In Greek mythology, the Trojan War was waged against the city of Troy by the Achaeans after Paris of Troy stole Helen from her husband Menelaus, the king of Sparta. The war is among the most important events in Greek mythology, and was narrated in many works of Greek literature, including the Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer. The Iliad relates a part of the last year of the siege of Troy, while the Odyssey describes the journey home of Odysseus, one of the Achaean leaders. Other parts of the war were told in a cycle of epic poems, which has only survived in fragments. Episodes from the war provided material for Greek tragedy and other works of Greek literature, and for Roman poets like Virgil and Ovid.
The war originated from a quarrel between the goddesses Athena, Hera and Aphrodite, after Eris, the goddess of strife and discord, gave them a golden apple, sometimes known as the Apple of Discord, marked "for the fairest". The goddesses went to Paris, who judged that Aphrodite, as the "fairest", should receive the apple. In exchange, Aphrodite made Helen, the most beautiful of all women, fall in love with Paris, who took her to Troy. Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and the brother of Helen's husband Menelaus, led an expedition of Achaean troops to Troy and besieged the city for ten years. After the deaths of many heroes, including the Achaeans Achilles and Ajax, and the Trojans Hector and Paris, the city fell to the ruse of the Trojan Horse. The Achaeans slaughtered the Trojans and desecrated the temples, thus earning the gods' wrath. Few of the Achaeans returned safely to their homes and many founded colonies in distant shores. The Romans later traced their origin to Aeneas, one of the Trojans, who was said to have led the surviving Trojans to modern day Italy.
The Ancient Greeks thought the Trojan War was a historical event that had taken place in the 13th or 12th century BC, and believed that Troy was located in modern day Turkey near the Dardanelles. By modern times both the war and the city were widely believed to be non-historical. In 1870, however, the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann excavated a site in this area which he identified as Troy; this claim is now accepted by most scholars. Whether there is any historical reality behind the Trojan War is an open question. Many scholars believe that there is a historical core to the tale, though this may simply mean that the Homeric stories are a fusion of various tales of sieges and expeditions by Mycenaean Greeks during the Bronze Age. Those who believe that the stories of the Trojan War derive from a specific historical conflict usually date it to the 12th or 11th centuries BC, often preferring the dates given by Eratosthenes, 1194–1184 BC, which roughly corresponds with archaeological evidence of a catastrophic burning of Troy VIIa.
Other parts of the Trojan War were told in the poems of the Epic Cycle, also known as the Cyclic Epics: the Cypria, Aethiopis, Little Iliad, Iliou Persis, Nostoi, and Telegony. Though these poems survive only in fragments, their content is known from a summary included in Proclus' Chrestomathy. The authorship of the Cyclic Epics is uncertain. It is generally thought that the poems were written down in the seventh and sixth century BC, after the composition of the Homeric poems, though it is widely believed that they were based on earlier traditions. Both the Homeric epics and the Epic Cycle take origin from oral tradition. Even after the composition of the Iliad, Odyssey, and the Cyclic Epics, the myths of the Trojan War were passed on orally, in many genres of poetry and through non-poetic storytelling. Events and details of the story that are only found in later authors may have been passed on through oral tradition and could be as old as the Homeric poems. Visual art, such as vase-painting, was another medium in which myths of the Trojan War circulated.
In later ages playwrights, historians, and other intellectuals would create works inspired by the Trojan War. The three great tragedians of Athens, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, wrote many dramas that portray episodes from the Trojan War. Among Roman writers the most important is the 1st century BC poet Virgil. In Book 2 of the Aeneid, Aeneas narrates the sack of Troy; this section of the poem is thought to rely on material from the Cyclic Epic Iliou Persis.
Zeus came to learn from either Themis or Prometheus, after Heracles had released him from Caucasus, that, like his father Cronus, one of his sons would overthrow him. Another prophecy stated that a son of the sea-nymph Thetis, with whom Zeus fell in love with after gazing upon her in the oceans off the Greek coast, would become greater than his father. Possibly for one or both of these reasons, Thetis was betrothed to an elderly human king, Peleus son of Aiakos, either upon Zeus' orders, or because she wished to please Hera, who had raised her. All of the gods were invited to Peleus and Thetis' wedding and brought gifts, except Eris ("Discord"), who was stopped at the door by Hermes, on Zeus' order. Insulted, she threw from the door a gift of her own: a golden apple (το μήλον της έριδος) on which were inscribed the words Tēi Kallistēi ("To the fairest"). The apple was claimed by Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. They quarreled bitterly over it, and none of the other gods would venture an opinion favoring one, for fear of earning the enmity of the other two. Eventually, Zeus ordered Hermes to lead the three goddesses to Paris, a prince of Troy, who, unaware of his ancestry, was being raised as a shepherd in Mount Ida, because of a prophecy that he would be the downfall of Troy. The goddesses appeared to him naked, and because he was unable to decide between them, they resorted to bribes. Athena offered Paris wisdom, skill in battle, and the abilities of the greatest warriors; Hera offered him political power and control of all of Asia, and Aphrodite offered him the love of the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Sparta. Paris awarded the apple to Aphrodite, and, after several adventures, returned to Troy, where he was recognized by his royal family.
Peleus and Thetis bore a son, whom they named Achilles. It was foretold that he would either die of old age after an uneventful life, or die young in a battlefield and gain immortality through poetry. Furthermore, when Achilles was nine years old, Calchas had prophesied that Troy could not again fall without his help. A number of sources credit Thetis with attempting to make Achilles immortal when he was an infant. Some of these state that she held him over fire every night to burn away his mortal parts and rubbed him with ambrosia during the day, but that Peleus discovered her actions and stopped them. According to some versions of this story, Thetis had already destroyed several sons in this manner, and Peleus' action therefore saved his son's life. Other sources state that Thetis bathed Achilles in the River Styx, the river that runs to the under world, making him invulnerable wherever he had touched the water. Because she had held him by the heel, that part remained a mortal not a god, hence the expressions "Achilles heel" for an isolated weakness. He grew up to be the greatest of all mortal warriors. After Calchas' prophesy, Thetis hid Achilles in Skyros at the court of king Lycomedes, where he was disguised as a girl.
The most beautiful woman in the world was Helen, one of the daughters of Tyndareus, king of Sparta. Her mother was Leda, who had been either raped or seduced by Zeus in the form of a swan. Accounts differ over which of Leda's four children, two pairs of twins, were fathered by Zeus and which by Tyndareus. However, Helen is usually credited as Zeus' daughter, and sometimes Nemesis is credited as her mother. Helen had scores of suitors, and her father was unwilling to choose one for fear the others would retaliate violently.
Finally, one of the suitors, Odysseus of Ithaca, proposed a plan to solve the dilemma. In exchange for Tyndareus' support of his own suit towards Penelope, he suggested that Tyndareus require all of Helen's suitors to promise that they would defend the marriage of Helen, regardless of whom he chose. The suitors duly swore the required oath on the severed pieces of a horse, although not without a certain amount of grumbling.
Tyndareus chose Menelaus. Menelaus was a political choice on her father's part. He had wealth and power. He had humbly not petitioned for her himself, but instead sent his brother Agamemnon on his behalf. He had promised Aphrodite a hecatomb, a sacrifice of 100 oxen, if he won Helen, but forgot about it and earned her wrath. Menelaus inherited Tyndareus' throne of Sparta with Helen as his queen when her brothers, Castor and Pollux, became gods, and when Agamemnon married Helen's sister Clytemnestra and took back the throne of Mycenae.
On a diplomatic mission to Sparta, Paris fell in love with Helen. Menelaus had left for Crete to bury his uncle, Crateus. Paris, with Aphrodite's help, kidnapped or seduced her and sailed to Troy carrying off part of Menelaus' treasure. Hera, still jealous over his judgement, sent a storm. The storm caused the lovers to land in Egypt, where the gods replaced Helen with a likeness of her made of clouds, Nephele. The myth of Helen being switched is attributed to the 6th century BC Sicilian poet Stesichorus. For Homer the true Helen was in Troy. The ship then landed in Sidon before reaching Troy. Paris, fearful of getting caught, spent some time there and then sailed to Troy.
Paris' abduction of Helen had several precedents. Io was taken from Mycenae, Europa was taken from Phoenicia, Jason took Medea from Colchis, and the Trojan princess Hesione had been taken by Heracles, who gave her to Telamon of Salamis. According to Herodotus, Paris was emboldened by these examples to steal himself a wife from Greece, and expected no retribution, since there had been none in the other cases.
Menelaus asked Agamemnon to uphold his oath. He agreed and sent emissaries to all the Achaean kings and princes to call them to observe their oaths and retrieve Helen.
At Scyros, Achilles had an affair with the king's daughter Deidamea, resulting in a child, Neoptolemus. Odysseus, Telamonian Ajax, and Achilles' tutor Phoenix went to retrieve Achilles. Achilles' mother disguised him as a woman so that he would not have to go to war, but, according to one story, they blew a horn, and Achilles revealed himself by seizing a spear to fight intruders, rather than fleeing. According to another story, they disguised themselves as merchants bearing trinkets and weaponry, and Achilles was marked out from the other women for admiring weaponry instead of clothes and jewelry.
Pausanias said that, according to Homer, Achilles did not hide in Scyros, but rather conquered the island, as part of the Trojan War.
Following a sacrifice to Apollo, a snake slithered from the altar to a sparrow's nest in a plane tree nearby. It ate the mother and her nine babies, then was turned to stone. Calchas interpreted this as a sign that Troy would fall in the tenth year of the war.
Telephus went to Aulis, and either pretended to be a beggar, asking Agamemnon to help heal his wound, or kidnapped Orestes and held him for ransom, demanding the wound be healed. Achilles refused, claiming to have no medical knowledge. Odysseus reasoned that the spear that had inflicted the wound must be able to heal it. Pieces of the spear were scraped off onto the wound, and Telephus was healed. Telephus then showed the Achaeans the route to Troy.
Some scholars have regarded the expedition against Telephus and its resolution as a derivative reworking of elements from the main story of the Trojan War, but it has also been seen as fitting the story-pattern of the "preliminary adventure" that anticipates events and themes from the main narrative, and therefore as likely to be "early and integral".
Eight years after the storm had scattered them, the fleet of more than a thousand ships was gathered again. But when they had all reached Aulis, the winds ceased. The prophet Calchas stated that the goddess Artemis was punishing Agamemnon for killing either a sacred deer or a deer in a sacred grove, and boasting that he was a better hunter than she. The only way to appease Artemis, he said, was to sacrifice Iphigenia, who was either the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, or of Helen and Theseus entrusted to Clytemnestra when Helen married Menelaus. Agamemnon refused, and the other commanders threatened to make Palamedes commander of the expedition. According to some versions, Agamemnon relented, but others claim that he sacrificed a deer in her place, or that at the last moment, Artemis took pity on the girl, and took her to be a maiden in one of her temples, substituting a lamb. Hesiod says that Iphigenia became the goddess Hecate.
The Achaean forces are described in detail in the Catalogue of Ships, in the second book of the Iliad. They consisted of 28 contingents from mainland Greece, the Peloponnese, the Dodecanese islands, Crete, and Ithaca, comprising 1178 pentekontoroi, ships with 50 rowers. Thucydides says that according to tradition there were about 1200 ships, and that the Boeotian ships had 120 men, while Philoctetes' ships only had the fifty rowers, these probably being maximum and minimum. These numbers would mean a total force of 70,000 to 130,000 men. Another catalogue of ships is given by Apollodorus that differs somewhat but agrees in numbers. Some scholars have claimed that Homer's catalogue is an original Bronze Age document, possibly the Achaean commander's order of operations. Others believe it was a fabrication of Homer.
The second book of the Iliad also lists the Trojan allies, consisting of the Trojans themselves, led by Hector, and various allies listed as Dardanians led by Aeneas, Zeleians, Adrasteians, Percotians, Pelasgians, Thracians, Ciconian spearmen, Paionian archers, Halizones, Mysians, Phrygians, Maeonians, Miletians, Lycians led by Sarpedon and Carians. Nothing is said of the Trojan language; the Carians are specifically said to be barbarian-speaking, and the allied contingents are said to have spoken multiple languages, requiring orders to be translated by their individual commanders. It should be noted, however, that the Trojans and Acheans in the Iliad share the same religion, same culture and the enemy heroes speak to each other in the same language, though this could be dramatic effect.
Philoctetes was Heracles' friend, and because he lit Heracles's funeral pyre when no one else would, he received Heracles' bow and arrows. He sailed with seven ships full of men to the Trojan War, where he was planning on fighting for the Acheans. They stopped either at Chryse for supplies, or in Tenedos, along with the rest of the fleet. Philoctetes was then bitten by a snake. The wound festered and had a foul smell; on Odysseus's advice, the Atreidae ordered Philoctetes to stay on Lemnos. Medon took control of Philoctetes's men. While landing on Tenedos, Achilles killed king Tenes, son of Apollo, despite a warning by his mother that if he did so he would be killed himself by Apollo. From Tenedos Agamemnon sent an embassy to Priam composed of Menelaus, Odysseus, and Palamedes asking for Helen's return. The embassy was refused.
Philoctetes stayed on Lemnos for ten years, which was a deserted island according to Sophocles' tragedy Philoctetes, but according to earlier tradition was populated by Minyans.
The Achaeans besieged Troy for nine years. This part of the war is the least developed among surviving sources, which prefer to talk about events in the last year of the war. After the initial landing the army was gathered in its entirety again only in the tenth year. Thucydides deduces that this was due to lack of money. They raided the Trojan allies and spent time farming the Thracian peninsula. Troy was never completely besieged, thus it maintained communications with the interior of Asia Minor. Reinforcements continued to come until the very end. The Acheans controlled only the entrance to the Dardanelles, and Troy and her allies controlled the shortest point at Abydos and Sestus and communicated with allies in Europe.
Achilles was the most active of the Achaeans. According to Homer, he conquered 11 cities and 12 islands. According to Apollodorus, he raided the land of Aeneas in the Troad region and stole his cattle. He also captured Lyrnassus, Pedasus, and many of the neighbouring cities, and killed Troilus, son of Priam, who was still a youth; it was said that if he reached 20 years of age, Troy would not fall. According to Apollodorus,
Kakrides comments that the list is wrong in that it extends too far into the south. Other sources talk of Achilles taking Pedasus, Monenia, Mythemna (in Lesbos), and Peisidice.
Among the loot from these cities was Briseis, from Lyrnessus, who was awarded to him, and Chryseis, from Hypoplacian Thebes, who was awarded to Agamemnon. Achilles captured Lycaon, son of Priam, while he was cutting branches in his father's orchards. Patroclus sold him as a slave in Lemnos, where he was bought by Eetion of Imbros and brought back to Troy. Only 12 days later Achilles slew him, after the death of Patroclus.
Numerous paintings on pottery have suggested a tale not mentioned in the literary traditions. At some point in the war Achilles and Ajax were playing a board game (petteia). They were absorbed in the game and oblivious to the surrounding battle. The Trojans attacked and reached the heroes, who were only saved by an intervention of Athena.
Odysseus had never forgiven Palamedes for threatening the life of his son. In revenge, Odysseus conceived a plot where an incriminating letter was forged, from Priam to Palamedes, and gold was planted in Palamedes' quarters. The letter and gold were "discovered", and Agamemnon had Palamedes stoned to death for treason.
However, Pausanias, quoting the Cypria, says that Odysseus and Diomedes drowned Palamedes, while he was fishing, and Dictys says that Odysseus and Diomedes lured Palamedes into a well, which they said contained gold, then stoned him to death.
Palamedes' father Nauplius sailed to the Troad and asked for justice, but was refused. In revenge, Nauplius traveled among the Achaean kingdoms and told the wives of the kings that they were bringing Trojan concubines to dethrone them. Many of the Greek wives were persuaded to betray their husbands, most significantly Agamemnon's wife, Clytemnestra, who was seduced by Aegisthus, son of Thyestes.
Chryses, a priest of Apollo and father of Chryseis, came to Agamemnon to ask for the return of his daughter. Agamemnon refused, and insulted Chryses, who prayed to Apollo to avenge his ill-treatment. Enraged, Apollo afflicted the Achaean army with plague. Agamemnon was forced to return Chryseis to end the plague, and took Achilles' concubine Briseis as his own. Enraged at the dishonor Agamemnon had inflicted upon him, Achilles decided he would no longer fight. He asked his mother, Thetis, to intercede with Zeus, who agreed to give the Trojans success in the absence of Achilles, the best warrior of the Achaeans.
After the withdrawal of Achilles, the Achaeans were initially successful. Both armies gathered in full for the first time since the landing. Menelaus and Paris fought a duel, which ended when Aphrodite snatched the beaten Paris from the field. With the truce broken, the armies began fighting again. Diomedes won great renown amongst the Achaeans, killing the Trojan hero Pandaros and nearly killing Aeneas, who was only saved by his mother, Aphrodite. With the assistance of Athena, Diomedes then wounded the gods Aphrodite and Ares. During the next days, however, the Trojans drove the Achaeans back to their camp and were stopped at the Achaean wall by Poseidon. The next day, though, with Zeus' help, the Trojans broke into the Achaean camp and were on the verge of setting fire to the Achaean ships. An earlier appeal to Achilles to return was rejected, but after Hector burned Protesilaus' ship, he allowed his close friend and relative Patroclus to go into battle wearing Achilles' armor and lead his army. Patroclus drove the Trojans all the way back to the walls of Troy, and was only prevented from storming the city by the intervention of Apollo. Patroclus was then killed by Hector, who took Achilles' armor from the body of Patroclus.
Achilles, maddened with grief, swore to kill Hector in revenge. He was reconciled with Agamemnon and received Briseis back, untouched by Agamemnon. He received a new set of arms, forged by the god Hephaestus, and returned to the battlefield. He slaughtered many Trojans, and nearly killed Aeneas, who was saved by Poseidon. Achilles fought with the river god Scamander, and a battle of the gods followed. The Trojan army returned to the city, except for Hector, who remained outside the walls because he was tricked by Athena. Achilles killed Hector, and afterwards he dragged Hector's body from his chariot and refused to return the body to the Trojans for burial. The Achaeans then conducted funeral games for Patroclus. Afterwards, Priam came to Achilles' tent, guided by Hermes, and asked Achilles to return Hector's body. The armies made a temporary truce to allow the burial of the dead. The Iliad ends with the funeral of Hector.
While they were away, Memnon of Ethiopia, son of Tithonus and Eos, came with his host to help his stepbrother Priam. He did not come directly from Ethiopia, but either from Susa in Persia, conquering all the peoples in between, or from the Caucasus, leading an army of Ethiopians and Indians. Like Achilles, he wore armor made by Hephaestus. In the ensuing battle, Memnon killed Antilochus, who took one of Memnon's blows to save his father Nestor. Achilles and Memnon then fought. Zeus weighed the fate of the two heroes; the weight containing that of Memnon sank, and he was slain by Achilles. Achilles chased the Trojans to their city, which he entered. The gods, seeing that he had killed too many of their children, decided that it was his time to die. He was killed after Paris shot a poisoned arrow that was guided by Apollo. In another version he was killed by a knife to the back (or heel) by Paris, while marrying Polyxena, daughter of Priam, in the temple of Thymbraean Apollo, the site where he had earlier killed Troilus. Both versions conspicuously deny the killer any sort of valour, saying Achilles remained undefeated on the battlefield. His bones were mingled with those of Patroclus, and funeral games were held. Like Ajax, he is represented as living after his death in the island of Leuke, at the mouth of the Danube River, where he is married to Helen.
A great battle raged around the dead Achilles. Ajax held back the Trojans, while Odysseus carried the body away. When Achilles' armour was offered to the smartest warrior, the two that had saved his body came forward as competitors. Agamemnon, unwilling to undertake the invidious duty of deciding between the two competitors, referred the dispute to the decision of the Trojan prisoners, inquiring of them which of the two heroes had done most harm to the Trojans. Alternatively, the Trojans and Pallas Athena were the judges in that, following Nestor's advice, spies were sent to the walls to overhear what was said. A girl said that Ajax was braver:
According to Pindar, the decision was made by secret ballot among the Acheans. In all story versions, the arms were awarded to Odysseus. Driven mad with grief, Ajax desired to kill his comrades, but Athena caused him to mistake the cattle and their herdsmen for the Achean warriors. In his frenzy he scourged two rams, believing them to be Agamemnon and Menelaus. In the morning, he came to his senses and killed himself by jumping on the sword that had been given to him by Hector, so that it pierced his armpit, his only vulnerable part. According to an older tradition, he was killed by the Trojans who, seeing he was invulnerable, attacked him with clay until he was covered by it and could no longer move, thus dying of starvation.
According to Apollodorus, Paris' brothers Helenus and Deiphobus vied over the hand of Helen. Deiphobus prevailed, and Helenus abandoned Troy for Mt. Ida. Chalcas said that Helenus knew the prophecies concerning the fall of Troy, so Odysseus waylaid Helenus. Under coercion, Helenus told the Acheans that they would win if they retrieved Pelops' bones, persuaded Achilles' son Neoptolemus to fight for them, and stole the Trojan Palladium.
The Greeks retrieved Pelop's bones, and sent Odysseus to retrieve Neoptolemus, who was hiding from the war in King Lycomedes's court in Scyros. Odysseus gave him his father's arms. Eurypylus, son of Telephus, leading, according to Homer, a large force of Kêteioi, or Hittites or Mysians according to Apollodorus, arrived to aid the Trojans. He killed Machaon and Peneleus, but was slain by Neoptolemus.
Disguised as a beggar, Odysseus went to spy inside Troy, but was recognized by Helen. Homesick, Helen plotted with Odysseus. Later, with Helen's help, Odysseus and Diomedes stole the Palladium.
The end of the war came with one final plan. Odysseus devised a new ruse—a giant hollow wooden horse, an animal that was sacred to the Trojans. It was built by Epeius and guided by Athena, from the wood of a cornel tree grove sacred to Apollo, with the inscription:
The hollow horse was filled with soldiers led by Odysseus. The rest of the army burned the camp and sailed for Tenedos.
When the Trojans discovered that the Greeks were gone, believing the war was over, they "joyfully dragged the horse inside the city", while they debated what to do with it. Some thought they ought to hurl it down from the rocks, others thought they should burn it, while others said they ought to dedicate it to Athena.
Both Cassandra and Laocoön warned against keeping the horse. While Cassandra had been given the gift of prophecy by Apollo, she was also cursed by Apollo to never be believed. Serpents then came out of the sea and devoured either Laocoön and one of his two sons, Laocoön and both his sons, or only his sons, a portent which so alarmed the followers of Aeneas that they withdrew to Ida. The Trojans decided to keep the horse and turned to a night of mad revelry and celebration. Sinon, an Achaean spy, signaled the fleet stationed at Tenedos when "it was midnight and the clear moon was rising and the soldiers from inside the horse emerged and killed the guards.
The Acheans entered the city and killed the sleeping population. A great massacre followed which continued into the day.
The Trojans, fuelled with desperation, fought back fiercely, despite being disorganized and leaderless. With the fighting at its height, some donned fallen enemies' attire and launched surprise counterattacks in the chaotic street fighting. Other defenders hurled down roof tiles and anything else heavy down on the rampaging attackers. The outlook was grim though, and eventually the remaining defenders were destroyed along with the whole city.
Neoptolemus killed Priam, who had taken refuge at the altar of Zeus of the Courtyard. Menelaus killed Deiphobus, Helen's husband after Paris' death, and also intended to kill Helen, but, overcome by her beauty, threw down his sword and took her to the ships.
Ajax the Lesser raped Cassandra on Athena's altar while she was clinging to her statue. Because of Ajax's impiety, the Acheaens, urged by Odysseus, wanted to stone him to death, but he fled to Athena's altar, and was spared.
Antenor, who had given hospitality to Menelaus and Odysseus when they asked for the return of Helen, and who had advocated so, was spared, along with his family. Aeneas took his father on his back and fled, and, according to Apollodorus, was allowed to go because of his piety.
The Greeks then burned the city and divided the spoils. Cassandra was awarded to Agamemnon. Neoptolemus got Andromache, wife of Hector, and Odysseus was given Hecuba, Priam's wife.
The Achaeans threw Hector's infant son Astyanax down from the walls of Troy, either out of cruelty and hate or to end the royal line, and the possibility of a son's revenge. They (by usual tradition Neoptolemus) also sacrificed the Trojan princess Polyxena on the grave of Achilles as demanded by his ghost, either as part of his spoil or because she had betrayed him.
The gods were very angry over the destruction of their temples and other sacrilegious acts by the Acheans, and decided that most would not return home. A storm fell on the returning fleet off Tenos island. Additionally, Nauplius, in revenge for the murder of his son Palamedes, set up false lights in Cape Caphereus (also known today as Cavo D'Oro, in Euboea) and many were shipwrecked.
Nestor, who had the best conduct in Troy and did not take part in the looting, was the only hero who had a fast and safe return. Those of his army that survived the war also reached home with him safely, but later left and colonised Metapontium in Southern Italy.
Ajax the Lesser, who had endured more than the others the wrath of the Gods, never returned. His ship was wrecked by a storm sent by Athena, who borrowed one of Zeus' thunderbolts and tore it to pieces. The crew managed to land in a rock, but Poseidon struck it, and Ajax fell in the sea and drowned. He was buried by Thetis in Myconos or Delos.
Teucer, son of Telamon and half-brother of Ajax, stood trial by his father for his half-brother's death. He was not allowed to land and was at sea near Phreattys in Peiraeus. He was acquitted of responsibility but found guilty of negligence because he did not return his dead body or his arms. He left with his army (who took their wives) and founded Salamis in Cyprus. The Athenians later created a political myth that his son left his kingdom to Theseus' sons (and not to Megara).
Neoptolemus, following the advice of Helenus, who accompanied him when he traveled over land, was always accompanied by Andromache. He met Odysseus and they buried Phoenix, Achilles' teacher, on the land of the Ciconians. They then conquered the land of the Molossians (Epirus) and had a child by Andromache, Molossus, to whom he later gave the throne. Thus the kings of Epirus claimed descendance from Achilles, and so did Alexander the Great, whose mother was of that royal house. Alexander the Great and the kings of Macedon also claimed descendance from Heracles. Helenus founded a city in Molossia and inhabited it, and Neoptolemus gave him his mother Deidamia as wife. After Peleus died he succeeded Phtia's throne. He had a feud with Orestes, son of Agamemnon, over Menelaus' daughter Hermione, and was killed in Delphi, where he was buried. In Roman myths, the kingdom of Phtia was taken over by Helenus, who married Andromache. They offered hospitality to other Trojan refugees, including Aeneas, who paid a visit there during his wanderings.
Diomedes was first thrown by a storm on the coast of Lycia, where he was to be sacrificed to Ares by king Lycus, but Callirrhoe, the king's daughter, took pity upon him, and assisted him in escaping. He then accidentally landed in Attica, in Phaleron. The Athenians, unaware that they were allies, attacked them. Many were killed, and Demophon took the Palladium. He finally landed in Argos, where he found his wife Aegialeia committing adultery. In disgust, he left for Aetolia. According to later traditions, he had some adventures and founded Canusium and Argyrippa in Southern Italy.
Philoctetes, due to a sedition, was driven from his city and emigrated to Italy, where he founded the cities of Petilia, Old Crimissa, and Chone, between Croton and Thurii. After making war on the Leucanians he founded there a sanctuary of Apollo the Wanderer, to whom also he dedicated his bow.
According to Homer, Idomeneus reached his house safe and sound. Another tradition later formed. After the war, Idomeneus's ship hit a horrible storm. Idomeneus promised Poseidon that he would sacrifice the first living thing he saw when he returned home if Poseidon would save his ship and crew. The first living thing he saw was his son, whom Idomeneus duly sacrificed. The gods were angry at his murder of his own son and they sent a plague to Crete. His people sent him into exile to Calabria in Italy, and then to Colophon, in Asia Minor, where he died. Among the lesser Acheans very few reached their homes.
According to the Odyssey, Menelaus's fleet was blown by storms to Crete and Egypt, where they were unable to sail away due to calm winds. Only five of his ships survived. Menelaus had to catch Proteus, a shape-shifting sea god, to find out what sacrifices to which gods he would have to make to guarantee safe passage. According to some stories the Helen who was taken by Paris was a fake, and the real Helen was in Egypt, where she was reunited with Menelaus. Proteus also told Menelaus that he was destined for Elysium (Heaven) after his death. Menelaus returned to Sparta with Helen eight years after he had left Troy.
Agamemnon returned home with Cassandra to Argos. His wife Clytemnestra (Helen's sister) was having an affair with Aegisthus, son of Thyestes, Agamemnon's cousin who had conquered Argos before Agamemnon himself retook it. Possibly out of vengeance for the death of Iphigenia, Clytemnestra plotted with her lover to kill Agamemnon. Cassandra foresaw this murder, and warned Agamemnon, but he disregarded her. He was killed, either at a feast or in his bath, 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 their father. He killed Clytemnestra and Aegisthus and succeeded to his father's throne.
Odysseus' ten year journey home to Ithaca was told in Homer's Odyssey. Odysseus and his men were blown far off course to lands unknown to the Achaeans; there Odysseus had many adventures, including the famous encounter with the Cyclops Polyphemus, and an audience with the seer Teiresias in Hades. On the island of Thrinacia, Odysseus' men ate the cattle sacred to the sun-god Helios. For this sacrilege Odysseus' ships were destroyed, and all his men perished. Odysseus had not eaten the cattle, and was allowed to live; he washed ashore on the island of Ogygia, and lived there with the nymph Calypso. After seven years, the gods decided to send Odysseus home; on a small raft, he sailed to Scheria, the home of the Phaeacians, who gave him passage to Ithaca.
Once in his home land, Odysseus traveled disguised as an old beggar. He was recognised by his dog, Argos, who died in his lap. He then discovered that his wife, Penelope, had been faithful to him during the 20 years he was absent, despite the countless suitors that were eating his food and spending his property. With the help of his son Telemachus, Athena, and Eumaeus, the swineherd, he killed all of them except Medon, who had been polite to Penelope, and Phemius, a local singer who had only been forced to help the suitors against Penelope. Penelope tested him and made sure it was him, and he forgave her. The next day the suitors' relatives tried to take revenge on him but they were stopped by Athena.
Aeneas led a group of survivors away from the city, including his son Ascanius, his trumpeter Misenus, father Anchises, the healer Iapyx, all the Lares, and Penates and Mimas as a guide. His wife Creusa was killed during the sack of the city. They fled Troy with a number of ships, seeking to establish a new homeland elsewhere. They landed in several nearby countries that proved inhospitable, and were finally told by a sibyl that they had to return to the land of their forebears. They first tried to establish themselves in Crete, where Dardanus had once settled, but found it ravaged by the same plague that had driven Idomeneus away. They found the colony led by Helenus and Andromache, but declined to remain. After seven years they arrived in Carthage, where Aeneas had an affair with Dido. Eventually the gods ordered him to continue onward (Dido committed suicide), and he and his people arrived at the mouth of the Tiber River in Italy. There, a sibyl took him to the underworld and foretold the majesty of Rome, which would be founded by his people. He negotiated a settlement with the local king, Lavinius, and was wed to his daughter, Lavinia. This triggered a war with other local tribes, which culminated in the founding of the settlement of Alba Longa, ruled by Aeneas and Lavinia's son Silvius. Three hundred years later, according to Roman myth, his descendants Romulus and Remus founded Rome. The details of the journey of Aeneas, his affair with Dido, and his settling in Italy are the subject of the Roman epic poem The Aeneid by Virgil. According to tradition, though Carthage was founded in 814 BC, so the true Aeneas, if he had ventured to the West he would have found little more than villages.
The glorious and rich city Homer describes was believed to be Troy VI by many twentieth century authors, destroyed in 1275 BC, probably by an earthquake. Its follower Troy VIIa, destroyed by fire at some point during the 1180s BC, was long considered a poorer city, but since the excavation campaign of 1988 it has risen to the most likely candidate.
See also: Historicity of the Iliad
The historicity of the Trojan War is still subject to debate. Most classical Greeks thought that the war was a historical event, but many believed that the Homeric poems had exaggerated the events to suit the demands of poetry. For instance, the historian Thucydides, who is known for his critical spirit, considers it a true event but doubts that 1,186 ships were sent to Troy. Euripides started changing Greek myths at will, including those of the Trojan War. Around 1870 it was generally agreed in Western Europe that the Trojan War never had happened and Troy never existed. Then Heinrich Schliemann discovered the ruins of Troy and of the Mycenaean cities of Greece. Today many scholars agree that the Trojan War is based on a historical core of a Greek expedition against the city of Illium, but few would argue that the Homeric poems faithfully represent the actual events of the war.
In November 2001, geologists John C. Kraft from the University of Delaware and John V. Luce from Trinity College, Dublin presented the results of investigations into the geology of the region that had started in 1977. The geologists compared the present geology with the landscapes and coastal features described in the Iliad and other classical sources, notably Strabo's Geographia. Their conclusion was that there is regularly a consistency between the location of Troy as identified by Schliemann (and other locations such as the Greek camp), the geological evidence, and descriptions of the topography and accounts of the battle in the Iliad.
In the twentieth century scholars have attempted to draw conclusions based on Hittite and Egyptian texts that date to the time of the Trojan War. While they give a general description of the political situation in the region at the time, their information on whether this particular conflict took place is limited. Andrew Dalby notes that while the Trojan War most likely did take place in some form and is therefore grounded in history, its true nature is and will be unknown. Hittite archives, like the Tawagalawa letter mention of a kingdom of Ahhiyawa (Achaea, or Greece) that lies beyond the sea (that would be the Aegean) and controls Milliwanda, which is identified with Miletus. Also mentioned in this and other letters is the Assuwa confederation made of 22 cities and countries which included the city of Wilusa (Ilios or Ilium). The Milawata letter implies this city lies on the north of the Assuwa confederation, beyond the Seha river. While the identification of Wilusa with Ilium, that is Troy, is always controversial in the 1990s it gained majority acceptance. In the Alaksandu treaty (ca. 1280 BC) the king of the city is named Alakasandu, and it must be noted that Paris' son of Priam's name in the Iliad (among other works) is Alexander. The Tawagalawa letter (dated ca. 1250 BC) which is addressed to the king of Ahhiyawa actually says:
Formerly under the Hittites, the Assuwa confederation defected after the battle of Kadesh between Egypt and the Hittites (ca. 1274 BC). In 1230 BC Hittite king Tudhaliya IV (ca. 1240–1210 BC) campaigned against this federation. Under Arnuwanda III (ca. 1210–1205 BC) the Hittites were forced to abandon the lands they controlled in the coast of the Aegean. It is possible that the Trojan War was a conflict between the king of Ahhiyawa and the Assuwa confederation. This view has been supported in that the entire war includes the landing in Mysia (and Telephus' wounding), Achille's campaigns in the North Aegean and Telamonian Ajax's campaigns in Thrace and Phrygia. Most of these regions were part of Assuwa. It has also been noted that there is great similarity between the names of the Sea Peoples, which at that time were raiding Egypt, as they are listed by Ramesses III and Merneptah, and of the allies of the Trojans.
That most Achean heroes did not return to their homes and founded colonies elsewhere was interpreted by Thucydides as being due to their long absence. Nowadays the interpretation followed by most scholars is that the Achean leaders driven out of their lands by the turmoil at the end of the Mycenean era preferred to claim descendance from exiles of the Trojan War.
Films based on the Trojan War include Troy (2004). The war has also been featured in many books, television series, and other creative works.
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