A continent I am building was entirely dominated by one race for centuries, with all other races as slaves. Throughout this time, there was an underground network, namely 4 huge coalitions of soldiers. A group of slaves who worked in the palace had opportunity to obtain large amounts of gold, so they did, and used the gold to purchase these 4 companies of soldiers. Using the soldiers, they captured a small defensible piece of the country and defended it. Years later, the entire empire collapsed into a dozen smaller countries. In the first country to earn freedom, the soldiers hold all the power.

The hired soldiers, or mercenaries, have all the money and influence in their country. The rulers of the country are technically in charge, but do not have enough economic power to even levy a military, and have to depend on the mercenaries. How would that affect a country?

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    $\begingroup$ What did your research show? Does history provide any examples of realms where the nominal sovereign or head of state was economically and politically much weaker than other people, factions or organizations? What happened? (A possible starting point for research: what exactly was a Shogun?) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 25, 2021 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ What does "have all the money" mean? Who is paying the mercenaries? If the mercenaries are the ones levying taxes to pay themselves and providing government functions or paying the puppet government to perform those functions, they are the de facto government. Moreover, it's only mercenaries who are independent that want war (it's how they get paid); mercenaries in control of the government want peace because wars are risky and drain the money of the country they control. $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2021 at 16:29

4 Answers 4


Sounds an awful lot like Germany in the 1500s. Bunches of mercenaries running around, lords that can't raise their own troops, mercenary captians being wildly rich. So a history book or two about Landsknecht (the term for these mercenary pike and shot units) and Germany at the time will serve you well. There's a couple things to remember:

1: Money doesn't buy everything. In a medieval setting, money is only sorta-useful. Sure it'll buy lots of fancy things, but when the famine comes a thousand gold coins aren't going to feed you. At the time real value (and by extension, power) comes from LAND. Specifically farm able land. Sure your mercs could conquer that land, but if nobody farms it THEY would have to, and if you're farming you ain't training and somebody else could kill you and take all your stuff! So your mercenaries are stuck being at the mercy of whatever ruling body is around because they don't have the resources/wherewithal/desire to actually control land to raise crops to feed themselves.

2: Belief is Greater than Gold. The reason mercenary armies aren't a thing anymore is that, historically, mercenary armies aren't actually all that great. They have low moral, they change sides based on who pays more, they'll not show up to fight/not fight in near-hopeless situations... the list goes on and on. So yeah you have mercenaries fighting your battles for you. But the second that army of mercenaries looks at an opposing force that outnumbers them 3:1, or you ask part of it to perform a sacrificial holding action, or three OTHER countries band together to offer the mercenary companies a literal ton of gold to not even switch sides but just sit out a battle/war, things are gonna go to pieces. A trained professional or even volunteer/mass-conscript army will beat your mercenaries. Or get in a situation where the mercs feel "talking" is better than fighting.

Now your mercenaries have been doing this sorta thing for centuries, and might end up being more like Rome's Imperial Guard and be de-facto power brokers for the nation and thus want the nation itself to survive. They might even have a loyalty to the country above and beyond loyalty to their mercenary company that'll mean they fight invaders to the last man and essentially for free. But in that case they're not true "mercenaries" in the historical sense, you've got something else going on.

My best guess is that your original mercenaries are now more-or-less the armed forces of the nation, either as a feudal aristocracy or a as a ruling/military cast, and aren't real mercenaries at all at this point. Your founding story is more myth than reality, and they work just like any other kingdom's armed forces. If they are not, then the above problems will likely lead to your kingdom's imminent demise.

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    $\begingroup$ Hey, this is a great answer! Honestly, you wrote like an experienced user. $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Jan 25, 2021 at 18:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Alendyias I know right? I expected they where over from a different SE but nope! $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2021 at 19:32
  • $\begingroup$ My main idea was that one of the companies had settled into the original country as that countries main army, one ceased to exist, and the other two where vying for contracts in the rest of the world $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2021 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ The era had a lot of mercenaries. There was an old saying that the sinews of war were gold, but Machiavelli's The Prince was written on saying the more controversial idea that a nation can't be run on mercenaries, and that war had to be engaged with good soldiers. $\endgroup$
    – Muz
    Jan 26, 2021 at 8:38
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    $\begingroup$ Ninjas were mercenaries and extremely loyal to their daimyo masters much more loyal the daimyo themselves. Being a mercenary company relies on your reputation, if you change sides on basis of someone offering money then you are worthless. $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2021 at 9:02

As the writer or game developer, you can justify pretty much anything. Your mercenaries are now ex-mercenaries, with some cultural heritage but adapting to a new situation. They used to work for an employer who paid them, now they "work" to establish their realm.

  • There could be a feudal state, with the unit structure of the ex-mercenaries translated into liege-vassal relationships. The ex-privates control small villages and owe taxes and military service to the ex-sergeants, who run groups of villages from a manor or market town. The ex-sergeants owe taxes and military service to the ex-captains, who control counties from castles or cities. The ex-condottiere rules them all.

  • There could be an aristocracy or caste system, where ex-officers and their descendants become senior nobility, ex-sergeants and their descendants become junior nobility, and ex-privates become a knightly class. The difference to the example above is that the ex-condottiere still "employs" all the nobles, directly, without a feudal chain of obligations.

  • Or they remain a meritocracy, remembering how anyone who had enough guts could join the mercenary company, and work his or her way up through valor in battle. Now it is skill in management.


Mercenaries are, from an historical point of view, extremely pragmatic: they don't fight out of ideals like patriotism, family, honor and all the fair, but rather just for their pay.

As long as you are the highest payer, they are on your side. If the pay is late or someone outbids you, you are in big troubles.

Only some of them had the skills to step up from venture captains to rulers, but that can be considered an exception.

The rulers of the country are technically in charge, but do not have enough economic power to even levy a military

If you don't have the money to pay them and there is nobody else to either kill them or pay them more, they will very likely start raiding your lands for loot, making your economy even worse, adding disgruntled peasants and villagers to the already out of control mob of mercenaries. Once your country is nothing but a corpse that they can't spoil any more, they will leave.


Certainly, @FranklinHoss's answer is great.

I know nothing of world building, but one thing you might consider is the effect of a Gig Economy on the mercenary world. Your big mercenary companies could operate like Uber or Lyft, with the actual mercenaries being recruited based on a somewhat free market. The market would include both the fees paid and the rules of engagements.

Reputation (both of whoever is engaging the mercs, and the mercs themselves) would be tracked, and that would be what keeps the mercs from abandoning their posts if things got nasty.

  • $\begingroup$ "I know nothing of worldbuilding" is not a good way to start a worldbuilding answer $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2021 at 18:30
  • $\begingroup$ Well, I have a vague idea, having quietly read some of the posts here. You need to describe a society and an infrastructure to match the requirements of a game (or something else with it's own understanding of it's world). I mostly hang out on StackOverflow. People ask stupid "I know nothing of what I'm talking about" questions there all the time, I figured I'd start by making an "I know nothing of what I'm talking about" answer. $\endgroup$
    – Flydog57
    Jan 26, 2021 at 19:52

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