Today, military personnel are often used as a labour force to fulfil various peaceful functions, given that most soldiers aren't preoccupied with fighting wars in the most peaceful period of human history. A prime example is the use of soldiers for humanitarian reasons, such as the execution of aid relief missions or as rescuers in disasters & crisis.

When and what is the first known recorded use of soldiers in all of history for peaceful purposes? These soldiers should be on active duty, the activities they are involved in should not have any relation to warfare whatsoever, and use of weapons technology should not be involved unless it is for a non-combat functionality (eg. dynamite). The soldiers should also be directly ordered to execute this peaceful action rather than being a side effect of some other order.

To clarify the eligibility criteria set above, here's a few examples of what kind of scenarios do not qualify under the above criteria:

  • Soldiers retiring home after campaign season to farm and harvest, and returning to fight only in the next campaign season. They aren't on active duty while farming - we tend to call them farmers rather than soldiers during the harvest.
  • Construction of Roman settlements around long-term garrisons. Those settlements originally exist to provide comfortable homes for soldiers stationed there to defend the region against potential invaders (and retired soldiers who stay). The construction of the town happened because of potential warfare - it probably wouldn't have happened if there's no war or soldiers in the world. It is also a side effect: soldiers were generally not ordered to build a town, they were only ordered to build a fort around which the town sprung up.
  • Armed peacekeepers. They are there to fulfil a military role.
  • 1
    The issue with this question is that for many primitive cultures, there was no clear distinction between soldier and guard, or even between military and civilian (you get a wandering groups of hunter/gatherers and they have to fight another tribe, are they suddenly soldiers?) Even more recently, there existed many "guard" formations that would provide protection for the ruler during peacetime and go into battlefield (as an elite force!) during a conflict..
    – SJuan76
    Jun 3, 2016 at 11:05
  • I disagree. Hunter-gatherers who can fight off raiders don't make them soldiers. Soldiers only exist when a tribe/city/state/civilisation decides "we need to kill people. Let's designate a group of people to do just that." Praetorians/Companions, for example, are soldiers first and guards second even though they do more guarding. People started fighting each other first, then they created a role to do just that, then it became professional, and finally it's institutionalised. My question refers to soldiers when they're already a clearly defined institution in civilisation. Jun 3, 2016 at 11:59
  • To get the most value for their money, if Roman soldiers weren't out fighting, they were building. Roads, walls, aqueducts, canals... you name it, soldiers were building it. I even found soldiers gold mining in Dolaucothi, Wales starting about 78 AD. I'd say you'll find soldiers being used for civil work so long as there is a standing army with no fighting to do. Check Tiglath-Pileser III or Sargon of Akkad who probably had some of the first standing armies.
    – Schwern
    Jun 4, 2016 at 3:09

2 Answers 2


I do not remember the source but I have read that in Roman Empire soldiers were sometimes used to harvest grapes.


In the Roman Empire soldiers were often used to work on various construction projects that had military and/or peacetime uses, such as Roman roads, for example.

So the earliest examples, if there are any earlier ones, would have to be pre-Roman and thus dated BC and not AD.

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