A mercenary is a person who is a professional soldier for hire, and will work for nearly any side willing to pay him or her. Most mercenaries are not concerned about the issues involved in a war; they simply are in it for the money. Though the hiring of a mercenary may not be the first option for many armies, it can provide extra soldiers for those who are otherwise outnumbered going into battle. Countries and armies have used mercenaries since at least the first millennium before Christ, and the practice continues to this day on a somewhat more limited scale.
Though the exact timeline on when mercenaries came into existence remains unclear, it is known that such people existed as far back as the Bronze Age, from 1,300 to 700 BC. Then, Greek soldiers fought with the Syrians and Egyptians for money. The Greeks, who at that time were some of the most skilled warriors in the world, were especially valuable as mercenaries. In some cases, mercenaries may have been used to fight smaller battles, where the loss of other troops may have been deemed as unacceptable.
Though the use of mercenary soldiers continued to flourish, the practice became more widespread during the Middle Ages. During this period of world history, companies of mercenary soldiers formed to fight for anyone who would hire then. These companies were called free companies or free lances. Those who worked for them were called free lancers. This term, is common today as a the compound word freelancer, and refers to anyone who is independently contracted to provide a service.
Mercenary soldiers also fought on behalf of England during the American Revolutionary War. Then, it was German soldiers called Hessians who were used to fight against the Americans trying to secure their freedom. These soldiers were considered very skilled, and as many as 22,000 may have been employed by the king to bolster British forces. Germans were often used as mercenaries, dating back to the Roman times when they were paid a share of taxes or land rights.
The use of mercenaries is still in use in many locations around the world, even by Western nations. For example, Xe Services, formerly Blackwater USA, is a private American company that supplied security forces to Iraq on a contractual basis. In most cases, mercenaries today are no longer called soldiers for hire, but rather called private security forces.