Medieval European mercenaries are often seen as impediments to state formation because European monarchies found them expensive and difficult to control. By taking a broader comparative approach to their deployment that encompasses North Africa, I show that these soldiers could serve as effective agents of state power. Abandoning the mercenaries is sometimes represented as a positive break with the medieval past that accelerated European progress into the modern political order of states and standing armies. From a comparative point of view, however, this transition looks more like a gradual retreat from a system for organizing violence that continued to function well in other parts of the world.

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