Trojan War


In Greek mythology, the Trojan War was a bloody war fought between the Achaeans and the mighty city of Troy, presumably around 1250 B.C. or about 1194 B.C. to 1184 B.C., in Asia Minor.

The events of the conflict are known primarily through the epic poems Iliad and Odyssey attributed to Homer, composed around the ninth century B.C. Both narrate a small part of the conflict: the Iliad the events that took place during the last year of the war, the Odyssey, in addition to Odysseus” journey back to his homeland, narrates the conquest of Troy. The other works of the “Trojan Cycle” have been lost and are known only through later accounts. Individual episodes are in fact described in countless texts in Greek and Latin literature, and painted or sculpted in numerous works of art.

According to the Iliad, the war began because of the kidnapping of Helen, queen of Sparta, believed to be the most beautiful woman in the world, at the hands of Paris, son of Priam king of Troy. Menelaus, Helen”s husband, and his brother Agamemnon gathered an army, consisting of the leading commanders of the Greek kingdoms and their subjects, and moved war against Troy.

The conflict lasted ten years, with very heavy losses on both sides. Among the casualties was Achilles, the greatest Greek warrior, son of King Peleus and the nymph Thetis. Achilles was king of the Myrmidons of Phthia, whom he led in many battles against Troy, finally being killed by Paris who, in revenge for the death of his brother Hector, shot him with an arrow through the heel, his only weak point. Troy finally fell thanks to the wily Odysseus, king of the Cephallenes, and his wooden horse plan, changing the outcome of the conflict.

The question of the historical veracity of the events of the Trojan War is still a subject of study and controversy. Some scholars think that there is a kernel of truth behind Homer”s poems, others think that the ancient poet wanted to group the events of different wars and sieges that occurred during the period of Mycenaean civilization into a single conflict, that between Greeks and Trojans.

The two poems did, however, make possible the discovery of the presumed walls of Troy, chronologically placing the war toward the end of the Bronze Age, around 1300 to 1200 B.C., in part confirming the dating of Eratosthenes of Cyrene.

Zeus” plan

Zeus realized that the Earth was overpopulated. Initially he wanted to destroy mankind with lightning and floods, then on the advice of Momo, the god of jokes, or Themis, he decided instead to favor the marriage of Thetis and Peleus, thus sowing the seeds of the Trojan War, which would lead to the end of the reign of the heroes. There are also those who argue that Zeus saw in many warriors potential usurpers of the throne as leader of the Olympians. As Greek mythology recounts, Zeus had become king of the gods by dethroning Kronos, who in turn had taken the place of his father Uranus. Mindful of how cruel his own progeny could be, Zeus, who had had many children from his many relationships with mortal women, was afraid of them: and more generally he feared the entire category of demigods.

The marriage between Peleus and Thetis

Zeus learned from Themis or Prometheus that a son could dethrone him, just as he had done with his father. Another prophecy also predicted that the nymph Thetis, with whom Zeus attempted to have an affair, would produce a son who would become greater than his father. For these reasons Thetis married a mortal king much older than herself, Peleus. She did this either on Zeus” orders or because she did not want to disrespect Hera who had raised her as a child.

All the gods were invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis except for Eris, the goddess of discord, who was stopped at the door by Hermes on the orders of Zeus himself (according to some versions, Zeus had made a deal with Eris). Feeling insulted, the goddess went on a rampage and threw into the middle of the table a golden apple with the inscription “Τῇ καλλίστῃ (transliterated Tê Kallístē)” (to the most beautiful). Hera, Athena and Aphrodite thought it was rightfully theirs to possess the apple and began to quarrel among themselves. None of the gods attempted to favor one of the three goddesses with their opinion so as not to antagonize the other two. Zeus then ordered Hermes to lead the three goddesses to the shepherd Paris, actually a Trojan prince, unaware of his royal lineage, who had been abandoned as a newborn child on Mount Ida because a premonitory dream had prophesied that he would be the cause of Troy”s ruin.

The goddesses appeared to the young man naked, and since Paris was unable to pass judgment, the three gods promised the judge gifts. Athena offered him wisdom, war skills, the valor of the most powerful warriors, Hera political power and control over all of Asia, Aphrodite the love of the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Sparta. Paris gave the apple to Aphrodite. The two goddesses who had lost went away eager for revenge.

The young man later went to the city, to Troy, because Priam”s heralds had taken away his best bull to give it as a prize to the winner of some athletic competitions organized by the king. Paris participated in the athletic games and defeated the noble scions of Troy, winning his own bull as a result. The humiliated Trojan youths wanted to kill him, but Cassandra, the seer daughter of King Priam, recognized his lost brother in him. Priam then decided to accept him into the royal family, although Cassandra advised against it.

From the union between Peleus and Thetis a child was born, Achilles. The oracle predicted that he would die either old due to maturity in a quiet life devoid of exploits, or young on the battlefield gaining immortality through the poetry of the aedi. Thetis attempted to make her son immortal by first trying to burn him in fire during the night to eliminate his mortal parts and then rubbing him with ambrosia during the day. Peleus, who had already lost six sons in this way, succeeded in stopping her. Thetis then bathed him in the waters of the River Styx, making him immortal, except in the heel by which she had held him, his only vulnerable part (if a god touches the waters of the Styx, he loses his immortality).

Elena”s abduction

The most beautiful woman in the world was Helen, one of the daughters of Tindarus, king of Lacedemone (the future Sparta). Her mother was Leda who was seduced or raped by Zeus in the form of a swan. Leda thus gave birth to quadruplets, two boys and two girls. Castor and Clytemnestra were children of Tyndarus, Helen and Pollux of Zeus. According to another version of the myth, Helen was the daughter of Nemesis, Vengeance. When she came of marriageable age Helen attracted to her father”s court a multitude of suitors eager to take her as a bride. Tindarus did not know who to choose so as not to offend others in this way.

Finally, one of the suitors, Odysseus, proposed a plan to resolve the dilemma in exchange for Tindarus” support to marry him to his niece Penelope, daughter of his brother Icarius. Helen was to choose her husband. According to another tradition Odysseus proposed a lottery or according to another, more credited, it was the father who would choose the husband for the bride (as Agamemnon would later do in order to trick Iphigenia into taking her to Aulis). They were also forced all suitors to swear to defend Helen”s marriage, whichever husband was chosen. The young men swore by sacrificing the remains of a horse. There was certainly no shortage of mutterings from some.

Menelaus was chosen as her husband. The latter had not presented himself as a pretender to the palace but had sent his brother Agamemnon in his name. He had promised a slaughter of 100 oxen to Aphrodite if he would have Helen as his wife, but as soon as he learned that he was the chosen one, he forgot his promise, causing the wrath of the goddess. Agamemnon and Menelaus were living at that time in the court of Tyndareus because they had been exiled from Mycenae, their homeland, by their uncle Tieste and cousin Aegisthus after the death of their father Atreus, who had been killed by Tieste himself. Menelaus thus inherited the throne of Sparta from Tyndarus because his only sons, Castor and Pollux, had been assumed among the gods. Agamemnon later married Clytemnestra, sister of Helen, and drove Aegisthus and Thisthenes out of Mycenae, thus regaining his father”s throne.

During a diplomatic mission (the recovery of his aunt Hesione kidnapped by Heracles) Paris traveled to Sparta and fell in love with the beautiful Helen. Aeneas, noble son of Aphrodite and Anchises, king of the Dardanians, accompanied Paris. During their stay in Sparta, Menelaus had to travel to Crete for the funeral of Catreus, his maternal grandfather (as the father of his mother Heropas). Paris, under Aphrodite”s influence, managed to seduce Helen and leave with her for Troy, despite Aeneas” reproaches, taking Menelaus” rich treasure with him. Hera, still angry with Paris, sent a storm against him, forcing him to land in Egypt, but Helen eventually reached Troy. The ship then arrived at Sidon, where Paris, fearful of being captured by Menelaus, spent some time before returning home.

Menelaus, having returned to Sparta and discovered his wife”s abduction, sent an embassy to Troy to demand her return, but received a refusal: in the Trojans” assembly, in fact, the hard line had prevailed, carried by Paris and Antimachus, adviser to King Priam. The Atrides therefore decided to use the oath taken by the pretenders in honor of Helen to raise an army and attack the Trojans, entrusting that message to the wise Nestor, king of Pylos.

Odysseus and Achilles

Odysseus, some time earlier, had married Penelope by whom he had a son, Telemachus. To avoid war he pretended to be mad and began to sow salt on the fields and the beach. Palamedes, the king of Nafplio, sent to Ithaca to convince him, took Telemachus and placed him in the furrow over which Odysseus was supposed to pass, who, not wanting to kill his son, turned away, thus revealing, however, that he was still sane.

Achilles, on the other hand, had been hidden by his mother in Syrus, disguised in women”s clothing so that he would not be recognized by the heralds sent by Agamemnon. He had already been united in marriage with Deidamia, the king”s daughter, and from this union Neoctolemus, also called Pyrrhus, was born. Ajax Telamonius, Achilles” cousin, his old tutor Phoenix, and especially Odysseus, disguised as merchants (according to others there was only Odysseus, or Odysseus and Diomedes), went to the palace of Syrrhus to scout out the young son of Peleus. There are two traditions about the hero”s recognition. According to the first, Odysseus blew a horn, a sign of an enemy attack, and Achilles, instead of fleeing as the king”s daughters did, grabbed a spear to confront the enemies and was recognized. In the second tradition, the most famous, Odysseus carried a basket with female ornaments and a beautiful sword. Achilles did not look at the jewels but looked at the stupendous weapon and for this he was discovered and led to the Achaean camp. According to Pausanias, Achilles did not hide in Scyrus because the island was later conquered during the Trojan War by the hero himself.

The Achaean forces therefore assembled in the port of Aulis in Boeotia. All the pretenders sent their armies except King Cinira of Cyprus, who instead of sending the fifty ships promised, sent Agamemnon armor, only one of which was real, while the others were made of mud. Idomeneus, king of Crete, on the other hand, was willing to deploy the Cretan army only on the condition that he could take with him a deputy commander, his nephew Merion. The last commander to arrive was Achilles, who was then only 15 years old. While the kings were sacrificing to Apollo to ensure their oath, a serpent devoured the eight young of a sparrow”s nest and later ate the mother as well. According to Chalcanthus this event was a divine response, the war would last for ten years.


The ships set sail but there was a course error and the Achaeans landed in Misia, where Telephos, son of Heracles, reigned, who had, in addition to the men of Misia, a contingent from Arcadia, being in fact from this region.

During the battle the Greeks succeeded in conquering Theatrans, the capital of the kingdom, and Achilles, with his spear, wounded Telephos, after the latter had killed Thersander, king of Thebes. Saved from the clash, Telephos went to Delphi to find out how he could heal the wound that did not intend to heal and caused him terrible pain. The oracle replied that the wounded man himself would heal him.

The Achaean fleet therefore returned to Greece, and Achilles returned to Scyros, where he married Deidamia. The Greek forces were therefore mustered a second time. Telephos went to Aulis, disguised as a merchant, and asked Agamemnon if he could be healed, or, according to another tradition, he took little Orestes, son of the king of Mycenae, as a hostage. Odysseus understood that it would be Achilles” own spear that would heal him. Pieces of the spear were scraped and passed over the wound, healing it. Telephos would later show the Achaeans how to get to Troy.

Eight years after the landing in Misia the Greek armies were still assembled. But no sooner had the ships reached Aulis than the wind ceased to blow. Chalcedes prophesied that Artemis was offended with Agamemnon because the latter had killed a sacred deer or because he had killed it in a sacred forest, saying he was a better hunter than she. The only way to appease Artemis was to sacrifice Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra or of Helen and Theseus, entrusted to her sister after her marriage to Menelaus.

Agamemnon refused the proposal but the other princes threatened to make Palamedes commander if Agamemnon did not have the courage to kill his daughter. Thus forced to accept, he called his daughter and wife back to Aulis under the pretext that he wanted to marry Iphigenia to Achilles. In a fit of fatherly love, Agamemnon sent a letter to his wife, ordering her to stay in Mycenae, since that was a trap, but the message was intercepted by Odysseus (or Palamedes), who did not send it to its destination. Odysseus and Diomedes were sent to Mycenae to take the young woman and Agamemnon”s family there. Clytemnestra learned of the deception, however, thanks to Achilles. The latter also promised his help, but Odysseus managed to stir up the army by demanding sacrifice.

Ifigenia, in a patriotic outburst, then decided to sacrifice herself for the good of Greece. The young woman according to one first tradition actually died immolated; according to another, the one used by Euripides, she was exchanged for a doe by Artemis herself who took her to Tauride, designating her as her priestess. Many years later, her brother Orestes would find her and bring her home.

The Greek forces are described in detail in the second book of the Iliad, the so-called Catalogue of Ships, which included 1178 ships with about 50 oarsmen each. This accurate description gives us an insight into the Greek geo-political situation just before the war, with the Pelopid family leading the bulk of the Achaean army:

Other commanders and regions present were:

Thucydides explains that according to tradition there were approximately 1,200 ships, with varying numbers of men; in fact, there were those like the Boeotians who had ships with 120 men, and those, like Philoctetes, only fifty.

The Greek forces thus ranged from a minimum of 70,000 to a maximum of 130,000 men. Another catalog is given by Apollodorus who differs on something but is similar to Homer in numerical breakdown. Some think Homer relied on an oral tradition from the Bronze Age; others think he made it all up. In the twenty-first century, historians have drastically downgraded the size of the Greek expeditionary force, whose strength is estimated at about 300 ships and 15,000 men.

Trojan deployments are also described, which according to Homer numbered about 50,000 men between Trojans and allies. We do not know what language the Trojans spoke. Homer explains that the Trojan allied contingents spoke foreign languages; commanders later translated orders. In the Iliad also Trojans and Achaeans have the same customs, habits and religion. The opponents also speak the same language.


Philoctetes was a friend of Heracles, and because he lit the funeral pyre for him, a task that everyone had refused, he received from the hero the bow and invincible arrows dipped in the blood of the Hydra of Lerna. He sailed to Troy with seven ships, but during a stopover, in which his men stopped at the island of Chrysses to resupply (either alone or with the rest of the army) he was bitten by a snake. The wound became infected, giving off a foul odor, and Odysseus therefore warned Agamemnon of the unpleasant incident, forcing the Atrides, because of the stench emanating from the wound, to abandon the hero on the island of Lemno, thus remaining exiled for ten long years. Medon, half-brother of Ajax Oileus, took control of Philoctetes” men.

They landed at Tenedos, an island opposite the shore of Troy, and attacked it but the city defended itself, led by its ruler Tenetheus, son of Apollo (according to others only a protégé of his; his real father was Cycnus). Achilles plundered Tenedos and attempted to capture Aemitea, Tenethea”s sister, who, in despair, asked the gods if she could be swallowed up by the earth: after the tragic end of the young woman, whose prayers were answered, Achilles moved against the ruler, although Thetis had ordered her son not to kill Tenethea lest he incur the god”s wrath, but Tenethea had already fallen under the Pelid”s sword. From that day on, Apollo tried in every way to kill Achilles and in fact, it was Apollo himself who directed Paris” arrow into his heel.

A delegation was then sent from Tenedo to Priam, consisting of Menelaus, Odysseus, and Palamedes to again demand the return of Helen, but again their proposals were rejected.

The arrival

Chalcedes prophesied that the first Achaean to touch Trojan soil, after disembarking with his ship, would die first. Achilles therefore decided that he would not be the first to disembark, and so it was Protesilaus, king of Philache, who disembarked first; the Pelidas disembarked only later, killing, during the ensuing clash, Chycnus, an ally of the Trojans and son of Poseidon.

The Trojans, frightened by the Greek onslaught fled inside the city while Protesilaus who had shown valor and courage by killing several Trojans found, first of all, death at the hands of Hector, Aeneas, Acate, or Euphorbus (traditions differ on this point). The gods buried him as a god on the Thracian peninsula, and after his death it was his brother Podarce who led the troops of Philache.

Achilles” campaigns

The Achaeans besieged Troy for nine years. This part of the war is the one for which the fewest sources are preserved, since literary texts prefer to speak mainly about the events of the last year. To justify this scarcity of sources there have been those who have developed theories (not yet verified) about the actual duration of the war. Among these is one aspect, of Felice Vinci”s broader theory of Homer in the Baltic, that the war lasted only one year and consequently the Iliad narrates the war in its entirety.

After the initial landing, the army was not regrouped in its entirety again until the tenth year, according to Thucydides because of an economic shortage that forced the Greeks to raid Trojan allied cities and deplete agricultural profits from the regions of Thrace. Troy was never fully besieged during these nine years as it still managed to have relations with the internal peoples of Asia Minor, reinforcements having arrived until the end of the clash. The Achaeans simply controlled the straits of the Dardanelles, while the Trojans communicated through the shortest point at Abydos and Sextus, thus being able to contact their allies in Europe.

Achilles was undoubtedly the most active among the Achaeans; according to Homer he conquered eleven cities and twelve islands; according to Apollodorus, on the other hand, he raided Aeneas” lands in Troas, robbing him of his herds while also conquering Lirnessus, Pedasus, and several surrounding towns. He also killed Troilus, Priam”s young son, when the latter was nineteen years old, confirming an oracle that had predicted that if the boy reached his twentieth year, the city would not collapse. According to Apollodorus:

According to Cacride this list is wrong because the Greeks would have gone too far south in this way. Other sources, such as Demetrius, mention Pedasus, Monenia, Mithemna, and Pisidice.

From the division of the spoils of these cities, Achilles obtained Briseis of Lyrnessus while Agamemnon obtained Chryseides, of Thebes. Achilles captured Lycaon, son of Priam while he was pruning trees in his father”s orchard, then ordered Patroclus to sell him to Lemnos, where he was bought by Aeetes, king of Cilicia and father-in-law of Hector, who sent him back to Troy. He was killed by Achilles later, after Patroclus” death. Achilles later marched against the kingdom of Cilicia, killing Eezione and all his male children except Pode, the youngest, who had moved to Hector and Andromache in Troy. Pode died shortly before Hector, killed in battle by Menelaus.

Ajax”s campaigns

Ajax invaded the cities of the Thracian peninsula where Polymestore, a son-in-law of Priam, reigned and, because of this, the besieged ruler got rid of Polydorus, one of Priam”s sons, whom he himself had in custody. The Greek warrior then attacked the cities of Phrygia, dominated by King Teleutus, who died in combat and took as spoils of war the latter”s daughter, Tecmessa. He later dispersed the Trojan flocks on Mount Ida and in the countryside.

Several paintings on amphorae and cups, however, describe an event not reported in literary texts. At one point in the war, Achilles and Ajax were playing a game called petteia but the two were so engrossed in the game that they forgot they were in the middle of a battle. The Trojans managed to catch up with them and only an intervention by Athena was able to save them.

The death of Palamedes

Odysseus, sent to Thrace to retrieve some grain and returning empty-handed, challenged Palamedes, who had been teasing him, to do better. The latter set out and returned with an entire ship full of grain.

Odysseus, who had never forgiven Palamedes for nearly killing Telemachus by putting him in the plow furrow when he was pretending to be mad, decided to set up a deception against him and therefore explained his intent to the other leaders, who, like Agamemnon, hated Palamedes” exploits and his too-often praised cunning. A letter from Priam was therefore forged as if it were intended for Palamedes, Odysseus himself forcing a Phrygian slave to write it and then ordering him to hide it in the adversary”s tent along with a large amount of gold. The letter and the gold were discovered, and Agamemnon ordered Palamedes to be stoned to death as punishment for his treachery.

Pausanias, quoting the Cypras, says that Odysseus and Diomedes drowned Palamedes while he was fishing: according to Ditti, however, Odysseus and Diomedes lured Palamedes into a well, where they said the latter had kept the gold he had received from Priam, and stoned him to death. Palamedes” father, Nauplius sailed to the Troads to seek justice but was refused: in revenge he then traveled to the Greek cities, declaring to the wives of the kings that soon their husbands would bring concubines home to replace them. Some of them then decided to betray their husbands, as Clytemnestra did, joining Aegisthus, the son of Thetis.

Toward the end of the ninth year the soldiers of the army, tired of fighting and lacking supplies, decided to rebel against their commanders, and only the intervention of Achilles succeeded in appeasing them. According to Apollodorus, Agamemnon kidnapped at that time the four daughters of Anius, priest of Delos, the so-called Vineyardwomen, who were able to bring forth from the soil the oil, grain and wine needed for supply.

However, an epidemic spread in the camp of the Greeks: it was the punishment decreed by Apollo as punishment to the Greeks for taking Chryseides from her father Chryse, priest of the god. On the advice of Chalcedes, Agamemnon agreed to return Chryseides to her father but demanded Briseis, Achilles” favorite slave, in return, taking her away from the hero. A quarrel therefore broke out between Achilles and Agamemnon: Achilles decided to stop fighting and remain stationary in his own tent.

Thetis, Achilles” mother, went up to Olympus to plead with Zeus to bring justice to her son: the god agreed, suffering the reproaches of Hera, which were immediately appeased by Hephaestus. Zeus sent the Dream Deceiver to Agamemnon. In the guise of Nestor he made the king believe that the fatal day of Troy had arrived. Upon awakening Agamemnon summoned the Achaean dukes and instructed them in his plan. He wanted to make the army believe that he wanted to return home: the soldiers, however, exultantly accepted the proposal to return and prepared to leave the coast when Odysseus, inspired by Athena, convinced them to renew the battle against Troy.

The two sides faced each other again: at the sight of Menelaus, Paris fled among his own, but Hector rebuked him for his cowardice. Paris decided to face Menelaus in a duel: the fate of the duel would be decisive for the war. After sacrificing to the gods, the contenders clashed: Menelaus was on the verge of killing his enemy when Aphrodite rescued him and brought him back to Troy. Agamemnon decreed victory for his brother.

The gods were gathered around Zeus, who would have liked to save Troy; it was Hera, however, who convinced the other gods to call for the continuation of the war. Zeus then sent Athena among the Trojans; she invited Pandarus to shoot an arrow at Menelaus. The arrow wounded the Atrid and the battle revived. Pandarus wounded Diomedes with an arrow, but the latter, aided by Athena, managed to kill the Trojan; he was about to kill Aeneas as well when Aphrodite intervened, saving her son and was in turn wounded by Diomedes. Meanwhile, the Trojans, led by Ares, had gone on the counterattack. Diomedes, again with the help of Athena, clashed with Ares and wounded him. The fortunes of the battle again turned in favor of the Greeks.

Hector asked if he could face a Greek champion. After some discussion here appeared the giant Ajax Telamonius. The duel ended with a truce, desired by two ambassadors, by order of Zeus. The next day the fighting resumed. The Greeks, pressed by Hector, were pushed further and further toward their camp. As the sun set Hector and his men set up an encampment right in the middle of the battlefield, thus pushing the Greeks further and further toward the sea. That same night, however, Diomedes managed to enter the tent in which Rhesus, the young king of the Thracians allied with the Trojans, was sleeping and slit his throat with his sword.

In the morning the battle began again. Hector and the other commanders hurled themselves against the wall protecting the ships. The frightened Greeks began to flee, only the most heroic commanders, such as the two Aiacians or Idomeneo, still incited the troops to defend themselves. The Trojans, led by Hector, and the Lycians, led by Sarpedon, even managed to breach the Greek wall and enter the interior of the camp. With a flashlight in his hand, Hector even managed to set fire to one of the Greek ships. Patroclus, Achilles” faithful companion, seeing the battle raging inside the Greek camp, pleaded with his friend to allow him to take up his weapons and lead the Myrmidons alongside the other Achaeans. Achilles agreed, but recommended that Patroclus limit himself to driving the enemies out of the Greek camp and go no further.

Meanwhile, the Trojans had succeeded in setting fire to Protesilaus” ship, but the arrival of the Myrmidons led by Patroclus, whom they believed to be Achilles, put them to flight. Patroclus pressed them all the way below the walls: he was opposed by Sarpedon, the commander of the Lycians, who was the son of Zeus. The king of the gods, although he had at one time wished for the death of all the demigods, including his own, suddenly changed his mind and might have saved him if Hera had not intervened, reminding him how everything was now already fixed: Sarpedon inevitably fell under Patroclus” blows, Zeus could only confine himself to transporting the body to Lycia, the hero”s native land. However, Patroclus” time had also come: Apollo with a great blow stunned him, the young Trojan Euphorbus wounded him with his spear, but he was not strong enough to kill him: it was Hector who gave the final blow. Dying, Patroclus predicted the now imminent killing of Hector, who seized the dead man”s weapons. Euphorbus tried instead to take possession of the corpse, but was killed by Menelaus.

Seeing the body of his faithful friend arrive, Achilles locked in his own fury, decided to link up with Agamemnon and return to battle, with the new weapons forged by Hephaestus. Filled with wrath he hurled himself at the Trojans: some died heroically, while others tried to flee, some running to the walls, some throwing themselves into the Scamander River. Achilles had no mercy for anyone and killed a large number of enemies, even those who frightened pleaded with him. The surviving Trojans rushed inside the walls, except for Hector, who remained in front of the Scee Gates, blocked by his fate; his parents” desperate appeals were to no avail. Hector proposed an oath to Achilles to return to the family the body of the one of the two who would be killed, but the Pelis angrily refused. The duel began, the spears flew unsuccessfully, and in the hand-to-hand combat Achilles pierced Hector in the only exposed spot, between the neck and shoulder.

Dying, Hector foreshadowed his enemy”s imminent death; Achilles, blinded by hatred, pierced the corpse”s feet and tied it on his own chariot, dragging it around the walls of Troy and making horrible havoc of it. Priam finally asked Achilles to return his son”s body to him, paying a large ransom. Hector”s funeral is the last event narrated in the Iliad.

The death of Achilles

Shortly after Hector”s death, Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons, came to Troy with her army of female warriors. Penthesilea, daughter of Ortrera and Ares had accidentally killed her sister Hippolyta. She was purified for this action by Priam, and in return she fought for him and killed many Greeks, including Macaon (according to some, Macaon was killed by Euripilus, son of Telephos) and, according to another version, also Achilles, who was later exhumed by order of Thetis. Penthesilea was then killed by Achilles, who, after killing her, fell in love with her beauty. Thersites, a private soldier, mocked Achilles for this love of his and grooved out Penthesilea”s eyes. Achilles killed Thersites and, following a dispute, sailed to Lesbos to be purified. On the journey he was accompanied by Odysseus, and the two sacrificed to Apollo, Artemis and Latona.

While Achilles was returning to Troy, Memnon, king of Ethiopia and Persia, son of Tithon and Eos, arrived with his army to help Priam, his uncle. He came not directly from Ethiopia but from Susa, having conquered all the peoples between Troy and Persia. He thus led to Troas an army consisting of Ethiopians, Persians, Assyrians and Indians. He wore an armor forged by Hephaestus, just like Achilles. In the ensuing battle, Memnon killed Antilochus, who had himself struck down to save his father Nestor. Achilles faced Memnon in a duel while Zeus weighed the fate of the two heroes, an assessment that led to victory for Achilles, who thus killed the great enemy.

The Pelid then chased the Trojans into the city. The gods, seeing how Achilles had already exterminated most of their children, decided that this time it was his turn. He was in fact killed by an arrow shot by Paris and guided by Apollo. Immediately afterwards, while exulting in victory, Paris was killed by an arrow from Philoctetes, the same arrow of Heracles soaked in Hydra”s blood. According to another, later and less credited version, he was killed by a stab while marrying Polyxena, daughter of Priam, in the temple of Apollo, the place where he had killed Troilus a few years earlier. Both versions show how the great warrior”s death was the work of a god or deception, since Achilles was invincible on the battlefield. His bones were mixed with those of Patroclus and games were held in his honor. After his death, like Ajax, he lived on the island of Leukus.

The judgment of arms and the death of Ajax

After Achilles” death a great battle was held to recover the hero”s body. Ajax Telamonius succeeded in distracting the Trojans while Odysseus carried off the body. The generals decided that Achilles” armor would go to the most valiant warrior. Ajax and Odysseus, who had recovered Achilles” body, therefore stepped forward. Agamemnon, unwilling to make such a difficult choice, asked the Trojan prisoners who among the two had caused the most damage to their city.

On Nestor”s advice spies were sent inside Troy to find out what the Trojans commented on the battle that had taken place just before and on the valor of those who had succeeded in recovering the body of the Pelid. One young woman said that Ajax was the best, but another, under advice from Athena, Odysseus” patroness, gave the best vote to her favorite.

According to Pindar, the decision was made through a secret decision of the Achaean princes. Be that as it may, in all versions, the weapons were given to Odysseus and Ajax, maddened by grief, decided to kill the race judges, but Athena caused Ajax to slaughter two rams in his fury, believing them to be Agamemnon and Menelaus. At dawn he returned to normal and, realizing what had happened, killed himself out of dishonor by piercing himself with the sword that Hector had given him, striking himself in the side or armpit, believed by some to be his only weak point.

According to another, much older tradition, Ajax was captured by the Trojans, who covered him with clay, thus forcing him into immobility and condemning him to starvation.

The prophecies of Eleno

In the tenth year of the war it was prophesied by Chalcedes that Troy would not collapse without the bow and arrows of Heracles, preserved by Philoctetes on the island of Lemnos. Odysseus and Diomedes then went to retrieve Philoctetes, whose wound had healed. According to others, the wound was healed by the physicians Macaon and Podalirius. According to Sophocles, it was Neoptolemus and Odysseus who sought Philoctetes; according to Proclus, only Diomedes. Back on the battlefield Philoctetes killed, thanks to his invincible arrows Paris himself.

According to Apollodorus, Paris” brothers, Elenus and Deiphobo, had a dispute over which of the two should marry Helen, who had been widowed. Priam assigned the woman to Deiphobo; Elenus, furious, abandoned the city and settled on Mount Ida, the guest of Arisbe, Priam”s repudiated wife. Chalcedes revealed that Helenus was able to prophesy the last conditions, through which to conquer Troy. Odysseus therefore ambushed Elenus and captured him. Pushed by force, Elenus told the Achaeans that they would conquer the city if they found the bones of Pelops, sent Achilles” son Neoctolemus to war, and purloined the Palladium from the Trojan temple of Athena.

The Greeks recovered Pelops” bones, specifically the shoulder bone, which was brought to Troy from Pisa and was lost at sea on the way back: later found by a fisherman it was recognized as Pelops” bone by the oracle.

Later Odysseus was sent to Syros, to King Lycomedes, to retrieve Neoctolemus, who was living there with his maternal grandfather. Odysseus gave him his father”s weapons. At the same time, as Apollodorus informs us, Euripilus, the son of Telephus, came in support of the Trojans with an army made up of Hittites or Misiacians. Disguised as a beggar, Odysseus entered the interior of the city: he was recognized by Helen, who offered him her help. Thus the king of Ithaca and Diomedes stole the Palladium.

The Trojan Horse

The city of Troy was finally conquered without battle by a deception devised by Odysseus: a giant wooden horse, a sacred animal to the Trojans (as the favorite animal of the founder, Poseidon). It was built by Epeus, guided in turn by Athena. The wood was retrieved from Apollo”s sacred grove and was inscribed on it, “The Greeks dedicate this thanksgiving offering to Athena for a good return.”

The hollow horse was filled with soldiers. Apollodorus says that 50 men entered the horse, attributing to the writer of the Little Iliad, the conception that as many as 3,000 men entered the horse while according to the Byzantine philologist Tzetzes there were 23. Quintus Smyrnaeus names 30 but says there were more inside. In the late tradition the number was standardized to forty men. At the head of these was Odysseus himself. The rest of the army left the camp and went with the whole fleet to the island of Tenedo. When the Trojans found out that the Greeks had left, believing that the war was over, they inquired about the horse and found Sinon, an Ithacian who had been instructed by Odysseus to play the part of the traitor (which was why he bore bruises obtained from his comrades), saying that he proposed to abandon everything, but the Greeks beat him and decided to abandon the front momentarily in search of other allies, erecting the horse as an omen to the gods for a good journey.

Sinon also added that the horse is so large that the Trojans will struggle or fail at all to drag it inside the walls and change the fortunes of the war in favor of the Trojans. Convinced, Priam gave orders to bring the horse inside the walls. Before getting him inside, however, the Trojans debated what to do. Some thought of throwing it off a cliff, others of burning it, and others of dedicating it to Athena. Cassandra and the priest Laocoon were the only ones wary of the gift, but no one listened to Cassandra because of the curse inflicted on her by Apollo, and Laocoon, sensing deception, tried to flush out the Greeks first by stabbing the statue with a spear then threatening to burn it. Priam stopped him and demanded that a sacrifice be made to Poseidon to learn the truth. Fortunately for the Greeks, Poseidon was on their side, and as the priest and his two sons immolated a bull on the shore, all three were seized by two giant serpents. Convinced of the whole thing, Priam interpreted Laocoon”s death as punishment for threatening to destroy the gift for the gods and had the horse taken to Troy.

Proclus, following the Little Iliad, says that the Trojans tore down part of the wall to let the horse through. The Trojans then decided to bring the horse into the city and spent the night among the celebrations. Sinon, who had been accepted by the Trojans as their brother, gave the signal to the fleet, stationed at Tenedo, to depart. The soldiers, out of the horse, killed the sentries and opened the city gates to their comrades.

The Achaeans thus entered the city and killed its inhabitants. A great slaughter ensued and continued into the following day. “The blood flowed in torrents, rotting the ground; it was that of the Trojans and their dead foreign allies. The whole city from up and down was bathed in their blood” (Quintus Smyrnaeus)

All did not go as the Achaeans wanted, however; the Trojans, fueled by alcohol and despair, fought even more fiercely. With the fighting at its peak and the city in flames, the enemies sheathed their weapons and, to the surprise of the Greeks, counterattacked in chaotic street fighting. Everyone tried to defend their city by throwing tiles or other objects at the heads of passing enemies. Euripilus, the son of Telephus, was among those who fought to the last, killing Macaon, Nireus and Peneleus, but being killed in turn by Neoptolemus. The latter then killed Polytheus and Priam, who had sought refuge at the altar of Zeus in his own palace. Menelaus killed Deiphobo, Helen”s husband after the death of Paris, while he slept and would also have killed Helen had he not been dazzled by her beauty. He thus threw down his sword and took her back to his ship.

Ajax Oileus raped Cassandra on the altar of Athena as she clung to the statue. Because of Ajax”s impiety, the Achaeans, urged on by Odysseus, wanted to stone him to death, but he managed to escape into the very altar of Athena and save himself.

Antenor, who had given Menelaus and Odysseus hospitality when they demanded Helen”s return, and who had defended them, was rescued along with his family. Aeneas took his father Anchises on his shoulders, held his son Ascanius by the hand and fled the city followed by some fellow citizens, protected by an aura created by Aphrodite (however, he lost his wife Creusa). According to Apollodorus he was saved because of the mercy he showed to his enemies.

The Greeks then set fire to the city and divided the spoils. Cassandra was given to Agamemnon, Andromache to Neoptolemus, Hecuba to Odysseus. Proclus says that Odysseus threw the infant Astianactes from the city walls, Apollodorus says that the author of the infanticide was Neoptolemus either out of bloodlust, as Quintus Smyrnaeus says, or to continue a cycle of revenge that sons inherit from their fathers (Achilles killed Hector, Neoptolemus killed Astianactes), a thesis that is accepted by Euripides. Neoptolemus then sacrificed the young Polyxena at Achilles” tomb as requested by his ghost, either because he wanted the spoils of war that he was entitled to even in death or because she had betrayed him.

Theseus” mother Etra was one of Helen”s slaves and was freed by Demophon and Acamantus.

The gods were angry at the destruction of their temples and the sacrileges committed by the Achaeans toward the vanquished. They therefore decided that many of them should not return home safely. A storm swept over them in the vicinity of Tenedo. Nauplius, Palamedes” father, eager for revenge, put false lights on top of the Caparean cape, causing many ships to founder.

Nestor, who had shown the best conduct under the walls of Troy and had taken no part in the sacking, was the only hero to have a quick and painless return, along with his son Thrasymede. All the men in his army arrived home safely. Later Nestor conquered Metapontum with his men.

Ajax Oileus, who had caused the wrath of the gods more than any other, never returned home. His ship was smashed to pieces by Athena with a thunderbolt from Zeus. The crew managed to land on a rock but Ajax, filled with arrogance, shouted that he had saved himself because the gods could never kill him. After saying these words, Poseidon knocked him off the cliff with a trident blow, causing him to drown. He was buried by Thetis.

Teucer, son of Telamon and brother of Ajax the Great, was sent into exile by his father for failing to help his brother save himself from suicide. Indeed, he was not allowed to land in Salamis and was forced to stay in the neighboring land of Peirea. He was nevertheless absolved of responsibility for his brother”s death but condemned for not bringing back the hero”s body or weapons. He went with his men to Cyprus where he founded a city, naming it Salamis, in honor of his homeland. The Athenians later created a political myth that Teucer”s son entrusted the rule of the city to Theseus” descendants, thus giving primacy to the Athenians.

Neoptolemus, on the other hand, on the advice of Helenus, who had become his slave, traveled to the mainland, taking his men and his booty with him. He met Odysseus and together with him buried Phoenix, Achilles” master, in the land of the Cicones. Later they conquered the lands of Epirus together. From Andromache he had three sons, Molossus, who would later inherit her kingdom, Pielo and Pergamus, future king of Arcadia. The kings of Epirus said they were descendants of Achilles as did later Alexander the Great, whose mother was from there. The great Macedonian leader even said he was descended from Heracles. Helenus founded a city in Epirus; Neoptolemus gave him his mother Deidamia as his wife. After the death of Peleus, Neoptolemus later became king of Phthia. He had a dispute with Orestes, son of Agamemnon, over Menelaus” daughter Hermione, however, and was killed at Delphi where he was buried. Finally, after the death of Neoptolemus, the kingdom of Epirus passed to Helenus, who married Andromache and took in Trojan refugees, the most important one to remember being Aeneas.

Diomedes was thrown by a storm into the land of Lycia, where he would have been sacrificed to Ares by King Lico (eager to avenge Sarpedon”s death) if the latter”s daughter, Calliroe, had not helped him escape. He then accidentally landed in Attica. The Athenians, thinking he was an enemy, attacked him. Many of Diomedes” companions were killed and he managed to return to his ship, losing, however, the Palladium, which ended up in the hands of Demophon. He finally returned to Argos where he found his wife Egialea in the midst of adultery. Disgusted, he repaired to Aetolia and later to southern Italy where he founded several cities.

Philoctetes, due to sedition, was driven from his homeland and forced to travel to Italy. There he founded several cities including Croton. He fought in Lucania, where he dedicated a shrine to Apollo the Wanderer, to whom he donated his bow.

Idomeneus, according to Homer, returned to Crete safely. There is, however, another much more famous tradition. On the return voyage the Cretan king”s ship ran into a violent storm that seemed as if it would never end. He promised Poseidon that he would sacrifice the first living thing he saw after landing if the sea god would save him and his crew. He thus landed in Crete but the first living being he saw was his son, whom he reluctantly had to sacrifice. The gods, angry at such a despicable act, struck the entire island with an epidemic. Idomeneus was therefore sent into exile to Calabria, and then to Asia Minor, where he died.

The House of Atreus

After the sack of Troy, Menelaus set out to sea for the return voyage with his fleet, but at the moment of rounding Cape Malea, a storm whipped them onto the island of Crete, where most of the ships sank. Menelaus and Helen escaped death and finally landed in Egypt, where they stayed a good five years and where Menelaus amassed considerable wealth. Finally they left Egypt, but it was a very short voyage, for a lull in the wind forced them to stop on the island of Pharo, near the mouth of the Nile. They stayed for twenty days on the island, and when hunger was already beginning to set in, the god Proteus, who resided on that island, advised Menelaus to return to Egypt and there offer sacrifices to the gods (and informed him of the fate of his companions). Menelaus did so, and in this way he was able to return to Sparta. Eight years had passed since his departure from Troy and eighteen since the war had begun. Once back in Sparta, Menelaus reigned for many years together with Helen, by whom he had the children Hermione and Nicostratus. At the end of his long life he was taken to the Elysian Fields without dying, an honor accorded him by Zeus for having been his son-in-law.

Agamemnon returned home shortly after the end of the war (despite the fact that Achilles” shadow had tried to hold him back by predicting his future misfortunes), taking with him the slave Cassandra and the spoils of war. In the meantime, however, his wife Clytemnestra had woven an affair with Aegisthus, son of Thetises, so that the two hatched a plot that enabled them to kill Agamemnon and Cassandra, thereby gaining command of Argos (or Mycenae). Ten years later, Agamemnon”s son Orestes (who had been exiled by his father”s murderers) returned to his homeland and avenged Agamemnon by killing Aegisthus and his own mother Clytemnestra.

The return of Odysseus

The ten years Odysseus spent wandering before he could return to the island of Ithaca is the subject of the Odyssey, the second great poem attributed to Homer. Odysseus and his men were sent to distant lands unknown to the Greeks. There Odysseus was featured in several exploits, such as the famous encounter with the Cyclops Polyphemus, an encounter that cost him with the eternal wrath of Poseidon. He even had an audience in the afterlife with the famous soothsayer Tiresias. On the island of the Sun, Trinacria, Odysseus” men ate oxen sacred to Helios. This sacrilege cost the lives of Odysseus” companions and the complete destruction of the Ithachean fleet. Odysseus, the only one who did not eat the oxen of the sun, was also the only one whose life was saved. Due to a storm he was shipwrecked on the island of Ogygia where he lived together with the nymph Calypso. After seven years the gods decided to send him home; on a small raft he managed to reach the land of Scheria, populated by the Phaeacians, who helped him return to Ithaca.

Upon reaching Ithaca, Odysseus tried to regain possession of his home, dressed as a beggar. He was recognized by the faithful dog Argos, who died soon after. There he discovered that his wife Penelope, had remained faithful to him during the twenty years of her husband”s absence, despite the fact that the palace was full of suitors who, at that time, were squandering all the king”s wealth. With the help of Telemachus, Athena, and the swineherd Eumeus, she killed all the suitors and the handmaids who had become their mistresses, leaving only Medon, the herald of the Procians, who was well liked by Penelope and was always kind, and the cantor Phemius, who was spared through Telemachus” intercession. Penelope, however, did not welcome the bridegroom instantly; first she wanted to test him, and as soon as she recognized him, she forgave him for his absence.

The Telegony

The Telegony takes up the story of the Odyssey from the moment the pretenders are buried until Odysseus” death. It is again Proclus who provides us with the plot of the poem. After the slaughter of the Proci, Odysseus is said to have come to Thesprotia, where he met and married the beautiful queen Callidice; from this union Polypete was born. Together with his new bride, Odysseus revisited the glories of war, leading the Thesprotians into war against the Brigi. In this context the hero”s troops were routed by Ares, who thus stood up to Athena, Odysseus” protector as always, until Apollo separated the two contending deities. It was only after Callidice”s death that Odysseus left Thesprotia, whose kingdom passed into the hands of his son Polypete, and returned permanently to Ithaca, alongside his Penelope (who had meanwhile become the mother of Polyporte). After Odysseus returned, Telegonus, son of the hero and the goddess Circe, went to Ithaca and plundered it. Odysseus died in a vain attempt to defend his island, killed by his own son without their recognizing each other. As soon as Telegonus discovered that he had killed his father, he took his body and brought it to his mother, in the company of Telemachus and Penelope. Circe decided to make the two children of Odysseus and Penelope immortal. After that, Telemachus married Circe and Penelope married Telegonus.

Aeneas managed to escape from burning Troy with his father Anchises, his son Ascanius (or Iulus in Latin), his half-brother Elymus, his nurse Caieta, some servants, the squire Acate, the trumpeter Misenus, the physician Iapige, and many Trojan warriors and their allies, taking with him the statues of his ancestors. His wife Creusa died instead during the sack of the city.

Aeneas and his men therefore abandoned Troy with a small fleet, seeking a new land where they could live. They attempted to settle first in Crete, from where Dardanus, first king of Troy, had departed but found the terrible plague sent there against Idomeneus. They stayed briefly in the colony of Helenus and Andromache. After seven years they arrived on the coast of Libya (as Africa was then called), where Queen Dido, having fled her native Phoenicia to avoid being killed by her brother, who had already murdered her husband Sicheus, was founding the city of Carthage. Here Aeneas, had an affair with Queen Dido. However, the gods decided that the journey should continue, for this was the will of Fate. Dido in desperation killed herself but before she died she cursed Aeneas” descendants, thus giving rise to the hatred that would divide the Romans and Carthaginians centuries later. Aeneas and his men finally reached Italy. There the Cumaean Sibyl sent him down into Hades, showing the great men who would descend from him.

Finally arriving in Latium, Aeneas sought the support of the king of Laurentium, Latino, and the hand of the latter”s daughter, Lavinia. All this provoked a war with the various local tribes that ended in a duel between Aeneas and Turno, a legitimate claimant to the hand of the maiden. Aeneas killed his enemy and together with his son Ascanius founded the city of Albalonga. From Silvius, a son he had with Lavinia, descended Romulus and Remus, mythical founders of Rome.

The details of Aeneas” journey, his love for Dido, and his confrontation with Turno are the subject of Virgil”s work, the Aeneid.

Antenor, the Trojan old man, also emigrated to Italy, arriving there before Aeneas, however. He landed in Venetia: with him were his few surviving sons and a number of allied fighters, including the Meon prince Mestle and the Aeneas of Paflagonia (who had lost their commander Pilemene at Troy), from whom the Veneti later came. Antenor and Mestle founded Padua and Mestre, respectively; later a friend of Antenor”s, a certain Opsicella, would help form a new settlement, Monselice.

Trojans and their allies

The historicity of the Trojan War is still debated. Some think that Homer”s stories are actually the union of several conflicts that ignited between Greeks and the Anatolian world in the Mycenaean period. In this union he also inserts divine figures and various metaphors. Already in antiquity there was debate about the historicity of the event: most Greeks thought that the Trojan War was a real event; others thought that Homer had magnified for poetic purposes a non-famous event such as the one described. Thucydides, famous for his critical spirit, believed it really happened but doubted, for example, that 1186 ships could really have reached Troy. Euripides changed the connotations of several myths, including those of the Trojan War.

In 1870, scholars agreed that the Trojan War never happened and was merely the product of an ingenious mind. However, Heinrich Schliemann turned the tables and discovered, to everyone”s amazement, the city of Troy in Asia Minor and the city of Mycenae in Greece.

Many scholars today agree that the Trojan War may have had a real substratum; however, they doubt whether Homer”s writings faithfully narrate the event and its proportions.

Wilusa, the Hittites and the Assuwa confederation.

In the 20th century, some scholars have attempted to propose conclusions based on Hittite and Ancient Egyptian texts contemporary with the events of the supposed Trojan War; the proceeds are a general description of the political situation in the region at the time, but without any information on this specific conflict.

Texts from the Hittite archives, a hegemonic power in Anatolia in the 2nd millennium B.C., such as the letter of Tawagalawa, speak of an Ahhiyawa kingdom, likely one or more Mycenaean kingdoms, lying across the sea (identifiable with the Aegean) and controlling Millawata, the name by which Miletus, known to have been an Achaean colony, is recognizable.

Other texts mention the so-called confederation of Assuwa, consisting of 22 cities in the Arzawa area (West Anatolian), of which the city of Wilusa, identified by Schliemann with Homeric Ilio (or Troy), a city that has always been a Hittite vassal, is a part. Another text, the Millawata letter, explains that this city is located in the northern part of the Assuwa confederation, across the Seha River.

The identification of Wilusa with Troy was controversial in the 1990s but gained the approval of the majority of academic people and is accepted today.

The historical framework then proposes Troy

Examining the Hittite texts, one finds at least one armed clash, involving Hittites and Ahhiyawa, involving Wilusa: it is the one narrated in the Letter of Manhapa-Tarhunta and then taken up later in the aforementioned Letter of Tawagalawa, datable to 1285-80 BCE. and thus also compatible with the classical chronology; the clash was certainly of proportions not comparable to the Homeric texts, but it is striking that an Achaean (or Achaean-supported) contingent attacked and conquered Wilusa and succeeded in ruling it for a brief period. The intervention of King Muwatalli II would shortly bring the city back under Hittite control.

In the Treaty of Alaksandu (1280 B.C.) text following the aforementioned conflict, the new king of the city who renews vassalage to the Hittites is called precisely Alaksandu: it should be noted that the name Homer gives us of Paris, the son of Priam (but so called in other texts as well), is Alexander.

Tawagalawa”s next letter, addressed to King Ahhiyawa by a Hittite ruler, confirms that an armed clash had taken place between the two powers: “Now we have come to an agreement on Wilusa, over which we went to clash.”

In about 1230 B.C. the Hittite king Tudhaliya IV (1237-1209 B.C.) embarked on a military campaign against some of the vassal states in this area that had rebelled against him in independence uprisings stirred up by Ahhiyawa.

It is possible, therefore, that underlying the legend of the war against Troy were repeated conflicts of modest magnitude involving the Hittite empire, the Ahhiyawa rulers and the states of the Arzawa (Assuwa) area, later cemented in the oral tradition of the aedi into a single, vast conflict.

This view has been supported because the entire war also includes the landing in Misia (and the wounding of Telophon), Achilles” campaigns in the northern Aegean, and Ajax Telamonius” campaigns in Thrace and Phrygia. Most of these regions were part of the Assuwa confederation. We also note that there is a great similarity between the names of the so-called Sea Peoples who raided Egypt at that time, as listed by Rameses III and Merenptah, and the names of the allies of Troy.

Still there is debate about the real existence of those fires that passed all over Greece warning the Achaean remaining at home of the outcome of the war or whether this is just an invention of Aeschylus. While there are those who attest that there was indeed this communication network at the time of ancient Greece and the Byzantine period, we do not know if there was at the time of the Trojan War. Aeschylus is the only source that mentions it, in the prologue of the tragedy Agamemnon.

The fact then that most of the Achaean heroes, having returned from the war, decided not to return to their homeland but to establish colonies elsewhere is explained by Thucydides with the fact that those cities, without a commander, were in decline because of their absence. The interpretation most widely followed by scholars is that Achaean commanders were driven out of their lands by riots at the end of the Mycenaean era and preferred to recall descendants from exile from the Trojan War.

Schliemann”s discoveries

The discovery in 1870 by archaeologist and businessman Heinrich Schliemann of the ruins of Troy on the hillock of Hissarlik in Turkey revived an old debate about the historicity of the events reported by Homer. Carl Blegen concluded in 1963, following his work from Schliemann”s discoveries and the finding of the so-called “treasure of Priam,” that there was probably a clash between Greeks and Trojans. However, it was attested that the treasure in question dated back to the second millennium B.C. and thus could not be associated with the episode of the Trojan War. Schliemann found nine layers based on the Homeric poems and discovered that the seventh corresponded to the one dating back to the Trojan War, which can be dated to around 1220 BCE.

For Claude Mossé, a professor at the University of Paris, the existence or non-existence of the conflict can never be proven with certainty. As for ancient historians, Thucydides already says that the importance Homer gave to the conflict was exaggerated: the war would indeed take place, but the importance the Greeks gave it was influenced by their strong feelings of nationalism.

The excavations that have been carried out on the site of the city of Troy have revealed the presence of several layers, all from different eras.

The city of Troy VI (1800-1300 B.C.), is the one that corresponds to the city”s heyday; it was equipped with ramparts and its inhabited area occupied about twenty square kilometers, so it could have withstood even a ten-year war. Troy VI is also dated to the same time as the Mycenaean apogee (not to be forgotten that Agamemnon, supreme commander of the expedition, was precisely king of Mycenae). The city was destroyed by an earthquake, attested by archaeology. This natural catastrophe may be the origin of the legend of the Trojan horse, an offering to Poseidon, who was also god of earthquakes. However, the body of myths and legends about Troy of the Greeks involved a destruction of Ilium by an earthquake, which was followed by the conquest of Hercules, who spared only a small prince, Priam. Moreover, we should not take literally the 10-year period (or rather 9 years of siege and victory on the tenth), proposed by Homer, in the Bronze Age in Mesopotamia the expression “9 and then another” was used to indicate a very long amount of time, just as the Italian expression 9 times out of 10 is not meant to indicate precise quantities. When the corpus of the Iliad was composed, the expression was probably used in this sense, but it remained thereafter, understood in a literal sense, in the poem.

Schliemann later discovered (1876) the rock of Mycenae.

The weapons of the Trojan War

Although Mycenae, a great sea power, hurled an army of 1,200 ships at Troy, and although Paris built a fleet before setting out for Sparta, there is no sea battle in the Iliad. Perecleus himself, the shipbuilder of Troy fights on foot.

The heroes of the Iliad were carefully dressed and clad in splendid and well-designed armor. They would travel across the battlefield on top of war chariots, from up there hurl a spear at the enemy formation, dismount, pull the other spear, after which they would take part in hand-to-hand combat. Ajax Telamonius carried a giant rectangular shield that not only protected him but also his brother Teucer:

The weapons and armor described in the Iliad were long thought to conform to those of the Hellenic Middle Ages, but different from those of the Late Bronze Age, particularly because there was no known bronze armor in the Mycenaean Bronze Age. In the twenty-first century, while recognizing that many tactics, weapons, and military practices described in the Homeric poem (and other related works) refer to the Iron Age (and even to epochs immediately following the Hellenic Middle Ages), interesting correspondences between Mycenaean (and Anatolian) technologies of that period and those described in the Homeric poems are discovered. In particular, the panoply of Dendra demonstrates the existence of bronze armor in the Mycenaean age (albeit of a different type from that described in the poem) for another with a helmet, made of leather and boar tusks, identical to that described by Homer for Odysseus. Then at Thebes an armor of Mycenaean age was discovered more compatible with those described in the poem (jointed and full of leather laces supporting various plates), at Knossos an armor-shaped vase was found (compatible with those in the Iliad and barely older), while bell-shaped armors (typical of the Greek Iron Age) are rare in the Homeric poems. Moreover, in the Linear B tablets one discovers more and more references to plate armor and helmets, of the modular type, very similar to those described in the Homeric poems, where they are referred to as Tretrafaleros, while military relics similar to those described in the poem are found (or depicted) in Cypriot and Anatolian Late Bronze Age levels. Finally, the tower shield (similar to that of Ajax), initially considered to correspond poorly to the Late Bronze Age (but found between 1500 and 1300 BCE especially in Tiryns and in Minoan contexts, associated with 8-shaped shields), has been found depicted on several pottery sherds from between 1300 and 1100 BCE.

Homer describes at times a battle formation very similar to the phalanx, although this appears only in the 7th century B.C. But was it really in this manner that the Trojan War was fought? Most scholars believe not. The war chariot was the main vehicle in this war, as in the Battle of Kadesh, probably contemporary with it. However, it is evidenced in the Pylos palace paintings that the Greeks fought on the war chariot in pairs, the charioteer and the fighter with a long spear in his hand, unlike the Hittite three-man chariots, with two warriors with short spears, or the Egyptian ones, with bow and arrows. Homer is aware of this and the main use of the chariot in warfare is highlighted in the Iliad.

Nestor says in the fourth book of the Iliad:

For Homer, however, this is an antiquated way of fighting, used mainly by old fighters or men from a small kingdom, such as Pylos. Nestor describes a battle between Pylos and Ilia, the main means of which was the war chariot. At that time he was young, but at the time of the Trojan War Nestor is very old.

Instead, Achilles uses his chariot primarily to advance behind the enemy ranks and strike from behind, thus causing a terrible slaughter. Karykas believes that war chariot fighting was abandoned by the Greeks sometime before the Trojan War and that Homer therefore describes the events as they really happened. Among the followers of this theory there are those who believe that Homer explains the facts realistically because he himself was present at the events, several writers, ancient and modern, also carried out war assignments, recall for example Archilocus, poet of ancient lyric poetry. Homer describes the war as he himself experienced it. There is some consensus, however, that Homer, assuming he existed and was not the sum of several poets, lived during the Hellenic Middle Ages or just before the end of them. In particular, he should have been very old when Hesiod was very young. So it is likely that he is describing warfare contemporary with him, but this is that of the Hellenic Middle Ages, with the addition of some elements, true, handed down orally, such as helmets made of boar horns and war chariots.

Then there is a further possibility: around 1200-1300 B.C.E. it is presumable, though debated, that the methods of warfare began to change; as early as Kadesh the infantry may have deployed behind thickets of shields, forming a porcupine of spears (a kind of proto-phalanx, still rather loose and irregular, just like the one described by Homer) while the armor and armament of the infantrymen were being upgraded. Around 1100 B.C.E. a heavy infantry, capable of standing up to the war chariots, may therefore have emerged, and so these found themselves degraded to battle cabs, in accordance with what is described in the Iliad. This style of fighting was then preserved until the ninth or eighth century B.C.E. when the modern Greek and Charia panoply began, toward the end of the Hellenic Middle Ages, to develop, and thus it became possible to fight with “real” phalanxes.

It should also be borne in mind that the war chariot was the only type of military cavalry possible during the Bronze Age, since the mounting of horses (by the way, at that time, 90-120 cm tall, although already conformed as horses and not as ponies) was poorly practiced, difficult, and, without bit and saddle, prevented the rider from being simultaneously armed. Only around 1000 B.C. was it possible to encounter “real” military cavalry (Scythian, Medes, Persians and Cimbri horse archers).

The Iliad and Odyssey are the model for Western epic literature, although they have a profoundly different narrative structure. The Iliad is an example of a chronological narration of events: however, compared to fables, the narrative focuses on a fulcrum of the story. The Odyssey is one of the earliest literary examples of non-chronological narration and the use of flashback: these were notable innovations from traditional epic.

In addition to the texts of Homer, the tragedians and the epic cycle, the Trojan War is, in particular, treated in: Ajax by Ugo Foscolo, Troilus and Chryseides by Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare, Iphigenia and Polyxena by Samuel Coster, Palamedes by Joost van den Vondel and the Trojan Women by Hector Berlioz.

In the pictorial field, the Hall of the Iliad in the Villa Valmarana “Ai Nani,” with frescoes by Giovanbattista Tiepolo, is notable. The Trojan War has been depicted in film and television productions: suffice it to mention the films Helen of Troy by Robert Wise (1956), The Trojan War by Giorgio Ferroni (1961), The Wrath of Achilles by Marino Girolami (1962) and Troy by Wolfgang Petersen (2004). The latter although not faithful to the Homeric myth demonstrates its enduring appeal. Finally, Eric Shanower”s comic book The Age of Bronze should be mentioned.

Other theories


  1. Guerra di Troia
  2. Trojan War
  3. ^ Erodoto, Storie II,145
  4. ^ M.Bettalli,Storia greca;Roma 2009 p.321.
  5. ^ Platone, Repubblica 2,379e.
  6. ΟΜΗΡΟΥ ΟΔΥΣΣΕΙΑ, Ραψωδία Ά, Στίχος 344: «αἰεὶ ἀνδρός, τοῦ κλέος εὐρὺ καθ” Ἑλλάδα καὶ μέσον Ἄργος»
  7. ΑΡΡΙΑΝΟΣ, Αλεξάνδρου Ανάβαση, [1.11.5]: «Πρωτεσίλαος πρῶτος ἐδόκει ἐκβῆναι ἐς τὴν Ἀσίαν τῶν Ἑλλήνων τῶν ἅμα Ἀγαμέμνονι ἐς Ἴλιον στρατευσάντων»
  8. Αναφέρεται η ονομασία “Έλληνες” κατά συνεκδοχή με τη σημερινή τους ονομασία. Ο Όμηρος τους αναφέρει ως “Αχαιούς” “Δαναούς” και “Αργείους”, αναφέρεται δε στους “Έλληνες” ως τοπικό φύλο της Φθίας.
  9. ^ Turcia de astăzi
  10. ^ De aici și expresia mărul discordiei
  11. Apolodoro, Biblioteca mitológica, epítome 3,2.
  12. Apolodoro, Biblioteca mitológica III,11,7.
  13. Homero, Ilíada III,171; III,199.
  14. Higino, Fábulas 78.
  15. Apolodoro, Biblioteca mitológica III,11,8-9.
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