Mercenaries in Popular Culture
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Mercenaries in Popular Culture

Like piracy, the mercenary ethos resonates with idealized adventure, mystery, and danger, and appears frequently in popular culture. Many are called adventurers, filibusters, soldiers of fortune, gunslingers, gunrunners, ronin, and knights errant.


  • In "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", from Washington Irving's Knickerbocker Tales, the infamous Headless Horseman was said to be the ghost of a Hessian who had been decapitated by a cannonball during the American Revolution.
  • Walter Scott's "A Legend of Montrose", set in Scotland during the Civil War of the 1640s includes the finely drawn character Dugald Dalgetty, an experienced mercenary who does not fight out of political or religious conviction, but purely for the love of carnage. However, he is very professional, and remains loyal to an employer to the end of his contract. He gained his experience fighting for various armies during the Thirty Years' War, then still raging in Germany.
  • Walter Scott's "Ivanhoe" features a band of mercenaries referred to as the Free Companions, led by Maurice de Bracy. They are initially supportive of an attempted usurpation of the rule of England by Prince John.
  • During the 1880s, Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery wrote or co-wrote a series of dime novel adventure stories said to have been inspired by his own activities as a mercenary in Central America and South America.
  • Richard Harding Davis wrote the 1897 novel Soldier of Fortune.
  • Davis later wrote a non-fiction Real Soldiers of Fortune in 1906. The account featured true stories of Major-General Henry McIver, Baron James Harden-Hickey, Winston Spencer Churchill, Captain Philo Norton McGriffin, General William Walker, and Major Frederick Russell Burnham, chief of scouts.
  • The novel The Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth and the film (1981) with the same name, which go into some detail about an actual if fictionalized mercenary operation in Africa in the 1960s.
  • The novel The Wild Geese by Daniel Carney and the film (1978) with the same name. The plot is that a global British financial syndicate seeks to rescue the deposed leader of a central African nation. It hires a band of mercenaries to do the job.
  • Both the titles Dogs of War and The Wild Geese are derived from other sources. Cry Havoc, and let slip the dogs of war is from Julius Caesar (III.i), a play by Shakespeare. After the signing of the Treaty of Limerick (1691) the soldiers of the Irish Army who left Ireland for France took part in what is known as the Flight of the Wild Geese. Subsequently, many made a living from working as mercenaries for continental armies, the most famous of whom was Patrick Sarsfield, who, having fallen mortally wounded on a foreign field, said "If this was only for Ireland".
  • An episode in With Fire and Sword (Ogniem i mieczem), an 1884 historical novel by the Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz, set in the 17th century Khmelnytsky Uprising, depicts a band of German mercenaries with high professional ethics, who prefer to fight to the death against impossible odds rather than betray their contract to the King of Poland.
  • At the end of Micah Clarke, a historical novel by Conan Doyle, the protagonists - hunted in England for their part in the failed Monmouth Rebellion of 1685 - set out to be mercenaries in Europe, until conditions in their homeland change. The book's young protagonist is told: "You are now one of the old and honourable guild of soldiers of fortune. While the Turk is still snarling at the gates of Vienna there will ever be work for strong arms and brave hearts. You will find that among these wandering, fighting men, drawn from all climes and nations, the name of Englishman stands high".
  • The 1967 novel Dirty Story by Eric Ambler depicts the misadventures of the half-caste petty criminal Arthur Abdel Simpson who takes up a career as a mercenary for a cynical mining company in Central Africa. Simpson is a misfit unsuited for the role of mercenary, yet he manages to outwit his far tougher professional colleagues, and to keep the reader's sympathy as an engaging rogue.
  • Tenth Man Down by Chris Ryan, a military novel regarding modern-day British training advisers in a chaotic post-colonial African nation (Known as "Kamanga", possibly after the unrecognized state in Congo), features mercenary characters ranging from minor antagonists to unlikely allies. Many are revealed to be Afrikaans-speaking white South Africans who formerly served with the SADF. The mercenaries in this storyline are initially working for anti-government rebels, paid for their services in diamonds pilfered from a local mine. However, this alliance begins to falter after subsequent clashes with Kamangan Special Forces robs the employers of their payment source. Several of the Afrikaners desert, while two others, including a sniper, are captured and cannibalized by the government troops. The only American mercenary soldier in the unit, a former US Navy SEAL, eventually helps the protagonist, Geordie Sharp, escape from a rebel camp.

Science fiction and fantasy

Mercenaries have featured in a number of science fiction novels. The well-known author Jerry Pournelle has written several books about science-fiction mercenaries known as Falkenberg's Legion. Also, author David Drake has written a number of books about the fictional hovercraft armored regiment Hammer's Slammers. Both series of books are brutal in their portrayal of complex low-intensity warfare despite technological advances. Gordon R. Dickson's Dorsai!, part of his Childe Cycle, includes the planet Dorsai with a society structured like that of Switzerland. Like the old style Swiss mercenaries who hired themselves out to the Italian states, Dorsai hire themselves out to other planets. A series by Mercedes Lackey concerning mercenaries is the Vows and Honor Trilogy (The Oathbound, Oathbreakers, Oathblood). Barry Sadler formerly of the U.S. Army Special Forces and singer of "Ballad of the Green Beret" wrote a series called Casca series about Casca Rufio Longinius, a soldier in the Roman legions who is cursed by Christ on Golgotha for driving a spear into him.

There have been a number of books based on the fictional universe developed for the board game BattleTech and in which mercenaries feature: Robert Thurston, The Legend of the Jade Phoenix; Loren L. Coleman, Patriots and Tyrants and Storms of Fate. The mercenary industry in the BattleTech universe is also depicted as a booming profession, with mercenaries being accredited for work through an interstellar body called the Mercenary Review and Bonding Commission.

Also George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire an epic fantasy series, feature mercenary characters known as "sellswords", who are generally seen as greedy, unscrupulous and cowardly by the society. Similarly, Glen Cook's The Black Company series focuses on the adventures of an elite mercenary unit.

The South African mercenary, Christian Rindert is a principal character in Hugh Paxton's 2006 novel Homunculus published by Macmillan in paperback (March 2007, ISBN 978-0-230-00736-9) which features mercenary operations and the testing of horrific new bio-weapons during the civil war in Sierra Leone.

In the Ashes series by William W. Johnstone, the main character of Ben Raines is mentioned as having worked as a mercenary-for-hire in several African armed conflicts after leaving the U.S. military (having served during the Vietnam War). During his service time, he was a member of the 'Hell-Hounds', a military unit that is said to be the closest version to a mercenary group that the U.S. has ever fielded in battle.

Mercenaries or "Mercs" are a recurring characters in "The Chronicles of Riddick" Universe. In this setting, Mercs are often found filling the roles of Bounty Hunters who take out contracts to capture the universe's most dangerous criminals and turn them over to brutal Triple Max Prisons. These Mercs often work alone or in small groups, however they are known to sign on to larger crews depending on their contract. Mercs are contracted through an umbrella organisation known as "The Guild" which legalizes and loosely monitors their activities, however, many Mercs are partial to the practices of kidnapping for profit and stealing prisoners, often using extreme violence. There are vary few limits to which these Mercs will go to accomplish a mission, such as posing as police officers and infiltrating occupied planets just to capture one rogue convict. The recent Xbox 360 game The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena features a large group of "Rogue Mercs" arguably space pirates, who raid passing vessels and transform the occupants into mindless "Ghost Drones" which become a commodity to sell to the warring factions of the galaxy. Bounty Hunter Mercs are sometimes known as "Fake Badges".

Magazines and comics

A magazine ostensibly written for mercenary soldiers is Soldier of Fortune (SOF). The popularity of SOF led to a several similar magazines with titles such as Survive, Gung Ho!, New Breed, Eagle, Combat Illustrated, Special Weapons and Tactics, Combat and Survival (still published), and Combat Ready that have mostly ceased publication.

Captain Easy Soldier of Fortune was an American comic from the 1930s to the 1980s.

The manga Hellsing features a band of mercenaries known as The Wild Geese, led by Pip Bernadotte. It is unclear whether the mercenaries are intended to be representing the same group as in the Daniel Carney novel, though this is possible. It is also likely that the group takes its name from The Wild Geese, the Irish who left Ireland following the Treaty of Limerick, since it was the Wild Geese serving France who finally broke the back of the English army at the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745.

The manga Dragon Ball features the Ginyu Force, elite mercenaries hired by Freeza.

The manga Berserk promeniently features a group of mercenaries, the Band of the Hawk. The main character, Guts, is also raised by mercenaries.

The manga Inuyasha features The Band of Seven, a band of seven mercenaries that loved to kill and were so strong that warlords feared their strength even as allies, before they were hunted down and beheaded. They were revived 10 years later as spectres guarding the main antagonist Naraku in exchange for eternal life from Shikon Jewel shards.

Full Metal Panic! and its various sequels focus largely on a mercenary organization known as Mithril.

The manga and anime series Black Lagoon focuses on a group of mercenaries known as The Lagoon Company and pirates in present-day Southeast Asia.

The Marvel Universe features many mercenary characters as heroes or villains most notably Deadpool (aka Wade Wilson, "The Merc With a Mouth"). Others include Moon Knight, Taskmaster, Agent X, Luke Cage, Silver Sable and Bullseye. Mercenaries can make convenient enemies for superheroes because, plot-wise, they require no further motivation than to have been hired by another enemy.

The webcomic Schlock Mercenary follows the galactic adventures of a 31st-century mercenary company.

Slade Wilson, AKA Deathstroke is a mercenary in the DC Universe, and is an enemy of Batman and the Teen Titans. He appears in various media such as Teen Titans, Arrow, Batman: Arkham Origins, Injustice: Gods Among Us, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, Batman: Arkham Knight and Batman: Arkham City Lockdown, among others.

Similarly, Floyd Lawton (Deadshot) is a mercenary sniper and killer in the DC Universe, enemy of Batman, Green Arrow and other characters; ha appears also in animated shows and videogames based on DC chars, as Justice League, Arrow, Batman: Arkham Origins, Injustice 2, Batman: Arkham City, Suicide Squad and others



See also List of war films: Mercenaries in the Third World


  • Soldier of Fortune (1955) had John Russell and Chick Chandler as two do anything go anywhere adventurers, however none of the episodes involved them being hired to wage war.
  • Have Gun Will Travel (1957-1963) featured Richard Boone as "the man named Paladin" whose services were hired in each episode, answering the requesting telegram with the title of the show. Paladin's symbol was the head of a horse, the knight piece in chess that narration would explain the unexpected moves of the piece. On a later television show The Richard Boone Show Boone played a modern version of Paladin on one episode.
  • The A-Team was a TV series about a team of benevolent mercenaries. The violence was usually "toned down" to an almost cartoonish level to make the series acceptable for prime-time viewing (everybody shoots, no one gets hit).
  • The anime television series Area 88 portrays fictional mercenaries in a country called Asran where foreign freelance pilots of all nationalities are assembled in Area 88, an isolated air force base that houses the military's only mercenary unit to fight in Asran's civil war.
  • Molotov Cocktease from the Adult Swim cartoon The Venture Bros. is a former KGB agent who went freelance, presumably after the dissolution of the USSR.
  • One of the major antagonists in the TV series Jericho is a mercenary group called Ravenwood, which is alleged to be inspired by Blackwater Worldwide. They are a subsidiary of a large government contractor and are often operating on private agendas.
  • The character Jayne Cobb in the Firefly series is a career mercenary who joined the crew of the Serenity after his previous employer hired him to track their ship only to switch sides when offered a larger percentage and better perks. When later offered a bribe to again switch sides, Jayne refuses. When confronted, he explains that he would have but, "The money wasn't good enough." Despite questionable loyalty, Jayne remained more or less loyal to the Serenity crew until the end of the series.
  • The comedy machinima series Red vs. Blue uses the mercenary premise regularly, usually around Tex and Wyoming, who themselves, were freelance mercenaries.
  • The soap opera Days of Our Lives features a villain named Stefano DiMera, a wealthy Italian businessman with a history of dabbling in organized crime and terrorism, and who has utilized a cadre of private mercenaries to execute some of his more outlandish operations, including John Black, and his own nephew Andre DiMera. Flashbacks on this show have included Black leading a team of soldiers in battle in some type of (unidentified) Third-World conflict. DiMera has also kidnapped and brainwashed some of his own antagonists, including Roman Brady, Hope Williams, and Steve Johnson, into serving as his agents.
  • In LOST a group of mercenaries come to take over The Island, kidnap Ben Linus, and kill everyone on the Island in order to completely secure it for their employer, Charles Widmore, so he can exploit the Island's mythical properties for his own gain.
  • Shadow Company is a documentary directed by Nick Bicanic and Jason Bourque and narrated by Gerard Butler. It is an introduction to the mercenary and private military company industry, concentrating on the role the industry has been playing in recent conflicts. It was released on DVD in August 2006.
  • In SuperNews!, one episode serve as a parody on the Blackwater company, who has hired John Rambo, Boba Fett and the Predator, and Yosemite Sam as their drill sergeant, to search and find Osama Bin Laden.


The song "Mercenary Song" off the album Train A Comin' by Steve Earle is about a pair of mercenaries.

The song "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" by Warren Zevon recounts the exploits of a Norwegian mercenary in the Congo. Similarly his track "Jungle Work!" does the same, citing "le mercenaire" directly in the lyrics.

The Song "the Hero" by the death metal band Amon Amarth is about a (dying) mercenary. Also their 2016 released album "Jomsviking" is about a historic company of Viking mercenaries.

The song "Straw Dogs" by The Stiff Little Fingers (as they say themselves in an interview on the re-release of their album Nobody's Heroes "a dirty nasty song about a dirty nasty subject") is about mercenaries.

John Cale recorded a song titled "Mercenaries" on his album Sabotage/Live in 1979.

British death metal band Bolt Thrower released an album entitled Mercenary in 1998.

British heavy metal band Iron Maiden has a song titled "The Mercenary", on their album Brave New World. The song's lyrics appear to be inspired by the film Predator.

Irish band Thin Lizzy included a song titled "Soldier Of Fortune" on their album Bad Reputation 1977. The soldier of fortune that appears in the lyrics is Costas Georgiou also called Col. Callan who was executed after the Luanda Trial in 1976.

American singer-songwriter Harry Chapin recorded a song entitled "Mercenaries", which first appeared on his 1977 album Dance Band on the Titanic. A live version of the track appears on 1998's The Bottom Line Encore Collection.

Board and card games

In Magic: The Gathering, 'Mercenary' is one of several 'creature types' game cards can possess. The type was introduced in Ice Age, but became widely used in Mercadian Masques, in 1999. The Mercadian Masque mercenary cards were colored black, representing entropy/darkness. Many of these cards could expedite bringing smaller Mercenaries into play.

In Warhammer, Dogs of War is a mercenary army that can act independently, but it is also possible for other armies (barring Bretonnians) to field Dogs of War units. These units include the Regiments of Renown.

The board game BattleTech has several mercenary units, some very powerful and well-equipped.

Computer and video games

The computer game series Jagged Alliance focuses on a team of mercenaries doing several missions in fictional underdeveloped nations. In 2005, LucasArts released a game for PlayStation 2 and Xbox titled Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction, where the player controls one of three mercenaries in North Korea, and is able to accept mercenary contracts from the Allied Nations (a fictional version of the United Nations), South Korea, China, and the Russian Mafia. The game Army of Two and Army of Two: The 40th Day focuses on a pair of Mercenaries. More recently, the game Far Cry 2 allows the player to take control of one of 9 mercenaries in a fictional African conflict; this portrayal of mercenary ethos is thought to be particularly realistic. Borderlands is a first-person role-playing shooter from Gearbox Software that puts players into the shoes of one of four playable mercenary characters as they traverse the hostile planet of Pandora in search of a mysterious "Vault," said to contain priceless unknown riches. Also the game Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War puts the player in command of a group of mercenaries. The classes in the multiplayer first-person shooter Team Fortress 2 are stated to be mercenaries hired by RED and BLU.

Mercenaries from the board game BattleTech were featured in several of the spin-off MechWarrior computer games.

Many video games feature mercenary characters or organizations, either in a modern setting such as Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction, Mercenaries 2: World in Flames, the Far Cry series, the Metal Gear Solid series; or in a fantasy/sci-fi setting, such as Mass Effect, MAG, Strife: Quest for the Sigil, Haze, Final Fantasy VIIs Cloud Strife; or a full organization like SeeD from Final Fantasy VIII, the Star Fox team, or the mercenaries from S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, who form a separate faction in the game. The latter is presented mainly as independent groups of loosely affiliated private military forces, and although most are professional soldiers, they are ill-equipped and inexperienced with many of the "special" dangers posed in Chernobyl's contaminated zone. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Mercenaries can be completely routed and almost entirely driven from the region by the last installation of the series. The faction itself is unique because its members utilize small numbers of modern and sophisticated NATO-type weaponry in contrast with the outdated Warsaw Pact equipment still used by most other groups. Due to a general lack of fresh ammunition and supplies, however, the Mercenaries apparently found their own small arms increasingly difficult to maintain while attempting to support a permanent presence in the Zone. By the end of the storyline, many have simply started using the Soviet-era weapons utilized by rival factions.

In Red Faction, "mercs" are used by the corporation ULTOR to kill rioting miners before the Earth Defense Forces arrive. Players may also participate as mercenary pilots in Air Combat, Ace Combat 2 and Ace Combat Zero, and the game Strike Commander features a player-run mercenary air force. Armored Core features a mercenary organization consisting of pilots of huge Mecha. In the Total War series, battalions of mercenaries can be hired at inns (in Medieval: Total War 1) or in the field (in Rome: Total War). In two Fire Emblem games, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, the protagonist Ike is the leader of a mercenary group employed by other kingdoms in heroic causes; additionally, in most other games in the series, the "mercenary" is a basic sword-wielding character class. Along with these, the Beowulf archetype in the series applies to characters who only join the player's army if paid a large amount of G. In the Treasures of Aht Urgan expansion for Final Fantasy XI, players are recruited into the "Salaheem's Sentinels" mercenary company, for which they can take on various missions called "Assaults" for various rewards. This is likewise for Dante, the protagonist (antagonist of Devil May Cry 4) of Devil May Cry.

In a recent release, Age of Empires III and Age of Empires III: The War Chiefs allows a feature that mercenaries from foreign countries may be hired. In the Halo universe, the Kig-Yar (Jackal) species are employed as mercenaries and privateers and are commonly deployed as scouts, snipers, or special infantry. Blizzard Entertainment's award-winning game Diablo II features several mercenaries for hire in each Act to fight for the player. The same applies to Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, Blizzard's expansion to their strategy game Warcraft III, where players can hire mercenary heroes for a slightly higher cost than regular heroes from a special building called the tavern, and as well in the StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty campaign where you can hire mercenaries based on normal units with higher attributes in the cantina in the Hyperion. Numerous mercenary characters are found in Resident Evil, groups that provide such services as mercenaries include the U.B.C.S. or characters like Hunk, Jack Krauser, etc. In the Xbox 360 game Chromehounds, a mercenary organization called Rafzakael guides the player throughout the story mode and the online mode. A highly known series regarding the government hiring mercenaries in order to fight a threat is the Soldier of Fortune (video game) games; it regards a Capitol Hill conspiracy about Specialized mercenaries hired by G8 and the United Nations. In Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Cuban and Central American Mercenaries are used by narco-terrorist Raul Menendez to attack China and NATO, alongside hacked drones. They carry advanced weaponry, including the IWI X95, XM8 rifle, Saiga-12, QBB-95 and the A-91, as well as UAV technology and active camouflage.

In Splinter Cell: Conviction, Sam Fisher has several run ins with a notoriously ruthless private military company known as "Black Arrow". Although nominally based in Panama City, the corporation conducts business on the global scale and is implied to rely mainly on American operatives. Due to controversy over previous dealings, Black Arrow is eventually expelled from the United States and works on improving its business in third-world conflict zones such as Uganda, the Comoros Islands, Haiti, and Suriname.

Several different mercenary groups appear in the 2008 video game Fallout 3; most are presented as antagonists to the player.

In the DC Comics video game Batman: Arkham City, a specialized team of highly trained mercenaries are featured, contracted from a clandestine private security agency known as "Tyger". Made up of former military and police operators, Tyger is implied by viral marketing sources to be one of the best mercenary units "in the world". When the denizens of Gotham City are rounded up and carted off to rot in a walled-off prison district known as 'Arkham City', Hugo Strange arms the perimeter of the new project with Tyger troops to prevent inmates from escaping. Dressed from head to toe in starched black uniforms, berets, and flak jackets, the mercenaries are equipped with high-powered assault rifles and night vision goggles to go about their tasks. Some personnel also make overhead passes in armored helicopters to monitor the situation on the ground, although their main purpose seems to be to eventually take down Batman, the protagonist, himself.

Early on in the game, players are given an option to hack Tyger's radio frequencies, giving them insight into the organization and its goals in and around Arkham.

In the game Mount & Blade and its sequel Mount & Blade: Warband, the player character can hire mercenary units at taverns in all cities. They cost more than normal units recruited from villages both in the initial cost and their upkeep, they are however stronger than the lowest tier of units recruited from villages which need to gain experience to advance in rank and therefore in ability and equipment.

In Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, "Wolfpack" is a featured mercenary group employed by Umbrella Corporation. They are dispatched into Raccoon City to run various missions on behalf of Umbrella's interests ranging from destruction of physical evidences to assassination of incriminating eyewitnesses.

In Call of Juarez: The Cartel, a bankrupt PMC known as Peacekeepers International become a rogue group that supplies weapons to the Mendoza Cartel.

Once again, Deathstroke is featured in many DC Comics games.

The popular video game "Grand Theft Auto V" features the company "Merryweather Security", as a satire on the corruptness of the real world company "Academi" (formerly "Blackwater")

A toast

A mercenary toast: "Vive la mort, vive la guerre, vive le sacré mercenaire" (Long live death, long live war, long live the sacred mercenary) was used in the novel and film The Dogs of War (1980).[1] It is also mentioned in a couple of books.[2][3] There is a similar toast to the French Foreign Legion which pre-dates the film "Vive la mort, vive la guerre, vive la Légion Etrangère".[4][5]

See also


  1. ^ Trivia for The Dogs of War Archived 2017-03-09 at the Wayback Machine, Retrieved 2009-02-11
  2. ^ Frank Mkalawile Chipasula. O Earth, Wait for Me, Ravan Press, 1984, ISBN 0-86975-258-8, ISBN 978-0-86975-258-6 p. 31.
  3. ^ Walter Wolter, Gefallene Männer: 13 Stories Haffmans, 1997 SBN 3251003542, 9783251003549. p. 116.
  4. ^ The Last Beau Gesfe Archived 2008-06-15 at the Wayback Machine, Time magazine 16 February 1970.
  5. ^ David S Holland, Vietnam, a Memoir, iUniverse, 2006 ISBN 0-595-36594-9, ISBN 978-0-595-36594-4 p. 12

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