Mercenaries in History and the Modern Era: Impact of the Privatized Military Industry on U.S. Security Interests

Date of Graduation

Fall 2004


Master of Science in Defense and Strategic Studies


Defense and Strategic Studies

Committee Chair

C. Walton


Throughout history, mercenaries have been employed by various polities, yet reliance on mercenaries has traditionally weakened empires. The Periclean strategy necessitated an increase in mercenaries during the Peloponnesian War. This increase initiated a self-perpetuating cycle of decline, leaving the city-states vulnerable to eventual subjugation by Philip of Macedon. The Carthaginians were defeated in the Second Punic War as a result of mercenary use. Mercenaries numbers were limited, and more importantly, their use reflected a weak commitment to winning wars. The Byzantine Empire endured for many centuries as a result of its recruiting system known as the theme and the professional soldier was the foundation of its army. When this system was exirpated, Byzantium began to lose its influence. In all of the historical case studies herein, polities endured so long as they had their own militaries that were not comprised primarily of mercenaries, whereas those that began to use mercenaries were eventually defeated. The United States currently employs privatized military firms to carry out military tasks. So far, the role of these firms has been limited to secondary military tasks. Privatized military firms have yet to be used in direct combat roles by the United States. However, there remains the possibility that one day privatized military firms will be used to fight wars, an eventuality that would encourage marginalization of the national military. Therefore, privatized military firm employment could be a sign that the United States is entering a decline.


citizen-soldier, conscript, mercenary, decline, privatized military firm

Subject Categories

Defense and Security Studies


© Christos N. Stephanides