Trojan War

Trojan War Greek Mythology

In Greek mythology, the Trojan War was a war in which a coalition of Achaean armies fought against the city of Troy, located in Asia Minor, and its allies. According to Homer, it was a punitive expedition by the Achaeans, whose pretext would have been the abduction -or elopement- of Helen of Sparta by Prince Paris of Troy.

This war is one of the central themes of Greco-Latin epic and was narrated from the archaic period in a cycle of epic poems of which only two have survived intact to the present day, the Iliad and the Odyssey, attributed to Homer.

The Iliad describes an episode of this war, and the Odyssey narrates the journey home of Odysseus, one of the Greek leaders. Many other later Greek and Roman writers elaborated different accounts of this war. Likewise, painters and sculptors depicted multiple passages of the Trojan War in their works.

The ancient Greeks believed that the Trojan War really happened. The historian Herodotus was of the opinion that this war had been the original cause of the enmities between Persians and Greeks. Even some of their customs were related to this war, such as the virgins sent annually by the Locrians to the temple of Athena at Troy.

On the other hand, the Romans considered themselves descendants of the Trojans who managed to survive the war. However, some ancient authors questioned the veracity of some of the events related.

The excavations carried out by Heinrich Schliemann at the end of the 19th century, as well as the study of documents from the royal archives of the Hittite Empire began to fuel a prolific debate on the existence of a historical foundation for the Trojan War.

However, although the identity of Troy as a historical setting is agreed upon by most researchers, it has not been proven that a war expedition led by Greek attackers was launched against the city.

The Myth

Background. The Paris Trial

Zeus becomes king of the gods after dethroning his father Cronus; Cronus in turn had dethroned his father Uranus. Zeus hears a prophecy that he in turn will be dethroned by one of his sons.

Another prophecy says that a son of the nymph Thetis would be greater than his father. Possibly for one of these reasons, Thetis was married by Zeus' order to a mortal, King Peleus. Peleus and Thetis had a son named Achilles who, according to another prophecy, would die young at Troy.

All the gods were invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, except Eris. The latter showed up unexpectedly at the wedding and left on the table a golden apple on which was inscribed the word kallisti ('for the most beautiful'). The apple was claimed by Hera, Athena and Aphrodite.

Zeus resolved the matter by appointing Paris, a prince of Troy, who had been raised as a shepherd following a prophecy that he would be the cause of the fall of Troy, as arbiter.

The goddesses wanted to bribe Paris by offering him gifts if they were chosen: Athena offered him victory in battle; Hera promised him political power and Aphrodite offered him the love of Helen of Sparta. Paris granted the apple to Aphrodite.

The abduction of Helen

Helen was the daughter of Leda, who was married to Tindarus, king of Sparta, and was seduced by Zeus in the form of a swan; traditions differ as to which of Leda's four children were Zeus's and which were Tindarus's, but Homer presents Helen as the daughter of Zeus.

Helen had many suitors, and Tindareus was unwilling to choose one for fear that the others would retaliate. Finally, one of the suitors, Odysseus of Ithaca (Odysseus in Roman mythology), proposed a plan. He made everyone promise to defend whoever was chosen as Helen's husband.

Once the oath had been sworn, Tindareus - or Helen herself, according to another tradition - chose Menelaus, and also gave him the throne of Sparta. On the other hand, his brother Agamemnon, married to Helen's sister, Clytemnestra, held the throne of Mycenae.

Sent to make diplomatic deals in Sparta, Paris took advantage of the fact that Menelaus had to travel to Crete to pay funeral honors to his grandfather and, with the help of Aphrodite, kidnapped or seduced Helen.

Together they embarked for Troy, where they arrived after a long voyage through Phoenicia and Cyprus. All the kings and princes of Greece were called upon to fulfill their oath and recover her.

Recruitment and command of the troops

Most of the Greek kings were willing to go to war and to provide ships and soldiers. This was not the case of Odysseus, who reigned in Ithaca, was married to Penelope and had a son, Telemachus.

To avoid going to war, he pretended to be mad and began to plow with a yoke of an ox and a horse. Palamedes outwitted him and put his son Telemachus in front of the plow. Odysseus joined in as he was unwilling to kill his son, revealing his sanity and being forced to go to war.

The soothsayer Calchas augured that the city of Troy could never be conquered without Achilles taking part in the battle. His mother Thetis, knowing that Achilles would die if he went to Troy, disguised him as a woman at the court of King Lycomedes in Scythra.

There he had a love affair with the king's daughter, Deidamia, by whom they had a son, Neoptolemus. Odysseus discovered Achilles among the women and thus got him to take part in the expedition.

On the other hand, when the Greeks tried to get King Cyniras of Cyprus to join the alliance, he sent a breastplate as a gift to Agamemnon and also promised to send fifty ships. However, he sent only one real ship, while the other forty-nine were simply clay models.

Finally, a fleet of over a thousand ships was assembled under Agamemnon's command.

Journey to Troy

When the Greeks left for the Trojan War, they took a wrong turn and ended up in Mysia, ruled by Telephus. In a battle, Achilles wounded Telephus. Since his wound did not heal, Telephus asked the oracle and the oracle predicted that the one who wounded him should heal him. Telephus pretended to be a beggar and asked Achilles to help him heal his wound.

Achilles refused on the grounds that he had no medical knowledge. Odysseus said that the spear had caused the wound and the spear could heal it. Small pieces of the spear were placed on the wound and it healed. Telephus showed them the way to Troy in gratitude for their healing.

When the expedition again set sail from Aulide, the winds ceased. Calchas augured that the goddess Artemis was punishing Agamemnon for killing a sacred stag (or killing a stag in a sacred forest) and boasting that he was a better hunter than she.

The only way to appease Artemis was to sacrifice Agamemnon's most beautiful daughter, Iphigenia. Iphigenia was taken from Mycenae to Aulide under the false pretext that she was to become Achilles' wife.

When she arrived, Agamemnon prepared to sacrifice her, but at the last moment Artemis replaced the young girl with a stag and took her to Taurica, where she became a priestess of her cult. There she was charged with sacrificing every foreigner who came to the place, in honor of Artemis. Hesiod says that she became the goddess Hecate.

Philoctetes had in his possession the bow and arrows that Herakles had given him, since he lit the hero's funeral pyre when no one else wanted to do so. He sailed with seven ships full of men to the Trojan War, where he planned to fight on the side of the Greeks.

They stopped on an island and there Philoctetes was bitten by a snake. The wound became infected and gave off a great stench; then Odysseus, by order of Agamemnon, left him abandoned on Lemnos. Medonte, son of Oileus, took command of the men of Philoctetes, who remained alone on Lemnos for ten years.

Beginning of the war

Before the bulk of the Greek army reached Troy, an embassy was sent to the city in which Odysseus and Menelaus requested the Trojan assembly to return Helen and all her belongings.

The Trojans refused and even tried to kill the envoys, who were saved thanks to the mediation of the Trojan Antenor. After this event, the Greeks reached the beaches of Troy, where they engaged in a first battle against the Trojans who tried to prevent the landing.

The oracle prophesied that the first Greek to set foot on land would be the first to die in the Trojan War. Protesilaus, captain of the Philacians, fulfilled this prophecy. Hector killed Protesilaus, and Laodamia, his wife, committed suicide from grief. After Protesilaus' death, his brother Podarces went to war in his place.

After a battle on the beach, the Achaeans succeeded in gaining the upper hand. Among others, Achilles killed a son of Poseidon, Cicno, who was fighting on the Trojan side. Cicno was invulnerable to weapons and Achilles killed him by strangling him or hitting him with a stone.

The Greeks laid siege to Troy for nine years. During that time, they sacked many cities in the area. Achilles put Troilus to death in the temple of Apollo Timbreus and, on another occasion when Achilles was able to enter the city at night, he took Lycaon prisoner.

Dissensions also sometimes arose among the Greeks themselves. On one such occasion, Odysseus, who felt a desire to take revenge on Palamedes, contrived a ruse which consisted in forcing a Phrygian prisoner to write a letter supposedly sent by the Trojan king Priam and buried a certain amount of gold under Palamedes' tent.

When the Greeks read the letter and discovered the gold, they believed Palamedes to be a traitor and stoned him to death.

In the division of the spoils of plunder, Agamemnon took Criseis, daughter of Chryses, priest of Apollo, as a slave. When Chryses tried to pay her ransom, he was mistreated, so he asked Apollo to punish the Greeks, and the army was struck by a plague.

Facts of the Iliad

The oracle issued by Calcante said that the plague would only cease if Agamemnon returned Criseida to her father. Angered by this, and with Achilles (who guaranteed the fulfillment of the oracle), Agamemnon agreed to return Criseisis, but in return took Achilles' concubine, Briseis.

Because of this Achilles refused to continue fighting in the war and asked his mother Thetis to intercede so that Zeus would favor the Trojans and cause evils to the Achaeans. The following days the Greeks were severely punished in battle and the main warriors, except Ajax, were seriously wounded.

The Trojans, led by Hector, advanced relentlessly on the Greek positions even reaching the ships, which began to set fire; they would have succeeded but for the resistance of Ajax and the arrival of Patroclus.

In view of the danger, Achilles had let his companion Patroclus wear his armor and lead the troops into battle. The arrival of Patroclus gave new courage to the Greeks and they succeeded in driving the Trojans from the ships. However, Hector killed Patroclus and kept Achilles' armor after an arduous battle that had raged around Patroclus' lifeless body.

When news of what had happened reached him, Achilles swore revenge, killed Hector and dragged his body tied to his chariot around the walls of Troy three times. After holding funeral games in honor of Patroclus, Achilles was still grieving and continued to circle Hector's body three times each day around Patroclus' funeral pyre.

Finally Priam, accompanied by Hermes, went one night in person to beg him to return his son's body, whereupon he relented and agreed to a twelve-day truce for the duration of Hector's funeral.

Death of Achilles

Shortly after Hector's death, new allies came to the aid of the Trojans. Achilles defeated the Amazon Penthesilea (with whom he fell in love once he had already killed her) and Memnon of Ethiopia. After these events, Achilles was killed; either from an arrow in his heel shot by Paris and directed by Apollo; or in another version, directly by the god Apollo. Funeral games were held in his honor.

In another version quite different from the previous ones, Achilles was killed in an ambush laid by Paris with the help of his brother Deiphobus in the temple of Apollo Timbreo, where he arrived with the intention of arranging his marriage with one of Priam's daughters, Polyxena.

The death of Ajax and oracles about the outcome of the war.

Achilles' armor was a matter of dispute between Odysseus and Ajax. They competed for it, and Odysseus was the winner. Angered, Ajax swore to kill his companions but, because of a fit of madness that Athena had infused him, he began to kill cattle animals, thinking they were Greek soldiers. Later, after coming to his senses, he committed suicide.

Calcante prophesied that Troy could only be taken if they recovered the arrows of Herakles, which were in the possession of Philoctetes; Odysseus and Diomedes brought Philoctetes from Lemnos. His wound was cured by Podalirius. Philoctetes killed Paris with his arrows, thus avenging Achilles.

After the death of Paris, two other sons of Priam, Deiphobus and Helenus, disputed to be the new husband of Helen. Deiphobus was the chosen one and Helenus, outraged, withdrew from Troy and settled on Mount Ida.

Afterwards, Calcantius claimed that Helenus, who was also a soothsayer, knew the oracles that protected the city. So the Greeks captured him and forced him to say under what circumstances they could take Troy.

Helenus augured that for Troy to be taken it was necessary for them to bring back the bones of Pelops, to steal the Trojan statue of Pallas Athena (called Palladius) and for Neoptolemus, son of Achilles, to take part in the war. The Greeks succeeded in fulfilling all three conditions. Neoptolemus was on the island of Scyros, but the Greeks tracked him down.

The Trojan horse

The siege of Troy lasted ten years. The Greeks devised a new ruse, a large hollow wooden horse. It was built by Aepeus and occupied by Greek soldiers led by Odysseus. The rest of the Greek army pretended to leave and a Greek spy, Sinon, convinced the Trojans that the horse was an offering to Athena.

Despite the warnings of Laocoön and Cassandra, the Trojans brought the horse into the city and made a great celebration and, when the Greeks left the horse, the whole city was under a sleep of drink. The Greek warriors opened the gates of the city to allow the rest of the troops to enter and it was ruthlessly sacked.

Sack of Troy

During the sack, the Greeks massacred most of the Trojans and set fire to the city. Cassandra was outraged by Ajax the Lesser or dragged away by him while she was clinging to the statue of Athena.

Menelaus killed Deiphobus and recovered Helen. King Priam was killed by Neoptolemus on the altar of Zeus Herceus. Astianacte, son of Hector, was also killed by the Achaeans, who threw him from the top of a tower.

After the sack, the Greeks celebrated sacrifices to the gods. Some of the Trojan women left alive were enslaved: Neoptolemus obtained Hector's wife Andromache; Agamemnon obtained Cassandra; Queen Hecuba was part of the booty given to Odysseus. However, Laodice was swallowed by the earth. On the other hand, Polyxena was sacrificed on the tomb of Achilles.

Surviving Trojans

When Hecuba was held captive by the Greeks, she learned that her youngest son, Polydorus, had been murdered by King Polymnestor of Thrace. There are three versions of her death: the first, that she committed suicide out of despair; the second, that the Greeks murdered her; and the third, that the gods turned her into a bitch when they heard her howl for the death of her sons.

Three sisters of Priam who were also captives - Attila, Astiochus, and Medesicaste - set fire to the ships in which they were with the Greeks while they were near a river in Italy, which has since been called Naveto.

Since Antenor, Priam's brother-in-law, had been in favor of returning Helen to the Greeks, his life was spared along with his family. He then led a group of Trojans who settled on the shores of the Adriatic creating a new Troy. He is credited with the mythical foundation of Padua.

Helenus accompanied Neoptolemus and they marched on foot to the land of the Molossians. There he would have married Deidamia, mother of Neoptolemus or, when he died, Andromache. They reigned over a territory called Caonia.

Aeneas led a group of survivors, including his son Ascanius, the trumpeter Miseno, his father Anchises and the physician Yápige. His wife Creusa disappeared during the sack of the city. They fled Troy in several ships, seeking to settle in a new home.

They arrived in several nearby countries that were not hospitable, and finally it was prophesied that they should return to the land of their ancestors. They first tried Crete, which Dardanus had colonized, but found it ravaged by the same plague that had driven out Idomeneus.

They found the colony led by Helenus and Andromache, but refused to remain there. After seven years they reached Carthage, where Aeneas had an affair with Dido. Finally the gods ordered them to continue (Dido committed suicide), and they reached Italy.

Here a prophetess took him to the underworld and predicted the greatness of Rome, which would be founded by his people. He negotiated a settlement with the local king Latinus, and married his daughter Lavinia.

This triggered a war with other local tribes, but finally the settlement of Lavinius was founded. His son Ascanius (son of Aeneas or Creusa or Aeneas and Lavinia) founded Alba Longa. Three hundred years later, according to Roman myth, his descendants Romulus and Remus founded Rome.

Return of the Achaean survivors

Before leaving Troy there was a confrontation between Agamemnon and Menelaus because the former wanted to make sacrifices to Athena before leaving and the latter wanted to set sail immediately. Menelaus, Nestor and Diomedes were among those who immediately set out on their return.

Only a few of the Achaeans reached their homeland happily; some suffered great hardships or were expelled from their kingdoms upon arrival; others were shipwrecked and others sailed wandering for a time to different parts of the Mediterranean such as southern Anatolia, Libya, Thrace, Italy, Sicily, Cyprus and other islands, where they settled and founded cities.

According to the Odyssey, Menelaus' fleet was driven by storms to Crete and Egypt, from where they were unable to continue sailing due to the absence of winds. Menelaus had to trap Proteus, a sea deity, to find out what sacrifices to the gods they should make to ensure a safe passage.

Proteus also told Menelaus that he was destined for Elysium after his death. After several years of wandering, Menelaus was able to return to Sparta with Helen.

Odysseus, after ten years of travel (narrated in the Odyssey), reached Ithaca after twenty years (the ten years of the war and the ten years of return). During his voyage he was in the country of the Cicones, in the country of the Lotophagi, in the island of the Cyclops, the island of Aeolus, the country of the Lestrygonians, in the island of Circe, in the country of the Cimmerians, in the island of Calypso and finally in the country of the Phaeacians.

When he arrived in Ithaca, many pretenders to the throne who believed him dead engaged in a battle against Odysseus. Odysseus, aided by Telemachus, Eumaeus and Philetius, was able to kill the pretenders and regained his kingdom.

Ajax the Lesser died while making his return voyage to Socrates: Athena hurled a thunderbolt on his ship and Poseidon sank the rock on which Ajax had managed to cling.

Some of the Achaeans were victims of Nauplius' revenge: after failing to obtain compensation for the death of his son Palamedes, he had traveled around Greece inciting the wives of the Achaean warlords to commit adultery.

Moreover, when he learned of the return of the Greeks, Nauplius waved a torch that guided many ships to the cliffs of Cape Capereneus (in Euboea), where they crashed and were shipwrecked.

Idomeneo's ship was hit by a terrible storm. Idomeneus promised Poseidon that he would sacrifice the first living thing he saw when he returned home if he would save his ship and crew. The first living thing he saw was his son, so he sacrificed him.

This act triggered a plague and his own subjects drove him out. He made his way to Salentum in Italy, where he settled. According to another version, he was expelled from Crete by Leucus, who ruled part of Crete after murdering Idomeneus' wife and daughter.

Agamemnon returned to his home in Mycenae. His wife Clytemnestra had an affair with Aegisthus, son of Agamemnon's cousin Thiestes. Possibly as revenge for the death of Iphigenia, Clytemnestra conspired with her lover to kill Agamemnon.

Cassandra predicted this murder and warned Agamemnon, but he ignored her. He was killed at a banquet or in his bath, according to different versions. Cassandra was also killed. Agamemnon's son Orestes, who had been away, returned and conspired with his sister Electra to avenge his father.

They killed Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. Orestes married Hermione and retook Mycenae, becoming king of the entire Peloponnese.

Discussion of the historical background

In Antiquity

The ancient Greeks believed that the facts related by Homer were true. They believed that this war had taken place in the 13th century B.C. or in the 12th century B.C., as well as claiming that Troy was located near the Dardanelles strait in the northwest of the Anatolian peninsula.

Herodotus mentions the Persian version of the story, where the abduction of Helen by Paris (also called Alexander) leads to the Greek invasion being the first European interruption in Asia and the defeat of King Priam, before the Asians invaded Europe;

that is, not only did he consider war to be safe, but, according to the Persians, this was the original cause of the enmities between that people and the Greeks; Thucydides considered that Agamemnon led the Greeks because of his power as king of Mycenae.

However, some authors of antiquity questioned the veracity of some of the events recounted. Thucydides, in particular, considered the numbers of Achaean combatants given by Homer to be exaggerated and Dion of Prussia elaborated a speech in which he even argued that the victors of the war had actually been the Trojans.

In modern times

From 1870 onwards, the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann excavated the hill of Hisarlik, where the remains of a city were found that coincided with the position that Troy was considered to have occupied since antiquity. Since then, archaeological research has been carried out in an attempt to prove the historicity of the war.

Some historians believe that, of the ten stratigraphic layers of the city, Troy VI or Troy VII may have suffered a war that would be the historical core of the epic of the Trojan War.

The main arguments that have been provided in this sense are its chronology -the end of Troy VI took place around 1300-1250 BC, which would coincide with the apogee of the Mycenaean world, and the end of Troy VII-A around 1200-1180 BC-, its size and importance -from 1988 the lower city of Troy VI was found, protected by a defensive system- and the interpretation of some particular archaeological findings.

Other historical arguments have been added to the archaeological arguments, such as the presence of Troy in contemporary documents of the Hittite Empire, under the name of Wilusa.

However, although there is general agreement in identifying the Hittite Wilusa with Troy, the interpretation of the Hittite documents mentioning the city has been the subject of debate. It has been argued that such documents are not easily interpretable, neither with respect to their chronology nor for the understanding of the content and that, therefore, each author interprets them according to what suits him best to support his postulates.

On the other hand, with respect to the archaeological data, the indications show that the cause of the destruction of Troy VI is more likely to have been an earthquake, while the problem of identifying the war with the destruction of Troy VII-A is that it would coincide with the period of great instability in the Mycenaean world that involved the destruction of its palaces.

Another controversial aspect is the comparison between the world shown in the Homeric poems and the historical picture of the Mycenaean world that has been drawn from Linear B texts and Mycenaean archaeology.

Among the advocates of a historical Trojan War are the leading archaeologists who have directed excavations at Troy-Schliemann, Dörpfeld, Blegen, and Korfmann. Opposing them is a skeptical current of opinion led by Moses Finley who denies the presence of Mycenaean elements in the Homeric poems and points to the absence of archaeological evidence for the historicity of the myth.

Other leading scholars belonging to this skeptical current are the historian Frank Kolb and the archaeologist Dieter Hertel.

Joachim Latacz, in a study in which he relates archaeological sources, Hittite historical sources and Homeric passages such as the Catalogue of the Ships in Book II of the Iliad, considers the Mycenaean origin of the legend to be proven but, with respect to the historicity of the war, has been cautious and has only admitted that the existence of a historical substrate is probable.

Another position - advocated, among others, by Trevor Bryce - is that the Trojan War may have had a small historical core through a fusion of several attacks against Troy by the Bronze Age Greeks rather than one great siege.