The Trojan War

27 The Greeks

Achilles, youthful and wearing a plumed helm and armour, sits and bandages the arm of Patroclus. Patroclus wears armour and a rounded cap, and is bearded.
Achilles and Patroclus, red-figure kylix, ca. 500 BCE (Altes Museum, Berlin)

The Gods

The gods that choose to side with the Greeks were Hera, Athena, Poseidon, Hephaestus, and Thetis. The reasons for this were various. Hera and Athena swore vengeance against Paris after he decreed that Aphrodite was more beautiful than them; Thetis’ only son, Achilles, fought for the Greeks; and Poseidon and Hephaestus’ choices are never clearly explained.


Agamemnon sits on a throne, holding a spear and wearing a himation. Chryses, in elaborate robes, kneels before Agamemnon and grabs at his knees. Other figures stand and sit around the scene.
Agamemnon and Chryses, red-figure krater, ca. 360 BCE (Louvre Museum, Paris)

Eldest son of Atreus, king of Mycenae, brother of Menelaos, and supreme leader of the Greek expedition. His enslavement of the daughter of the priest of Apollo, Chryses, is the action that sets in motion both the pestilence that opens the Iliad, and Achilles’ refusal to participate into battle for most of the last year of the siege.


Menelaus chases Helen, while another woman flees in the other direction. Menelaus wears Greek armour with a helm and shield, and drops his sword in surprise. Helen wears a himation, and is turned back to look at Menelaus.
Menelaus chases Helen, red-figure amphora, ca. 450 BCE (British Museum, London)

Youngest son of Atreus, king of Sparta, brother of Agamemnon, and husband of Helen. His attempt to conclude the war with a single combat against Paris is nullified when Paris is spirited away by Aphrodite. At the end of the war he does not kill Helen, as other leaders had encouraged him to, but takes her back home instead.



Achilles and Ajax sit across from each other a small table, playing a game. Both are bearded and carry spears and wear floral-patterned tunics and greaves. Achilles wears his helm, while Ajax wears a rounded cap.
Achilles and Ajax, black-figure amphora, ca. 540 BCE (Museo Gregoriano Etrusco, Vatican City)

Demigod, son of Peleus and the Nereid Thetis, leader of the Myrmidons, the strongest and most feared of the Greeks. His second set of armour and weapons, forged for him by Hephaestus himself, including a fabulous round shield, becomes a coveted prize for the other Greek leaders after his death.


Ajax, carrying a painted shield, carries the body of Achilles over his back. Achilles wears full helm and armour, and has a shield decorated with a gorgoneion.
Ajax carrying Achilles, black-figure amphora, ca. 540 BCE (Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich)


Patroclus lies nude on the ground, wounded. Diomedes and Ajax fight against Aeneas and Hippasos. All the warriors have spears, armour, and round shields.
Death of Patroclus (with Diomedes, Ajax, Aeneas, and Hippasos), red-figure kylix, ca. 500 BCE (Altes Museum, Berlin)

Son of Menoetius, exiled to Phthia after killing a man. Probable lover of Achilles (although never explicitly stated in the Iliad) and commander-in-second of the Myrmidons, he offers to join the battle pretending to be Achilles and wearing his armour and is killed by Hector with the help of Apollo.


Top and bottom rows: Animals, including a lion and antelope, in procession. Middle row: Three horses pulling a chariot, and stands filled with cheering crowds.
Funerary games of Patroclus, black-figure dinos, ca. 580 BCE (National Archaeological Museum, Athens)

Ajax the Greater

Ajax, on one knee in an archaic running pose, holds the body of Achilles over his shoulders. Achilles is nude and unarmoured. Ajax wears only a plumed helm and greaves.
Ajax carrying Achilles, black-figure krater, ca. 575 BCE, François Vase (National Archaeological Museum, Florence)

Son of Telamon, prince of Salamis, the mightiest of the Greeks (he is often referred to as ‘bulwark of the Achaeans’). Bears a giant tower shield made of seven layers of oxhides and bronze which he uses to protect himself and his half-brother, the bowman Teucer.


Odysseus, nude and bearded. He is seated on a pile of stones and holds a knife.
Odysseus, red-figure krater, 4th century BCE (Cabinet des Médailles, Paris)

King of the small kingdom of Ithaca, renowned for his cunning ways, devious mind, and archery skills. He is the one who devises the stratagem of the Trojan Horse (with the help of Epeius and Athena), and obtains the armour of Achilles after the latter’s death.

For further discussion of Odysseus, see chapter 30.


Odysseus slits the throat of a Thracian warrior, who lies on the ground. Figures of horses and plants surround the scene.
Odysseus kills one of Rhesus’ guards, black-figure amphora (front), ca. 540 BCE (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)
Three horses, two black and one white. Sleeping figures lie on the ground, and plants adorn the scene.
Odysseus and Diomedes steal the horses of Rhesus, black-figure amphora (left profile), ca. 540 BCE (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)


Odysseus, wearing a Phrygian cap, chlamys cape, and tunic, leads two horses.
Odysseus stealing the horses of Rhesus, red-figure krater, ca. 430 BCE (Altes Museum, Berlin)


Diomedes passes a shield to Glaucus. Diomedes wears tunic-like Greek armour and a helm, while Glaucus wears a patterned tunic, headdress, and leggings. Both carry spears.
Diomedes (left) and Glaucus (right), red-figure pelike, ca. 420 BCE (Museo Archeologico Regionale, Gela)

Son of the famed warrior Tydeus, he is one of the youngest Greek leaders, and the most feared after Achilles. Greatly favoured by Athena, who allows him to spot the gods on the battlefield, he is often the partner in crime of Odysseus, with whom he steals the horses of king Rhesus and the sacred Palladion.


Diomedes slits the throat of Rhesus, who lies on the ground. Figures of horses and plants adorn the scene, and two more bodies lie sleeping on the ground.
Diomedes kills Rhesus, black-figure amphora (back), ca. 540 BCE (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)
Two horses, one in black and one in red. Sleeping figures lie on the ground.
Diomedes and Odysseus steal the horses of Rhesus, black-figure amphora (right profile), ca. 540 BCE (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)


Diomedes, in chlamys cape and conical Phrygian cap, holds a knife and reaches out to stab the sleeping rhesus. A Thracian lies dead on the ground behind Diomedes, and Athena stands by. Two seated women frame the scene on either side.
Diomedes kills Rhesus, red-figure krater, ca. 430 BCE (Altes Museum, Berlin)


Neoptolemus, wearing a plumed helm and armour and carrying a shield, stands over Priam. Priam, wearing a himation and no armour, stumbles backwards onto an altar with an arm thrown up over his head. Neoptolemus wields a small child like a weapon to attack Priam.
Neoptolemus and Priam, black-figure amphora, ca. 520 BCE (Louvre Museum, Paris)

Young son of Achilles, taken to Troy after his father’s demise. Once the city falls, he commits dreadfully violent acts against the royal family and the rest of the citizens, and personally sacrifices princess Polyxena on his father’s tomb.


Neoptolemus, in full Greek arm and armour, stabs at Priam. Priam sits on an Altar and looks away from Neoptolemus. Hecuba stands behind him with her arms around him.
Neoptolemus kills Priam, red-figure amphora, ca. 500 BCE (Metropolitan Museum, New York)
Neoptolemus, in helm and armour, kicks Priam to the ground and stabs at him with a spear. Priam stumbles backwards onto an altar. Two women stand on either side, one (possibly Hecuba) is veiled.
Neoptolemus killing Priam, black-figure amphora, ca. 520 BCE (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden)



Three warriors hold Polyxena, a young woman, over an altar. Neoptolemus, labelled, stabs her neck with a knife and blood pours out. Other Greek warriors watch.
Sacrifice of Polyxena, black-figure amphora, 550 BCE (British Museum, London)

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