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Imagine 2 kingdoms are constantly at war and both sides would hire mercenaries for this cause, usually they will hires mercenary soldiers from the adjacent villages but this time one of the King's long time advisor suggested hiring mercenaries whom they have fought many years ago to have a better chance to score a decisive victory in the coming battle. I am wondering if there is any advantage to hire an ex-enemy to fight in the war? We assume these mercenaries are professional and they are not double agent/trojan.

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  • $\begingroup$ What examples in history that have had happened you want to avoid because I think the naswer will just cite those occurences and benefits. $\endgroup$ Feb 11, 2020 at 10:05
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    $\begingroup$ This was the common and most usual approach. Mercenaries are mercenaries, they fight for whomever pays their wages. It would be harder to find and example where a ruler did not want to employ a company of mercenaries for the silly reason that once upon a time they fought for somebody else. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Feb 11, 2020 at 10:46

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This happened quite frequently in the past, and has indeed quite some advantages.

As you state, they are often professional. Their loyalty is with the money, and they will follow whomever pays (the most), or whomever they have a contract with.

You need to consider that a hired solder has nothing but their integrity. If a solder is known to back stab and turn coat, no lord would think about hiring them as they would be useless in combat. Meaning they would be out of a job.

Experience

For soldiers as much as any profession, experience counts. It doesn't matter where this experience was collected, it is quite often a better idea to hire a seasoned veteran than a freshly trained recruit.

Survival

Apart from getting paid, a solder would prefer to stay alive to spend their money. If they have intelligence on the enemy, because they used to fight for them, there is a fair chance they would share it to up their chances of victory. Or more importantly, surviving and getting paid. The same applies for knowledge about the terrain, or ideas about battle tactics.

Monopoly

If you hire all the mercenaries your enemy would normally use, the enemy can't hire them. This means they have a smaller pool of soldiers to choose from, and could end up with a smaller army than you.

Please note: Lords would be aware this happens, and your mercenaries might end up with the enemy in the future. Therefore crucial tactical intelligence and details would mostly be kept secret from them, and their instructions would often be "Just show up here and fight". This is why I didn't mention this specifically as a tactical advantage.

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In addition to what Plutian the employment of mercenaries may lead to less bloody battles as less people are willing to die for coin than for honor/glory/etc. Furthermore I do recall that I read somewhere that the Italian peninsula saw less pillaging, raping and looting than it was "the norm". The argument for that was that the condottieri did not want to kill/offend somebody that may be their employer in a week or so.

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    $\begingroup$ I like that eye for future employment angle. I like the idea that when your people encountered these guys before, the mercenaries were tough, professional, and left a business card. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Feb 11, 2020 at 17:20
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Normally, it wouldn't be a problem. However, there are few concerns.

1) Loyalty. Do those mercenaries have reputation? If they had fought for multiple employers and honored their contracts, hiring them should be no problem.

2) Past offenses. Did those mercenaries commit atrocities against the kingdom? Do they have an ill reputation similar to GoT/ASoIaF Brave Companions among the people? If it is so, they still can be helpful against the enemy, but hiring them may create a friction within the kingdom itself. Many nobles and regular soldiers would rather settle scores with this company than fight alongside them.

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If they are simply the best available, many advantages. This was very much a Norman/Viking/Rus characteristic. One disadvantage would be they might have a vested interest in prolonging the conflict/stalemate to maximise their income.

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Those former enemies probably know how to fight well with you or even defeat you. So by hiring them you are making sure that your enemy wont get them. And as a bonus, you could improve yourself based of knowledge of you weakness brought by those mercenaries.

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Hiring soldiers who are intimately familiar with the enemy, their strengths and weakness, their thinking, and their long-term plans? I can see plenty of advantages in doing that.

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  • $\begingroup$ King A wants to hire mercenaries who fought against him in the past, and will be used to fight King B. These mercenaries have never fought King B before - they have no familiarity with the enemy they're being hire to fight. They have familiarity with their employer's military, not their enemy's. $\endgroup$ Feb 11, 2020 at 19:09
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You won't feel bad about sending them off to be slaughtered as a sacrificial unit; and you won't make the mistake of trusting them too much.

Also, if the enemy really wanted/needed them (because of a shortage of cavalry/pikemen/bowmen/whetever the mercenary unit is), then hiring them deprives the enemy of a crucial resource.

And because you can then use them to bargain down the rates of local mercenaries when they realise they're not actually needed and might be unemployed.

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There is a big-time advantage to hiring once-enemy mercenaries. If you do, they will be aware of some of the typical battle plans and strategies of your opponents, but you do need to be careful that they do not turn on you. And watch how much they tell you of your enemy's plans. If they spill the beans without demanding huge sums of money, they are definitely still working for your enemy. It's a bit of a gamble, but there are probably good uses for these soldiers, even if you don't think you can trust them. It will also add crazy awesome politics to your world, while trying to maneuver the mercenaries into fighting for you and being careful that they do not betray you.

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Read 'The Prince' by Machiavelli. Its quite short and easy to find. It addresses this and related issues in some of its chapters and generally gives an insight into the art of states craft and politics as practiced by the kings and rulers that period when mercenaries were regularly employed. It also includes examples of what Machiavelli regards as 'classic mistakes' made by real leaders of the period.

(Note; he disproved of their use and gives his reasons. Regardless of that fact however they were as I said quite widely used during his time so other political figures of the time obviously disagreed.)

IMO. Mercenaries have some advantages if they have a reputation for reliability. Their prime benefit being cost - standing armies are expensive. Mercenaries will probably cost you more per man, per day than a 'standing' domestic army might but they also only need to be paid for the term of their contract. So on that basis they could potentially be useful additions to an army provided;

a) They have a specific skill set or niche in battle that your domestic forces struggle to supply e.g. skilled siege engineers and assault troops or light cavalry etc; and/or b) They are not the numerically dominant (largest) part of your army. Because then you are totally reliant on them for victory and they may well try to either 'renegotiate' their terms of employment at some critical moment or alternately if you win decide they should be the ones who get to keep whatever the prize is. And of course if you lose they might try to sell you out to the victor! So be alert to what could happen, not will happen if you employ them.

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