What Do We Know About Bronze Age Troy?

What Do We Know About Bronze Age Troy?

Between 1871-3 Heinrich Schliemann, a German businessman turned archaeological pioneer made one of the most famous discoveries in the history of archaeology.

He discovered that the legend of a major pre-Classical trading-city on a hill above a plain on the east side of the entrance to the Dardanelles (known in Classical times as the ‘Hellespont’) was based on reality: Troy.

Uncovering the city’s many layers

Walls of Troy, Hisarlik, Turkey (Credit: CherryX / CC).

There had been such a place at the mound then known as ‘Hissarlik’ and large walls showed that it had needed major defences, though his discoveries of a relatively compact site the size of a citadel argued for much poetic exaggeration.

Subsequent digs identified a larger urban centre around this citadel. The archaeological finds at Troy have been variously interpreted, with different layers of finds taken as representing the Troy that the Greeks sacked in legend probably in the mid-13th century BC.

The many layers of settlement found by Schliemann at the site were carefully divided up into different stages of the city’s development, with signs of a fire or other destruction eagerly sought as identifying its Homeric sacking.

Troy ‘VI’ or ‘VIIa’ (in his initial numbering, since revised) are the most likely candidates, though a layer of burnt material may indicate a domestic conflagration rather than a sack and evidence of overcrowding in the town does not necessarily indicate refugees fleeing from the Greeks.

Dan chats to Dr Helen Farr about how the Black Sea’s anaerobic waters have preserved ancient ships for many centuries, including a Greek ship very similar to one on an urn in the British Library

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What do we know?

Troy’s geographical site and commercial importance however give a good strategic or political reason why Greek kings annoyed at high tolls on the passage of the Hellespont or greedy for loot might want to attack the town, whether or not a Trojan prince had run off with a Mycenaean princess called Helen as in legend.

There is also evidence from the bureaucratic records of the kingdom’s powerful eastern neighbour, the Hittite kingdom, that a powerful state called ‘Wilusa’ – a name equivalent to the alternative Greek name for Troy, ‘Ilion’ – existed in north-west Asia Minor.

A map Illustrating Hittite Expansion and location of the Capital City Hattusa (Credit: Dbachmann / CC).

One of its rulers was a name similar to ‘Alexandros’, the alternative named for Helen’s ‘abductor’ Paris, son of king Priam of Troy. The (Greek?) ‘Ahhiwiya’ were campaigning in the area in the 13th century BC.

But the existing Greek traditions clearly do not record enough rulers for the long history of the site of Troy, or take clear account of the fact that the town was rebuilt after the sack.

The Greeks may have accurately recorded ‘Priam’ as the king at the time of the great war. There is also later tradition linking the Etruscans in northern Italy, Rome’s neighbours, to Lydia south of Troy.

The names, culture and DNA of the two peoples have similarities so some truth may lie behind the persistent stories that some Trojan exiles migrated to Italy after the war.

Dr Timothy Venning is a freelance researcher and the author of several books spanning antiquity to the Early Modern era. A Chronology of Ancient Greece was published on 18 November 2015, by Pen & Sword Publishing.

Featured image: Troy VII wall on the left, Troy IX wall on the right. (Credit: Kit36a / CC).

History Explorer: Life in the Bronze Age

The drive from Peterborough Station to Flag Fen involves a journey across former marshland, drained centuries ago and now covered with industrial buildings. But beneath the modern factories lie the remains of prehistoric settlements, says archaeologist Francis Pryor as he throws his battered Land Rover into gear.

Formerly an expert on Channel 4’s Time Team – now a sheep farmer and author – Pryor has excavated much of Peterborough in his 40-year career. He is perhaps best known for his discovery of Flag Fen – a 3,500-year-old site comprising more than 60,000 vertical posts and 250,000 horizontal timbers that once formed a near 1km-long wooden causeway across the fens.

The site is the only place in the world where original Bronze Age timbers can be seen in their original location. And entering the darkened Preservation Hall you get a sense of just how truly remarkable the discovery is. Water drips constantly onto the Bronze Age posts and timbers that date to c1200-1100 BC – it is the waterlogged peat that has preserved the site for so long. The seemingly haphazard arrangement of the wood below the viewing platform hides a much more organised history.

“It’s difficult to imagine now, but the wood we see here once formed part of a huge walkway with a central platform,” says Pryor. “The sand and gravel still visible on the surface isn’t there by chance – it was put there deliberately, probably to stop the wood becoming slippery in wet weather. This was clearly somewhere people visited regularly and, judging from the wealth of artefacts discovered during excavations, it had real spiritual significance. I believe it would have been the Bronze Age equivalent of a parish church, or even a cathedral, where people came to make offerings to the water.”

Changing beliefs

The period around 1500 BC (the middle-late Bronze Age) saw a new set of religious beliefs come into play, says Pryor, with huge centralised structures like Stonehenge abandoned in favour of localised religious sites like Flag Fen. Here, men, women and children would mark rites of passage – births, marriages, the completion of apprenticeships – with symbolic offerings.

“Flag Fen wasn’t a burial site, but it would have marked the passage to the next world,” says Pryor. “Mirrors didn’t exist until c500 BC so the only way people knew what they looked like was by looking at their reflection in still water. It must have been very powerful: water was a symbol of the self but also, beneath the surface, a symbol of death.

“One thing we do know about Bronze Age people is that they held their ceremonies at liminal zones, those at the boundaries. Flag Fen is liminal – you couldn’t have lived out here. It’s a watery wilderness in many respects.”

Some of the artefacts discovered during excavation of the site are displayed in glass cases located outside the Preservation Hall. These give a fascinating, and often surprising, insight into the apparent sophistication of Bronze Age life.

A set of worker’s tools (looking remarkably like a modern socket set), a quern stone for grinding corn and even a flesh hook (used for pulling joints of meat out of cauldrons) are all on show. Analysis of one piece of domestic pottery, a small bowl, apparently revealed evidence of a milky porridge. What is also apparent, from the pieces on display, is that almost all the items were intentionally broken or damaged before being cast into the water.

“And there is even evidence of Bronze Age trade, although not in the sense that we would understand it today,” says Pryor. “We found items made of tin mined in central Europe: tin that was probably exchanged among the more powerful members of Bronze Age society for other items – perhaps on the marriage of a family member, for example. Coins don’t turn up for another 1,000 years or so, but this was still trade of sorts.”

Outside the chamber building, a small flock of sheep wanders the site. These are Soay sheep, a hardy breed that would have been bred in the Bronze Age, as bones uncovered at Flag Fen have revealed.

The dyke where Pryor first discovered the site, in 1982 – quite literally stumbling upon it when he tripped over a piece of what he quickly recognised as Bronze Age timber – is still visible. And on the other side of the narrow bridge spanning the dyke is a reconstructed Bronze Age house. The roof of the circular dwelling is both thatched and turfed, as was the tradition 3,500 years ago – the turf insulating the house against the cold. Inside, the building is dark, with no windows, but the space is larger than might be expected.

“Thanks to excavations of Bronze Age settlements, we know now that the organisation of these houses followed the rotation of the sun,” says Pryor. “Doorways faced south, with food prepared around a central hearth. The most important member of the household would have sat opposite the doorway, on the north side of the house – in the Bronze Age, this would probably have been the grandmother.

“People would have slept on the north and east sides of the house. Interestingly, when we have found Iron or Bronze Age burials, the bodies are always found on the north or east of the burial chamber – the side of sleep and darkness.”

The remains of a Bronze Age eel trap is displayed outside the Preservation Hall – hams, sturgeon, and eels would have hung from the roof, smoking above the fire. The Bronze Age diet, it seems, was a healthy one, and tasty to boot, according to Pryor.

Farming the land

The reconstructed roundhouse – based on one excavated in Peterborough by Pryor in the 1970s – gives a real sense of life 3,500 years ago, but the nearest settlement to Flag Fen was in fact about 800m west of the site.

Houses weren’t built near one another until the Iron Age, says Pryor, and in the Bronze Age, houses tended to be carefully spread out among the fields. “By 1500 BC,” he continues, “we’re seeing a landscape that was fully developed, with a network of roads covering Britain and rivers that were being navigated. In 2013, at Must Farm, two miles east of Flag Fen, a length of the river Nene was excavated. In just a 250m section, eight Bronze Age boats were found, presumably abandoned. Rivers must have been the Bronze Age equivalent of motorways: they would have been packed with people.

“The traditional idea of this period of history being one of subsistence agriculture – a family with a few dozen sheep and a couple of moth-eaten old cattle – is old hat. Farming was already intensive. We’ve found whole field systems, as well as yards where sheep would have been handled. As a sheep farmer I know that such areas were intended to handle hundreds, not handfuls, of sheep. These weren’t people scratching a living they were prosperous, civilised people.”

But the Bronze Age was about more than farming and surviving, according to Pryor. People led remarkably rich lives with plenty of time for leisure and spiritual activity. They even, it seems, enjoyed a tipple.

“I believe people began drinking alcohol as early as 2500 BC,” says Pryor. “After all, fermentation is a pretty basic process – it happens all the time. If you’re a farmer growing wheat and barley and your storage pit gets wet, pretty soon you’re going to get a beer of sorts.

“What’s more, in around 2500 BC we start to see evidence of an extraordinary type of pottery, all over Europe – highly decorated mugs known as beakers. The average beaker holds around two pints and its decoration may well have signified one’s family. These are not the sort of drinking vessels you’d use for a mug of river water!”

Other decorative items have been found during excavations at Flag Fen, including fragments of a bronze shield. But one of the most remarkable finds is a set of shears in a wooden box, dating to c600 BC – to shear sheep, one might assume, but Pryor has another theory.

“Bronze Age sheep like the ones we have here at Flag Fen wouldn’t have needed shearing – they shed their wool naturally. Which means the shears we found were probably used for trimming beards and clipping hair – for looking nice. Caring about one’s personal appearance is not something many people would attribute to Bronze Age society, but I would argue that it formed part of everyday life.”

An excited group of primary school children clad in ‘Bronze Age’ woollen capes borrowed from the visitor centre reminds us that Bronze Age history is now part of the National Curriculum – something Pryor campaigned passionately for. But the future of Flag Fen is far less certain: the site is under constant threat of drying out. Less than 10 per cent of the site has been dug, with an artificial lake created over the largest portion of the ceremonial platform, preserving the Bronze Age timbers, and the site’s history, for future generations.

“It’s time to re-educate people about what life in the Bronze Age was really like,” says Pryor, “and dispel the age-old image of wool-clad people huddling around fires in mud and rain, like cavemen. It was a period of great domestic and spiritual change. Civilised life in Britain did not begin with the Roman occupation of AD 43”.

Find out more about how to visit Flag Fen and book tickets

Five more places to explore

Dover Museum, Kent

In 1992, a Bronze Age boat was discovered during construction of the A20 between Folkestone and Dover. Thought to be around 3,500 years old, the vessel once carried cargos of supplies, livestock and passengers across the Channel, and is tangible evidence of Bronze Age trading. A 9.5m section of this, the world’s oldest known seafaring boat, is on display.

Find out more about how to visit Dover Museum and book tickets

Stonehenge, Wiltshire

Built in c2500 BC, Stonehenge was an important site of early pilgrimage until the early Bronze Age, when one of the greatest concentrations of round barrows in Britain was built in the surrounding area. The henge monument at Avebury, a 26-mile walk away, was built and altered between 2850–2200 BC but, like Stonehenge, the reason for its existence is still debated.

Find out more about how to visit Stonehenge and book tickets with English Heritage

Skara Brae, Orkney

Discovered by chance after a storm in 1850, the remains of the late Neolithic settlement at Skara Brae offer an insight into life between c3200 BC and c2200 BC, when the village was inhabited. Orkney itself boasts some 600 Bronze Age burial mounds, including a complex around the Ring of Brodgar, not far from Skara Brae.

Find out more about how to visit Orkney

Lynn Museum, Norfolk

The remains of the Bronze Age timber circle discovered on Holme beach on the north Norfolk coast in 1998 are on show in Lynn Museum, along with a life-size replica. The wooden structure comprised 55 oak posts. In its centre was a huge upturned tree stump, which may have been used as part of a burial ritual.

Find out more about how to visit Lynn Museum and book tickets

Great Orme Mines, Gwynedd

Mined for copper ores from nearly 4,000 years ago, some four miles of tunnels have been uncovered at Great Orme. Visitors can explore its huge caverns and prehistoric landscape, as well as view Bronze Age mining tools and artefacts.

Find out more about how to visit Great Orme Mines and book tickets

Historical advisor Francis Pryor is the author of Home: A Time Traveller’s Tales from Britain’s Prehistory (Allen Lane, 2014)

What Do We Know About Bronze Age Troy? - History

The Iliad and Odyssey: Historical Background

These epic stories are about the Mycenaean or Bronze Age, ancient Greeks, who flourished from about 1600-1100 BC. This is roughly about the time Moses led the Israelites from Egypt through the time David ruled a united Jewish nation by most accounts, Moses led the Jews out of Egypt and Troy fell somewhere around 1300-1200 BCE. (See our timeline)

These "Greeks" are relative late-comers to the area we now call "Greece" and likely originated to the East of Black Sea, around the area now called the Caucasus (between the Black and Caspian seas, where Russia, Turkey and N. Iran meet). The story of Prometheus -- shackled to mount Caucus -- shows strong connections between their original culture and that of the Sumerians etc. These people also probably invaded India, to the East/South at roughly the same time (discuss Pramantha/Prometheus mythology). So these Mycenaean people were both influenced by and influenced other great civilizations even before there was written history (or, for that matter, writing). SEE MAPS BELOW

Before the Mycenaeans arrived in the region, earlier "Greek" cultures worshipped ancient fertility goddesses probably related to Ishtar, Aphrodite, even Athena and Hera, and appear to have lived a rather peaceable, agricultural lifestyle (we assume this because archeological digs show these pre-Mycenaean people lived without military weapons or fortifications. until they were invaded by the Mycanaeans).

In contrast to "the locals", the Greek legends we read celebrate war this is the literature of military conquerors, so the Mycenaean people had as much in common with, say, the later Vikings as with the later philosophical, "civilized" Greeks: this is a culture of raiders, of looters and pillagers. From this perspective, The Iliad is a work of military propaganda that justifies Mycenaen control of the most valuable sea passage of age (the Bosporus), and The Odyssey justifies colonizing Italy and Sicily to the West.

So, like the Hebrew scriptures -- or our own "Westerns" (cowboys/us vs. Indians/them) -- these Greek legends justify the invasion and domination of earlier "native" inhabitants.

These Ancient (and even Classical) Greeks are best viewed as a culture rather than as a unified people or "nation". When we speak of "the Ancient Greeks" it's the same way we view “Western Culture” as referring to Europe, Britain, the USA, Canada, Australia. Achilles is a king in his own right, as is Odysseus, Menaleaus, Agamemnon etc., and Achilles goes to great lengths to point out that Agamemnon is not his king Agamemnon is simply the commander of a federation of independent city states. This distinction is important to understanding the Iliad: Achilles rightfully sees himself as Agamemnon's equal.

Troy is believed to have fallen around 1184 BC and The Iliad and Odyssey were not written down until c.800-700 BC, so although they are based on vaguely real historical events and actual historical characters, they are events that transpired hundreds of years before the author even lived they are history that has morphed into mythology. We still say they were written by the blind poet Homer, but that’s as much myth as the stories themselves there’s really no reason to believe that a man named Homer ever wrote any of these stories, or that he was blind. We can assume that this is a compilation of various oral tales and that much of the narration describes what Greek life and warfare was like in 750 BCE, not 1184 BCE.

Internecene Iliad, Othering Odyssey:

The Iliad: The Iliad tells the final chapter in the story of two major Bronze Age “Greek” alliances battling each other. It ends when the Achaeans (people mainly from what we now call Greece) sack Troy/Ilium (located in modern day Turkey). It's a long, meandering epic, but it primarily revolves around the "godlike Achilles'" struggle to confront his hubris and become humanized.

Both in scope and type, consider the Trojan war as similar to that between different European factions in WWI and WWII, or between the North and South in the American Civil War: this was a seminal, history-shaping event, and an intra-cultural war: a war fought among people of the same basic culture although the two sides are protected by different gods, all the gods belong to the same basic pantheon or family of what we now call "Greek gods".

The Odyssey, in contrast, mainly takes place outside of that common culture and describes contact with pre-Mycenaean Mediterranean cultures. The story focuses on Odysseus and his family's struggle to recover from the Trojan war's after effects and, primarily, with Odysseus struggle to make it back home. So The Iliad describes the clash between two equally brilliant and beautiful groups of “Greeks”, and The Odyssey describes contact with the “Other”, represented as monsters and witches.

We’re interested in part in how familiar and "normal" these stories feel, how unexotic they are, because they are the foundation for how Western culture thinks of storytelling, and how this storytelling in turn shaped our conception of what it means to be a human being. While the Jews gave Western culture its religious foundation, the Greeks gave us our culture, the parts of our lives we don't even notice because it is the very air we breath – our sense of heroism, of the individual, of the individuals relationship to others, or our very means of expressing our emotions and the way we tell stories. Jewish stories opened our way of conceptualizing God, but the Greeks gave us our way of thinking about ourselves as human beings. The word for this is "humanism" or Greek Humanism .

Map including West Asia and Black Sea:

An outline of his travels is located here. NOTE however, that scholars really don't know Odysseus' actual route, if there ever was an "actual" Odysseus etc., so take these maps with a grain of salt.

Devastating The Ancient World

Wikimedia Commons The mortuary temple of Egyptian Pharoah Ramesses III at Medinet Habu houses many of the inscriptions describing the mysterious Sea Peoples.

While the identity and origins of the Sea Peoples remain mysterious, we are left with some tantalizing pieces of information about the terrors they inflicted upon the ancient world, thanks to inscriptions left behind by those witnessed the devastation.

“They desolated its people and its land was like that which has never existed,” wrote Egyptian Pharoah Ramesses III, referring to the Sea Peoples’ raid on the Amurru Kingdom in present-day Syria and Lebanon in the 12th century B.C.

In fact, much of the modern study of the Sea Peoples springs from the evidence left behind from the reign of Ramesses III. French Egyptologist Emmanuel de Rougé coined the very term “Sea Peoples” (or “peoples of the sea”) in 1855 to describe the military force depicted in a relief from the era of Ramesses III.


The events of the Trojan War are found in many works of Greek literature and depicted in numerous works of Greek art. There is no single, authoritative text which tells the entire events of the war. Instead, the story is assembled from a variety of sources, some of which report contradictory versions of the events. The most important literary sources are the two epic poems traditionally credited to Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey, composed sometime between the 9th and 6th centuries BC. [5] Each poem narrates only a part of the war. The Iliad covers a short period in the last year of the siege of Troy, while the Odyssey concerns Odysseus's return to his home island of Ithaca following the sack of Troy and contains several flashbacks to particular episodes in the war.

Other parts of the Trojan War were told in the poems of the Epic Cycle, also known as the Cyclic Epics: the Cypria, Aethiopis, Little Iliad, Iliou Persis, Nostoi, and Telegony. Though these poems survive only in fragments, their content is known from a summary included in Proclus' Chrestomathy. [6] The authorship of the Cyclic Epics is uncertain. It is generally thought that the poems were written down in the 7th and 6th century BC, after the composition of the Homeric poems, though it is widely believed that they were based on earlier traditions. [7]

Both the Homeric epics and the Epic Cycle take origin from oral tradition. Even after the composition of the Iliad, Odyssey, and the Cyclic Epics, the myths of the Trojan War were passed on orally in many genres of poetry and through non-poetic storytelling. Events and details of the story that are only found in later authors may have been passed on through oral tradition and could be as old as the Homeric poems. Visual art, such as vase painting, was another medium in which myths of the Trojan War circulated. [8]

In later ages playwrights, historians, and other intellectuals would create works inspired by the Trojan War. The three great tragedians of Athens—Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides—wrote a number of dramas that portray episodes from the Trojan War. Among Roman writers the most important is the 1st century BC poet Virgil in Book 2 of his Aeneid, Aeneas narrates the sack of Troy.

Legend has it that the war originated from a quarrel between the goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, after Eris, the goddess of strife and discord, gave them a golden apple, sometimes known as the Apple of Discord, marked "for the fairest". Zeus sent the goddesses to Paris of Troy, who judged that Aphrodite, as the "fairest", should receive the apple. In exchange, Aphrodite made Helen, the most beautiful of all women and wife of Menelaus of Sparta, fall in love with Paris, who absconded with her from Sparta and returned to Troy.

Menelaus's brother Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, led an expedition of Achaean troops to Troy and besieged the city for ten years because of Paris' insult. After the deaths of many heroes, including the Achaeans Achilles and Ajax, and the Trojans Hector and Paris, the city fell to the ruse of the Trojan Horse. The Achaeans slaughtered the Trojans, except for some of the women and children whom they kept or sold as slaves and desecrated the temples, thus earning the gods' wrath. Few of the Achaeans returned safely to their homes and many founded colonies in distant shores. The Romans later traced their origin to Aeneas, Aphrodite's son and one of the Trojans, who was said to have led the surviving Trojans to modern-day Italy.

The following summary of the Trojan War follows the order of events as given in Proclus' summary, along with the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid, supplemented with details drawn from other authors.

Origins of the war

Plan of Zeus

According to Greek mythology, Zeus had become king of the gods by overthrowing his father Cronus Cronus in turn had overthrown his father Uranus. Zeus was not faithful to his wife and sister Hera, and had many relationships from which many children were born. Since Zeus believed that there were too many people populating the earth, he envisioned Momus [9] or Themis, [10] who was to use the Trojan War as a means to depopulate the Earth, especially of his demigod descendants. [11]

These can be supported by Hesiod's account:

Now all the gods were divided through strife for at that very time Zeus who thunders on high was meditating marvelous deeds, even to mingle storm and tempest over the boundless earth, and already he was hastening to make an utter end of the race of mortal men, declaring that he would destroy the lives of the demi-gods, that the children of the gods should not mate with wretched mortals, seeing their fate with their own eyes but that the blessed gods henceforth even as aforetime should have their living and their habitations apart from men. But on those who were born of immortals and of mankind verily Zeus laid toil and sorrow upon sorrow. [12]

Judgement of Paris

Zeus came to learn from either Themis [13] or Prometheus, after Heracles had released him from Caucasus, [14] that, like his father Cronus, he would be overthrown by one of his sons. Another prophecy stated that a son of the sea-nymph Thetis, with whom Zeus fell in love after gazing upon her in the oceans off the Greek coast, would become greater than his father. [15] Possibly for one or both of these reasons, [16] Thetis was betrothed to an elderly human king, Peleus son of Aeacus, either upon Zeus' orders, [17] or because she wished to please Hera, who had raised her. [18]

All of the gods were invited to Peleus and Thetis' wedding and brought many gifts, [19] except Eris (the goddess of discord), who was stopped at the door by Hermes, on Zeus' order. [20] Insulted, she threw from the door a gift of her own: [21] a golden apple (το μήλον της έριδος) on which was inscribed the word καλλίστῃ Kallistēi ("To the fairest"). [22] The apple was claimed by Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. They quarreled bitterly over it, and none of the other gods would venture an opinion favoring one, for fear of earning the enmity of the other two. Eventually, Zeus ordered Hermes to lead the three goddesses to Paris, a prince of Troy, who, unaware of his ancestry, was being raised as a shepherd in Mount Ida, [23] because of a prophecy that he would be the downfall of Troy. [24] After bathing in the spring of Ida, the goddesses appeared to him naked, either for the sake of winning or at Paris' request. Paris was unable to decide between them, so the goddesses resorted to bribes. Athena offered Paris wisdom, skill in battle, and the abilities of the greatest warriors Hera offered him political power and control of all of Asia and Aphrodite offered him the love of the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Sparta. Paris awarded the apple to Aphrodite, and, after several adventures, returned to Troy, where he was recognized by his royal family.

Peleus and Thetis bore a son, whom they named Achilles. It was foretold that he would either die of old age after an uneventful life, or die young in a battlefield and gain immortality through poetry. [25] Furthermore, when Achilles was nine years old, Calchas had prophesied that Troy could not again fall without his help. [26] A number of sources credit Thetis with attempting to make Achilles immortal when he was an infant. Some of these state that she held him over fire every night to burn away his mortal parts and rubbed him with ambrosia during the day, but Peleus discovered her actions and stopped her. [27]

According to some versions of this story, Thetis had already killed several sons in this manner, and Peleus' action therefore saved his son's life. [28] Other sources state that Thetis bathed Achilles in the Styx, the river that runs to the underworld, making him invulnerable wherever he was touched by the water. [29] Because she had held him by the heel, it was not immersed during the bathing and thus the heel remained mortal and vulnerable to injury (hence the expression "Achilles' heel" for an isolated weakness). He grew up to be the greatest of all mortal warriors. After Calchas' prophecy, Thetis hid Achilles in Skyros at the court of King Lycomedes, where he was disguised as a girl. [30] At a crucial point in the war, she assists her son by providing weapons divinely forged by Hephaestus (see below).

Elopement of Paris and Helen

The most beautiful woman in the world was Helen, one of the daughters of Tyndareus, King of Sparta. Her mother was Leda, who had been either raped or seduced by Zeus in the form of a swan. [31] Accounts differ over which of Leda's four children, two pairs of twins, were fathered by Zeus and which by Tyndareus. However, Helen is usually credited as Zeus' daughter, [32] and sometimes Nemesis is credited as her mother. [33] Helen had scores of suitors, and her father was unwilling to choose one for fear the others would retaliate violently.

Finally, one of the suitors, Odysseus of Ithaca, proposed a plan to solve the dilemma. In exchange for Tyndareus' support of his own suit towards Penelope, [34] he suggested that Tyndareus require all of Helen's suitors to promise that they would defend the marriage of Helen, regardless of whom he chose. The suitors duly swore the required oath on the severed pieces of a horse, although not without a certain amount of grumbling. [35]

Tyndareus chose Menelaus. Menelaus was a political choice on her father's part. He had wealth and power. He had humbly not petitioned for her himself, but instead sent his brother Agamemnon on his behalf. He had promised Aphrodite a hecatomb, a sacrifice of 100 oxen, if he won Helen, but forgot about it and earned her wrath. [36] Menelaus inherited Tyndareus' throne of Sparta with Helen as his queen when her brothers, Castor and Pollux, became gods, [37] and when Agamemnon married Helen's sister Clytemnestra and took back the throne of Mycenae. [38]

Paris, under the guise of a supposed diplomatic mission, went to Sparta to get Helen and bring her back to Troy. Before Helen could look up to see him enter the palace, she was shot with an arrow from Eros, otherwise known as Cupid, and fell in love with Paris when she saw him, as promised by Aphrodite. Menelaus had left for Crete [39] to bury his uncle, Crateus. [40]

According to one account, Hera, still jealous over the judgement of Paris, sent a storm. [39] The storm caused the lovers to land in Egypt, where the gods replaced Helen with a likeness of her made of clouds, Nephele. [41] The myth of Helen being switched is attributed to the 6th century BC Sicilian poet Stesichorus, while for Homer the Helen in Troy was one and the same. The ship then landed in Sidon. Paris, fearful of getting caught, spent some time there and then sailed to Troy. [42]

Paris' abduction of Helen had several precedents. Io was taken from Mycenae, Europa was taken from Phoenicia, Jason took Medea from Colchis, [43] and the Trojan princess Hesione had been taken by Heracles, who gave her to Telamon of Salamis. [44] According to Herodotus, Paris was emboldened by these examples to steal himself a wife from Greece, and expected no retribution, since there had been none in the other cases. [45]

Gathering of Achaean forces and the first expedition

According to Homer, Menelaus and his ally, Odysseus, traveled to Troy, where they unsuccessfully sought to recover Helen by diplomatic means. [46]

Menelaus then asked Agamemnon to uphold his oath, which, as one of Helen's suitors, was to defend her marriage regardless of which suitor had been chosen. Agamemnon agreed and sent emissaries to all the Achaean kings and princes to call them to observe their oaths and retrieve Helen. [47]

Odysseus and Achilles

Since Menelaus's wedding, Odysseus had married Penelope and fathered a son, Telemachus. In order to avoid the war, he feigned madness and sowed his fields with salt. Palamedes outwitted him by placing Telemachus, then an infant, in front of the plough's path. Odysseus turned aside, unwilling to kill his son, so revealing his sanity and forcing him to join the war. [39] [48]

According to Homer, however, Odysseus supported the military adventure from the beginning, and traveled the region with Pylos' king, Nestor, to recruit forces. [49]

At Skyros, Achilles had an affair with the king's daughter Deidamia, resulting in a child, Neoptolemus. [50] Odysseus, Telamonian Ajax, and Achilles' tutor Phoenix went to retrieve Achilles. Achilles' mother disguised him as a woman so that he would not have to go to war, but, according to one story, they blew a horn, and Achilles revealed himself by seizing a spear to fight intruders, rather than fleeing. [26] According to another story, they disguised themselves as merchants bearing trinkets and weaponry, and Achilles was marked out from the other women for admiring weaponry instead of clothes and jewelry. [51]

Pausanias said that, according to Homer, Achilles did not hide in Skyros, but rather conquered the island, as part of the Trojan War. [52]

First gathering at Aulis

The Achaean forces first gathered at Aulis. All the suitors sent their forces except King Cinyras of Cyprus. Though he sent breastplates to Agamemnon and promised to send 50 ships, he sent only one real ship, led by the son of Mygdalion, and 49 ships made of clay. [53] Idomeneus was willing to lead the Cretan contingent in Mycenae's war against Troy, but only as a co-commander, which he was granted. [54] The last commander to arrive was Achilles, who was then 15 years old.

Following a sacrifice to Apollo, a snake slithered from the altar to a sparrow's nest in a plane tree nearby. It ate the mother and her nine chicks, then was turned to stone. Calchas interpreted this as a sign that Troy would fall in the tenth year of the war. [55]


When the Achaeans left for the war, they did not know the way, and accidentally landed in Mysia, ruled by King Telephus, son of Heracles, who had led a contingent of Arcadians to settle there. [56] In the battle, Achilles wounded Telephus, [57] who had killed Thersander. [58] Because the wound would not heal, Telephus asked an oracle, "What will happen to the wound?". The oracle responded, "he that wounded shall heal". The Achaean fleet then set sail and was scattered by a storm. Achilles landed in Skyros and married Deidamia. A new gathering was set again in Aulis. [39]

Telephus went to Aulis, and either pretended to be a beggar, asking Agamemnon to help heal his wound, [59] or kidnapped Orestes and held him for ransom, demanding the wound be healed. [60] Achilles refused, claiming to have no medical knowledge. Odysseus reasoned that the spear that had inflicted the wound must be able to heal it. Pieces of the spear were scraped off onto the wound, and Telephus was healed. [61] Telephus then showed the Achaeans the route to Troy. [59]

Some scholars have regarded the expedition against Telephus and its resolution as a derivative reworking of elements from the main story of the Trojan War, but it has also been seen as fitting the story-pattern of the "preliminary adventure" that anticipates events and themes from the main narrative, and therefore as likely to be "early and integral". [62]

Second gathering

Eight years after the storm had scattered them, [63] the fleet of more than a thousand ships was gathered again. But when they had all reached Aulis, the winds ceased. The prophet Calchas stated that the goddess Artemis was punishing Agamemnon for killing either a sacred deer or a deer in a sacred grove, and boasting that he was a better hunter than she. [39] The only way to appease Artemis, he said, was to sacrifice Iphigenia, who was either the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, [64] or of Helen and Theseus entrusted to Clytemnestra when Helen married Menelaus. [65]

Agamemnon refused, and the other commanders threatened to make Palamedes commander of the expedition. [66] According to some versions, Agamemnon relented and performed the sacrifice, but others claim that he sacrificed a deer in her place, or that at the last moment, Artemis took pity on the girl, and took her to be a maiden in one of her temples, substituting a lamb. [39] Hesiod says that Iphigenia became the goddess Hecate. [67]

The Achaean forces are described in detail in the Catalogue of Ships, in the second book of the Iliad. They consisted of 28 contingents from mainland Greece, the Peloponnese, the Dodecanese islands, Crete, and Ithaca, comprising 1186 pentekonters, ships with 50 rowers. Thucydides says [68] that according to tradition there were about 1200 ships, and that the Boeotian ships had 120 men, while Philoctetes' ships only had the fifty rowers, these probably being maximum and minimum. These numbers would mean a total force of 70,000 to 130,000 men. Another catalogue of ships is given by the Bibliotheca that differs somewhat but agrees in numbers. Some scholars have claimed that Homer's catalogue is an original Bronze Age document, possibly the Achaean commander's order of operations. [69] [70] [71] Others believe it was a fabrication of Homer.

The second book of the Iliad also lists the Trojan allies, consisting of the Trojans themselves, led by Hector, and various allies listed as Dardanians led by Aeneas, Zeleians, Adrasteians, Percotians, Pelasgians, Thracians, Ciconian spearmen, Paionian archers, Halizones, Mysians, Phrygians, Maeonians, Miletians, Lycians led by Sarpedon and Carians. Nothing is said of the Trojan language the Carians are specifically said to be barbarian-speaking, and the allied contingents are said to have spoken many languages, requiring orders to be translated by their individual commanders. [72] The Trojans and Achaeans in the Iliad share the same religion, same culture and the enemy heroes speak to each other in the same language, though this could be dramatic effect.

Nine years of war


Philoctetes was Heracles' friend, and because he lit Heracles's funeral pyre when no one else would, he received Heracles' bow and arrows. [73] He sailed with seven ships full of men to the Trojan War, where he was planning on fighting for the Achaeans. They stopped either at Chryse Island for supplies, [74] or in Tenedos, along with the rest of the fleet. [75] Philoctetes was then bitten by a snake. The wound festered and had a foul smell on Odysseus's advice, the Atreidae ordered Philoctetes to stay on Lemnos. [39]

Medon took control of Philoctetes's men. While landing on Tenedos, Achilles killed king Tenes, son of Apollo, despite a warning by his mother that if he did so he would be killed himself by Apollo. [76] From Tenedos, Agamemnon sent an embassy to the Priam king of Troy composed of Menelaus, Odysseus, and Palamedes, asking for Helen's return. The embassy was refused. [77]

Philoctetes stayed on Lemnos for ten years, which was a deserted island according to Sophocles' tragedy Philoctetes, but according to earlier tradition was populated by Minyans. [78]


Calchas had prophesied that the first Achaean to walk on land after stepping off a ship would be the first to die. [79] Thus even the leading Greeks hesitated to land. Finally, Protesilaus, leader of the Phylaceans, landed first. [80] Odysseus had tricked him, in throwing his own shield down to land on, so that while he was first to leap off his ship, he was not the first to land on Trojan soil. Hector killed Protesilaus in single combat, though the Trojans conceded the beach. In the second wave of attacks, Achilles killed Cycnus, son of Poseidon. The Trojans then fled to the safety of the walls of their city. [81]

The walls served as sturdy fortifications for defense against the Greeks. The build of the walls was so impressive that legend held that they had been built by Poseidon and Apollo during a year of forced service to Trojan King Laomedon. [82] Protesilaus had killed many Trojans but was killed by Hector in most versions of the story, [83] though others list Aeneas, Achates, or Ephorbus as his slayer. [84] The Achaeans buried him as a god on the Thracian peninsula, across the Troäd. [85] After Protesilaus' death, his brother, Podarces, took command of his troops.

Achilles' campaigns

The Achaeans besieged Troy for nine years. This part of the war is the least developed among surviving sources, which prefer to talk about events in the last year of the war. After the initial landing the army was gathered in its entirety again only in the tenth year. Thucydides deduces that this was due to lack of money. They raided the Trojan allies and spent time farming the Thracian peninsula. [86] Troy was never completely besieged, thus it maintained communications with the interior of Asia Minor. Reinforcements continued to come until the very end. The Achaeans controlled only the entrance to the Dardanelles, and Troy and her allies controlled the shortest point at Abydos and Sestos and communicated with allies in Europe. [87]

Achilles and Ajax were the most active of the Achaeans, leading separate armies to raid lands of Trojan allies. According to Homer, Achilles conquered 11 cities and 12 islands. [88] According to Apollodorus, he raided the land of Aeneas in the Troäd region and stole his cattle. [89] He also captured Lyrnassus, Pedasus, and many of the neighbouring cities, and killed Troilus, son of Priam, who was still a youth it was said that if he reached 20 years of age, Troy would not fall. According to Apollodorus,

He also took Lesbos and Phocaea, then Colophon, and Smyrna, and Clazomenae, and Cyme and afterwards Aegialus and Tenos, the so-called Hundred Cities then, in order, Adramytium and Side then Endium, and Linaeum, and Colone. He took also Hypoplacian Thebes and Lyrnessus, and further Antandrus, and many other cities. [90]

Kakrides comments that the list is wrong in that it extends too far into the south. [91] Other sources talk of Achilles taking Pedasus, Monenia, [92] Mythemna (in Lesbos), and Peisidice. [93]

Among the loot from these cities was Briseis, from Lyrnessus, who was awarded to him, and Chryseis, from Hypoplacian Thebes, who was awarded to Agamemnon. [39] Achilles captured Lycaon, son of Priam, [94] while he was cutting branches in his father's orchards. Patroclus sold him as a slave in Lemnos, [39] where he was bought by Eetion of Imbros and brought back to Troy. Only 12 days later Achilles slew him, after the death of Patroclus. [95]

Ajax and a game of petteia

Ajax son of Telamon laid waste the Thracian peninsula of which Polymestor, a son-in-law of Priam, was king. Polymestor surrendered Polydorus, one of Priam's children, of whom he had custody. He then attacked the town of the Phrygian king Teleutas, killed him in single combat and carried off his daughter Tecmessa. [96] Ajax also hunted the Trojan flocks, both on Mount Ida and in the countryside.

Numerous paintings on pottery have suggested a tale not mentioned in the literary traditions. At some point in the war Achilles and Ajax were playing a board game (petteia). [97] [98] They were absorbed in the game and oblivious to the surrounding battle. [99] The Trojans attacked and reached the heroes, who were only saved by an intervention of Athena. [100]

Death of Palamedes

Odysseus was sent to Thrace to return with grain, but came back empty-handed. When scorned by Palamedes, Odysseus challenged him to do better. Palamedes set out and returned with a shipload of grain. [101]

Odysseus had never forgiven Palamedes for threatening the life of his son. In revenge, Odysseus conceived a plot [102] where an incriminating letter was forged, from Priam to Palamedes, [103] and gold was planted in Palamedes' quarters. The letter and gold were "discovered", and Agamemnon had Palamedes stoned to death for treason.

However, Pausanias, quoting the Cypria, says that Odysseus and Diomedes drowned Palamedes, while he was fishing, and Dictys says that Odysseus and Diomedes lured Palamedes into a well, which they said contained gold, then stoned him to death. [104]

Palamedes' father Nauplius sailed to the Troäd and asked for justice, but was refused. In revenge, Nauplius traveled among the Achaean kingdoms and told the wives of the kings that they were bringing Trojan concubines to dethrone them. Many of the Greek wives were persuaded to betray their husbands, most significantly Agamemnon's wife, Clytemnestra, who was seduced by Aegisthus, son of Thyestes. [105]


Near the end of the ninth year since the landing, the Achaean army, tired from the fighting and from the lack of supplies, mutinied against their leaders and demanded to return to their homes. According to the Cypria, Achilles forced the army to stay. [39] According to Apollodorus, Agamemnon brought the Wine Growers, daughters of Anius, son of Apollo, who had the gift of producing by touch wine, wheat, and oil from the earth, in order to relieve the supply problem of the army. [106]


Chryses, a priest of Apollo and father of Chryseis, came to Agamemnon to ask for the return of his daughter. Agamemnon refused, and insulted Chryses, who prayed to Apollo to avenge his ill-treatment. Enraged, Apollo afflicted the Achaean army with plague. Agamemnon was forced to return Chryseis to end the plague, and took Achilles' concubine Briseis as his own. Enraged at the dishonour Agamemnon had inflicted upon him, Achilles decided he would no longer fight. He asked his mother, Thetis, to intercede with Zeus, who agreed to give the Trojans success in the absence of Achilles, the best warrior of the Achaeans.

After the withdrawal of Achilles, the Achaeans were initially successful. Both armies gathered in full for the first time since the landing. Menelaus and Paris fought a duel, which ended when Aphrodite snatched the beaten Paris from the field. With the truce broken, the armies began fighting again. Diomedes won great renown amongst the Achaeans, killing the Trojan hero Pandaros and nearly killing Aeneas, who was only saved by his mother, Aphrodite. With the assistance of Athena, Diomedes then wounded the gods Aphrodite and Ares. During the next days, however, the Trojans drove the Achaeans back to their camp and were stopped at the Achaean wall by Poseidon. The next day, though, with Zeus' help, the Trojans broke into the Achaean camp and were on the verge of setting fire to the Achaean ships. An earlier appeal to Achilles to return was rejected, but after Hector burned Protesilaus' ship, he allowed his relative and best friend Patroclus to go into battle wearing Achilles' armour and lead his army. Patroclus drove the Trojans all the way back to the walls of Troy, and was only prevented from storming the city by the intervention of Apollo. Patroclus was then killed by Hector, who took Achilles' armour from the body of Patroclus.

Achilles, maddened with grief over the death of Patroclus, swore to kill Hector in revenge. The exact nature of Achilles' relationship to Patroclus is the subject of some debate. [107] Although certainly very close, Achilles and Patroclus are never explicitly cast as lovers by Homer, [108] but they were depicted as such in the archaic and classical periods of Greek literature, particularly in the works of Aeschylus, Aeschines and Plato. [109] [110] He was reconciled with Agamemnon and received Briseis back, untouched by Agamemnon. He received a new set of arms, forged by the god Hephaestus, and returned to the battlefield. He slaughtered many Trojans, and nearly killed Aeneas, who was saved by Poseidon. Achilles fought with the river god Scamander, and a battle of the gods followed. The Trojan army returned to the city, except for Hector, who remained outside the walls because he was tricked by Athena. Achilles killed Hector, and afterwards he dragged Hector's body from his chariot and refused to return the body to the Trojans for burial. The body nevertheless remained unscathed as it was preserved from all injury by Apollo and Aphrodite. The Achaeans then conducted funeral games for Patroclus. Afterwards, Priam came to Achilles' tent, guided by Hermes, and asked Achilles to return Hector's body. The armies made a temporary truce to allow the burial of the dead. The Iliad ends with the funeral of Hector.

After the Iliad

Penthesilea and the death of Achilles

Shortly after the burial of Hector, Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons, arrived with her warriors. [111] Penthesilea, daughter of Otrera and Ares, had accidentally killed her sister Hippolyte. She was purified from this action by Priam, [112] and in exchange she fought for him and killed many, including Machaon [113] (according to Pausanias, Machaon was killed by Eurypylus), [114] and according to one version, Achilles himself, who was resurrected at the request of Thetis. [115] In another version, Penthesilia was killed by Achilles [116] who fell in love with her beauty after her death. Thersites, a simple soldier and the ugliest Achaean, taunted Achilles over his love [113] and gouged out Penthesilea's eyes. [117] Achilles slew Thersites, and after a dispute sailed to Lesbos, where he was purified for his murder by Odysseus after sacrificing to Apollo, Artemis, and Leto. [116]

While they were away, Memnon of Ethiopia, son of Tithonus and Eos, [118] came with his host to help his stepbrother Priam. [119] He did not come directly from Ethiopia, but either from Susa in Persia, conquering all the peoples in between, [120] or from the Caucasus, leading an army of Ethiopians and Indians. [121] Like Achilles, he wore armour made by Hephaestus. [122] In the ensuing battle, Memnon killed Antilochus, who took one of Memnon's blows to save his father Nestor. [123] Achilles and Memnon then fought. Zeus weighed the fate of the two heroes the weight containing that of Memnon sank, [124] and he was slain by Achilles. [116] [125] Achilles chased the Trojans to their city, which he entered. The gods, seeing that he had killed too many of their children, decided that it was his time to die. He was killed after Paris shot a poisoned arrow that was guided by Apollo. [116] [118] [126] In another version he was killed by a knife to the back (or heel) by Paris, while marrying Polyxena, daughter of Priam, in the temple of Thymbraean Apollo, [127] the site where he had earlier killed Troilus. Both versions conspicuously deny the killer any sort of valour, saying Achilles remained undefeated on the battlefield. His bones were mingled with those of Patroclus, and funeral games were held. [128] Like Ajax, he is represented as living after his death in the island of Leuke, at the mouth of the Danube River, [129] where he is married to Helen. [130]

Judgment of Arms

A great battle raged around the dead Achilles. Ajax held back the Trojans, while Odysseus carried the body away. [131] When Achilles' armour was offered to the smartest warrior, the two that had saved his body came forward as competitors. Agamemnon, unwilling to undertake the invidious duty of deciding between the two competitors, referred the dispute to the decision of the Trojan prisoners, inquiring of them which of the two heroes had done most harm to the Trojans. [132] Alternatively, the Trojans and Pallas Athena were the judges [133] [134] in that, following Nestor's advice, spies were sent to the walls to overhear what was said. A girl said that Ajax was braver:

For Aias took up and carried out of the strife the hero, Peleus'
son: this great Odysseus cared not to do.
To this another replied by Athena's contrivance:
Why, what is this you say? A thing against reason and untrue!
Even a woman could carry a load once a man had put it on her
shoulder but she could not fight. For she would fail with fear
if she should fight. (Scholiast on Aristophanes, Knights 1056 and Aristophanes ib)

According to Pindar, the decision was made by secret ballot among the Achaeans. [135] In all story versions, the arms were awarded to Odysseus. Driven mad with grief, Ajax desired to kill his comrades, but Athena caused him to mistake for the Achaean warriors the cattle and their herdsmen. [136] In his frenzy he scourged two rams, believing them to be Agamemnon and Menelaus. [137] In the morning, he came to his senses and killed himself by jumping on the sword that had been given to him by Hector, so that it pierced his armpit, his only vulnerable part. [138] According to an older tradition, he was killed by the Trojans who, seeing he was invulnerable, attacked him with clay until he was covered by it and could no longer move, thus dying of starvation.


After the tenth year, it was prophesied [139] that Troy could not fall without Heracles' bow, which was with Philoctetes in Lemnos. Odysseus and Diomedes [140] retrieved Philoctetes, whose wound had healed. [141] Philoctetes then shot and killed Paris.

According to Apollodorus, Paris' brothers Helenus and Deiphobus vied over the hand of Helen. Deiphobus prevailed, and Helenus abandoned Troy for Mount Ida. Calchas said that Helenus knew the prophecies concerning the fall of Troy, so Odysseus waylaid Helenus. [134] [142] Under coercion, Helenus told the Achaeans that they would win if they retrieved Pelops' bones, persuaded Achilles' son Neoptolemus to fight for them, and stole the Trojan Palladium. [143]

The Greeks retrieved Pelop's bones, [144] and sent Odysseus to retrieve Neoptolemus, who was hiding from the war in King Lycomedes's court in Scyros. Odysseus gave him his father's arms. [134] [145] Eurypylus, son of Telephus, leading, according to Homer, a large force of Kêteioi, [146] or Hittites or Mysians according to Apollodorus, [147] arrived to aid the Trojans. Eurypylus killed Machaon [114] and Peneleos, [148] but was slain by Neoptolemus.

Disguised as a beggar, Odysseus went to spy inside Troy, but was recognized by Helen. Homesick, [149] Helen plotted with Odysseus. Later, with Helen's help, Odysseus and Diomedes stole the Palladium. [134] [150]

Trojan Horse

The end of the war came with one final plan. Odysseus devised a new ruse—a giant hollow wooden horse, an animal that was sacred to the Trojans. It was built by Epeius and guided by Athena, [151] from the wood of a cornel tree grove sacred to Apollo, [152] with the inscription:

The Greeks dedicate this thank-offering to Athena for their return home. [153]

The hollow horse was filled with soldiers [154] led by Odysseus. The rest of the army burned the camp and sailed for Tenedos. [155]

When the Trojans discovered that the Greeks were gone, believing the war was over, they "joyfully dragged the horse inside the city", [156] while they debated what to do with it. Some thought they ought to hurl it down from the rocks, others thought they should burn it, while others said they ought to dedicate it to Athena. [157] [158]

Both Cassandra and Laocoön warned against keeping the horse. [159] While Cassandra had been given the gift of prophecy by Apollo, she was also cursed by Apollo never to be believed. Serpents then came out of the sea and devoured either Laocoön and one of his two sons, [157] Laocoön and both his sons, [160] or only his sons, [161] a portent which so alarmed the followers of Aeneas that they withdrew to Ida. [157] The Trojans decided to keep the horse and turned to a night of mad revelry and celebration. [134] Sinon, an Achaean spy, signaled the fleet stationed at Tenedos when "it was midnight and the clear moon was rising" [162] and the soldiers from inside the horse emerged and killed the guards. [163]

Sack of Troy

The Achaeans entered the city and killed the sleeping population. A great massacre followed which continued into the day.

Blood ran in torrents, drenched was all the earth,
As Trojans and their alien helpers died.
Here were men lying quelled by bitter death
All up and down the city in their blood. [164]

The Trojans, fuelled with desperation, fought back fiercely, despite being disorganized and leaderless. With the fighting at its height, some donned fallen enemies' attire and launched surprise counterattacks in the chaotic street fighting. Other defenders hurled down roof tiles and anything else heavy down on the rampaging attackers. The outlook was grim though, and eventually the remaining defenders were destroyed along with the whole city.

Neoptolemus killed Priam, who had taken refuge at the altar of Zeus of the Courtyard. [157] [165] Menelaus killed Deiphobus, Helen's husband after Paris' death, and also intended to kill Helen, but, overcome by her beauty, threw down his sword [166] and took her to the ships. [157] [167]

Ajax the Lesser raped Cassandra on Athena's altar while she was clinging to her statue. Because of Ajax's impiety, the Acheaens, urged by Odysseus, wanted to stone him to death, but he fled to Athena's altar, and was spared. [157] [168]

Antenor, who had given hospitality to Menelaus and Odysseus when they asked for the return of Helen, and who had advocated so, was spared, along with his family. [169] Aeneas took his father on his back and fled, and, according to Apollodorus, was allowed to go because of his piety. [165]

The Greeks then burned the city and divided the spoils. Cassandra was awarded to Agamemnon. Neoptolemus got Andromache, wife of Hector, and Odysseus was given Hecuba, Priam's wife. [170]

The Achaeans [171] threw Hector's infant son Astyanax down from the walls of Troy, [172] either out of cruelty and hate [173] or to end the royal line, and the possibility of a son's revenge. [174] They (by usual tradition Neoptolemus) also sacrificed the Trojan princess Polyxena on the grave of Achilles as demanded by his ghost, either as part of his spoil or because she had betrayed him. [175]

Aethra, Theseus' mother, and one of Helen's handmaids, [176] was rescued by her grandsons, Demophon and Acamas. [157] [177]


The gods were very angry over the destruction of their temples and other sacrilegious acts by the Achaeans, and decided that most would not return home. A storm fell on the returning fleet off Tenos island. Additionally, Nauplius, in revenge for the murder of his son Palamedes, set up false lights in Cape Caphereus (also known today as Cavo D'Oro, in Euboea) and many were shipwrecked. [178]

    had made it back to Argos safely with Cassandra in his possession after some stormy weather. He and Cassandra were slain by Aegisthus (in the oldest versions of the story) or by Clytemnestra or by both of them. Electra and Orestes later avenged their father, but Orestes was the one who was chased by the Furies. , who had the best conduct in Troy and did not take part in the looting, was the only hero who had a fast and safe return. [179] Those of his army that survived the war also reached home with him safely, but later left and colonised Metapontium in Southern Italy. [180]
    , who had endured more than the others the wrath of the Gods, never returned. His ship was wrecked by a storm sent by Athena, who borrowed one of Zeus' thunderbolts and tore the ship to pieces. The crew managed to land in a rock, but Poseidon struck it, and Ajax fell in the sea and drowned. He was buried by Thetis in Myconos[181] or Delos. [182] , son of Telamon and half-brother of Ajax, stood trial by his father for his half-brother's death. He was disowned by his father and wasn't allowed back on Salamis Island. He was at sea near Phreattys in Peiraeus. [183] He was acquitted of responsibility but found guilty of negligence because he did not return his dead body or his arms. He left with his army (who took their wives) and founded Salamis in Cyprus. [184] The Athenians later created a political myth that his son left his kingdom to Theseus' sons (and not to Megara). , following the advice of Helenus, who accompanied him when he traveled over land, was always accompanied by Andromache. He met Odysseus and they buried Achilles' teacher Phoenix on the land of the Ciconians. They then conquered the land of the Molossians (Epirus) and Neoptolemus had a child by Andromache, Molossus, to whom he later gave the throne. [185] Thus the kings of Epirus claimed their lineage from Achilles, and so did Alexander the Great, whose mother was of that royal house. Alexander the Great and the kings of Macedon also claimed to be descended from Heracles. Helenus founded a city in Molossia and inhabited it, and Neoptolemus gave him his mother Deidamia as wife. After Peleus died he succeeded Phtia's throne. [186] He had a feud with Orestes (son of Agamemnon) over Menelaus' daughter Hermione, and was killed in Delphi, where he was buried. [187] In Roman myths, the kingdom of Phtia was taken over by Helenus, who married Andromache. They offered hospitality to other Trojan refugees, including Aeneas, who paid a visit there during his wanderings. was first thrown by a storm on the coast of Lycia, where he was to be sacrificed to Ares by king Lycus, but Callirrhoe, the king's daughter, took pity upon him, and assisted him in escaping. [188] He then accidentally landed in Attica, in Phaleron. The Athenians, unaware that they were allies, attacked them. Many were killed, and Demophon took the Palladium. [189] He finally landed in Argos, where he found his wife Aegialeia committing adultery. In disgust, he left for Aetolia. [190] According to later traditions, he had some adventures and founded Canusium and Argyrippa in Southern Italy. [191] , due to a sedition, was driven from his city and emigrated to Italy, where he founded the cities of Petilia, Old Crimissa, and Chone, between Croton and Thurii. [192] After making war on the Leucanians he founded there a sanctuary of Apollo the Wanderer, to whom also he dedicated his bow. [193]
  • According to Homer, Idomeneus reached his house safe and sound. [194] Another tradition later formed. After the war, Idomeneus's ship hit a horrible storm. Idomeneus promised Poseidon that he would sacrifice the first living thing he saw when he returned home if Poseidon would save his ship and crew. The first living thing he saw was his son, whom Idomeneus duly sacrificed. The gods were angry at his murder of his own son and they sent a plague to Crete. His people sent him into exile to Calabria in Italy, [195] and then to Colophon, in Asia Minor, where he died. [196] Among the lesser Achaeans very few reached their homes.

House of Atreus

According to the Odyssey, Menelaus's fleet was blown by storms to Crete and Egypt, where they were unable to sail away because the winds were calm. [197] Only five of his ships survived. [179] Menelaus had to catch Proteus, a shape-shifting sea god, to find out what sacrifices to which gods he would have to make to guarantee safe passage. [198] According to some stories the Helen who was taken by Paris was a fake, and the real Helen was in Egypt, where she was reunited with Menelaus. Proteus also told Menelaus that he was destined for Elysium (Heaven) after his death. Menelaus returned to Sparta with Helen eight years after he had left Troy. [199]

Agamemnon returned home with Cassandra to Argos. His wife Clytemnestra (Helen's sister) was having an affair with Aegisthus, son of Thyestes, Agamemnon's cousin who had conquered Argos before Agamemnon himself retook it. Possibly out of vengeance for the death of Iphigenia, Clytemnestra plotted with her lover to kill Agamemnon. Cassandra foresaw this murder, and warned Agamemnon, but he disregarded her. He was killed, either at a feast or in his bath, [200] according to different versions. Cassandra was also killed. [201] Agamemnon's son Orestes, who had been away, returned and conspired with his sister Electra to avenge their father. [202] He killed Clytemnestra and Aegisthus and succeeded to his father's throne. [203] [204]


Odysseus' ten-year journey home to Ithaca was told in Homer's Odyssey. Odysseus and his men were blown far off course to lands unknown to the Achaeans there Odysseus had many adventures, including the famous encounter with the Cyclops Polyphemus, and an audience with the seer Teiresias in Hades. On the island of Thrinacia, Odysseus' men ate the cattle sacred to the sun-god Helios. For this sacrilege Odysseus' ships were destroyed, and all his men perished. Odysseus had not eaten the cattle, and was allowed to live he washed ashore on the island of Ogygia, and lived there with the nymph Calypso. After seven years, the gods decided to send Odysseus home on a small raft, he sailed to Scheria, the home of the Phaeacians, who gave him passage to Ithaca.

Once in his home land, Odysseus traveled disguised as an old beggar. He was recognised by his dog, Argos, who died in his lap. He then discovered that his wife, Penelope, had been faithful to him during the 20 years he was absent, despite the countless suitors that were eating his food and spending his property. With the help of his son Telemachus, Athena, and Eumaeus, the swineherd, he killed all of them except Medon, who had been polite to Penelope, and Phemius, a local singer who had only been forced to help the suitors against Penelope. Penelope tested Odysseus with his unstrung recurve bow to ensure it was him, and he forgave her. [205] The next day the suitors' relatives tried to take revenge on him but they were stopped by Athena.


The Telegony picks up where the Odyssey leaves off, beginning with the burial of the dead suitors, and continues until the death of Odysseus. [206] Some years after Odysseus' return, Telegonus, the son of Odysseus and Circe, came to Ithaca and plundered the island. Odysseus, attempting to fight off the attack, was killed by his unrecognized son. After Telegonus realized he had killed his father, he brought the body to his mother Circe, along with Telemachus and Penelope. Circe made them immortal then Telegonus married Penelope and Telemachus married Circe.


The journey of the Trojan survivor Aeneas and his resettling of Trojan refugees in Italy are the subject of the Latin epic poem the Aeneid by Virgil. Writing during the time of Augustus, Virgil has his hero give a first-person account of the fall of Troy in the second of the Aeneid ' s twelve books the Trojan Horse, which does not appear in the Iliad, became legendary from Virgil's account.

Aeneas leads a group of survivors away from the city, among them his son Ascanius (also known as Iulus), his trumpeter Misenus, father Anchises, the healer Iapyx, his faithful sidekick Achates, and Mimas as a guide. His wife Creusa is killed during the sack of the city. Aeneas also carries the Lares and Penates of Troy, which the historical Romans claimed to preserve as guarantees of Rome's own security.

The Trojan survivors escape with a number of ships, seeking to establish a new homeland elsewhere. They land in several nearby countries that prove inhospitable, and are finally told by an oracle that they must return to the land of their forebears. They first try to establish themselves in Crete, where Dardanus had once settled, but find it ravaged by the same plague that had driven Idomeneus away. They find the colony led by Helenus and Andromache, but decline to remain. After seven years they arrive in Carthage, where Aeneas has an affair with Queen Dido. (Since according to tradition Carthage was founded in 814 BC, the arrival of Trojan refugees a few hundred years earlier exposes chronological difficulties within the mythic tradition.) Eventually the gods order Aeneas to continue onward, and he and his people arrive at the mouth of the Tiber River in Italy. Dido commits suicide, and Aeneas's betrayal of her was regarded as an element in the long enmity between Rome and Carthage that expressed itself in the Punic Wars and led to Roman hegemony.

At Cumae, the Sibyl leads Aeneas on an archetypal descent to the underworld, where the shade of his dead father serves as a guide this book of the Aeneid directly influenced Dante, who has Virgil act as his narrator's guide. Aeneas is given a vision of the future majesty of Rome, which it was his duty to found, and returns to the world of the living. He negotiates a settlement with the local king, Latinus, and was wed to his daughter, Lavinia. This triggered a war with other local tribes, which culminated in the founding of the settlement of Alba Longa, ruled by Aeneas and Lavinia's son Silvius. Roman myth attempted to reconcile two different founding myths: three hundred years later, in the more famous tradition, Romulus founded Rome after murdering his brother Remus. The Trojan origins of Rome became particularly important in the propaganda of Julius Caesar, whose family claimed descent from Venus through Aeneas's son Iulus (hence the Latin gens name Iulius), and during the reign of Augustus see for instance the Tabulae Iliacae and the "Troy Game" presented frequently by the Julio-Claudian dynasty.

Since this war was considered among the ancient Greeks as either the last event of the mythical age or the first event of the historical age, several dates are given for the fall of Troy. They usually derive from genealogies of kings. Ephorus gives 1135 BC, [207] Sosibius 1172 BC, [208] Eratosthenes 1184 BC/1183 BC, [209] Timaeus 1193 BC, [210] the Parian marble 1209 BC/1208 BC, [211] Dicaearchus 1212 BC, [212] Herodotus around 1250 BC, [213] Eretes 1291 BC, [214] while Douris gives 1334 BC. [215] As for the exact day Ephorus gives 23/24 Thargelion (May 6 or 7), Hellanicus 12 Thargelion (May 26) [216] while others give the 23rd of Sciroforion (July 7) or the 23rd of Ponamos (October 7).

The glorious and rich city Homer describes was believed to be Troy VI by many twentieth century authors, and destroyed about 1275 BC, probably by an earthquake. Its successor, Troy VIIa, was destroyed around 1180 BC it was long considered a poorer city, and dismissed as a candidate for Homeric Troy, but since the excavation campaign of 1988, it has come to be regarded as the most likely candidate. [217] [218] [219]

The historicity of the Trojan War, including whether it occurred at all and where Troy was located if it ever existed, is still subject to debate. Most classical Greeks thought that the war was a historical event, but many believed that the Homeric poems had exaggerated the events to suit the demands of poetry. For instance, the historian Thucydides, who is known for being critical, considers it a true event but doubts that 1,186 ships were sent to Troy. Euripides started changing Greek myths at will, including those of the Trojan War. Near year 100 AD, Dio Chrysostom argued that while the war was historical, it ended with the Trojans winning, and the Greeks attempted to hide that fact. [220] Around 1870 it was generally agreed in Western Europe that the Trojan War had never happened and Troy never existed. [221] Then Heinrich Schliemann popularized his excavations at Hisarlik, Canakkale, which he and others believed to be Troy, and of the Mycenaean cities of Greece. Today many scholars agree that the Trojan War is based on a historical core of a Greek expedition against the city of Troy, but few would argue that the Homeric poems faithfully represent the actual events of the war.

In November 2001, geologist John C. Kraft and classicist John V. Luce presented the results of investigations into the geology of the region that had started in 1977. [222] [223] [224] The geologists compared the present geology with the landscapes and coastal features described in the Iliad and other classical sources, notably Strabo's Geographia. Their conclusion was that there is regularly a consistency between the location of Troy as identified by Schliemann (and other locations such as the Greek camp), the geological evidence, and descriptions of the topography and accounts of the battle in the Iliad, although of course this could be a coincidence.

In the twentieth century scholars have attempted to draw conclusions based on Hittite and Egyptian texts that date to the time of the Trojan War. While they give a general description of the political situation in the region at the time, their information on whether this particular conflict took place is limited. Andrew Dalby notes that while the Trojan War most likely did take place in some form and is therefore grounded in history, its true nature is unknown. [225] The Tawagalawa letter mentions a kingdom of Ahhiyawa (Achaea, or Greece) that lies beyond the sea (that would be the Aegean) and controls Milliwanda, which is identified with Miletus. Also mentioned in this and other letters is the Assuwa confederation made of 22 cities and countries which included the city of Wilusa (Ilios or Ilium). The Milawata letter implies this city lies on the north of the Assuwa confederation, beyond the Seha river. While the identification of Wilusa with Ilium (that is, Troy) is always controversial, in the 1990s it gained majority acceptance. In the Alaksandu treaty (c. 1280 BC) the king of the city is named Alaksandu, and Paris's name in the Iliad (among other works) is Alexander. The Tawagalawa letter (dated c. 1250 BC) which is addressed to the king of Ahhiyawa actually says: "Now as we have come to an agreement on Wilusa over which we went to war . " [ full citation needed ]

Formerly under the Hittites, the Assuwa confederation defected after the battle of Kadesh between Egypt and the Hittites (c. 1274 BC). In 1230 BC Hittite king Tudhaliya IV (c. 1240–1210 BC) campaigned against this federation. Under Arnuwanda III (c. 1210–1205 BC) the Hittites were forced to abandon the lands they controlled in the coast of the Aegean. It is possible that the Trojan War was a conflict between the king of Ahhiyawa and the Assuwa confederation. This view has been supported in that the entire war includes the landing in Mysia (and Telephus' wounding), Achilles's campaigns in the North Aegean and Telamonian Ajax's campaigns in Thrace and Phrygia. Most of these regions were part of Assuwa. [70] [226] That most Achaean heroes did not return to their homes and founded colonies elsewhere was interpreted by Thucydides as being due to their long absence. [227] Nowadays the interpretation followed by most scholars is that the Achaean leaders driven out of their lands by the turmoil at the end of the Mycenaean era preferred to claim descent from exiles of the Trojan War. [228]

The inspiration provided by these events produced many literary works, far more than can be listed here. The siege of Troy provided inspiration for many works of art, most famously Homer's Iliad, set in the last year of the siege. Some of the others include Troädes by Euripides, Troilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare, Iphigenia and Polyxena by Samuel Coster, Palamedes by Joost van den Vondel and Les Troyens by Hector Berlioz.

Films based on the Trojan War include Helen of Troy (1956), The Trojan Horse (1961) and Troy (2004). The war has also been featured in many books, television series, and other creative works.

Achilles: Bronze Age Warrior

He is the first warrior of the Western world. Swift-footed, lionhearted, terrible in his war cry, a sacker of cities, a charismatic leader, a stunning physical specimen, unconquerable—except by an arrow to his heel—Achilles was the best of the Greeks at Troy. He chose glory over long life and learned to master anger and replace it with wisdom. He is the unforgettable hero of the first work of Western literature: Homer’s epic poem the Iliad.

But was Achilles real? Is there any historical truth in his story, or is he just myth? The short answer is that we don’t know. There is no proof that Achilles existed or that any of Homer’s other characters did. The long answer is that Homer’s Achilles may have been based, at least in part, on a historical character the same is true of the rest of Homer’s characters. There are two reasons to believe this. Exciting new archaeological discoveries make it more plausible that the Trojan War really happened. And the more we learn about the nature of war at that time, the more Homer’s description of Achilles rings true.

What follows is a portrait of what the real Achilles might have been like if he truly lived. It describes a Greek warrior chieftain of about 1200 B.C. who took part in an expedition against a wealthy city in the northwest corner of what is now Turkey—Troy. But first some background.

According to Homer, the Trojan War lasted ten years. The conflict pitted the wealthy city of Troy and its allies against a coalition of all Greece. It was the greatest war in Western history to that time, involving at least a hundred thousand men in each army as well as 1,186 Greek ships. It featured heroic champions on both sides. It was so important that the Olympian gods played an active role. Troy was a magnificent city and impregnable fortress. The cause of the war was the seduction, by Prince Paris of Troy, of the beautiful Helen, queen of Sparta, as well as the loss of the treasure that they ran off with.

The Greeks landed at Troy and demanded the return of Helen and the treasure to her husband, Sparta’s King Menelaus. But the Trojans refused. In the nine years of warfare that followed, the Greeks ravaged and looted the Trojan countryside and surrounding islands, but they made no progress against the city.

In that ninth year the Greek army nearly fell apart. A murderous epidemic was followed by a mutiny on the part of Greece’s greatest warrior, Achilles. The issue, once again, was a woman: this time, the beautiful Briseis, a prize of war unjustly grabbed from Achilles by the Greek commander in chief, Agamemnon. A furious Achilles withdrew himself and his men from the fighting. The Trojans, led by Prince Hector, took advantage of Achilles’ absence and nearly drove the Greeks back into the sea. At the eleventh hour Achilles let his lieutenant and close friend Patroclus lead his men back into battle to save the Greek camp. Patroclus succeeded but overreached, and Hector killed him on the Trojan Plain. In revenge, Achilles returned to battle, devastated the enemy, and killed Hector. Achilles was so angry that he abused Hector’s corpse. King Priam of Troy begged Achilles to give back his son Hector’s body for cremation and burial, and a sadder but wiser Achilles at last agreed. He knew that he too was soon destined to die in battle.

So Homer tells the tale. Other writers continued the story to the war’s end, when the Greeks took Troy by means of the famous Trojan horse. These writers provide many additional details about the hero Achilles, from his upbringing by centaurs to his infamous heel—allegedly the only part of his body that could be wounded. We can dismiss such fantastic details or explain them as symbols.

We don’t know just when Homer composed the Iliad, but most scholars accept a date around 700 B.C. If the Trojan War really happened, it probably took place 500 years earlier, around 1200 B.C. That earlier date marks just about the end of the Bronze Age (circa 3000-1000 B.C.). In the Late Bronze Age the Greeks achieved a rich and powerful civilization that we call Mycenaean (after one of its main sites, Mycenae). Not long after 1200, Mycenaean civilization collapsed, to be followed by centuries of poverty (known as the Greek Dark Ages) until a new Greece rose again after 800.

Homer had no library, and in fact he was probably illiterate. How, then, did he know Bronze Age history? Part of the story of the Iliad is surely fiction, but some details of the Trojan War could have been preserved by word of mouth, in earlier poems from which the Iliad borrowed. Other details could have been put down in writing in western Turkey, but not in Greece, where writing disappeared from shortly after 1200 to about 750.

Consider a striking fact: Many words in Homer’s work, including names, came from the Greek language circa 1200 and not 700 B.C. The name “Achilles” itself appears in an early text as “a-ki-re-u,” a word that perhaps means “the man who wears armor” or more poetically “the grief of the army.”

Many of the places described by Homer later disappeared, but some have since been found by archaeologists. The site of Troy itself was discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1871 in the northwestern corner of Turkey. But until recently Troy looked a little shabby: It was a citadel without a city— and a poor citadel at that. New excavations at Troy now show that it was in fact a large and prosperous city when it was destroyed around 1200 B.C., possibly by the Greeks. Newly discovered documents show that the Mycenaeans traded, raided, settled in, made war on, and arranged royal marriages with the people of what is now western Turkey.

Sea power gave the Mycenaeans mobility. They were pioneers of the galley or oared warship. For more than 200 years beginning around 1450 B.C., they fanned out from the mainland, raiding and conquering the Aegean islands and parts of what is today western Turkey. They almost certainly fought the Hittites and their allies. The Hittites were the major military power of Late Bronze Age Turkey, which they ruled from their capital near the modern city of Ankara. The Mycenaeans went south to Egypt too, where they may have served as mercenaries.

Spectacular ruins of Mycenaean civilization were found long ago on the Greek mainland at places mentioned by Homer. Examples include Mycenae, capital of Homer’s King Agamemnon Pylos, the palace of King Nestor Argos, home of Diomedes and the area around Sparta, home of Helen and Menelaus.

But Achilles’ kingdom had vanished—until now. According to Homer, Achilles ruled the land of Phthia, located in Central Greece. Until recently, there was no evidence of Mycenaeans in this region, but Mycenaean tombs have now been found there. Not far away, on the coast south of Phthia, archaeologists have discovered the probable site of Kynos, home of Ajax the Lesser in the Iliad. Pottery there illustrates ships, warriors, and battles at sea. And on the island of Salamis, near Athens, newly discovered Mycenaean ruins now lend credence to the story of that island’s legendary hero: Ajax the Great, Achilles’ cousin and comrade at Troy.

In short, there may well be more than myth to Homer. It is plausible that a coalition of Greeks crossed the Aegean Sea around 1200 B.C. and attacked the wealthy city of Troy. This does not mean, of course, that the Greeks had more than a thousand ships, or that the war lasted ten years, or that the cause of the war was a woman. The real Trojan War is likely to have involved a much smaller number of ships, employed far fewer than two hundred thousand men, and lasted no longer than a year or two or three. But by the standards of the day it might have been a big conflict.

It is also possible that one of the Greek leaders at Troy was a prince of Phthia named Achilles. Let’s take a closer look at him.

Achilles came from Central Greece. His father was the king of Phthia, Peleus, his mother the demigod Thetis. In the ancient world it was not unusual to chalk up extraordinary talent to divine ancestry, and Achilles was certainly extraordinary. In all the Greek army at Troy, no one could match him as a warrior. He was tall and striking, and his handsome face was crowned with a mane of long, dirty-blond hair. Mycenaean skeletons indicate that a member of the royal house, lovingly reared and well fed, could stand nearly six feet tall—a great height considering the average Mycenaean male stood about five feet five inches. Modesty was not a heroic virtue, and Achilles was a virtuous hero, so he doesn’t hesitate to call himself big and beautiful. He says, furthermore:

None of the bronze-wearing Greeks is my equal
In war, although some are better than me in the assembly.

Achilles was temperamental, but when he was in the mood, he couldn’t get enough of battle. Combat was his road to what every hero wanted: fame, glory, and honor. And as anyone who saw Hollywood’s 2004 movie Troy knows, Achilles says: “I want what all men want I just want it more.”

Legend has it that young Achilles was sent to rugged Mount Pelion to be schooled in the arts of war by Chiron the centaur. Achilles’ stint on Mount Pelion recalls the later Greek practice of sending raw recruits to the mountains for two seasons of training before they were ready to fight with the rest of the army.

Centaurs were mythical creatures, half-man and half-horse. Perhaps they were just myth, and that’s the end of it, but centaurs might be a symbol for men who rode horses. In the Bronze Age, horse-riding was rare. The cavalry was made up of warriors in horse-drawn chariots, not mounted on horses, as they would later be. If the men of Mount Pelion actually did ride horses, that might have given rise to the myth of the “horse men” centaurs.

After returning from Pelion, Achilles was supposedly sent off to the island of Scyros on his mother’s command. Thetis knew the Greeks wanted Achilles to fight at Troy because an oracle had said they would not take Troy without him. But Thetis also knew that if Achilles fought at Troy he was destined to die there. So she hid him on Scyros and even insisted that he dress like a woman. Odysseus, the cleverest of the Greeks, found Achilles on Scyros and easily unmasked him—simply by tempting him with some weapons. The Greeks got their man.

Homer knows nothing of this story, but he places Achilles with the Greek army at Troy. Homer does indeed make it clear that Achilles knew he was fated to die young. But Achilles considered that a worthy price to pay in order to win glory. Honor before comfort: That is the hero’s credo.

At Troy Achilles proved his mettle on the battlefield, but not before going off to his tent to sulk over the dishonor of having his “prize,” Briseis, taken away. King Agamemnon, the Greeks’ supreme leader, had taken Achilles down a notch after a public quarrel by seizing the hero’s “blooming prize/…[His] loved Briseis with the radiant eyes.”

Achilles was outraged. Not only had he been publicly dishonored, he had been defrauded of his “valor’s prize,” as he put it. Agamemnon had deprived him of his glory, won through Achilles’ main military activity to date: raiding. This was typical of Bronze Age warfare, where the expense and risk of pitched battles made them rare. Raids were probably the bread and butter of Bronze Age military operations. The Greeks at Troy were no exception.

The Greek camp at Troy had several functions, among them serving as a naval station: It made a convenient jumping-off place for attacks. Because they commanded the sea, the Greeks could strike at the long Trojan coastline virtually at will. They carried out two sorts of operations: ambushes of civilians outside Troy’s walls and assaults on Trojan settlements and nearby cities friendly to Troy. The Greeks ransacked cities carried off Trojan women, treasure, and livestock killed some leaders, ransomed others, and sold most of the rest as slaves on the islands of Lemnos, Imbros, and Samos.

Achilles was a master of raiding. By the ninth year of the war, he claimed to have destroyed no fewer than twenty-three cities, or about two and a half attacks annually. If twenty-three is an exaggeration, it is not out of line with Bronze Age hyperbole. The raids brought loot and glory, but when there are spoils to divide, there is always the risk of a fight.

After Briseis was taken from him, Achilles sat on the beach and cried like a baby: tears of rage, to be sure, but perhaps of loss as well. He was not a happy man, but who could be happy knowing that he was fated to die young? Like many other men in the epics, Achilles weeps freely and regularly.

Some philosophers and critics, beginning with Plato, criticized Homer for making his heroes crybabies. But in doing so, Homer was following Bronze Age custom, found from Egypt to Turkey to Iraq. Not only did real men cry—sometimes they were punished for holding back their tears! Hittite King Hattushilish I (1650-1620 B.C.) disinherited his nephew and designated heir because the man failed to cry when Hattushilish lay sick and was expected to die.

In the Iliad, Achilles’ tears bring divine intervention. The gods hear his plea to punish the Greeks for allowing him to be insulted by Agamemnon. So the Trojans advance, the Greeks are pushed back, and many Greeks die. Meanwhile, Achilles sits out the war, sulking in his tent. He was frankly willing to see his side suffer if that’s what it took to restore his reputation.

Achilles eventually comes out and fights—to terrible effect. Battle is what he is known for. Three things make Achilles the Greeks’ greatest battle hero: his personal reputation, his leadership of the army of Phthia, and his prowess in champion combat.

As Homer tells it, a few dozen heroes at Troy lifted the morale of one hundred thousand Greeks sky-high. Simplistic, perhaps, but Bronze Age society was intensely personal. Unlike us, Bronze Age people had few or no abstract concepts. War was not about justice, security, or economics but rather about relations between kings and, in particular, about the respect or lack thereof they showed each other. In Egyptian chronicles, Hittite biographies, Canaanite letters, and Assyrian monuments, the explanation for a war often boils down to: “He dissed me!” Military success depended on divine favor, and the gods talked only to royalty. To the ordinary Greek at Troy, one Achilles was worth a thousand fresh troops.

But the Greek commanders had to take troop numbers into account, which brings us to Achilles’ second contribution: his men. In the Iliad, every Greek kingdom sends a contingent to fight at Troy. Most of them are led by a king the men from Phthia are led by a royal prince, Achilles. But as a superb soldier, Achilles earned the respect of his men. Of all the Greek units, his is the only one to have a special name: the Myrmidons. From Homer’s description, it looks like they were an elite fighting force.

When they went into battle, the Myrmidons shouted their war cries and then fought like hungry wolves or angry hornets. They spent their free time working out, so we would expect that they were strong and fit. Achilles fired their spirits by pouring an offering of wine and praying to the gods before they went into a fight.

But we might suspect that neither fitness nor morale was the key to the Myrmidons’ success. Rather it was unit cohesion. The ability to maintain their organization on the battlefield gave the Myrmidons an importance far beyond their numbers—according to Homer, they filled only fifty of the 1,186 Greek ships at Troy (again, those are Homer’s numbers of Greek ships, not credible statistics). The poet says that the Myrmidons were divided into five battalions and their leaders were outstanding: two sons of gods, the third best spearman among the Myrmidons, a minor king who had helped teach Achilles the art of war, and a warrior knowledgeable enough to give tactical tips to Achilles’ charioteer.

The leadership of these battalion commanders might have made the difference because the Myrmidons were one of the only units at Troy that was able to fight as a closely massed force. Unlike the loose and unstructured groups that seem to make up most of the armies in Homer, the Myrmidons were solidity itself when they took the field:

Ranks wedged in ranks of arms a steely ring
Still grows, and spreads, and thickens round the king.
As when a circling wall the builder forms,
Of strength defensive against wind and storms,
Compacted stones the thickening work compose,
And round him wide the rising structure grows:
So helm to helm, and crest to crest they throng,
Shield urged on shield, and man drove man along
Thick, undistinguish’d plumes, together join’d,
Float in one sea, and wave before the wind.

No wonder the Greeks were devastated when Achilles forced the Myrmidons to sit out the war.

In the Iliad Achilles’ second-in-command is Patroclus, son of Menoetius. Patroclus was no mean commander in his own right. He was murderous on the battlefield but gentle away from it, having learned a thing or two since boyhood, when he killed a playmate in a fit of rage during a game of dice. A boyhood friend, Patroclus was Achilles’ closest comrade, according to Homer. Some ancient sources say they were lovers.

In one of the Iliad’s best-known scenes, Patroclus shows how the mere idea of Achilles’ presence could fire the Myrmidons into action. By donning Achilles’ armor, Patroclus leads them nearly over the walls of Troy. Then he loses the favor of the gods and falls to Hector’s spear. Patroclus’ death spurs Achilles to rejoin the fight, to avenge his comrade by killing many Trojans—above all, Hector.

Now the Myrmidons will be led by Achilles. After patching up his quarrel with the other Greek generals, Achilles prepares for combat. Homer says:

Then fierce Achilles, shouting to the skies,
On Troy’s whole force with boundless fury flies.

Achilles’ great voice was no mere symbol. In the primitive command and control conditions on the Bronze Age battlefield, a booming voice was a real advantage small wonder the intensity of a man’s battle cry was taken as a sign of warrior prowess.

The word that best describes Achilles in battle is relentless. Although immensely strong, he was probably only the second strongest of the Greeks. At least some doubted whether Achilles could defeat his gigantic cousin Ajax in a hand-to-hand fight. But Ajax could never match Achilles’ speed. Again and again Homer calls Achilles “swift-footed” or “fast runner.” According to Mike Chapman, a wrestling historian who wrote a novel about Achilles, speed doesn’t win fights technical skill, mental toughness, strength, and endurance are more important, and the ability to react quickly matters more than the ability to run fast.

But Achilles’ speed was a force multiplier. He could outrun any enemy and catch him. He could fight two men in the time it took others to fight one. Since Homer’s battlefield is dominated by hit-and-run fighting, these were gilt-edged skills. Facing Achilles, the Trojans got a terrible lesson in the truth of the saying “speed kills.”

What makes this even more impressive is that Achilles achieved his speed while wearing heavy armor. He was a human tank that moved at the speed of a sports car. Consider for a moment just how he was outfitted.

Achilles’ two suits of armor are a famous element of the Iliad. The first suit is lost in battle the second is manufactured specially for the hero by Hephaestus, god of the forge. Homer says that both suits were made of bronze, and archaeologists know that Mycenaeans did in fact wear bronze armor. Based on archaeological evidence, we would expect Achilles to have worn a bronze breastplate, possibly strengthened by a linen lining bronze shoulder, upper arm, and neck guards and bronze girdle plates to protect his lower abdomen. The various parts were laced together via thongs. Homer says that bronze shinguards with silver ankle clips completed the outfit. The poet also claims that Achilles’ first suit of armor was decorated with embossed stars, while the second gleamed because of its gold and silver decorations.

In the Iliad, Achilles has two bronze helmets, each with a horsehair crest the second helmet has golden plumes too. Bronze helmets have indeed been found from late Mycenaean times, but other types were more common: horned helmets, conical helmets made of leather, and “feather headgear,” that is, leather helmets held in place by metal rings and crowned with feathers. Some late Mycenaean helmets had cheek guards as well.

The shield that Hephaestus famously made for Achilles was round. Round shields are well attested to in Mycenaean times, some made of ox hide and some perhaps fashioned of or reinforced with bronze (as central and northern European shields were in this era).

Both sets of Achilles’ arms included a bronze sword with silver studs on the hilt. Achilles uses his sword often in the Iliad. He belonged to just about the first generation of Greeks who could rely on this sword, due to the introduction of a new type of weapon of central European origin shortly before 1200 B.C. The so-called Naue II sword was much more efficient at inflicting slashing wounds than its predecessor. Because the blade had roughly parallel edges for most of its length, rather than the tapered edges of a dagger, this sword was good at cutting. And with a single piece of metal for both blade and hilt, it was less likely to break than its forerunner. So this two-and-a-half-foot sword could do real damage.

But the spear is Achilles’ main offensive weapon in Homer, just as it had traditionally been in Mycenaean warfare. The Mycenaeans used a thrusting spear rather than a throwing spear. Yet Homer gives Achilles the strength and power to use his heavy spear as a javelin as well as a lance. This was not likely to happen in the real world. The most common material for a Bronze Age spear shaft was beech wood, but Achilles’ spear is made of ash. Several other Homeric heroes have ash spears, but Achilles’ spear had divine origins. Its wood came from Mount Pelion, home of the savage and warlike centaurs. Achilles’ spear arguably came from the large common European ash, which grows to a height of ninety feet, although only the smaller—but not too small, at fifty feet—mountain ash is found on Mount Pelion today. The centaur Chiron cut the ash wood shaft and gave it to Achilles’ father Peleus in order for the spear to be “the death of heroes.” Athena polished the shaft, and Hephaestus provided the bronze blade. Peleus eventually passed the spear on to his son Achilles. The spear was “heavy, long, and strong,” says Homer no other Greek besides Achilles could wield it. Another poet says that the spear had a gold ring binding the socket to the shaft as well as a double point. In Roman times, a temple in southern Turkey displayed what it claimed was Achilles’ spear, which had a bronze butt in addition to the bronze blade.

Ash had both practical and symbolic value in Homer’s world. Because of its strength and resilience, ash wood was the most desirable material for spears and other weapons and tools. Greek mythology connects ash with burning and death—some Greek poets refer to ash as the “man killer.” Those are appropriate symbols of Achilles’ rampage at Troy.

To judge from art, the late Mycenaean spear was typically about five to six feet long. The spearhead was bronze, usually about six inches long, with sides bulging outward like a leaf’s. It could cause an extensive wound, especially if a man put his legs and back into thrusting it into an enemy. And the best of the Greeks knew how to get the most out of his powerful body. We can take it for granted that Achilles had mastered the various techniques needed to use his arms and armor to his bloody advantage.

Now that we have armed Achilles, let’s follow him into battle. The support of the Myrmidons and his reputation alone were enough to panic most enemies. But those who remained had to face a man whom they could neither outrun nor outfight. And a lot of them would have to fight Achilles face to face.

Single combat loomed large on the Bronze Age battlefield, either as an accidental encounter or as a prearranged duel. The Iliad is full of such contests Homer surely exaggerates their number, but their existence is not in doubt. Cohesive units like the Myrmidons were rare, which meant that individual encounters were common on the battlefield. And the personal nature of war in the Bronze Age added incentive for individual warriors to prove themselves against a single enemy. The agreement to decide a conflict by one or a series of champion battles served practical purposes. This is hinted at in Bronze Age documents, but it is made clear in later periods of ancient history, during which champion battles are well documented.

For example, a Hittite text of about 1425 B.C. reports a battle in which there were apparently only two casualties: one enemy soldier and a Hittite, Zidanza. The focus on these two men suggests a champion battle or—more likely, since both men died—a series of champion battles.

Whoever won brought a wide range of benefits to his country. For a treasurer, a champion battle was a blessing, since it checked the risk of losing an entire army, which was costly to train, outfit, and feed. For the common soldier, victory by a hero in single combat was an inspiration to fight harder. This happened in northwest Greece in 291 B.C. when King Pyrrhus of Epirus defeated the Macedonian general Pantauchus in hand-to-hand combat. Pyrrhus’ army then broke the Macedonian line and killed and captured thousands of fleeing soldiers.

And so Achilles led his men into battle. The Greeks struck so hard and the enemy ran so fast that as soon as a Trojan found safety behind the walls, his first thought was not relief but thirst. Most Trojans fled at the mere sight of Achilles of those who stood their ground, only a rare few like Aeneas lived to tell the tale, and then only thanks to divine intervention. More typical is Hippodamas the Trojan’s response:

This sees Hippodamas, and seized with fright,
Deserts his chariot for a swifter flight:
The lance arrests him: an ignoble wound
The panting Trojan rivets to the ground.
He groans away his soul: not louder roars,
At Neptune’s shrine on Helice’s high shores,
The victim bull the rocks re-bellow round,
And ocean listens to the grateful sound.

Achilles’ success on the killing fields is what the Greeks called an aristeia, a hero’s deeds to win the title of bravest and best. In an afternoon on the battlefield, the Iliad’s Achilles kills at least 36 Trojans. This is no doubt an exaggeration, but the Bronze Age liked its heroes hot.

Achilles’ final victim was Hector. Courageous enough to stand and face him when he might have retreated behind his city’s walls, Hector nonetheless had second thoughts. Despite his fears of public dishonor, in the end Hector ran. Panicked by Achilles’ approach, he sprinted off, only to be chased by the great runner. Homer says they circled the city three times before Hector finally recovered his courage, stood, and fought. Of that confrontation Homer writes:

The Dardan hero shuns his foe no more.
Sternly they met. The silence Hector broke:
His dreadful plumage nodded as he spoke:
“Enough, O son of Peleus! Troy has view’d
Her walls thrice circled, and her chief pursued.
But now some god within me bids me try
Thine, or my fate: I kill thee, or I die.”

Before the duel begins, Hector asks Achilles to agree that whoever wins will treat his enemy’s body with respect. But the death of Patroclus has left Achilles in a savage mood. He refuses.

It is high noon on the plain of Troy. Achilles throws his spear and misses, but gets it back through divine intervention (or a dash to recover it). Hector strikes Achilles’ shield with his javelin, then draws his sword and rushes him, but the Greek is ready and drives his spear into Hector’s neck. The Trojan falls to the ground and, with a prophecy of Achilles’ approaching doom, dies.

In the aftermath, Achilles showed both the worst and the best of his character. First he attached Hector’s corpse to his chariot and dragged it around the walls of Troy three times. Then he refused to cremate Hector’s corpse (cremation was the custom at the time), keeping it in his camp as a kind of trophy. Meanwhile, he had Patroclus’ body cremated and held funeral games in the fallen hero’s honor.

Achilles’ barbaric treatment of Hector’s corpse was not out of line with Bronze Age military practice. The Assyrians, for example, bragged of blinding their enemies, and the Egyptians said they took thousands of hands and penises as battle trophies. But Homer held his heroes to a higher standard. Achilles achieved it.

Hector’s father, the aged King Priam, dared to go to the Greek camp to beg Achilles to let him bring Hector’s corpse home for cremation. Achilles the Terrible was moved to tears, reminded of his own father, Peleus. Thinking of his own death in the Trojan War, as had been prophesied, he contemplates the tragedy of the human condition. As Homer says:

These words soft pity in the chief inspire,
Touch’d with the dear remembrance of his sire.
Then with his hand (as prostrate still he lay)
The old man’s cheek he gently turn’d away.
Now each by turns indulged the gush of woe
And now the mingled tides together flow:
This low on earth, that gently bending o’er
A father one, and one a son deplore:
But great Achilles different passions rend,
And now his sire he mourns, and now his friend.
The infectious softness through the heroes ran
One universal solemn shower began
They bore as heroes, but they felt as man.

Achilles gave Priam permission to take his son’s body back to Troy, displaying a humanity that has echoed down the ages.

Hector’s death was the last combat in the Iliad, but not in the Trojan War. The Trojans found new allies, and Achilles killed their leaders: first, the queen of the Amazons, Penthesilea, and then the prince of the Ethiopians, Memnon. The Amazons were pure myth, as far as we know, although there were women warriors later in antiquity. Memnon might conceivably have been a black nobleman from Egypt’s African empire. A few such men rose high in Egypt, which had diplomatic relations with the lands of western Turkey. But this is speculation.

Greek tradition tells how Achilles died fighting at the gates of Troy. Paris, the Trojan prince who had started it all by seducing Helen, struck Achilles with an arrow. Perhaps the arrow was tipped with poison, as sometimes happened in ancient warfare. Perhaps Paris got in a lucky shot that struck a vital artery. Perhaps the wound grew infected. Perhaps Achilles really was vulnerable only in his heel, and Paris struck him there.

In any case, it was a sad end for the best of the Greek warriors. No doubt Achilles would have preferred to go down fighting in hand-to-hand combat and surely against a less shady figure than Paris. But there is a message in his fate: Wars are not won by glory or derring-do, but by cunning and luck.

For all his greatness, Achilles did not take Troy. None of the Greeks’ courage on the battlefield won the war. Instead, they achieved victory by means of a trick: the Trojan horse. The Greeks took Troy only when the enemy had let their guard down.

But maybe all this suits Achilles best. His greatest goal was not to take Troy but to win glory. Achilles’ credo is best summed up in the words of the Trojan ally Glaucus, who explains why his father sent him off to war:

“By his decree I sought the Trojan town
By his instructions learn to win renown,
To stand the first in worth as in command,
To add new honors to my native land,
Before my eyes my mighty sires to place,
And emulate the glories of our race.”

Renown—preeminence—honor—glory: these were Achilles’ goals too. He wanted to be immortal. And he is.

Originally published in the Autumn 2007 issue of Military History Quarterly. To subscribe, click here.

Lost cities

Plato © Today, the myriad of theories - many of them breathtakingly fantastic ('Atlantis was an exploded planet'!) - ensures that the true nature of Plato's story is as elusive as ever. For those committed Atlanteans that believe Atlantis existed much as Plato described, the possible locations of the lost city are becoming increasingly exotic. Recent candidates lie as far afield as the Caribbean, South America, Antarctica, Ireland and French Polynesia.

Many theories, however, contend that the Plato's Atlantis refers to the rise and fall of a known ancient civilisation, though one whose age or location differs from that expressed by Plato. Which ancient civilisation, of course, is a matter of vigorous debate. The Minoans of Crete have long been a popular choice, though there are plenty of other suggestions, one of which, Troy, has been given fresh support by Zangger.

However, the fact that each of these competing theories requires some degree of adjustment (or re-interpretation of Plato's original account) has led many scholars to adopt the view held by many of his contemporaries - that Atlantis is a piece of fiction and is arguably best summed up in the words of the American classical scholar Daniel Dombrowski:

'Atlantis was only a powerful literary device invented by Plato, which was to act as a means of highlighting the fate of the ideal state created in Plato's mind's eye. The only place in which Atlantis can be found, in addition to the writings of Plato, is in the minds of those with an imagination as vivid as that of Plato.'

Atlantis was only a powerful literary device invented by Plato.

But if it was fictional, to what extent is the story drawn from or coloured by events in Classical Greek history? The story was written during a remarkable golden age of observation and discourse about the natural world. Through the writings of contemporary scholars like Herodotus, Thucydides, Aristotle and Callisthenes, historical seismologists have been able to piece together a picture of earthquakes affecting Greece at this time. That picture reveals that earthquakes struck with a frequency and ferociousness which far exceeds anything modern records have documented in recent centuries. Perhaps more significantly, several of these earthquakes assumed great political and cultural importance.

Homer's Major Characters

In Homer's Iliad, the lead character is the quintessential Greek hero, Achilles. The epic states that it is the story of the wrath of Achilles. Other important characters of the Iliad are the leaders of the Greek and Trojan sides in the Trojan War, and the highly partisan, human-seeming gods and goddesses—the deathless ones.

In The Odyssey, the lead character is the title character, the wily Odysseus. Other major characters include the family of the hero and the goddess Athena.

Troy: excavation

Ilion or Troy: town in northwestern Asia Minor, famous for the legendary Trojan War, in which a coalition of Mycenaean warriors captured the city of king Priam. Homer's Iliad deals with an episode from this war.

Αἰπύ , as Homer calls the ancient city of Troy near the Hellespont, is almost certainly identical to the Wilusa that is called "steep" in the Hittite sources. The ancient town raises so steeply from the plain because it is built on a rocky outcrop, while the plain is a younger alluvium.

The main reason, however, is that Troy consists of nine levels of occupation on top of each other. Every time a town was destroyed, a new one was built on top of it. This makes the site extremely high, and complex. It is a classical tell .

/> One of Schliemann's "pinnacles"

It was one of the first tells that archaeologists were to investigate and Troy's famous main excavator, the German business man Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890), decided to leave several small "pinnacles" unexcavated, so that future generations would be able to check his interpretations. After all, archaeology still was a science in its infancy and Schliemann realized that, as all humans would inevitably do, he would make mistakes.

/> A two-handed cup from Troy I-V

And to be honest, he made many mistakes, even according to standards that were beginning to emerge in his own age. Accepting the classical tradition, he believed that he had to look for a city with strong walls that had been destroyed by fire. This was a working hypothesis that could be checked, but he was unprepared for more than one level of occupation. As a consequence, he ruthlessly removed everything that showed no traces of fire, until he found what he was looking for: the layer now known as Troy II, which he believed to be Homeric Troy.

When he interpreted his finds, he often looked in the Iliad and Odyssey first, even when there was no real need to. For example, he considered the find of a two-handed cup as proof of the veracity of Homer's poems, because the poet once referred to a δέπας ἀμφκύπελλον , "two-handed cup". note [Homer, Odyssey 3.43.]

Later, he concluded that he had been wrong, and decided to check whether Troy VI, where he had found the grey ceramics that he had also found in Mycene and Orchomenus, could be the city he had been looking for. He died before he could execute his plan.

/> The Schliemann Trench, with houses from Troy I

It was left to his former assistant Wilhelm Dörpfeld (1853-1940) to check the site again, and he established that Troy VI had indeed been the city that existed in the Late Bronze Age, contemporaneously with Mycene. Unfortunately, it was later established that this city had been destroyed by an earthquake. Troy VIIa was looted and sacked, but this happened in an age in which Late Helladic IIIC ceramics were common, a type of pottery not found in the great Mycenaean palaces. In other words: Troy VI was a splendid city and existed at the right moment, but was destroyed by an earthquake Troy VIIa was destroyed after a war, but in an age in which the Mycenaeans were no longer capable of organizing an expedition.

This simply means that Homer did not describe a historical event, and that is not surprising. Epics are not about historical facts, but about heroes. In the Nibelungenlied , stories about the downfall of the Burgundian dynasty have been combined with stories about a Frankish dragon slayer and a court intrigue among the Gepids the author of the Chanson de Roland has managed to introduce the wrong enemy. Greek epics are no exception.

Section of the hill of Troy /> Gate of Troy II

There is some confusion about the nomenclature of the earliest phases of Trojan history. The dozens of strata that have been identified, can be divided neatly into these nine main groups. How complex things really are, becomes clear when we look at Troy I and II. The American archaeologist Carl Blegen (1887-1971) established that there were 25 levels preceding Troy I and that Troy I and II together contained 18 levels. However, Manfred Korfmann, who investigated the site in the late twentieth century, counted 22 levels within Troy I and II and established that several strata that used to be categorized as Troy II are in fact closer to Troy I.

Because the chronology of the site has become so fragmented, a new way of organizing Troy's history has been introduced: instead of looking at the city itself, archaeologists look at the cultural context in which it existed.


What is a Total War Saga title?

Total War Saga titles take the grand strategy and real-time battles of a core Total War game and channel them into an intense flashpoint of history, letting you experience and ultimately determine the outcome of pivotal moments in history when the future of entire nations hung in the balance.

Having all the depth, features, and mechanics of a major era Total War game, Total War Saga titles offer a comparable number of factions, heroes, and settlements to their core counterparts as well as hundreds of hours of gameplay potential.

Total War Saga titles are our chance to think differently in our designs, often leading to new ideas, mechanics, and perspectives that go on to influence future era titles.

For more information on different types of Total War title, check out the relevant section of our FAQ.

Why did you choose TROY?

TROY is a totally new period for Total War and is the furthest back we’ve ever gone in history. Unlike our major era Total War Games, our Total War Saga titles tend to focus on key flashpoints in history, often within a singular culture, meaning the 20-year war Trojan War is the perfect fit.

This period is also one of the most distinguished and mysterious within human history due to it being rich in myth, legend, heroes and monsters, allowing us to explore a plethora of new ideas for our fans to experience.

How did you go about your research to this period?

Given that the Trojan War period is steeped in mystery, we took a unique approach to our research methodologies, using both mythological sources such as Homer’s Iliad as well as historical data such as archaeological recordings and expert materials on the Bronze Age Collapse. This merging of source material not only gives us a more accurate representation of what the period most likely resembled, but also provided us with our core “truth behind the myth” design pillar.

Why did you decide upon the myth versus legend approach?

The events surrounding the Trojan war are steeped in legend, with mythological creatures, superhuman heroes and the intervention of Gods all descending on this cataclysmic conflict. However, little is precisely known about the real-world events that occurred during the late Bronze Age, with many of its kings, queens, and artefacts lost to the annals of history.

As a result, examining the truth behind the myth of Homer’s Iliad has become a key design pillar for A Total War Saga: TROY as it bonds these two sources together in an attempt to reveal the truth that might have inspired the legendary accounts of this era.

Will there be any mythical creatures?

Our truth behind the myth approach has allowed us to include some of mythology’s most renowned monsters as historical representations of what their true form may have been. A prime example of this is the legendary Minotaur, who instead of being a beast is a hulking man clad in stinking hides and wearing the skull of a bull.

What role do the gods play?

The Greek gods of TROY influence the game in similar ways to their Homeric counterparts. Rather than directly intervening on the battlefield, however, their influence spans their entire faction, touching on units, heroes, and provincial management.

Gaining favour with the different gods might require players to invest time or sacrifice resources, but it also provides various benefits as the game progresses. Praying to Poseidon can temporarily remove deep sea attrition, whereas following Aphrodite improves diplomatic relations and population growth. Athena provides bonuses in battle for spearmen and higher ranks for new heroes (among other things). Ultimately, at the highest level each cult unlocks a unique mythical unit or epic agent to recruit in the campaign.

Players will have the ability to worship several gods at once, but this will weigh heavily on their treasury as keeping the favour up requires constant attention and spending on grand hecatombs, building temples, and performing expensive rituals. On the other hand, having gods in the Neglected state might incur their wrath (or that of their priesthood) in the form of incidents and demoralizing ill omens.

Will there be naval battles?

There is little documentation of Bronze Age naval warfare – but we know how important it is to our players. As a result, we’ve used Total War: WARHAMMER II – Curse of the Vampire Coast as our main inspiration for the naval combat in TROY, which uses island battles as an alternative. Additionally, Poseidon will, of course, also play a major role in these battles.

Will there be any duelling mechanics like in Total War: THREE KINGDOMS?

A Total War Saga: TROY has its own unique take on hero versus hero combat which ensures that these colossal faceoffs are spectacles worthy of the Olympian gods. Units close to two fighting heroes will always recognize their superiority and will give them room, creating a circular battle area around them that prevents other units from intervening in the duel. Some heroes also have a Divine Challenge ability, which is an active battle ability that taunts opposing characters into one-on-one combat.

Which famous heroes will feature in A Total War Saga: TROY?

The Iliad features a multitude of history’s most iconic legendary heroes, with their feats still regularly referenced centuries after their demise. As a result, we’ve included eight of the most prominent champions from both sides of the conflict, such as the Greek champion Achilles, and the Prince of Troy Hector.

What is Amazons?

Amazons is a DLC for A Total War Saga: TROY that will also come out in September 2020 – what’s more you can grab Amazons entirely for FREE if you’re a Total War Access account holder.

To claim this offer, you’ll need to link your Access and Epic Games Store accounts which you can do now if you like! To link your account, follow these steps:

  1. Log in to your Total War Access account here
  2. Click on My Account in the upper navigation bar
  3. Click on the Epic Connect logo and log in with your Epic account credentials
  4. Grant permission to connect Access to your Epic account
  5. “Account Connected” will be displayed in My Account screen
  6. When Amazons DLC is made available, follow instructions from the in-game menu to claim

Once I connect my account, will the Amazons automatically appear in my account? Not quite! After you connect your accounts you will still need to collect your code from the Access dashboard and redeem the product from the Epic Store’s web page or launcher.

What if I wait until September to link my account? If you’d rather wait, not to worry – you will be able to link your account at launch of the Amazons DLC and even during the promotion (exact start/end dates TBC). This can be done via Total War Access with the URL above as well as from in the game.

How will the economy work in TROY?

A Total War Saga: TROY introduces a completely new multiple resource economy which reflects the Bronze Age setting. This economic system is a Total War first and reflects the advancing pre-monetary barter economy which was galvanized due to the growing influence of trade and international relations within the region.

The five different resources that are the building blocks of your empire are food, wood, stone, bronze, and gold – all of which can be found within different regions to varying degrees of scarcity. Food and wood are used to recruit early game units and construct simple buildings, but as the campaign progresses more formidable structures will require stone, and higher tier units will require bronze. Gold is the master resource, and is vital for trade due to its universal rarity.

What can you tell us about A Total War Saga: TROY’s visual style?

With stunning visuals and a romanticised art style, TROY embodies an age of legend. You’ll see this echoed throughout the campaign overview and user interface, which blends the Hellenic artistry of the Iliad with a real-world representation of the Bronze Age Mediterranean.

Is there a Trojan horse?

The Trojan horse will have a major role to play within the TROY campaign. However, it will be portrayed in line with the theories surrounding its real-world representation rather than its equine-shaped portrayal in the Iliad. The Trojan horse mechanic will appear in the campaign at specific moments, and can provide significant bonuses to players should it be acted upon quickly enough.

What role will diplomacy play?

As with all Total War games, diplomacy will play a key part in A Total War Saga: TROY. TROY’s diplomacy system builds on what we’ve learned from Total War: THREE KINGDOMS, allowing you to keep your allies sweet, your enemies in their place, and change the entire course of the Trojan war should you choose to. We’ll also be introducing plenty of new diplomatic features which are unique to TROY – watch this space for more information as we release it.