Two Unexpected Ways in Which Mercenaries Affected Ancient Battles

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Two Unexpected Ways in Which Mercenaries Affected Ancient Battles

This hadn’t occurred to me until I was reading a volume of ancient military history.

By Thomas E. Ricks

| November 14, 2017, 10:10 AM

Gold coins from the Roman town of Pompeii on display in Chicago, Illinois on Oct. 18, 2005. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Gold coins from the Roman town of Pompeii on display in Chicago, Illinois on Oct. 18, 2005. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

This hadn’t occurred to me until I was reading a volume of ancient military history. Mercenaries and allies — the distinction was sometimes hazy — were essential to most militaries throughout time. And they wanted their pay. That meant bringing along cash money, usually in chests, to pay them and keep them in the fight.

So capturing the foe’s treasure chests was a major goal in a battle, because it had two major consequences. First, you got rich. Second, the enemy was unable to pay some of his fighters, and that tended to reduce his fighting capability. Indeed, sometimes mercenaries might even change sides — following the money, as the saying goes.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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