Monday, 14 January 2013

Swiss Mercenaries

I have been reading the French translation of an interesting article published in Die Zeit about the history of Swiss mercenaries [Schweizer Söldner: Immer zu Diensten]. I understand the article itself is just a summary of a fully-fledged book written by Jost Auf der Maur and published by Echtzeit about this very topic, titled Söldner für Europa, Mehr als eine Schwyzer Familiengeschichte ('Soldiers for Europe, more than a Swiss family history').
Here are a few notes I've jotted down, for the enjoyment of those who like their mediaeval fantasy gritty!

Between the 13th and the 18th century, the Swiss served as mercenaries throughout Europe. They were notoriously thievish, carousing, and rubble rousing.

They were known to:
  • Use fat from their victims' bellies as shoeshine
  • Cut off their victims' feet with an axe
  • Eat their victims' heart
  • Put on their enemies' uniforms to dupe them
  • Kill their prisoners
  • Only use noms de guerre, like Pityless, Headhunter or The Terrible

A Swiss mercenary made £18 per month when a well-off farmer only earned about half this money, which explains why up to 25% of all Swiss were serving abroad as mercenaries at any given time.

Life as a mercenary was not all perks, though. Less than half of those who left returned, and these veterans were often maimed drunkards unable to lead a normal life in a peaceful country. The few lucky ones, however, who came back both healthy and rich helped Switzerland become the wealthy neutral country it is today.

Link: An interview with Jost Auf der Maur.