Employing foreign mercenaries as royal guards is an ancient trend. The Pope employed Swiss guards starting with the Renaissance. The Basileus had his Varangian Guard. Even the Roman emperors briefly recruited an Imperial German Guard. The benefits are obvious: foreigners have no chance in any local political arena, their loyalty lies with the guy paying their salaries, and any units whose fame crosses cultural boundaries must be skilled and famous indeed.

How far back does this go, though? Who was the first to intentionally employ a unit of fully foreign soldiers?

  • 2
    I think you misread the situation: the primal reason why would hire foreign mercenaries was that foreign mercenaries were available and had high reputation. Mercenaries are often were experienced common soldiers from places with weak central power , no money to pay their soldier, and/or nor war to fight. People who hired mercenaries were the opposite: leaders who had money and had war to fight.
    – Greg
    Jun 7, 2017 at 2:24
  • An interesting detail: according to modern definitions I found mercenaries are foreigners per definition (en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercenary;https://…) . A mercenary can only be someone who is not involved e.g. as a national in the conflict, only for the monetary gain. The oldest known examples are from Egypt, according to the Wikipedia article.
    – Greg
    Jun 7, 2017 at 18:39
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    Certainly further back then The Ten Thousand of Xenophon's The Anabasis. Jun 8, 2017 at 0:53
  • @Greg I don't care about the motivations, really. I just care about the first such incidence. I don't think this is too broad a question since it's easily answerable by historical fact.
    – SPavel
    Jun 8, 2017 at 1:46
  • How about Aegean mercenaries in the Assyrian army? Jun 8, 2017 at 1:53

1 Answer 1



The Medjay were mercenaries of Ancient Egypt. Pastorialists from Medja (a part of Nubia) came to Egypt for employment, including as mercenaries, as far back as the Old Kingdom (c. 2686 BC - c. 2181 BC), although their prominence as established mercenary units probably began during the Second Intermediary Period (c. 1650 BC - c. 1550 BC), where their fighting prowess gained recognition and they were an important contributor to Egypt's military power.

By the 18th Dynasty (1549/1550 BC - 1292 BC) they were well established as an elite paramilitary police force, with tasks ranging from desert scouting to pharaonic guards. Gradually the term "Medjay" shifted from being an ethnic one to an occupational one, as anyone who fulfilled the requirements could become a Medjay - this is evidenced by the increasing incidence of Egyptian names in their roster.

More sources:


The Habiru were described in various ancient Near East sources as nomads with various occupations, including mercenaries, but also things such as rebels, raiders, outlaws, and migrant laborers. They may have been related to early Hebrews (the same, or the Habiru includes Hebrews, or they just happen to have similar names).

The earliest mention dates to around 1850 BC, describing them as small bands of soldiers, apparently mercenaries serving local city-states. Another mention is on the Tikunani Prism, describing events around 1550 BC, and lists the names of 438 Habiru soldiers serving a local King.

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