sehepunkte 23 (2023), Nr. 11

Patrick Sänger / Sandra Scheuble-Reiter (Hgg.): Söldner und Berufssoldaten in der griechischen Welt

Mercenaries did not enjoy a good reputation among the Athenian writers of the late Classical era. Demosthenes described them as ill-paid and wretched; Isocrates spoke of their "lawlessness, brigandage and violence", which made them the "common enemy of mankind" (8.44-46). Such assessments must be taken with a heavy pinch of salt. Both Isocrates and Demosthenes were members of the Athenian elites, who saw the city's increasing reliance on mercenaries as a threat to their polis, which traditionally relied on citizen-soldiers. Their portrayal of mercenaries, however, testifies to the ubiquity of hired soldiers, who became a central feature in the politics and societies of the Hellenistic kingdoms, effectively supplanting the amateur citizen warriors of the Classical era.

Söldner und Berufssoldaten in der griechischen Welt looks at mercenaries and professional soldiers precisely in this tumultuous period. The volume, edited by Patrick Sänger and Sandra Scheuble-Reiter, is based on a conference held at Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg in 2016. It consists of 14 chapters, split into four sections, written by an international ensemble of scholars in English, German and French. The aim of the volume, as the editors explain in the Introduction, is to modify the historical perception of mercenaries in the Classical and Hellenistic eras. Instead of approaching the subject from traditional military-historical perspectives, the volume brings the social, cultural and legal aspects of mercenary service to the forefront.

The opening section focuses on the dichotomy between citizen-soldiers and mercenaries. First, Marco Bettalli considers Demosthenes' speeches, noting that despite recognizing the usefulness of mercenaries, the orator had a clear ideological bias, which exalted the citizen-soldier as central to the Athenian polis. Leonhard Burckhardt's chapter investigates the community building processes in Xenophon's Anabasis, which provides a counter-example to contemporary texts which dismissed mercenaries as unfit for political life. Burckhardt suggests that the common cultural background of the Ten Thousand made them capable of forming a functioning, if temporary, polis. Finally, Sandra Scheuble-Reiter provides an excellent study of mercenaries and their families. Arguing against the popular model of the mercenary as a greedy adventurer and womanizer, she highlights the expectations of soldiers regarding provisions for their families. Protecting the latter, as she concludes, contributed to the positive image of Hellenistic kings, facilitated the integration of soldiers and created secure recruitment bases: "a win-win situation for both sides" (72).

The second section shifts to the political and legal implications of mercenary service. Sandra Péré-Noguès begins with a study of mercenaries in Sicily from the fifth to the third century BC. Discussing the changing geopolitical balances of the island, she highlights the political vocation of mercenaries, whose installation had direct consequences on local communities. The relationship between garrisons and cities is also investigated by Charalampos Chrysafis, who looks at the Antigonid dynasty. While various factors influenced the interactions, Chrysafis argues that the basic attitude of the cities towards garrisons was negative because of the economic and social burden exerted by the soldiers. Klaus Zimmermann continues the theme by investigating the inclusion of mercenary communities in Hellenistic Asia Minor. Three case studies are discussed (Phrourion, Toriaion, Kleonnaeion), demonstrating that military colonies were shaped by the peculiarities of their regions - religious, cultural, political. In the last chapter, Charlotte Van Regenmortel tackles the negative view of mercenaries in the Athenian sources. The disappearance of derogatory assessments of mercenary service in the early Hellenistic era should be attributed, as she argues, to "the socio-economic benefits that mercenary service entailed for both the soldiers and their home polis" (139).

The third section focuses on the communities of mercenaries. Dan Dana begins with a study of the Thracian Traleis. Taking account of some recent epigraphic discoveries, he locates the tribe on the borders of eastern Macedonia and highlights the light-infantry nature of its soldiers, hired by all major Hellenistic armies. Next, Patrick Sänger takes us to the politeumata of Sidon. Investigating four funerary inscriptions, he considers the term politeuma - originally meaning 'citizenry', but commonly interpreted as an association of soldiers in the Ptolemaic Kingdom - in the problematic case of Sidon. Ptolemaic soldiers also feature in the remaining chapters by Christelle Fischer-Bovet and Katelijn Vandorpe. The first provides a fascinating study of the social dynamics of mercenary dedications in Egypt and Cyprus. Dedications, as Fischer-Bovet demonstrates, allowed communities of soldiers to display their respect of the political hierarchies and local cults, while also enabling them to gain social capital with civilian populations. Vandorpe's chapter unravels the mystery behind the so-called "Persian" mercenaries in Ptolemaic Thebaid, offering a helpful survey of ethnics and soldier types in Ptolemaic Egypt.

The final section - "Grundsätzliche Perspektiven bzw. Perspektivwechsel" - starts with an investigation of mercenary and symmachic contingents in the Hellenistic era, as Nicholas Sekunda highlights the differences between the two using case studies from Crete. The volume finishes off with two contributions looking at mercenaries from the perspective of the Persians. First, Christopher Tuplin collects evidence for Greek and non-Greek soldiers in Persian service, demonstrating that mercenaries were a consistently common feature of the Achaemenid military environment in the Classical era. Hilmar Klinkott continues the theme with an in-depth look at the status of multi-ethnic armed forces in the Achaemenid Empire. After a detailed discussion on definitions and terminology, which takes into account both ancient and modern sources, Klinkott refuses to categorize Persian hired soldiers as mercenaries, opting instead to see them as "military specialists", permanently settled in the Empire and reminiscent of the Babylonian hatru.

Questions about how to define a mercenary appear time and again throughout the volume. Some authors devote entire sections to the issue; others confine it to a footnote or avoid it altogether. While the editors recognized the problem of terminology surrounding mercenary service, they opted not to impose any strict definitions on the authors. The volume, in effect, suffers from terminological inconsistency. The confusion ultimately stems from the fact that the Greeks themselves had no specific word for a mercenary (the English word derives from Latin mercenarius; German 'Söldner' comes from solidus, the gold coin paid to Roman troops). In some ways, the inconsistency of the volume mirrors the ambiguity of the sources. The latter was especially evident in the historical period under consideration, when the boundaries between citizens, professional and hired soldiers were extremely blurry. Although the volume ultimately does not distinguish between 'Söldner' and 'Berufssoldaten', it puts the various types of paid military service on full display.

Its main achievement, however, lies undoubtedly in shifting the focus away from military perspectives towards a history of hired soldiers beyond the battlefield. The authors shine a bright light on the social and political lives of mercenaries, putting Demosthenes' and Isocrates' portrayals of them as lawless vagabonds to bed. The volume will be of interest predominantly to specialists and graduate students, familiar with the period and fluent in all three languages. It should also serve as an example for future studies of mercenaries and indeed other subjects in the realm of military history.

Rezension über:

Patrick Sänger / Sandra Scheuble-Reiter (Hgg.): Söldner und Berufssoldaten in der griechischen Welt. Soziale und politische Gestaltungsräume (= Historia; Bd. 269), Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag 2022, 378 S., ISBN 978-3-515-13312-8, EUR 72,00

Rezension von:
Cezary Kucewicz
University of Gdańsk
Empfohlene Zitierweise:
Cezary Kucewicz: Rezension von: Patrick Sänger / Sandra Scheuble-Reiter (Hgg.): Söldner und Berufssoldaten in der griechischen Welt. Soziale und politische Gestaltungsräume, Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag 2022, in: sehepunkte 23 (2023), Nr. 11 [15.11.2023], URL:

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