A History of Violence: Muslim Mercenaries in European Armies

A History of Violence: Muslim Mercenaries in European Armies

Although the peoples of Europe are rightly aghast at the prospect of ethnic and cultural displacement by the unprecedented wave of Muslims entering the continent, largely at the invitation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, history shows that European governments find them to be useful. Since Islam burst onto the world scene in 632 A.D., Muslims have not only fought against Christian kings, but have fought for them, as well.

The Christian princes of Europe fought each often and did not hesitate to hire Muslim mercenaries for this task. Thus, the princes of Italy paid for Muslim mercenaries.[1] In 835 A.D., the Neapolitans hired Saracens from Sicily, to defend their city against the Lombard ruler, Prince Sicard.[2] And the city of Benevento hired Muslim mercenaries from North Africa in 842.[3]

King Roger the Great of Sicily (1095-1134) supplemented his Norman force with Muslim mercenaries. Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, emptied the Italian city of Lucera of Christians, in order to house Muslims from Sicily, whom he employed as soldiers.[4]

In the 1300s, Grand Duke Vytautas of Lithuania accepted Muslim refugees into his realm. These Muslims, known as the Lipka Tatars, were led by Tokhtamysh, who had lost a war to the infamous Mongol Khan, Tamerlane. As part of the asylum agreement, the Tatars owed military service to the state. Their cavalry regiment helped defeat the German Teutonic Knights at the Battle of Tannenberg in 1410.

The European practice of hiring and recruiting Muslim soldiers did not end with the Renaissance or the Enlightenment. Tatars served in the armed forces of Peter the Great (1689-1725) and Empress Catherine the Great.[5]

In the Colonial Era, Muslim soldiers put down anti-European revolts by their coreligionists. Thus the French could take over Muslim West Africa with their help, while the British were able to defeat the Dervishes in the Sudan, with an Anglo-Egyptian army that was 50% Muslim.[6]

In the 20th Century, Muslim troops were decisively used in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). In that conflict, Nationalist leader General Francisco Franco had the loyalty of the Army of Africa, a formation composed of Moroccan units and Spanish colonials. Along with the Spanish Foreign Legion, it was considered the best-trained and most experienced force in the Spanish Army. By 1939, the Nationalists (with Italian and German help) had defeated the Socialist government, due in no small part to the loyalty of Muslim troops.

The world of 1939 is gone, but not the association of Muslims with European governments: Paris has admitted many Algerians, just as London admits Pakistanis. Even Scandinavian governments, without similar colonial associations, have imported large numbers of Muslim refugees, in part due to pressure from the EU.

In October 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel abruptly announced that her nation would not limit the number of Islamic refugees entering the country. Almost overnight, a flood of Muslims headed toward Europe. In a matter of weeks, over 800,000 Muslims arrived in Germany alone. In reaction, Hungary closed its borders, followed by other European nations. Merkel’s refugee policy has since caused a dramatic rise in the popularity of Nationalist political movements in Germany and elsewhere.

On 18 November 2015, Bjorn Höcke, who is a member of the opposition Alternative for Germany Party and an elected representative for the State of Thuringia, spoke about the massive refugee invasion. According to him, German soldiers are being ordered to evacuate their barracks, in order to make room for the Muslims, nearly all of whom are able-bodied men of military-age.[7] Why would Chancellor Merkel want to house Islamic refugees on German military bases? Will she use them to write yet another page in the age-old story of using Muslim mercenaries, to defeat political rivals?

Patrick Cloutier

Mr. Cloutier is the author of Three Kings: Axis Royal Armies on the Russian Front 1942.

[1] Michael C. Howard, Transnationalism in Ancient and Medieval Societies. The Role of Cross-Border Trade and Travel (Jefferson: McFarland & Co., 2012) 218.

[2] Hunt Justin with Ursula Carlson, Mercenaries in Medieval and Renaissance Europe (Jefferson: McFarland & Co., 2013) 6-7.

[3] Scott G. Bruce, Cluny and the Muslims of La Garde-Freinet. Hagiography and the Problem of Islam in Medieval Europe (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2015)

[4] RHC Davis, A History of Medieval Europe. From Constantine to Saint Louis (New York: Routledge, 2013)

[5] David Motadel, Islam and the European Empires (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014) 42-43.

[6] A. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy, The Encyclopedia of Military History. 3500 B.C. to the Present (New York: Harper and Row, 1986) 848.

[7] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQ72wsiUWCE

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