It feels like with large empires using professional armies for distant provinces, especially during classical or medieval times, funding of those armies were most likely to be bottlenecked by small cliques or even single persons appointed or trusted by the state, who could easily embezzle those funds in full.

That would be more of a spectrum with corruption being more likely during times of peace, and warlords that used military funding for themselves existed any given time in history, especially when they were granted taxing authority (or claimed it themselves) by their parent state.

What I am looking for is instances where funding to raise armies were completely embezzled, arguably without even a portion of it seeing use for its actual goal. This would apply specifically for states with a strong tax system and a well-defined bureaucracy, which could get bottlenecked at a certain point allowing for a limited group to grab the money and run. Such an example could be a hypothetical general given some money to raise an army, who would grab it and run to the neighboring state instead.

Are there such instances, or is it hard to show or define since some of those funds would most likely go into hiring retinues to guard the recipient estate which could be raised as the army in times of war?

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    Oh my... You have it the other way around. It is the armies that are not embezzled that are hard to find... The ones that are stretch from the earliest bands led by warlords to well into the modern age. It was still the rule when Napoleon conquered Europe (he literally attracted soldiers because they got paid, and he took a cut). And it is still a thing nowadays for rebel groups and less professional units that continue to loot to pay themselves. Basically, anytime you don't have a strong tax base and an efficient bureaucracy that pays for the troops, you will find looting and embezzlement. – Denis de Bernardy Sep 1 '19 at 4:30
  • You have a good point there. I guess what I was going for was when there was a strong tax base and a bureaucracy that was somehow bottlenecked at a point where someone could runaway with X amount of money. Say something like a Roman general given some money to go raise a legion who decided to run away for a comfy life in Parthia. An instance where there was no army at all as opposed to an army that was doing the embezzling – user38846 Sep 1 '19 at 5:13
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    Just a hunch, but you might want to check out this surreal documentary on Afghanistan's army. There's an example at one point that relates to embezzling fuel, which likely meets your requirement. – Denis de Bernardy Sep 1 '19 at 6:34
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    Hold hold... Your question is explicitly asking for a "strong tax system and a well-defined bureaucracy" -- something unheard of until the past century for all practical intents.. But then you seem to be asking for an example that would be from earlier times? I'm sincerely at a loss as to what you are asking for here... – Denis de Bernardy Sep 1 '19 at 20:02
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    Just to add to that. Up until the Revolutionary Era, there was basically no reliable tax base and efficient bureaucracy to speak of, rendering your question moot. If anything the outcry that followed Wilhelm II's trolling at the onset of the Boxer War is instructive in that by directing his troops to behave like Huns he put a finger on how much things had changed from a century earlier. Looting and embezzlement was the norm -- and effectively expected -- at the turn of the 19th century. It no longer was at the turn of the 20th century. – Denis de Bernardy Sep 1 '19 at 20:12

A rather large portion of the funds for the Chinese Navy in the late 19th century was redirected towards restoring the summer palace in Beijing, including the famous Marble boat: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marble_Boat

  • The Marble Boat is often seen as an ironic commentary on the fact that the money used to restore the Summer Palace largely came from funds originally earmarked for building up a new imperial navy.[2] The controller of the Admiralty, Prince Chun, owed much of his social standing as well as his appointment to Empress Dowager Cixi, who had adopted his eldest son, Zaitian, who was enthroned as the Guangxu Emperor. Because of this, he probably saw no other choice than to condone the embezzlement. Great example – user38846 Sep 1 '19 at 9:05

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