shorey correctly translates them as ‘helpers’.17 By the Roman period, επίκουρος has disappeared in the sources in the context of mercenaries.

b. σύμμαχος καί Άλκαιος
As mentioned, επίκουρος was not the only word for mercenary that had connotations to ally. σύμμαχος is not as common a term as επίκουρος in the primary sources, and although it is not mentioned in any of the secondary works on this topic, it does appear in the seventh century. Despite being defined as ‘fighting along with’ or ‘allied with’ in the dictionary18 and not to be found under ‘mercenary’ in the English-Greek Lexicon19, nevertheless σύμμαχος does appear on at least one occasion in the seventh century to denote a mercenary soldier. In a period when primary literature is in such short supply, and the most commonly found Greek word for mercenary, μισθοφόρος, does not yet appear, I believe it folly to ignore the word altogether. The incident comes from Strabo, a Greek writer, writing at the end of the Roman Republic, who recorded an incident relating to Antimenidas, brother of the widely- regarded seventh century poet, Alcaeus of Lesbos,

άνδρας δ’ έσχεν η Μιτυλήνη ενδόξους …τόν ποιητήν ̉̀Άλκαιον καί τόν αδελφόν ̉Άντιμενίδαν, όν φησιν ̉Αλκαιος βαβυλωνίοις συμμαχουντα…

Mitylene has had many famous citizens… the poet Alcaeus and his brother Antimenidas, whom Alcaeus tells us that while fighting for the Babylonians…20

For me, the most significant element about this extract is the fact that although Alcaeus is recognised, it is his brother’s deed that is recorded. And although the verb used is a derivative of συμμάχομαι, ‘to fight along with’ or ‘to be allied with’, there is little doubt that a Greek from Lesbos would be serving in a Persian army for anything but his own fiscal interests; hence on mercenary service.

Alcaeus himself recorded the incident in an extant fragment and from this we get an idea of the material rewards for the service,

Ήλθες εκ περάτων γας ελεφαντίναν
λάβαν τω ξίφεος χρυσοδέταν έχων,
φίλ Άντιμμενίδα,τωι ποτά χράμενος
τοισι τετραμαρήων κατά τέγματα
πλίνθων ναιετάοισιν βαβυλωνίοις
συμμάχεις ετέλεσσας μέγαν αύεθλον
κακ πόλλαν ονίαν ασφε Fερύσσαο…

You have come from the ends of the earth, dear Antimenidas,
with an ivory- bound hilt to your sword, enriched with gold,
with which, fighting for the Babylonians,
who dwell in houses of bricks four hands long,
you performed a mighty deed
and saved them all from grievous trouble…21

It is hard not to note the description of the extravagant weapon in the opening lines of this passage. As mentioned already, coinage had not yet been introduced into the Greek world, so an easily transportable, valuable item, such as a sword appears to be ideal payment for mercenary service. Unlike most other Archaic Greek poetry, we can date this incident with a certain degree of accuracy. Quinn tells us that from Babylonian sources, Antimenidas was very likely to have been in the employ of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon during the razing of Philistine Ascalon, in 604 BC,22 the earliest extant date we have for Greek mercenary service in Persia.

Again it is worth noting that the word employed by Alcaeus is a derivative of συμμάχομαι. Although Strabo was likely following his source, Alcaeus, when using συμμαχουντα, it is quite evident, from these examples, that the use of ally-related words indicates that there was little perceived difference between allies and mercenaries down to at least the beginning of the sixth century. Trundle tells us that these words were used euphemistically, and I tend to agree.23

3. Strangers on the water

Another word that tended to be used as a euphemism for mercenaries is the very common Greek word, ξένος. I agree with Trundle’s argument that ξένος plays on the idea of a mercenary having a special relationship to his employer, in a similar manner between that of a ritual guest-friend and his benefactor.24 Having a large range of meanings, including ‘guest-friend’ and ‘foreigner’, by the fifth century ξένος was used to denote anything foreign, including mercenaries. Trundle notes that Xenophon almost exclusively refers to the Greek troops serving under him as ξένοι,25 but the etymology of the word, in a mercenary sense, probably originates in Athens. The reason behind this lies in the predominance of her navy and the logistical problems of maintaining a ship in the water. It is possible that the term may have initially been borrowed from Homer, where we find Telemachus and his sailing companions being referred to as ξένοι by Nestor of Gerenia.

ω ξεινοι, τίνες εστέ; πόθεν πλειθ’ υγρά κεκλευθα;

Strangers, who are you? Whence do you sail over the watery ways? 26

It may be from this early example that the word was first borrowed to denote foreigners in a nautical sense and later adapted into the language to refer to the mercenaries serving aboard the fleet of fifth- century Athens.

For most of the fifth century, Athens had a huge fleet of Triremes, which were manned by free men, who were paid a wage, μισθός, of about 4 obols per day for their service.27 Needing about two hundred men per ship, the Athenian navy required a huge number of ναύται for her fleet. At Salamis (480 BC), for example, Athens commanded 180 ships, corresponding to about 36,000 men.28 As a result of these huge demands, we know not all of the crewmen could have been Athenian born, particularly when she could call upon the manpower of her Empire, making naval warfare the first large-scale employer of mercenary service within Greece. We get an indication of this in Isocrates,

‘Formerly when they equipped triremes, they put foreigners and slaves on board as sailors …’29

This passage is largely rhetoric, as we know that it was the lower class of free citizens who rowed in these ships, slaves were very rarely used and then only ever used under extreme duress.30 However, the ‘foreigners’ mentioned is the most obvious etymology for the word ξένοι to mean mercenary, which was later expanded to include any troop type fighting for payment. As with previous examples, a strict term did not develop to differentiate between crewmen serving as mercenaries and those serving as a citizen-sailor, but the matter is largely inconsequential, as the vast sums necessary to maintain an effective fleet, ensured it to ultimately be a mercenary type of warfare, regardless of the provenance of the sailors. Sage suggests that it was the use of pay to recompense sailors, particularly during the Peloponnesian War that paved the way for the large-scale hiring of mercenaries within Greece.31

4. Coinage and ‘Wage-Earner’

Although Trundle tells us that ξένος survived to denote mercenary service right up until the Roman period, where we find Arrian using it in his Anabasis,32 from the latter half of the fifth century our Greek sources begin to use more accurate, less euphemistic terms to convey mercenary service. The word most commonly used was μισθοφόρος, a generic term for anyone receiving payment for services rendered.33 The emergence of terms such as this mark a change in the Greek world that made the large-scale emergence of mercenaries possible, as the beginning of the sixth century BC saw coinage introduced into the Greek world and, as a result, more services were being paid for in a daily wage. This daily wage was known as a μισθός, and someone receiving it was a μισθοφόρος (wage- earner). Again the term did not specifically denote a mercenary, but could refer to any person receiving a wage for services rendered, including craftsmen and men holding public office.34 Using it to also denote a mercenary indicates that, by the latter half of the fifth century, the notion of mercenary service was a socially accepted form of employment, as there does not seem to be any more of a negative connotation attached to the word when referring to a mercenary than to any other wage earning caste. The increasing usage of the word coincides with the growing professionalism and year-round campaigning of warfare, indicating the idea of a regular wage for a regular military job- an element that will be discussed later.

The term, μισθοφόρος, does not seem to be embraced fully until the fourth century in the sources. Lavelle tells us that Herodotus does not use the term at all,35 and Trundle tells us Thucydides uses it sparingly.36 The latter is the first source we find using μισθοφόρος, again in the context of seamanship, in a speech given by the Corcyreans to the Athenians on the brink of war,

άλλα ή κακείνων κωλύειν τούς εκ της υμετέρας μισθοφόρους

‘It is right that you should … prevent them from raising mercenaries in places under your control …’ 37

The accuracy of this term seemed to suit our ancient sources to a greater degree than any of the previous terms, and we find Diodorus Siculus using it for the whole of Greek history when he wrote in the first century BC. Of particular relevance is his use of the word to describe the mercenaries who served under Psammethicus I in the eighth century that were discussed earlier.

ο μέν Ψαμμήτιχος έκ της Καρίας καί της Ιωνίας μισθοφόρους μεταπεμψάμενος…

… and Psammetichus, calling mercenaries from Caria and Ionia…38

As we have seen, coinage, and by extension wages, had not yet been introduced into the Greek world by the reign of Psammetichus I. From its usage by a first century BC historian, we can deduce that, by the Roman period, the word had taken on the meaning of simply ‘mercenary’.


Trundle notes that specific terminology for mercenaries never developed in the Greek language, such as mercenarius did in Latin, but he never offers an explanation.39 It is my belief that the reason rests in the organic manner in which mercenaries emerged in Greece. Since the process was a very gradual one, the terms evolved naturally within the language. Whereas most other large Mediterranean and Asian civilisations, through the seventh and sixth centuries, were employers of mercenaries and could probably see their impact more dramatically within their armies, the Greeks were burdened with hiring out their swords through fiscal necessity. For this reason, we do not find such accurate terminology in the Greek language as we do in earlier Indo-European languages, such as the early Hittite term, kussaniyatalla, meaning ‘soldier in pay’, from the verb kussaniya, ‘to hold a soldier with pay’.40

From the time of the Successors, at the end of the fourth century, the terminology becomes more difficult to analyse, as the mercenary soldier increasingly becomes the normal military arm, rather than the exception. Parke notes that this makes it a lot more difficult to differentiate the role of the mercenary,41 but in my opinion it becomes less of an issue. The wealth and power of the Successors was on a scale never seen before in the Greek world and, as with many other aspects of Hellenistic life, warfare became a strictly professional trade. The time of the citizen-soldier was past and the professional trooper had firmly usurped his place.

From the gradual development of the words to denote mercenaries in the language, and their sporadic appearance in the sources, we can safely assume that their emergence was a steady process. However, by the turn of the fourth century, we find the phenomenon dubbed the ‘fourth century mercenary explosion’, and mercenaries begin to appear regular frequency. To fully understand why there was such a prevalence of mercenaries at this time, we must examine the factors in the Greek world that created both the supply and demand for these hired swords.

Chapter 2


‘Not even the gods fight against necessity.’
-Simonides of Ceos.


This section will be examining the factors in the Greek world that led to the supply and demand for mercenaries in warfare. As with any large-scale social upheaval, there are a number of separate factors that led to the huge increase in mercenary numbers by the fourth century. The biggest demand for mercenaries stemmed from the unrivalled prowess of Greek soldiers in the Mediterranean world. An important aspect of the proceeding two chapters will be to show that there was often no difference between these men and the mercenary soldiers that were available for hire.

From light-armed peltasts, to the heavily armoured hoplites, the Greeks were undisputed in the ability of their infantry. This created a huge, and constant, demand on their services, and the capabilities of these troops will be the focus of the first part of this chapter.

However, even if the demand was present, there needed to be other factors present for a man to risk his life fighting for another. As Miller notes,

‘The main consideration of the professional soldier would have been the strength of the economic pressures causing him to hire out his sword for a living instead of embracing a safer, more stable and comfortable civilian occupation. There are relatively few men whose talents and temperaments make them ‘natural’ soldiers, unhappy in any other vocation.’42

It was a combination of economic and political reasons that the supply of mercenaries was met to offer monarchs, tyrants and states the opportunity to hire mercenaries to fight their wars. In the second part of this chapter I will be examining these factors and putting them in their immediate context.

1. The dominance of the Greek soldier

From the early seventh century, the Greek phalanx emerged as the ultimate heavy infantry unit in the Mediterranean and was much sought after by the kingdoms of Persia and Egypt, as well as the tyrants of the West. But not only was it foreign powers that demanded such men, nor was it only the hoplite that proved its worth on the battlefield. As warfare expanded, most of the citizens of the Greek πόλεις were trained as hoplites, cavalry or employed as rowers, if they had a navy. However, as warfare progressed, other arms became increasingly important on the battlefield, particularly in the century following the Peloponnesian War. This war was to permanently change the form of Greek warfare due to its length and innovation, opening the way for large-scale mercenary employment.

Through the fourth century, we increasingly find that troops such as light-armed infantry, missile throwers and bowmen were of vital importance on the field of battle, used to protect the vulnerable flanks of the hoplite. Most of these lighter troops needed to be employed from mercenary ranks. This was the first time in Greek military history that ‘combined arms’ were to play a vital role on the battlefield, and mercenaries were essential in this development. I will begin by examining the specialist troop types, which were a staple part of Greek warfare from the end of the fifth century and whose rare skills ensured a constant demand for them to serve as mercenary troops.

a. ψιλοί τε γυμνητες καί πέλτη
Stretching back to the seventh century, warfare between Greek states was generally confined to short, decisive hoplite encounters, with the ultimate aim of separating ones enemy from their arable land. Denied land to feed themselves, they were usually forced to capitulate. These indecisive encounters limited the duration of a war and relegated light-armed troops to a subsidiary role in battlefield affairs. These lighter troops were most effective in protracted engagements, where ambush and mobility could prove decisive, aspects of warfare that did not appeal to the Greek sense of prowess and honour in battle. Although they were largely indecisive in open encounters, light-armed troops began to play an increasingly important role through the latter fifth and fourth centuries, mainly in scouting and foraging roles, as well as harassing the exposed flanks of enemy phalanx. For these reasons, a number of specialist troop types were widely admired and are frequently found in the sources serving as mercenaries. Of these, the most widely attested are the Rhodian slingers and the Cretan archers, both of which are regularly found serving in armies across the Greek world.

ακούω δ’ ειναι εν τωι στρατεύματι ημων Ροδίους, ων τούς πολλούς φασιν επίστασθαι σφενδοναν, καί τό βελός αυτων καί διπλασιον φέρεσθαι των Περσικων σφενδονων … οι δέ Ρόδιοι καί ταις μολυβδίσιν επίστανται χρησθαι.

‘Now I am told that there are Rhodians in our army, that most of them understand the use of the sling, and that their missile carries no less than twice as far as those from the Persian slings … the Rhodians are versed also in the art of slinging leaden bullets.’43

… οι Λαλεδαιμόνιοι … πρός δέ τούς ψιλούς των Μεσσηνίων τοξότας Κρητας επήγοντο μισθωτούς.

‘The Lacedaemonians … against the Messenian light-armed troops employed Cretan archers as mercenaries.’44

This latter unit enjoyed an unprecedented reputation, and we find Alexander employing a unit at Gaugamela. Being adept at fighting in more open formations, these lighter troops displayed skills that were rare on the mainland, where a strong emphasis was put on the heroic tradition of close-quarter combat. It was usually cheaper and more practical for a πόλις to hire their services than to try and train citizen troops to the same level of ability. As well as this, the fifth century saw an expansion in warfare, putting increasing demands on a city to produce greater numbers of hoplites. This was particularly true of Athens, who needed these troops to maintain garrisons in the empire she had acquired, leaving a deficit of men to fulfil other roles on the battlefield, making mercenaries an attractive choice.

It was with the emergence of peltasts, however, that light-armed troops became a vital arm of a successful Greek army. These infantry, named for the small, crescent- shaped shield (πέλτη) they carried, were lighter than a hoplite, but more heavily armed than an archer or slinger. They carried javelins, or spears, for throwing and had very little protection, other than their shield, making them very light and nimble on the battlefield. Beginning with the Peloponnesian War, a shift away from simple hoplite confrontation began and the peltast was supremely adept at taking advantage of harassing the slower heavy infantry. We get a good indication of this during the Peloponnesian War when a heavier armed, but slower Spartan force was destroyed at Pylos and Sphacteria, largely by the speed and agility of the peltasts in the Athenian army.

Οι δέ Αθηναιοι …τοξόται δέ οκτακόσιοι καί πελτασταί ουκ ελάσσους τούτων … τοις μέν ουν οπλίταις ουκ εδυνήθησαν προσμειξαι ουδέ τηι σφετέραι εμπειρίαι χρήσασθαι. οι γάρ ψιλοί εκατέρωθεν βάλλοντες ειργον … οι Λακεδαιμόνιοι ουκ εδύναντο διώκειν όπλα έχοντες … Τέλος δέ τραυματιζομένων ήδη πολλων διά τό αεί εν τωι αυτωι αναστρέφεσθαι, ξυγκλήισαντες εχώρησαν ες τό έσχατον έρυμα της νήσου.

‘On the Athenian side there were eight hundred archers and not less than the same number of peltasts … The Spartans could not make contact with the Athenian hoplites, nor use their experience, for the light-armed troops kept them back by bombarding them from either side … The Spartans were unable to pursue them because of the weight of their armour … Finally, when many had been wounded because they were constantly forced to remain in the same spot, they closed ranks and retreated to the farthermost fortification on the island.’45

However, because the equipment a peltast carried was lighter and cheaper than that of a hoplite, Greeks who could afford hoplite armament viewed their role with a certain amount of disdain. It was in poorer areas of Greece and Thrace that they tended to originate, adding to the reluctance of prosperous Greeks to train in this method of warfare. Consequently, many of the extant examples of peltasts are mercenary troops, originating from less prosperous areas. Thracian mercenary peltasts were extremely common,

Αφίκοντο δέ καί των Θρακων των μαχαιοφόρων του Διακου γένους ες τάς Αθήνας πελτασταί εν τωι αυτωι φέρει τουτωι τριακόσιοι καί χίλιοι … τό γάρ έχειν πρός τόν εκ της Δεκελείας πόλεμον αυτους πολυτελές εφαίνετο. δραχμήν γάρ της ημέρας έκαστος ελάμβανεν.

‘During this same summer there arrived at Athens thirteen hundred peltasts of the dirk-bearing Thracians of the tribe of Dii … To keep them for the war that was being carried on from Deceleia seemed too expensive, since each received as pay a drachma a day.’46

Although they had their uses on the battlefield and there was an increasing importance put on the lighter-armed troops in Greek armies, they were often very indecisive in open battle,

καί πρωτον μέν αυτων εκατέρων οί τε λιθοβόλοι καί σφενδονηται καί τοξόται προυμάχοντο καί τροπάς, οίας εικός ψιλούς, αλλήλων εποίουν.

‘And first the stone throwers, slingers and archers fought each other in the front of the main formations. Each side routed the other in turns as is normal in combat between light-armed troops.’47

For this reason, until the Macedonian phalanx took precedence, the most commonly sought after troops remained the Greek hoplite.

b. αριστεία οπλίτου
The most significant change in the history of Greek warfare was the emergence of the οπλιται (hoplite) and the creation of the φάλαγξ (phalanx) battle order, creating the most powerful heavy infantry unit of the time. Although the earliest literary evidence attesting to hoplites dates to the seventh century,48 archaeological evidence puts their emergence to the eighth century, alongside the development of the πόλις. Many writers saw the traditional hoplite as the ideal soldier, as, in theory, each hoplite was a free citizen and their service as a soldier represented their obligation to the city-sate and its deities. Below is an early example of this ethos,

‘It is a noble thing for a brave man to fall fighting among the foremost, doing battle for his fatherland … let us fight for our land and let us die for our children … let each stand his ground firmly with his feet well set apart and bite his lip.’49

In Politics, Aristotle expounds the same idea.50 These heavy infantry would line up about eight ranks deep to form the phalanx. It was a huge step in the progress of warfare and remained ‘remarkably resilient in form and successful in practice’51 until defeated by Philip II at Chaeronea in 338 BC. The equipment carried by these heavy infantry was expensive and needed to be financed by the soldier himself, so only the wealthier citizens could afford to serve their city-state.

‘Each is to provide arms himself to the value of thirty drachmae. When they are under arms, the archon shall pass the arms in review.’52

This would have been a substantial sum of money to any small farmer or labourer, but we get indications as to the importance placed in this armour, as Psammithicus I simply refers to the mercenary troops who helped him regain the throne as χαλκέων ανδρων.53 It was the development of the hoplite shield (τό όπλον) that stands as the defining moment in phalanx, and ultimately Greek, warfare. Between three and four feet in diameter and convex in shape, the shield was revolutionarily in the manner it dispersed the weight by the use of the πόρπαξ and αντιλαβή. Designed to protect both ones own left side and the vulnerable right of the man to your left, the phalanx was an intricate unit, requiring a huge amount of skill and coherency to work effectively, something that could only be perfected in the community-based πόλις. So important to the state was the hoplite’s armament that the shield became a metaphor for the unity of the city-state. Demaratus, an exiled Spartan, exemplifies this when asked why men who throw away their shield are named cowards, whilst those abandoning other armour are not,

‘οτι … ταυτα μέν εαυτων χάριν περιτίθεντα, τήν δέ ασπίδα της κοινης τάξεως ένεκα.’

‘Because these they put on for their own sakes, but the shield for the common good of the whole line.’54

Considering the precedent of Homer and ‘heroic warfare’, it is not surprising there was such a strong emphasis on discipline and by the end of the fifth century we know that an Athenian who threw away his shield in battle could be disenfranchised.55 The appearance of the hoplite marks an end to the predominance of the aristocracy in battle56, creating a very well equipped, large body of men with unrivalled ability and discipline for fighting in the most powerful formation in the known world. These advances in infantry warfare cannot be underestimated, as they ensured the dominance of the Greek soldier right up to Roman times and a premium was put on the services of these men as mercenary troops, particularly outside Greece.

It is important to note that these citizen- hoplites were usually the same men that served as mercenary troops. We have numerous examples of a πόλις making part of its citizenry available to foreign powers in order to raise vital funds. It is a paradox that this usually occurred in order for a πόλις to swell a war chest. We get a good indication of this when a force of citizen-hoplites under the Spartan king, Agesilaus, took service with Tachos of Egypt in 361 BC,

τωι Αιγυπτιωι … αγαπων δέ καί φιλοφρονούμενος εδειτο μειναι καί συνδιαχειμάσαι μετ’ αυτου τόν Αγησίλαον. ο δέ ώρμητο πρός τόν οίκοι πόλεμον, ειδώς χρημάτων. δεομένην τήν πόλιν καί ξενοτροφουσαν.

‘… the Egyptian … showed his friendliness and affection by begging Agesilaus to remain and spend the winter with him. But Agesilaus was eager to return to the war at home, knowing that his city needed money and was hiring mercenaries.’57

This passage is of particular importance, as Sparta seems to have stretched her forces to a critical point by sending part of it to serve in Egypt, and ironically then needed to hire mercenaries herself. We also get an indication of the fickle nature of mercenary warfare, as Plutarch tells us that the Spartans swapped allegiance from Tachos to his enemy, Nectanabis, for 230 talents of silver.58 It seems that the practice of a city hiring out a body of citizen-hoplites to a foreign power was not rare. In another example Thebes, while still fighting the Sacred War, was in such financial difficulties that she was forced to hire out 5,000 of her own hoplites under Pammenes to assist Artabazus, the Satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia, when he revolted against the Great King.59 By the start of the fourth century, most of Greece was in a dire financial situation.

2. Poor Greece; her poverty and political feuds

Despite all her cultural achievements, Greece was a poor country, where economic realities ensured land and wealth to be synonymous, but with the constant warfare that marked the end of the Classical age, this land gradually passed to the wealthier citizens, leaving a large body of dispossessed men. To exacerbate the problem, the ever-shifting political climate of the fifth and fourth century Greek πόλις saw a dramatic increase in the amount of exiles. It was in this socio-political climate that the surge in available mercenaries took place. As Miller notes,

‘That century [fourth] saw the coming together of a number of seemingly unrelated factors- natural, military, political and economic- which together drastically affected the life of all Hellas, and in particular influenced the upsurge of mercenary enlistment.’60

I have already examined the military reasons for the demand of such men, and will now take a look at the social and political upheavals to explain the factors that led to the supply of mercenaries.

a. ένδεια
Greece in Antiquity, as now, was a small, rugged landscape, and with arable soil only accounting for about 10% of the entire landscape, there was a premium placed on available land. Miller tells us that it was also a country suffering from heavy deforestation and was desperately short of base and precious metals.61 Herodotus tells us that,

τηι Ελλάδι πενίη μέν αιεί κοτε σύντροφος εστί.

Poverty has always been a companion of Hellas.62

From the eighth century, Greece experienced large and steady population growth, perhaps as much as tenfold in Attica in the eighth century alone.63 Combined with the aforementioned lack of arable land, resulted in a situation where many of the πόλεις were struggling to sustain their native populations. As well as this, the land that was available was continually divided, as the Greeks did not practice primogeniture, making the already smallholdings less economically viable. From the ninth century, in an effort to alleviate this population pressure, Greeks states sent surplus citizens to populate the Mediterranean basin by founding new πόλεις. However, by the fifth century this practice was no longer available, as the living space was becoming ever more populated. War only added to the problems and Austin tells us that,

‘The first characteristic of the fourth century was the prevalence of war. The state of war became more or less permanent; from 431 to 338, for almost a century, the Greek world experienced almost without interruption a state of large-scale war, not to mention purely local conflicts.’64

As mentioned above, these wars were largely fought on the premise of destroying an enemy’s ability to feed itself. In the Peloponnesian War Sparta planned to bring the Athenians to battle by ravaging the grain fields of Attica,

ωστε χρή καί πάνυ ελπίζειν διά μάχης ιέναι αυτούς, ει μή καί νυν ώρμηνται εν ωι ούπω πάρεσμεν, αλλ’ όταν εν τηι γηι ορμωσιν ημας δηιουντάς τε καί τακείνων φθείροντας.

‘… we have therefore every reason to expect them to risk a battle, if they have not already set out before we are yet there, at any rate when they see us in their territory laying it waste and destroying their property.’65

After nearly a century of warfare, the land was underdeveloped and unproductive. To develop their land and make it profitable, many citizens were forced to mortgage their holdings. Under such circumstances, war or sickness could result in the forfeiture of this mortgage and the land passing to larger, wealthier estates. To increase the pressures felt by these farmers, Miller notes a passage in Demosthenes telling us that huge amounts of grain were being imported to Athens from the Black Sea at reduced prices.

ίστε γάρ δήπου τουθ’, ότι πλείστωι των πάντων ανθρώπων ημεις επεισάκτωι σίτωι χρώμεθα. πρός τοίνυν άπαντα τόν εκ των άλλων εμπορίων αφικνούμενον ο εκ του Ποντου σιτος εισπλέων εστίν. εικότως. ου γάρ μόνον διά τό τόν τόπον τουτον σιτον έχειν πλειστον τουτο γίγνεται, αλλά διά τό κύριον όντα τόν Λεύκων αυτου τοις άγουσιν Άθήναζε ατέλειαν δεδωκέναι, καί κηρύττειν πρώτους γεμίζεσθαι τούς ως υμας πλέοντας … αι τοίνυν παρ’ εκείνου δευρ’ αφικνούμεναι σίτου μυριάδες περί τετταράκοντ’ εισί.

‘For you are aware that we consume more imported corn than any other nation. Now the corn that comes to our ports from the Black Sea is equal to the whole amount from all other places of export. And this is not surprising; for not only is that district most productive of corn, but also Leucon, who controls the trade, has granted exemption from dues to merchants conveying corn to Athens … Now from the Bosporus there come to Athens about four hundred thousand bushels …’66

Although noting the effect on the city, Miller does not explore the reasons why Athens imported so much grain. In Ancient Greece there was no import-export policy, as we would understand. The main economic imperative rested on having enough grain to feed the people, and this was as much a political issue as an economic one. The export market, however, was fragmented and too small to be commercially viable to the majority of the citizens. Austin and Vidal note that ‘large-scale enterprises with a wide range of action were usually not found; a great deal was produced and consumed locally. It is rare to find a regular link between producers and exporters’.67 Through the fourth century this problem was exacerbated by money being paid to Greece in the form of bribes, from larger powers, such as Persia and Macedonia. Miller tells us the effect of this, on a stagnant economy, saw inflation soaring throughout the century, with oil prices trebling and wheat seeing a five-fold increase.68 Unable to endure these pressures, many farmers were forced off their land, and, unable to find employment as an artisan due to the skill of the metics, were driven into mercenary service to avoid slavery.

‘The roles of the Greek warrior were drastically altered and multiplied as the result of the century of revolutionary military change that began with the Peloponnesian war. Many hoplites were forced to go into military service when their local economies were wrecked by the drawn-out indecisive warfare typical of the age.’69

It is highly probable that if this avenue of employment were not available to ease the economic pressures that existed in fourth century Greece, there would have been even greater civil unrest.

b. οστρακισμός καί φυγαί
It was not only the victims of economic difficulties that found themselves dispossessed, but also those victims of a characteristic element of πόλις life, political strife. Parke mentions that in the century following the Peloponnesian war, Sparta alone failed to experience some form of violent upheaval.70 Each of these incidents added to the numbers of exiles on the roads, a number that seems to have reached near endemic proportions by the latter half of the fourth century. Diodorus tells us that there were twenty thousand political exiles gathered at the Olympic games to hear the announcement of Alexander’s Exiles Decree.71

Civil strife was a constant feature of life in the Greek πόλις and political exile was a natural feature of this strife. However, as with many areas of classical study, the evidence we have relating to the institutions that led to exile are extremely Atheno-centric. The earliest known basis for the exile of a citizen comes from the earliest Greek written laws- those set down by Draco for Athens, dating to about 620 BC. In these laws, exile was a punishment for murder, the only law retained by Solon in his later reforms. By the end of the fifth century, with the advent of οστρακισμός (ostracism), exile became an even more prominent feature of Athenian political life. Reputedly introduced by Cleisthenes, ostracism was a method whereby prominent citizens could be expelled from the city for a period of ten years. Often imposed pre-emptively, it was used to defuse potential political confrontation, neutralize a political threat or expel a tyrant. As Forsdyke says, it was the,

‘Ability of the common people to circumvent potential abuse of power, as well as controlling ones potential for violent conflict with another such aspirant.’72

The method is well attested to in the sources- the whole citizen body could vote to ostracise any other citizen. If the total number of οστράκα (potsherd voting tablet) exceeded 6,000, then the man with the greatest number of votes was exiled for ten years. Although only one man could be ostracised each year, it was generally a person of great political power and ability. As a consequence, many of them were unwilling to wait ten years to return to politics and so took employ with foreign powers. For example, after being ostracised in c.471 BC, Themistocles, who was hailed as a hero for his role in repelling the Persian invasion, fled to Asia Minor and approached the new Persian king, Artaxerxes I. The Great King welcomed him and presented him with the princedom of Magnesia on the Maeander, which he held until his death. In a similar way, Xenophon tells us of the employment of Clearchus, by Cyrus,

‘He was then condemned to death as a consequence of his disobedience and left, sailing to the Hellespont. As an exile he approached Cyrus and won him over … and received ten thousand darics from him.’73

The influence of these must not be underestimated, as most of them were trained to effectively wield the Greek hoplite formation and so were much sought after by the Persian kings. Other examples of exiled Greeks taking employ in Persia were Demaratus, the exiled Spartan king and Aristippus, who Russell tells us was forced to join Cyrus’ army due to political turmoil at home.74 However, the most famous aristocratic mercenary was Memnon of Rhodes. He had a force of nearly twenty thousand Greek mercenaries in the employ of Darius when Alexander invaded Asia, proof of both the numbers of mercenary soldiers at this time and their demand in Persia.

c. μισθός
Whether they were political refugees, or exiles, it is obvious that the biggest inducement for mercenary service was payment. This topic is examined in great detail elsewhere, so I will only give a cursory examination in relation to the previous sections.

This payment could come in various forms. In the previous chapter we saw Antimenidas given a precious sword, but later the standard payment was in coin, an easily transportable, universally accepted item. Miller tells us that numismatic records indicate that coinage centres were established in sixth century Gela purely to pay mercenaries.75 However, this pay was quite meagre, particularly in times of economic hardship, when there was an abundance of mercenaries. Very often it was little more than a subsistence payment. Regarding payment rates at the beginning of the fourth century, Xenophon tells us the following,

‘As a result of the discussion it was agreed that any state that wished would be permitted to contribute money in place of men. The rate would be three Aeginetan obols per man …’76

This rate seems to remain stagnant throughout the century and we know that Alexander paid between three and four obols, very similar to that earned by an unskilled labourer.77 Considering the rising inflation rates we have discussed, real pay for mercenaries decreased over the century. However, it was benefit-in-kind that made mercenary warfare a lucrative form of employment. In the following chapter I will give a brief discussion on Greek attitudes to war, so for now it is sufficient to say that the Greeks had no conventions for carrying out a war. Simply put, to the victors went the spoils. After a successful battle, the victorious army would plunder the vanquished. A specific share of this would be allotted to the troops, usually in kind, as triple or double pay.78

Other inducements to service were land grants. As we have seen, this is the method that Psammethicus used to pay the Ionian and Karian troops who helped him secure his throne. By the end of the fourth century this was a very popular inducement, a fact we can see Alexander and the Successors exploiting to great effect. The following passages are relating to the city building projects undertaken by Seleucus,

‘He founded cities through the whole length of his empire; there were sixteen called Antioch after his father, five Laodicea after his mother, nine named Seleucia after himself …79

‘Apamea also has an acropolis … It used to be called Pella by the first Macedonian settlers because most of the Macedonian troops lived there.’80

From passages such as these, we can see that Greek troops were settled throughout the Hellenistic world. These were given land in the newly founded cities and provided the backbone of an army should the king need to call on them, ensuring security for both the employer and the employed.


In this chapter I have shown that there was a very strong link between the mercenary soldiers serving in foreign armies and the soldiers who fought for their home πόλις as citizen-soldiers. Whether they were hired out specifically by their own city, or forced to do so through various economic or political factors, their supreme hoplite training was born out of the community-based πόλις from which they came. I also examined the supply and demand market surrounding mercenary employment, whereby many factors combined to ensure that there was a premium placed on the employment of Greek soldiers. Without the capability of Greek soldiers there would have been little demand and without the adverse conditions present to supply these troops there would have been a lot fewer men willing to sell their swords. Griffith notes that there are three conditions necessary to produce mercenaries- firstly, a war, or prospect of a war, secondly, a person or community willing to pay someone else to fight for him and finally, a person or community desperate or adventurous enough that he is willing to risk his life for fiscal reward.81 At the turn of the fourth century, each of these conditions was met in abundance.

Chapter 3



As we saw in the previous chapter, there were many economic, military and social factors contributing to the mercenary explosion in the Greek world, but neither origins nor the numbers of such men were discussed. The period following the Peloponnesian war was one of civil strife in Greece, but the suffering was not uniform. The πόλεις were largely self-sufficient entities and cut off from one another by the rugged landscape, so economic difficulties were slow to spread. For this reason, we find mercenaries are more prevalent in certain areas at certain times, as economic conditions fluctuated. The origin and numbers of these men will occupy the first part of this chapter.

I will then examine a topic that is largely ignored in the secondary literature- how the ancient Greeks themselves viewed mercenary service. This topic reveals a lot to us, as the majority of the criticism aimed at mercenaries is focused on their possible disruptive presence in Greece, rather than the fact that they were employed to kill and plunder. Through the eyes of ancient authors I will explore the nature of Greek warfare and where the mercenary fit into this. This section will also embellish on the argument of the previous chapter regarding the relationship between the mercenary soldier and that of the city. We will see further evidence that the men who fought for a city-state were often the same who employed these skills in a mercenary capacity.

1. Provenance and Prevalence

As we have seen from the examples above, mercenaries could come from all walks of Greek life. Every city probably had a certain amount of men willing to sell their swords through the fourth century. We get an indication of the wide provenance and sheer volume of these men from Xenophon when he describes the composition of Cyrus’ army,

ενταυθα έμεινε Κυρος ημέρας τριάκοντα. καί ηκε Κλέαρχος ο Λακεδαιμόνιος φυγάς εχων οπλίτας χιλίους καί πελταστάς Θραικας οκτακοσίους καί τοξότας Κρητας διακοσίους. άμα δέ καί Σωσις παρην ο Συρακόσιος εχων οπλίτας τριακοσίους, καί Αγίας ο Αρκάς εχων οπλίτας χιλίους. καί ενταυθα Κυρος εξέτασιν καί αριθμόν των Ελλήνων εποιήσεν εν τωι παραδείσωι, καί εγένοντο οι σύμπαντες οπλιται μέν μύριοι χίλιοι, πελτασταί δέ αμφί τούς δισχιλίους.

‘Cyrus remained in Calaenae for thirty days. Clearchus, the Spartan exile, arrived with 1,000 hoplites, 800 Thracian peltasts and 200 Cretan archers. Also at the same time Sosis from Syracuse came with 300 hoplites and Agias the Arcadian with 1,000 heavy infantry. Cyrus held a review there and counting his Greek forces in the pleasure park he found that the total of hoplites was 11,000 and there were about 2,000 peltasts.’82

A number of things become apparent in this passage. The mercenaries that made up Cyrus’ force were many and varied, with a focus on combined arms that we don’t find before the latter half of the fifth century. More importantly, however, is the sheer size of the force, made up entirely of Greek mercenaries. This shows that there was a huge body of men willing to sell their swords. Since we do not find such a huge mercenary force prior to the fourth century, we can safely assume that the Peloponnesian war adversely affected most of these men. The majority of Greece was devastated because of this war and it was this event more than any other that contributed to the huge amount of mercenaries in Greece in the fourth century.

Entering this century, mercenary warfare took on a very different aspect to that which had gone before and there were now enough mercenary bodies for hire to threaten any single Greek πόλις. Due to the shifting political turmoil, this threat to Greek stability moved from area to area. As we have already seen, the islands off the mainland, and the areas of Asia Minor, appear to have been the first to produce mercenaries that served in foreign armies. For the fourth century, the most easily attestable troop provenance was the campaign of the Ten Thousand, where the vast majority of Cyrus’ army came from the Peloponnese, particularly Arcadia. Trundle tells us that roughly 4,000 of the 13,000 troops came from Arcadia alone, and twelve of the fifteen generals were from the Peloponnese.83 However, as we have seen above, there were men from many other cities also on the march. As a result of this widespread phenomenon, Hellenic centres, dedicated by mercenaries, emerged for the worship of gods, presumably to ask for guidance and fortune in battle. Trundle tells us that Cooper considered the Temple of Apollo Epikourios at Bassae to be an Arcadian homage to its mercenary traditions, perhaps even funded by mercenary donations.84 This shows that certain areas were openly proud of their mercenary traditions, as they appealed to a Greeks sense of heroism in battle,

‘They were also, he declared, the bravest, as proof of this, he stated that when anyone wanted to hire mercenaries, none were preferred to the Arcadians.’85

At different times, due to differing political feuds, mercenaries could be hired at different locations. At the turn of the fifth century, it appears that Peloponnesian mercenaries were the most common troops, but by the end of the century, Griffith shows us that the situation has shifted,

Origin No.
Barbarians 51
North and Central 57
Peloponnesian 6
Islands and Asia Minor 31
West 4
Black Sea 1 86

This chart gives an indication of a more widespread provenance and we can see that as the century progressed, the political turmoil, which was largely caused by the threat of Macedon, increased both the number and provenance of these men. In a letter to Philip, Isocrates notices these social upheavals,

‘You [Philip] will have as many soldiers as you wish at your disposal, for the present state of Greece is such that it is easier to assemble a larger and more effective army from those wandering in exile than from men who are still citizens.’87

This situation only deteriorated through the fourth century and it is estimated that up to 120,000 mercenaries served under Alexander the Great by 323 BC. As we will see later, many of these were forced to occupy the new cities he was building along his march. Far from home, many of these returned to Greece after the death of Alexander and formed mercenary bands that could be hired en masse. Areas such as Cape Taenarum, in southern Laconia, flourished as recruitment centres for any man with sufficient money to hire the men there assembled,

‘Thibron … choosing the most suitable of his friends sent them to the Peloponnese to hire the mercenaries that were waiting about near Taenarum; for many of the discharged mercenaries were wandering about looking for employers and at that time there were more than 2,500 in the neighbourhood of Taenarum.’88

These areas were convenient hiring locations for the Successors. Although most of them had a basis of power that lay in kingdoms outside the Greek border, their power was ultimately reliant on Greek mercenary soldiers. As the age progressed, these troops were transformed into permanent standing armies, but in the formative years mercenary soldiers needed to be hired from locations, such as Taenarum, to secure the power of the διάδαχοι.

2. How Contemporary Writers Viewed Mercenaries

a. άπιστος
There is not a huge amount of material on the contemporary views of ancient Greek mercenaries, and most of what we have dates to the late fifth and fourth century, largely due to the ambiguity of what exactly a mercenary was in ancient Greece, as mentioned in the first chapter. We do, however, get a number of examples, the earliest of which is from a fragment of Archilochus of Paros. As we have already seen, this poet had a brother who fought as a mercenary in the Persian army, but even he did not have a wholly positive view on their worth,

Γλαύκ’, επίκουρος ανηρ τόσσον φίλος έστε μάχηται.

‘Glaucus, a soldier of fortune is your friend, as long as he fights.’

This small fragment gives us an indication regarding the possible unreliability of the mercenary soldier, a motif that continues to appear in the sources,

Επειδή … ό τε χρόνος ουκ απεδόθη τοις στρατιώταις αλλ’ ή δυοιν μηνοιν … αθυμήσαντές μοι πολλοί του πληρώματος ωικοντο απολιπόντες τήν ναυν, οι μέν εις τήν ήπειρον στρατευσόμενοι, οι δ’ εις τάς Θασίων καί Μαρωντιων ναυς, μισθωι μεγάλωι πεισθέντες καί αργύριον πολύ προλαβόντες.

‘Then, when … the term of my trierarchy had expired, and no pay had been given to the soldiers except for two months … many of my crew became discouraged and went off, deserting the ship, some to the mainland to take military service, and some to the fleet of the Thasians and Maronites, won over by the promise of high pay and receiving substantial sums in advance.’89

Relating to the large number of mercenary crewmen who served on board ships in the Athenian navy, passages such as this obviously did not paint mercenaries in a very favourable light and as a result the Karians, who are credited as being the first mercenaries, became a synonym for being of little value, perhaps with a similar connotation to the modern term Hireling. Russell tells us that many areas, such as Arcadia remained politically stunted due to their traditions of mercenary service,90 although as we will see, this was a tradition they were proud to display.

b. οι τυραννοποιοί
Mercenaries’ reputation was only worsened by their perceived link to Tyranny. Due to the nature of a tyrant holding power without popular authority, they very often hired mercenaries to maintain their status. These mercenaries rarely had any vested interest in the city other than receiving payment from the tyrant,

Πειθομένων δέ των Αθηναίων, ούτω δή Πεισίστρατος τό τρίτον σχών Αθήνας ερρίζωσε τήν τυρρανίδα επικούροισι τε πολλοισι …

‘Now that the Athenians were reduced to obedience, Peisistratus held the tyranny for the third time and he secured his rule by the use of numerous mercenaries…’91

As the tyrannies of Greece were abolished, these mercenaries found their services were in great demand in the West, where tyrants, such as Dionysius of Syracuse, were establishing control with the use of Greek bodyguards. These tyrants, with their personal army were greatly feared,

Των δέ Κροτωνιατων δία τήν οργήν ζωγρειν μέν μηδένα βουληθέντων πάντας δέ κατά τήν θυγήν τούς υποπεσόντας αποκτεινόντων, οι πλείους κατεκόπησαν, τήν δέ πόλιν διήρπασαν καί παντελως έρημον εποίησαν.

‘Since the troops of Croton in their anger would take no prisoners but slew all who fell into their hands in the flight, the larger number of Sybarites perished; and they plundered the city of Sybaris and laid it entirely to waste.’92

Such incidents ensured that the term Tyrant took on the connotation with which we relate it today, ‘a cruel absolute ruler who seizes power without authority’.93 As such, mercenaries were seen as little other than hired cut- throats by many authors. In many writers, mercenaries, serving tyrants, were referred to as the antithesis of the free citizen-farmer,

καθόλου δέ μισων καί μισούμενος υπό των αδικουμένων, μισθοφόρων πληθος εξενολόγησεν, αντίταγμα κατασκευάζων ταις πολιτικαις δυνάμεσιν.

‘… he hated those he wronged and was hated by them, he enlisted a large body of mercenaries, preparing in this way a legion with which to oppose the citizen soldiery.’94

Passages comparing the relative virtues of citizen-soldiers over mercenaries, pose an interesting problem for us, for we have seen that they were very often the same people. Perhaps the ancient authors did not see this fact, or decided to ignore it? This is an unsatisfactory approach and it is my belief that they were not specifically criticizing the mercenary troops, but were, by extension, attacking the institution of these tyrannies.

c. δυσμένεια αλλά οι τάς τέχνας εργαζόμενοι
Through the fourth century, the information becomes increasingly hostile towards mercenaries and between 380 and 346 BC, Isocrates wrote a number of works relating to mercenary service, revealing a lot in his rhetoric. He noticed the sheer volume of men willing to hire their swords in Greece, a fact hard to miss considering the size of the force raised by Cyrus; an army of mercenaries which could have threatened any single πόλις. Writing to Philip II, he worried that these men may band together and threaten the stability of Greece if the Macedonian king did not use them to conquer Persia and relieve the poverty of Greece,

‘… destroy the entire Persian kingdom, or at least cut off as large a piece of territory as possible … and then found cities in this area and settle those who at present are wandering about … and are a scourge to all those they meet. If we do not prevent them from banding together … they will become such a vast force without our realizing it that they will be no less formidable to the Greeks than to the barbarians.’95

As mentioned, the mercenary was seen as the polar opposite of the citizen-hoplite. The most obvious differences that resulted from the dominance of mercenary soldiers were the emergence of yearly campaigning, combined arms tactics and payment.

Traditional Greek warfare was a seasonal affair, based on the crop harvest, leaving wars isolated to small summer pockets. With the availability of a mercenary force, war became a year-round discipline. Austin notes that Demosthenes remarked on this change in his criticism of Philip,

‘You hear of Philip marching where he pleases followed not by a phalanx of hoplites, but by light-armed troops, cavalry, archers and mercenaries- this is the kind of army he has around him … I pass over the fact that he draws no distinction between summer and winter, and that he has no season set apart for suspending operations.’96

As well as the year-round operations, we can also clearly see the development of warfare, from the traditional concentration of phalanx in an army, to a strong emphasis on combined arms. This type of warfare was much more expensive and cities now had to weigh the cost of hiring mercenaries against the loss of income incurred if the fields were left fallow during extended campaigning. Isocrates berates the Greeks for not fighting their own wars,

‘We … are unwilling to serve ourselves … but call on men who are either stateless, or deserters, or a collection of individuals versed in every kind of misdeed, who will follow anybody against us so long as their pay is increased.’97

This is strong anti-mercenary rhetoric, but it was obvious by this stage that it was a necessity to hire professional soldiers in year-round campaigning. By the end of the fourth century, the citizen-soldier was obsolete. This was an inevitable change, as the Hellenistic world saw all aspects of life taking on a much more professional appearance. Wars had turned into protracted campaigns that could accommodate nothing other than professional, full-time soldiers.

d. μίσθος καί λεία
The very nature of mercenary warfare ensured that those troops who did not necessarily have a vested interest in the war were compensated with fiscal remuneration. We would expect to find the transactions between employer and mercenary to be derided in the negative sources, but this does not appear to be the case. Instead, most of the negative literature is confined to the instability that the presence of these mercenaries caused in Greece. The explanation for this lies in the very ethos of the Greek attitude to warfare. From the earliest times, possession of property and persons, belonging to the vanquished, passed to the victors. This was not only true of mercenary warfare, but was seen as a natural acquisition of profits, a recurring theme in the ancient literature,

νόμος γάρ εν πασιν ανθρώποις αίδιός εστιν, όταν πολεμούντων πόλις αλωι, των ελόντων ειναι καί τά σώματα των εν τηι πόλει καί τά χρήματα.

‘For it is a law established for all time among all men that when a city is taken in war, the persons and the property of the inhabitants thereof belong to the captors.’98

οιον πλωτηρες μέν του κατά τόν πλουν πρός εργασίαν χρημάτων ή τι τοιουτον, συστρατιωται δέ του κατά τόν πόλεμον, είτε χρημάτων είτε νίκης ή πόλεως ορεγόμενοι …

‘… for example sailors combine to seek the profits of seafaring in the way of trade or the like, comrades in arms the gains of warfare, their aim being either plunder, or victory over the enemy or the capture of a city.’99

This ethos was already an intrinsic element of the Greek psychological attitude towards war. To make a profit on the back of death was no concern to the Greeks. Considering the fact that many of the mercenaries were the same men that fought in the ranks of their respective πόλεις, as we have seen above, it is not surprising that there is little distinction made to the provenance of the profiteers of war, be they mercenaries or citizen troops. In 415 BC, the Athenians were perfectly happy to sail to war against the Sicilians in the interest of profit.

καί έρως ενέπεσε τοις πασιν ομοίως εκπλευσαι … ο δέ πολύς ομιλος καί στρατιώτης εν τε τωι παρόντι αργύριον οίσειν καί προσκτήσεσθαι δύναμιν όθεν αίδιον μισθοφοράν υπάρξειν.

‘And upon all alike there fell an eager desire to sail … and upon the great multitude- that is, the soldiers- who hoped not only to get money in the present but also to acquire additional dominion which would always be an inexhaustible source of pay.’100

War was quite simply a profitable economic necessity. The primary objection of writers with negative attitudes towards mercenaries in Greece was the presence of so many unemployed, dispossessed men. This makes sense when we consider that most of the surviving texts were written by the wealthier, landed citizens, who saw so many armed men as a threat to their wealth and military status, but did not attach a stigma to the act of mercenary service itself. We can support this view with a passage from a student of Isocrates, Isaeus, who served as a mercenary,

‘We ourselves, being in early manhood, betook ourselves to soldiering, and went abroad with Iphicrates to Thrace, and after showing our worth there and making some money, we returned home again.’101

The negativity towards mercenaries is confined to a worry that the lower classes, when armed and unemployed, were unstable and posed a bigger risk to the security of the aristocrats, the very people who wrote the majority of our surviving works. For similar reasons, during the Peloponnesian war, whilst the wealthier hoplites served away from home, the Athenian democracy was derided as being run by the ‘naval classes’, or those lower classes paid for service aboard the fleet.102 It was mercenary service due to penury that was feared.

e. η χρηστός
Bearing these facts in mind, we can turn to other sources, where we find quite a different opinion of mercenaries. Xenophon, writing in the first half of the fourth century, gives us a much more positive view towards mercenaries in the Greek world. This is not surprising, as he was a member of the mercenary force assembled under Cyrus and, by his own account, was instrumental in leading the Greeks safely homeward after the pretender to the Persian throne died. Living and serving with these men for a number of years, Xenophon offers us a unique view into the life of a mercenary force in the Greek world. A number of elements become clear, such as the wide provenance of these men, as already examined. Above all, however, we get insights into the more human elements of the men who made up the expeditionary force, a factor we do not get in most other sources.

των γάρ στρατιωτων οι πλειστοι ησαν ου σπάνει βίου εκπεπλευκότες επί ταύτην τήν μισθοφοράν, αλλά τήνΚύρου αρετήν ακούοντες … καί τούτων έτεροι αποδεδρακότες πατέρας καί μητέρας, οι δέ καί τέκνα καταλιπόντες ως χρήματ’ αυτοις στησάμενοι ήξοντες πάλιν, ακούοντες καί τούς αλλους τούς παρά Κύρωι πολλά καί αγαθά πράττειν.

‘For most of the soldiers had sailed away from Greece to undertake this mercenary service for pay, not because their means were scanty, but because they knew by report of the noble character of Cyrus’; … others had abandoned fathers, mothers or children with the intention of earning money for them and returning once more since they had heard that those who served with Cyrus had enjoyed many benefits.’103

As a mercenary himself, and likely to excuse their motives, we must carefully scrutinize everything that Xenophon tells us. The opening lines are likely to be pure rhetoric, as it is highly unlikely that any Greeks would follow a Persian out of pure admiration, considering their unfavourable views on barbarians.104 Instead we can concentrate on the latter parts of the passage, where we get indications that these were simply desperate men, with little alternative other than fight for a foreign king in order to provide for themselves and their families. This is a big step away from the ‘scourge’ that Isocrates will write about roughly a quarter of a century later.

As with many previous elements of this essay, the fact that these Greek mercenaries existed did not necessarily ensure their prosperity, there also had to be a demand. As well as their unsurpassed armour and battle formation we saw above, the attitude of Greek mercenaries in warfare was very positive.

Φημί δ’ εγώ καί τό παν ιππικόν ωδ’ άν πολύ θαττον εκπληρωθηναι εις τούς χιλίους ιππηας καί πολύ ραιον τοις πολίταις, ει διακοσίους ιππεις ξένους καταστήσαιντο. δοκουσι γάρ άν μοι ουτοι προσγενόμενοι καί ευπειστότερον άν παν τό ιππικόν ποιησαι καί φιλοτιμότερον πρός αλλήλους περί ανδραγαθίας. οιδα δ’ εγωγε καί Λακεδαιμονίοις ιππικόν αρξάμενον ευδοκιμειν, επεί ξένους ιππέας προσέλαβον. καί εν ταις άλλαις δέ πόλεσι πανταχου τά ξενικά ορω ευδοκιμουντα.

‘I assert that the full compliment of the cavalry force would be reached … if we hire 200 mercenary cavalry. My opinion is that the addition of these men would make the whole line more obedient and would foster rivalry amongst the force’s members in the display of courage. I think the Lacedaemonian cavalry began to be an effective force when they added mercenary cavalry. In all the states at present I can see that mercenary cavalry have an excellent reputation.’105

Here we can see the pre-eminence of Greek mercenaries on the battlefield. Xenophon tells us that they are a decisive element in an army and, as we shall see in the next chapter, Alexander took advantage of this fact in his employment of a mercenary cavalry wing. A similar appraisal of mercenaries appears in Aristotle,

τοιουτοι δέ άλλοι μέν εν άλλοις, εν τοις πολεμικοις δ’ οι στρατιωται δοκει γάρ ειναι πολλά κενά του πολέμου

‘This type of courage is displayed by various groups in different ways and especially in warfare by mercenaries.’106

Although this passage gives a positive attitude towards mercenaries, he goes on to mention that they are less likely than a citizen to continue fighting if they are outnumbered.

οι στρατιωται δέ δειλοί γίνονται όταν υπερτείνηι ο κίνδυνος καί λείπωνται τοις πλήθεσι καί ταις παρασκευαις. πρωτοι γάρ φευγουσι, τά δέ πολιτικά μένοντα αποθνήσκει …

‘But mercenary soldiers become cowards whenever the danger appears excessive and they are deficient with respect to the enemy … They are the first to run while citizen soldiers stand their ground and die …’107

This passage poses a problem, as we have already examined the fact that many mercenaries were the same men as those who defended their cities. It is probably the traditional ideal of a citizen-farmer that he is propounding, rather than any factual evidence regarding the cowardice of mercenaries, as by the time of Aristotle, mercenaries were an integral and vitally important aspect of any Greek army.


In this chapter I have provided a clearer understanding between the citizen and the mercenary soldier. Mercenaries seem to have come from areas all over the Greek peninsula and were dominant at differing points at different times, a fluctuation that was dependent on economic and political considerations of the locality. It was these men, forced to sell their swords to maintain their freedom that many fourth century writers discredited in their works. They appeared to threaten the order of Greece and, in particular, those of the aristocratic order, from which most of our extant sources originate. It is of interest to note that this seems to be their only problem with mercenaries, and the fact that they were men who made a living from killing made little difference to these writers. Soldiering seems to be viewed as a perfectly legitimate source of livlihood,

‘My spear gives me my kneaded barley-bread, my spear gives me my Ismaric wine, I lean on my spear as I drink.’108

This view towards mercenaries and warfare is not surprising, as most of the writers would have trained, and fought, alongside men who would become mercenary soldiers. As we have seen, Isaeus, a student of Isocrates was one such man. As Trundle notes,

‘Greeks were not by nature opposed to military service, nor were they ideologically opposed to what appears to be mercenary service.’109

What they did oppose was a threat to the stability of Greece,

‘ … the Ten Thousand took to war out of poverty, and menaced the peace and prosperity of Greece.’110

Ironically, the peace and prosperity of Greece would have faced a more significant threat had there not been a gainful avenue of employment that required such large bodies of men.

Chapter 4



The fourth century produced the phenomenon known as the ‘fourth century mercenary explosion’. This term is used to describe the prevalence of mercenaries on Greek battlefields that was the natural culmination of the topics previously discussed. By the turn of this century, warfare was swiftly becoming a purely professional affair. To cope with this dramatic, if not sudden, change, Greek πόλεις had to rely on mercenary service in an attempt to maintain their independence over the wealthier kingdoms that surrounded them. It became increasingly difficult for them to compete with the great wealth of Persia and Macedon, and after Chaeronea the citizen-soldier was effectively obsolete. Their city-state’s inability to maintain a standing professional army led the way for Macedonian military dominance. However, even limitless wealth was not enough to save Darius when Alexander invaded, despite the huge numbers of Greek hoplites fighting in the Great King’s army.

In this chapter I will make a number of case studies in the use of mercenary troops in light of the information we have already examined, and examine how the effective use of these troops could be the difference between victory and defeat. The march of the Ten Thousand will not form one of these case studies, as it has already made up a good proportion of this essay. To avoid repeating myself, the first mercenary force I will examine is that of Iphicrates’ peltasts. From here, I will move into the middle of the century where the Third Sacred War showed how a small power could wield great influence with enough monetary resources. With the aid of mercenary troops, Phocis managed to avoid capitulation against larger enemy powers, over a nine-year period. The third section of this chapter will examine Alexander’s campaign against Darius, where both sides used mercenary troops at an unprecedented level- about 120,000 Greek mercenaries were used in total. I will finish this chapter with a brief overview of mercenaries in the Hellenistic world. Although it is much more difficult to ascertain who exactly was a mercenary soldier in this period of increasing professionalism, it is an era that has been largely ignored for the past seventy years and so I will here make a small effort to rectify that.

1. Iphicrates

Iphicrates, born into a humble family about 415 BC, was one of the most celebrated Athenian commanders of all time. He was the first man to fully realize the potential of mercenary peltasts, and used them to great effect at Lechaeum. Although we have seen this light-armed troop type victorious in previous battles, most notably at Sphacteria, Iphicrates seems to have introduced a number of measures that transformed his mercenary peltast force into a competent offensive unit, fulfilling a battlefield role somewhere between the heavy hoplites and the previous lighter peltasts,

‘Iphicrates was extremely experienced in war … He always prevailed because of his planning and was so skilled that he made many innovations and improvements in military technique. He changed the infantry equipment. Before he was in command the Greek infantry were accustomed to using very large, round shields … He substituted peltae for the round shield so that the troops would have more mobility on the battlefield … He doubled the length of the spear and lengthened their swords … By these reforms he took care to provide sufficient security for their bodies at the same time as he lightened that protection.’111

Other innovations emerged to coincide with these reforms, the introduction of permanent commanders for a specific unit and permanent maintenance of a mercenary force. The Athenians seem to have begun the practice of maintaining a mercenary force on a semi-permanent basis with the very unit that Iphicrates inherited,

‘The mercenary unit in Corinth. Conon first formed it. Later Iphicrates and Chabrias took it over.’112

Sage tells us that this unit was first formed in 394 BC and was not disbanded until about 386 BC.113 The retention of a mercenary unit for such a long period of time was unprecedented, but from the sources we can see the efficiency that such longevity brought to the battlefield,

‘Iphicrates commanded his force at Corinth so that no Greek unit was ever better trained or better disciplined. Iphicrates established that at a general’s command to begin battle the force deployed itself without the aid of its commander so correctly that it seems that each man had been assigned his post by the most experienced of commanders.’114

The most significant victory, however, was Iphicrates’ unexpected destruction of the Spartan μόρα at Lechaeum in the summer of 390 BC. This battle secured the reputation of the mercenary peltast, and we rarely find a Greek army without a unit of these lighter troops for the next seventy years. As we shall see, they were an integral part of Alexander’s army.

To show the capabilities of Iphicrates’ mercenary corps I will use the story as related by Xenophon, as it is generally regarded as the most reliable. By 392 BC, the Corinthian War had turned into a series of small skirmishes, with the Spartans having the greater success on the battlefield. However, their infantry was extremely top heavy, comprising few light-armed troops. The Spartans put an arrogant trust in the capabilities of their hoplites,

‘The garrison commander there ordered the allied troops to guard the walls while he escorted the Amyclaeans past the city of Corinth with a mora of hoplites and a mora of cavalry … The Spartans were fully aware that there were many enemy peltasts and hoplites in Corinth. But they contemptuously assumed that no one would dare attack them because of past Spartan successes.’115

When the mora was isolated from its light support, Iphicrates and Callias attacked with their peltasts, a battle that resulted in very similar victory as that at Sphacteria,

‘Callias deployed his troops close to the city, while Iphicrates took his force of peltasts and attacked the mora. Some of the Spartans were wounded or killed … The polemarch ordered the hoplites between ages 20 and 30 to run out and pursue the light-armed troops. But as they were hoplites in pursuit of peltasts who had the lead of a javelin’s throw they caught no one, as Iphicrates had ordered his troops to retreat before the hoplites came close to them. But when the Spartan hoplites returned to their unit … the peltasts turned about and some threw their javelins at them from behind, while others running alongside them attacked their unshielded side … The repetition of this process made the Spartan troops who survived less bold … During the entire action the Spartan losses were about 250 men.’116

This defeat was a huge blow to the old citizen-hoplite order of warfare and stands as a pivotal moment, whereby the weakness of the citizen phalanx, when not adequately supported by lighter troops, was ruthlessly exposed. Sparta was a notoriously conservative city and preferred to rely on the ability of her formidable hoplites in battle, rather than hire foreigners to fight for her. Parke states that there were unlikely to have been mercenaries in Spartan service before 386 BC.117 The destruction of one of her μόρα was as much a victory of innovation over stagnation in warfare, as it was a military victory for Athens over Sparta. At the time of this victory, Iphicrates was only in his early twenties, not old enough to hold the position of general. It seems that it was his youth and skill that marked him out for leadership, as he was not of the wealthy aristocratic order of Athens. Greek warfare was moving in a more professional direction, and men were now choosing a life of permanent warfare, as we know Iphicrates served as a military leader for most of his life. Mercenary troops were now, if not before, an essential part of Greek warfare.

Although the notion of a permanent, professional standing army did not materialize until Philip II, units such as Iphicrates’ mercenary peltasts and, to an even greater extent, the Theban Sacred Band, were highly influential in the style of training, equipment and discipline that they displayed. When Philip, and later Alexander, formed their armies, they were careful to place a strong emphasis on combined arms. Incidents such as the destruction of the Spartan mora at Lechaeum helped reinforced this notion.

2. The Third Sacred War

This section displays the ability of a small city to achieve phenomenal success when sufficient funds can be obtained. With deep resources, Phocis managed to maintain a strong mercenary force for the nine-year duration of the Sacred War.

The basis of this war lay with the Theban desire to reassert authority over central Greece, following their expulsion from Euboea in 357 BC. Hostile towards the Phocians, Thebes encouraged the Amphictyonic League, who cared for the temple at Delphi, to curse the lands cultivated by the Phocians, claiming they belonged to Apollo. In retaliation, the Phocians, under the leadership of Philomelus, formed an alliance with Sparta and seized Delphi, along with its great wealth, in the form of donations to the god. He did so with the help of hired mercenaries,

Εδήλωσεν ουν αυτωι διότι τούς Δελφούς καταλαβέσθαι … Αρχίδαμος αποδεξάμενος τόν λόγον … χορηγων καί χρήματα καί μισθοφόρους …

‘He accordingly disclosed to Archidamus that he had decided to seize Delphi … Archidamus approved of the proposal … providing both money and mercenaries.118

Phocis, along with its ally, Pherae managed a string of impressive victories using this mercenary force, including defeating Philip of Macedon in 353 BC. Although Phocis was a small, relatively poor city-state, the treasury at Delphi enabled her to maintain an effective mercenary army in the field, despite the outcry of sacrilege from other Greek states.

Φανερου δ’ όντος ότι Βοιωτοί μεγάληι δυνάμει στρατεύσουσιν επί τούς Φωκεις ο Φιλόμηνος έκρινε μισθοφόρων αθροίζειν πληθος. προσδεομένου δέ του πολέμου χρημάτων πλειόνων ηναγκάζετο τοις ιεροις αναθήμασιν επιβάλλειν τάς χειρας καί συλαν τό μαντειον. υποστησαμένου δ’ αυτου τοις ξένοις μισθούς ημιολίους ταχύ πληθος ηθροίσθη μισθοφόρων … ευθύς ουν εστράτευσεν εις την των Λοκρων χώραν έχων στρατιώτας ιππεις καί πεζούς πλείους των μυρίων.

‘When it was clear that the Boeotians would take the field with a large army against the Phocians, Philomelus decided to gather a great number of mercenaries. Since the war required ampler funds he was compelled to lay his hands on the sacred dedications and to plunder the oracle. By setting the base pay for the mercenaries half as much again as was usual … He immediately advanced into the territory of the Locrians with soldiers both foot and horse amounting to more than ten thousand.’119

The biggest threat to the Phocians was that of Macedon, and although they defeated him once, Philip eventually overcame their resistance and they were forced to capitulate. In total, the war lasted nine years and throughout this period the Phocians kept a nearly permanent standing mercenary army, whilst Thebes was forced to hire part of her army to Persia in an effort to maintain fighting.120 It clearly displayed the potential capability of a small power, armed with a well-equipped, well-funded professional army, in the face of a well-established, formidable opponent, a fact the Argeads seem to have appreciated.

3. Alexander and Darius

As already mentioned, there were as many as 120,000 Greek mercenaries used on both sides during Alexander’s campaign,121 not to mention the Indian mercenaries we also know were utilised. In this section, I will highlight a number of important case studies that showed the worth of mercenaries for Alexander, and the reliance upon them by Darius.

a. Μέμνων Ρόδου
This case study will show the double-edged sword of using mercenary troops to fight ones battles. It exposes the potential suspicions towards mercenary commanders by local generals, which seems to stem largely from the payment they received for their service.

Memnon of Rhodes was a very capable general in the employ of Darius III. Trundle argues that although he looked like a mercenary, he simply illustrates the fluidity with which powerful men of the later Classical age could move within aristocratic circles.122 I disagree, and believe he could have been nothing but a mercenary general, as he was a Rhodian, commanding around 20,000 Greeks in Persian service, in return for fiscal gain. The fact he was also a member of Darius’ court just proves he was very successful at his job.

Persia had been hiring Greek mercenaries on a massive scale previous to the invasion of Alexander. When Artaxerxes Ochus invaded Egypt in 343 BC, he led the attack with over 18,000 Greek mercenaries, led by the brother of Memnon, Mentor. Nectanebo, defending Egypt, hired 20,000 Greek mercenaries for the task.123 This instability in the Persian court continued until the middle of 336 BC, and allowed Philip to eventually send an expeditionary force to invade Persia, having being officially at war since 340 BC. The combined Greek and Macedonian force that landed in Asia Minor was about 10,000 strong. Although he was the hegemon of all Greece, there were about 5,000 Greek mercenaries, under the command of Memnon in Asia to disrupt his progress,

ηγεμονας τε τους αριστους προκινων, εν οις υπηρχε καί Μεμνων ο Ροδιος, διαφερων ανδρειαι καί συνεσαι στρατηγικει. τουτοι δε δους ο βασιλειυς μισθοφορους πεντακισχιλιους …

‘… choosing at the same time his best commanders, among whom was Memnon of Rhodes, outstanding in courage and in strategic grasp. The king gave him five thousand mercenaries …’124

Throughout the Persian invasion, Philip, and subsequently Alexander, were continually opposed by Greek mercenary troops, showing not only the Greek resistance to Macedon, but also the importance of Persia as an outlet for the employment of Greek mercenaries. Until the death of Darius, there seems to have been more Greeks opposing Alexander than fought for him.

Despite the disparity in numbers, Memnon used his limited troops to great effect and ensured that Parmenio’s larger force was contained in the Greek cities of Asia Minor,

πιτανην δέ πολιορκουντος αυτου Μεμνων επιφανεις καί καταπληξαμενος τούς Μακεδονας ελυσε την πολιορκιαν. μετα δέ ταυτα Καλλας μέν εχων Μακεδονας καί μισθοφόρους στρατιωτας εν τηι Τρωιαδι συνηρσε μαχην προς τους Περσας, οντας πολλαπλασιους, καί λειφθεις απεχωρησεν εις το Ροιτειον.

‘Memnon appeared and frightened the Macedonians into breaking off the siege. Later Callas with a mixed force of Macedonians and mercenaries joined battle in the Troad against a much larger force of Persians and, finding himself inferior, fell back on the promontory of Rhoetium.’125

With his guerrilla tactics and selective battles, Memnon proved the ability of a small mercenary force, when not having to commit to an open battle. Mustering the troops of the vast Persian Empire was a difficult and time-consuming process, ensuring that Memnon’s mercenary force was the only method of threatening the Macedonian troops.

Memnon was a trusted advisor to Darius and seems to have been present in the war deliberations when Alexander invaded with an additional 30,000 troops in 334 BC. He knew the strengths of the Macedonian phalanx and suggested a scorched-earth policy that would stretch Alexander’s supplies to breaking point, inevitably forcing the Macedonian to withdraw without a significant encounter,

μνων ο Ροδιος παρήινει μή διά κινδυνου ιέναι πρός τους Μακεδόνας, τωι τε πεζωι πολύ περιόντας σφων …

‘Memnon of Rhodes advised them to run no risk of war with the Macedonans, who were far their superiors in infantry.’126

However, being a Greek, the Persian officers doubted Memnon’s motives and insisted on standing their ground at the Granicus River,

καί τούς Πέρσας Αρσιτηι προσθέσθαι,ότι καί ύποπτόν τι αυτοις ην ες τόν Μέμνονα, τρίβας εμποιειν εκόντα τωι πολέμωι της εκ βασιλέως τιμης ένεκα.

‘The Persians supported Aristes, having suspicions of Memnon, thinking that he was delaying warlike operations for the sake of the office he held from the king.’127

At this point, the only possibility of repelling Alexander was by using the 20,000 Greek mercenaries to hold the opposite bank, utilising the advantage of high ground to neutralise the Companion cavalry, and deploying the Persian cavalry in a supporting role. The Persian cavalry was made up of aristocrats and, unhappy with this subsidiary role, were deployed to accept the Macedonian charge, negating their advantage of speed and stranding the slower Greek mercenary infantry on a rearward hill.

The petty Persian satraps overruled Memnon, who had been hired for his expertise in the art of war, and the battle was a complete victory for Alexander. The Macedonian king realized the potential threat posed by these Greek mercenaries and refused to accept surrender,

Αλέξανδρος επί τούς ξένους τούς μισθοφόρους … εν μέσωι δι’ ολίγου κατακόπτει αυτούς.

‘Alexander turned against the foreign mercenary troops … he hemmed them in and soon massacred them …’128

The slaughter of these Greek mercenaries not an unfortunate act in the heat of war, but a very deliberately warning. Alexander was perfectly aware that if the Persians had deployed their mercenaries at the river he would not have had nearly as effective a victory. It was a pre-emptive warning aimed at other Greeks who may consider taking employment with the Darius.

This example exemplifies the problems inherent in hiring foreign troops. Suspicions, regarding greed and origin, could lead to indecision in how best to utilise a mercenary force. There is no doubt that the Persian command knew that they were crippling their cavalry’s advantage by deploying them at the river bank, but seem to have done so to limit Memnon’s court influence. Despite this, the Rhodian continued to be loyal to his employer until his death in 333 BC.

b. μισθοφόροι Αλεξανδρου
As mentioned previously, the two rivals kings employed a great number of mercenaries in their respective armies, about 120,000 between them. This, more than any other statistic, proves the vulnerable economic position of late fourth century Greece. The provenance of these men must have been varied, but a great deal of them seem to have been political exiles, considering the number of dispossessed men gathered at the Olympic games to hear the Exiles Decree.129 The practical purpose behind this decree was to remove a potential threat to Alexander’s empire. Although he had already ordered all his satraps to disband their mercenary soldiers, satrapal revolt in Persia was a frequent occurrence. Traditionally, these revolts had been reliant on the hiring of Greek troops to do the fighting. Removing the dispossessed exiles limited this threat.

The most obvious encounter to highlight the importance of mercenaries in the campaigns of Alexander was the battle of Gaugamela. This battle has been hailed as one of the greatest pitched battle victories in military history, but the role of Greek mercenaries has been largely ignored. Tarn was particularly vocal when he accused Parke of drastically underestimating the contribution of the mercenary cavalry130, a situation Trundle does very little to rectify.

The battle was fought on the 1st October 331 in the heart of the Persian Empire. Although the sources vary widely as to the exact numbers of opposing troops, it can be said with certainty that Alexander was heavily outnumbered. To avoid being outflanked, he came up with an ingenious battle formation, whereby he guarded his flanks with wedge formations, inclined at an angle back from his front. He also formed a second line of infantry in case the army needed to adopt a defensive formation. This second line was predominantly comprised of Greeks from the Corinthian League and mercenary troops. As well as offering the opportunity to form a defensive square, this formation negated the threat posed by the overlapping Persian flanks, due to the angle of the flank guards. As Alexander himself was deployed with the Companion cavalry to the right of his line, Arrian focuses on the composition of the wedge guard on that flank,

‘To allow the phalanx to extend or close up … were posted the so-called old mercenaries under Cleander. In front of all these were the mercenary horse under Menidas.’131

We are told that a very similar formation was used to protect the left flank, with mercenary cavalry again forming the apex of the defensive wedge. Arrian also tells us that this flank included Cretan mercenary archers, which were examined earlier. These flanks were deployed to protect the vulnerable side and rear of the Companion horse and foot. Although these mercenaries did not form part of the main offensive arm, they were still an essential element of the army. During the battle, the mercenary cavalry engaged the Bactrian and Scythian cavalry to Darius’ left. Although the superior number of Persian cavalry broke their line initially, they rallied and, together with the mercenary foot, engaged again.’

Αλέξανδρος δέ τούς περί Αρίστωνά τε, τούς Παίονας, καί τούς ξένους εμβαλειν τοις Σκύθαις εκέλευσε. καί εγκλίνουσιν οι βάρβαροι. Βάκτριοι δέ οι άλλοι πελάσαντες τοις Παίοσί τε καί ξένοις τούς τε σφων φεύγοντας ήδη ανέστρεψαν ες τήν μάχην καί τήν ιππομαχίαν ξυστηναι εποίησαν.

‘Alexander ordered Aristo’s brigade, the Paeonians and the mercenaries to charge the Scythians and the barbarians gave way. The remaining Bactrians, however, came up to the Paeonians and mercenary horse and rallied those on their side and thus made the cavalry engagement a close one.132

Frequently underestimated, the role played by these mercenaries was vital to eventual Macedonian victory. The Persian horse was the most powerful cavalry of the time, and was used as the main offensive arm of the Persian army. Although the Greek mercenaries did not deal a decisive blow, they did occupy this elite unit long enough for Alexander to take advantage and drive his Companion horse and Macedonian phalanx into the heart of the Persian army. Directly threatened, Darius fled the battlefield, leaving his empire in the hands of Alexander. It is also worth noting that Darius fielded a unit of 6,000 mercenary infantry in the centre of his formation ‘opposite the Macedonian phalanx, being the only unit capable of standing up to it’.133 However, being a battle decided by the use of cavalry, the played an insignificant role.

Gaugamela proved the worth of mercenary troops, and from this point on we find mercenaries playing an increasingly important role in Alexander’s campaigns and the mercenary cavalry were chosen as part of the elite force detached to hunt down Darius. Many of the confrontations he faced subsequent to Gaugamela were against the nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples of central Asia. It was extremely difficult to get these mountainous tribes to commit to open battle, where the Macedonian cavalry and phalanx were most effective. Mercenary peltasts, similar to those used by Iphicrates, were ideal for this type of warfare. On his march to Persis, Alexander successfully sent his peltast mercenaries and elite Agrianians to subdue the Uxii, after the heavier phalanx failed to do so.134 After the Greeks of the Corinthian League were disbanded, Alexander seems to have further integrated mercenaries into his army, particularly as the campaign continued and he found replacements were harder to obtain from a drained homeland. For example, under Hephaestion and Perdiccas, he sent half the phalanx and the majority of the mercenary infantry as an advance force to his invasion of the Indus. Meanwhile he retained the mercenary cavalry and the remainder of the Macedonians to finish the campaign in the Cophen Valley.

Mercenaries were also a vital part of the Macedonian supply lines. As he travelled east, Alexander founded multiple cities in his newly conquered empire. From Alexandria in Areia, to Bucephela on the Hydaspes, these cities created an unbroken supply chain back to the heart of his empire. They were also a means by which peace and order could be maintained in a locality, and this was achieved by inhabiting them with Greek troops. Due to a premium placed on his Macedonian infantry, these were rarely used unless they were too old or injured to continue, so mercenaries most often fulfilled this role. Bosworth tells us that at least 36,000 mercenary troops were left in satrapal armies during the march.135 Mercenary troops were chosen, as they were the most reliable part of Alexander’s army, after the Macedonians, as long as they were paid.

‘He believed that he could hold Asia with a comparatively small army, since he had planted garrisons in many places, and had filled the new cities with settlers who would not revolt.’136

It was essential for the survival of his newly created empire that the men who settled these new cities were completely loyal. However, as we shall see, his death caused many of these mercenaries to revolt, indicating they were unhappy with being deployed in a purely peacekeeping capacity.

The Successors

After the death of Alexander in 323 BC, we hear of a number of mercenary revolts across the empire he had created. Griffith tells us that up to 50,000 mercenary troops were gathered at Taenarum by Leosthenes.137 Although this is probably an exaggerated figure, these were the discharged remnants of the disbanded satrapal forces. Organised into an army, they caused severe problems for splintered Macedonian power during the Lamian War, until the death of Leosthenes. In the east, 23,000 mercenary troops left behind to garrison the newly founded settlements in Bactria revolted and tried to fight their way back to Greece. Unable to counter the Macedonian cavalry, these troops were forced to surrender under agreement, but were slaughtered at the orders of Perdiccas.138

As the question of succession became ever more bloody, the Successors began scrambling for able men. The continuous wars under the Argeads meant that Macedonian troops were a finite commodity. The Successors had no legitimate right to rule the kingdoms they carved out for themselves, as none of them were connected to the Argead line by blood. Instead, their rule relied on their ability to wield an effective army and their personality,

‘It is neither descent nor legitimacy which gives monarchies to men, but the ability to command an army and to handle affairs competently … those who had no connection with Alexander became kings of almost the whole inhabited world.139

The rules of warfare had altered in the fickle nature of the Hellenistic world, ensuring that the maintenance of a permanent, professional army was essential to maintaining power. But even this was not always sufficient, as the assassinations of Eumenes and Perdiccas aptly display. The kings had to maintain a successful army, as success in battle brought plunder and wealth, ideal for mercenary soldiers. These new kingdoms were incomprehensibly vast and wealthy in comparison to anything the Greeks had previously experienced. The Seleucid Kingdom alone stretched from native Greek cities on the Mediterranean shore to the Hindu Kush. Despite this power, they were highly reliant on adopting the precedent set by Alexander, particularly in their armies and administration. There was a heavy reliance placed on ensuring a constant supply of soldiers and administrators from the mainland and many of the men attracted were mercenary soldiers.

Trundle argues that the professional nature of the Hellenistic world makes it nearly impossible to discern a mercenary soldier in this period, the reason he gives for making the death of Alexander the terminus his book. This is true to a certain point, but there are some interesting factors involved. Many of the troops who flooded into the Hellenisitc kingdoms were settled on the land. This was a satisfactory situation for both the soldier, who was given land, and for monarch, who had a readily available army. This situation is remarkably similar to the one we found at the beginning of this thesis, regarding the first extant record of Greek mercenary service in Egypt. Under very different circumstances we find a very similar end product, whereby Psammethicus maintained power by the use of hired Greek swords, and in return settled these men in the Nile delta. It is remarkable that after 350 years, and perhaps the most defining military campaign in Near Eastern history, we find the conditions of mercenary service had altered very little.


The fourth century saw a monumental shift in the ancient Greek attitude towards warfare. From the effective implementation of siege equipment, to the experimentation with combined arms, it was a century of unprecedented innovation, a trend that continued into the Hellenistic Age. The fourth century also saw the eventual obsolescence of the citizen-hoplite. With the Greek πόλεις increasingly dominated by larger, wealthier foreign powers, it was inevitable that professional armies would replace the old method of seasonal hoplite warfare. Lacking the resources to compete with the wealth of Macedonia, the πόλεις were eventually subsumed into the Hellenistic world.

This chapter examined a number of case studies in the implementation of mercenaries on the fourth century battlefield. From the capable use of peltasts by Iphicrates, to the ineffectual deployment of the Persian-employed Greek infantry at the Granicus River, they all point to an era whereby modern tactics and use of combined arms were essential elements to ensuring victory. Mercenaries played an essential role in this change. They paved the way for fully professional armies, and highlighted the weaknesses of not combining the various arms of an army competently.


In this thesis, I have drawn together a number of elements of Greek mercenary warfare that have been hitherto largely ignored, or examined unsatisfactorily. Mercenaries were an integral part of ancient Greek life. Many locations appear proud of their mercenary traditions, proven by the erection of mercenary shrines, such as that to Apollo at Bassae. Although their connection to the tyrannies of Greece and Sicily was admonished, there appears to have been no stigma attached to fighting for a livlihood. This is not surprising, as I examined the Greek attitude to war, whereby it was seen as a legitimate economic enterprise. The hiring of the dispossessed by a foreign source could only have been a benefit to Greece. As we can find from Isocrates, these men were a threat to the stability to Greece. By serving in foreign lands, the economic and sustenance problems of the homeland would have been eased somewhat. It is highly likely that if this large-scale avenue of employment did not exist, there would have been further civil strife within Greece.

One of the main themes examined in this thesis was the relationship between the citizen-hoplite and the mercenary soldier. I have shown that there was very little difference between them and very often it was the same unit that was hired to a foreign power as that which fought for a home πόλις. In the second chapter I discussed the considerations that lay behind this; military, political and economic. As explained there were three factors allowing for the presence of mercenaries. Firstly there had to be a war, or threat of a war. As we have seen, there was ample warfare in Greece in the century following the Peloponnesian war. Secondly, there needed to be a demand for the mercenary. This demand stemmed from the prowess of the Greek infantry, which were the most capable in the Greek world, forming the backbone of several armies outside of Hellas itself. The Persian Great King was willing to use mercenaries, rather than train his own heavy troops, as money was no object to him and they were more loyal than local troops, as long as they were paid. Finally, there has to be a man willing to sell his sword. As I examined, there were plenty of Greek soldiers who were dispossessed due to political strife, or economic hardship. Unable to compete with the urban skills of the metic, and desperate to avoid slavery, many of these men were forced to make themselves available as mercenary soldiers.

In the final chapter, I made a number of case studies to illustrate the factors that had already been discussed. From the capability of Iphicrates at Lechaeum, to the inability of the Persians at the Granicus, these give a better understanding to the essential role that mercenaries played on the battlefields of the fourth century. Commanders were increasingly forced to abandon traditional methods of warfare and adopt tactics reliant on the use of combined arms. This shift in warfare coincided with the increasing professionalism of the Greek soldier. The Greek πόλεις were unable to adapt to the new fiscal demands warfare placed on them, and by the last third of the fourth century Macedonia, with her professional and mercenary army, dominated Greek affairs and the citizen-hoplite was effectively obsolete. The soldiers themselves, however, were still amongst the best infantry in the world and many found employment in the armies of Alexander and the Successors.


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