Trojan War: the 10-year-long, bloody war between Troy and Greece

The Trojan War in Greek mythology refers to the bloody conflict that erupted between the city of Troy and the Greeks (the Achaeans) sometime in the late Bronze Age.

In terms of it being the stage for the exhibition of some of the greatest heroes in Greek mythology, the Trojan War simply has no contender. This 10-year bloody war is also perhaps the most notable event in ancient Greek mythology, after the Titanomachy.

The war witnessed the deaths of many great heroes on both sides, including the likes of Achilles, Patroclus, Sarpedon, and Hector. This explains why the stories and episodes of the Trojan War were commonly depicted in many literary and artistic works of ancient Greeks and Romans, most notably by Homer, Ovid, and Virgil.

What else was the Trojan War in Greek mythology most known for? What triggered the Trojan War?

Below WHE explores the various myths surrounding the Trojan War. It also includes the key players that fought in the war as well as the outcome of the war.

Events before the War

It began with Eris, the goddess of discord and strife, sowing a little bit of conflict among Greek goddesses Hera, Aphrodite and Athena. Filled with spite for not being invited to the wedding of the sea nymph Thetis and Peleus, Eris gatecrashed the wedding.

The goddess of discord had not been invited because everywhere she went she obviously planted discord, as her name rightly suggests in Roman mythology, i.e. Discordia.

Eris’ Apple of Discord

No sooner had Eris entered the wedding ceremony than did everyone’s mood sink. The goddess was known for having a cloud of gloom and darkness hanging above her head everywhere she went. It will be an understatement to say that Eris was despised by the gods. Fully aware of this, Eris took out a golden apple from her pouch and threw it into the ceremony. On the golden apple was inscribed the sentence “For the most beautiful one”.

Eris (Roman Discordia) is the daughter of Nyx (Night). | Image: Eris on an Attic plate, ca. 575–525 BC

Upon reading the inscription, three goddesses in the ceremony – Hera, Aphrodite and Athena – began quarreling bitterly over Eris’ apple, with each of the goddesses claiming to be the “most beautiful one”.

Because those three goddesses were very important goddesses and members of the Olympians Zeus and a number of other Greek gods began to get worried that the quarrel would spiral out into a heated conflict that would see other deities begin to take sides.

The last thing Zeus and other Olympians wanted was a war among the gods. Therefore Zeus stepped in; however he could not act as an arbiter of the case due to his direct relationship with two of the goddesses – Zeus is the husband of Hera and the father of Athena. So what did Zeus do instead? He appointed the mortal Trojan Prince Paris of Troy to judge the case.

The Judgement of Paris

Prince Paris of Troy was a young, handsome man known by both mortals and gods as a very fair and honorable person. On many occasions he had served as an arbitrator for very serious conflicts involving mortals and even gods.

Therefore, Zeus’ decision to pick Paris to decide which of the goddesses got the apple was not misplaced. The three goddesses submitted their cases to Paris, who by then was tending his herd of sheep in the field.

Paris was appointed as judge of the case because the young Trojan prince was known as the bastion fairness and honor.

In an attempt to make their claim stronger, the three goddesses resorted to bribing and seducing Paris. All three of the goddesses stripped naked. When that failed to work, Hera, the Queen of Mount Olympus, promised to give Paris immense political power, making him the ruler of Asia Minor and Europe, if he ruled in her favor.

Athena, the goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare, tried to bribe Paris with the promise of boundless wisdom and battle prowess.

Finally, Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, love and sex, promised the young Trojan prince the most beautiful woman in the world.

Now, Paris, a prince of Troy, most likely was familiar with the first two offers. He’d tasted power, plus he was already fairly wise for someone his age. Therefore, the third offer, the one from Aphrodite, seemed to him the most appealing. So Paris went with Aphrodite, naming the goddess of love and sex the “Fairest One”.

Helen – wife of Menelaus, the king of Sparta

Helen of Troy – the daughter of Leda, Queen of Sparta, and Zeus – was regarded as the most beautiful woman in the world.

In the myth, Helen is described as the most beautiful mortal woman in the world. She was the wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta. Bound by her word, Aphrodite had to come through on her promise. Therefore, she made Helen fall head over heels with Paris. It also happened that at that time Paris was attending a state dinner that was organized by Menelaus. When Paris was leaving Greece, he abducted Helen and took her back to the city of Troy.

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The Abduction of Helen (1530–39) by Francesco Primaticcio, with Aphrodite directing

The Greek alliance

Upon discovering the dishonor that was thrown at him, a furious Menelaus readied his army and ships to sail to Troy and punish Paris for his insolence and betrayal. Menelaus also called upon all his allies – kings and princes of Greece to sail with him to restore his honor.

One of the first persons to respond to Menelaus’ call was his brother Agamemnon, King of Mycenae. Agamemnon had several brave fighters in his Achaean army. King Odysseus of Ithaca also responded to the call of his ally Menelaus. And so, an alliance of Greek city-states and kingdoms sailed to Troy, beginning the 10-year siege of Troy.

The Greeks were led by Agamemnon, King of Mycenae; while the Trojans were led by Priam, King of Troy. Image: Mask of Agamemnon, which was discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876 at Mycenae (present day north-eastern Peloponnese, Greece)

According to the ancient sources, the Greeks sailed over a thousand ships to the shores of Troy. In addition to ships from Sparta and Mycenae, ships and troops from Greek regions like Athens, Argos, Corinth, Arcadia, Crete, Rhodes, Magnesia, and the Cyclades joined the Greek alliance.

Greek warriors that fought in the Trojan War

The Greeks had many fierce warriors and demigods in their camp. They had the likes of: Achilles, Odysseus, Ajax, Diomedes, Menestheus, Patroclus, and Diomedes.

In addition to the above warriors, the Greeks’ war efforts were boosted by the direct and indirect help of Greek gods and goddesses such as Athena, Hera, Poseidon, Hermes, Hephaestus, and Thetis.

The Trojan alliance

On the Trojan side, the King Priam of Troy called on the support of cities such as the Lycians, Mysians, Thracians, Pelasgians, Kaukones, Halizones, and Carians, among others. Troy also received the support of troops from King Memnon of Ethiopia in North Africa, and Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons.

In the Trojan ranks, they had brave warriors like Commander and Trojan Prince Hector, Prince Paris, Aeneas, Glaucus, Rhesos, Sarpedon, Poulydamas, and Phorkys.

The Greek gods that aligned with the Trojans included Zeus, Apollo, Ares, Aphrodite, Scamander, and Leto.

Achilles’ grudge with Agamemnon

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Achilles withdrew from the battle after a dispute between him and Agamemnon erupted. The dispute was over Achilles’ concubine, Briseis, who had been taken by Agamemnon as replacement for the concubine Chryseis he had lost. Image: Achilles’ surrender of Briseis to Agamemnon, from the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii, fresco, 1st century AD, now in the National Archaeological Museum, Naples

Achilles, the Greeks most skilled warrior, is said to have gotten in a bit of confrontation with King Agamemnon after the king seized one of his concubines, Briseis.

Briseis was the wife of Prince Mynes, a son of the king of Lyrnessus. She came to be a slave of Achilles after the Greek hero and his men sacked her city. Achilles also killed Briseis’ parents and brothers.

Achilles vowed not to fight for Agamemnon until the king returned Briseis to him. Achilles’ withdrawal from the battle significantly reduced the morale in the camp. Achilles also asked his mother Thetis to ask the gods to turn the tide against the Greeks. The dispute between Agamemnon and Achilles continued as the former did not want to appear as if he received instructions from the latter.

It was not until the death of his closest friend and companion Patroclus did Achilles decide to reenter the battle. Achilles only picked up his sword because he wanted to avenge the death of Patroclus, who had been killed by Trojan warrior Hector.

Menelaus-Paris duel

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Menelaus rallied many Greek city-states to sail to the city of Troy and avenge the impudence thrown at him by Trojan Prince Paris.

At some point in the Trojan War, it was decided that the best way to resolve the conflict was to have the two main characters – Menelaus and Prince Paris – duel. It was more or less like the winner-takes-it-all situation. In the duel, King Menelaus proved a more skilled fighter, and he defeated Paris. However, just as he was about to strike Paris down, Aphrodite swooped in and rescued the exhausted Trojan prince. There was certainly a great deal of outrage from the Greek camp.

Hector and Ajax single combat

The duel between Trojan Prince Hector and Greek hero Ajax was an epic one. The two combatants were regarded in their respective cities as elite and fierce fighters. The two men fought all day, with both men proving evenly matched. And come night, the fight had to be halted. Hector and Ajax even exchanged friendly gestures as they both were of immense admiration for the each other’s fighting prowess. Hector gifted Ajax his silver-coated handle sword, while Ajax gave Hector a purple belt.

The death of Patroclus

The death of Patroclus was one of the most key events of the Trojan War. In so many ways, Patroclus’ death turned around the fortunes of the Greeks.

Patroclus was Achilles closest friend and companion. The two fought side by side in many battles. Achilles even considered Patroclus as a brother. Therefore it came as no surprise Achilles put aside his differences with King Agamemnon and then re-joined the war. How did Patroclus die?

Achilles tending the wounded Patroclus

With help from Zeus, the Trojans were able to breech the Achaean defenses, forcing the Achaeans to hang on desperately. The Greeks pleaded and pleaded with Achilles to join the fray so that the Trojans could be repelled. Achilles refused outright; instead he allowed Patroclus to take his armor and sword and then lead the Myrmidons, a fierce group of soldiers commanded by Achilles. According to Homer, Patroclus’ disguise worked brilliantly, as the Greeks’ spirits were lifted. The young warrior led the Myrmidons in driving the Trojans back to their walls.

Perhaps carried away by the gains that the Greeks had made, Patroclus tried to storm the walls of Troy. It was in this moment that Apollo stepped in to defend the Trojans. Apollo removed the military skills of Patroclus, allowing the Greek hero to be stabbed by Euphorbos and then later killed by Hector.

Achilles-Hector duel

Achilles versus Hector

Achilles is said to have grieved severely over the death of his best friend, Patroclus. The Greek warrior then vowed to avenge the death of Patroclus by killing Hector. Patroclus’ death was also a blessing in disguise for Agamemnon, as it caused Achilles to reenter the war.

To carry out his revenge, his mother, Thetis, presented him with new sword and armor that were forged by Hephaestus himself. Driven by revenge, Achilles killed scores of Trojan warriors until he was able to set up a duel with Hector.

Achilles chased the startled Hector three times around the walls of Troy. Hector’s run of good form came to an end when he faced the demigod and Greek hero Achilles. In what was perhaps the most famous duel in Greek mythology, Achilles, with the slight help of Athena, narrowly defeats Hector.

Just before Hector dies, he pleads with Achilles to return his body to Troy so that he can be given an honorable funeral. However, Achilles blatantly refuses, vowing to feed Hector’s corpse to vultures and dogs. Hector also prophesies that Achilles was bound to die after him.

Still reeling from the loss of his dear friend Patroclus, an enraged Achilles attaches Hector’s body with a girdle and dragged the corpse of the fallen Trojan hero all the way to his camp.

In the days that followed, Achilles completely desecrates the body of Hector, leaving it to elements and the vultures. In spite of all that, the corpse remains well preserved kind courtesy to the intervention of Apollo and Aphrodite, two of the major Greek deities that supported the Trojans during the Trojan War.

Ultimately, Achilles grants the Trojans a twelve-day ceasefire that would allow the Trojans properly bury, honor and mourn their greatest hero.

Homer’s Iliad was full of praise for the fallen Trojan hero, describing Hector as the ideal warrior who devoted his entire life to the defense of his people.

Achilles killed Trojan hero Hector to avenge the death of his great friend Patroclus | Image: Triumphant Achilles dragging Hector’s body around Troy, from a panoramic fresco of the Achilleion

Achilles and Penthesilea, the Queen of the Amazons

In order to atone for the despicable crime of killing her sister Hippolyte, Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons, journeyed to Troy, where she was cleansed by King Priam. She also committed her and her warriors to fighting on the side of the Trojans. Penthesilea and her Amazon warriors killed many Greek soldiers, shifting the tide in the favor of the Trojans.

Penthesilea was ultimately halted in her tracks when she faced Achilles. In one account, the Amazon queen was killed by Achilles, who later got infatuated by Penthesilea’s beauty.

The death of Achilles

Achilles’ death came not long after he killed Memnon, the King of Ethiopia and an ally of the Trojans. It was in the prophecy that the Memnon’s death would be followed by Achilles’ death. So it beats the imagination why Achilles accepted to duel with Memnon.

After slaying Memnon, Achilles sensed the time was right to make his way into the city of Troy. He chased the Trojans beyond the walls and it was in that moment that Trojan Prince Paris shot him with a poisoned arrow. Greek god Apollo purposely steered the arrow to Achilles’ only vulnerable spot – Achilles’ heel.

A different version of the story states that Achilles was taken down (by Paris) while he was marrying Princess Polyxena, daughter of King Priam, in Apollo’s temple.

The death of Achilles was very much mourned by the Acheans, who held funeral games in the slain warrior’s honor.

The death of Ajax

Suicide of Ajax

Greek hero Ajax committed suicide by falling on his sword. Image: Exekias’s vase depicting the suicide of Ajax

After Achilles death, his armor was given to Odysseus, who was considered by many as the bravest warrior at the time. This infuriated Ajax, who was coveting the armor. In one version, a crazed Ajax proceeded to commit suicide by jumping on his sword – a weapon he had received from Hector.

In a different account, Ajax was killed by the Trojans, who pelted him with clay until he got submerged in it. This was done because Ajax could not be killed with any weapon as he his entire body, bar his armpit, was invulnerable.

The death of Paris

In the days leading to ultimate capitualation of Troy, Prince Paris, one of the city’s last defenders, was killed. Paris was killed by Greek hero Philocthetes, son of King Poeas of Meliboea. A very skilled archer, Philocthetes shoots an arrow from the bow of Heracles straight into Paris, killing the Trojan prince.

The Trojan Horse

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The Trojan horse was a giant wooden horse left behind by the Greeks for the Trojans. Image: Detail from The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy by Domenico Tiepolo (1773), inspired by Virgil’s Aeneid

With the city of Troy’s defense proving impenetrable for many, many years, Odysseus came up with a brilliant plan. The plan came at the right time because Greek soldiers were at the time getting very fatigued and desired to pack up and go home.

Odysseus suggested to the Greek military leaders to build a gargantuan hollow wooden horse, which would be filled with the best of Greek fighters. Once completed, the wooden horse was left on the shores on the Greek camp. The remaining Greek soldiers then left the shores in order to give the Trojans the impression that they had abandoned their war effort. On the wooden horse, the Greeks inscribed the sentence “The Greek honor Athena with this offering”. The Trojans completely fell for the bait and pulled the wooden horse straight into their city in order to dedicate it to Athena.

Suggestion to burn the wooden horse was shot down by leading Trojan military commanders. This came in spite of Princess Cassandra and Trojan priest Laocoön’s stern warning to not bring the horse into the city. In the case of Cassandra, who had the gift of prophecy, the princess had a curse on her which made everyone not believe her prophecies.

Jubilant over the departure of the Greeks, the Trojans made merry all night, drinking themselves to wild abandon. When the Trojans were all intoxicated and their guard let down, a Greek spy called Sinon sent message to the Greek soldiers that were camped quietly at Tenedos. The soldiers in the horse snuck out and killed the few Trojan soldiers that were on guard duties. The Greek warriors then opened the gates of Troy, allowing their compatriots to enter the city unimpeded.

The burning and sacking of Troy

Once the Greek soldiers had made their way into the city, a killing spree ensued. Everything in their path was destroyed – homes, temples, markets, and palaces were set ablaze. The Trojans, who were still hanged over from the previous night of drinking and partying, could not much of a defense. And so the city of Troy was thoroughly sacked. King Priam and a good number of his senior officials were killed by Neoptolemus, son of Achilles. The few Trojans that survived, mostly women and children, were enslaved, tortured and raped. Also Deiphobus, son of King Priam and second husband of Helen, was killed by Menelaus.

Helen was later captured by Menelaus and placed on the Greek ships. Princess Cassandra, who had been raped by Ajax the Lesser, was taken prisoner by Agamemnon. The wife of Hector, Andromache, went to Neoptolemus. Hector’s infant son was killed by the Greeks as well. Princess Polyxena was also killed.

The few Trojan defenders, like Aeneas, could not contend with the onslaught of the Greeks. This forced some of them to flee the burning city.

The Wrath of the Gods

No one expected the invading Greeks to inflict upon the city of Troy that level of devastation. The Greeks gods, who were taken aback by Greeks sacking of temples, decided to punish the perpetrators. The gods sent a powerful storm to wreck the ship of the culprits, preventing them from returning home. For example, the gods punished Ajax the Lesser for raping Cassandra.  Domedes was visited by a powerful storm from the gods, causing his boat to stray off course to the coast of Lycia, where was killed.

During the sack of Troy, the Greeks committed unspeakable acts of violence, with many outright sacrilegious acts, including the rape of Cassandra, the daughter of King Priam and the priestess of Apollo. Therefore, the gods sent terrible storms to wreak havoc on the Greeks that were returning home. A series of disaster and bad luck followed the few that braced the storms and finally make it home. For example Agamemnon was killed by his cousin Aegisthus, who was the lover of his cheating wife Clytemnestra. Image: The Burning of Troy (1759-62), oil painting by Johann Georg Trautmann

What caused the Trojan War?

Below are four major causes of the Trojan War:

Aphrodite’s wrath

Ever wonder why Aphrodite chose Helen, the wife of Menelaus, to be the woman to fall in love with Paris? Aside the obvious fact the Helen was extremely beautiful, Aphrodite chose Helen as a kind of punishment to Menelaus. Before winning Helen’s hand in marriage, Menelaus promised to shower Aphrodite with a huge sacrifice (sacrifice of 100 oxen), if his proposal to Helen was accepted by King Tyndareaus of Sparta. For reasons unknown, Menelaus failed to follow through on his promise. It’s safe to say that the goddess of beauty and love was far from pleased with Menelaus.

To make Helen fall in love with Paris, Aphrodite ordered her son Eros (Roman Cupid), the god of love and sex, to shoot his golden-tipped arrow at Helen. Helen thus fell madly in love with the Trojan prince.

The forced marriage between sea nymph Thetis and Peleus

A close look at the story and one cannot help but notice how instrumental the marriage between the seas nymph Thetis and Peleus in triggering the Trojan War.

Thetis, one of the 50 Nereids, was the daughter of the sea god Nereus and Doris. Through her father Nereus, Thetis was thus the granddaughter of Gaia. The wedding between Thetis and Peleus is believed to have been forced. Peleus was the Greek hero and king of Phthia. By his wife Thetis he fathered the might Greek hero and demigod Achilles, who fought bravely in the Trojan War.

Had there not been a wedding ceremony, Eris would not have been there in the first place to plant her seed of discord – i.e. the golden apple.

In the first place, the marriage between Thetis and Peleus would never happened had Zeus not fallen in love with Thetis. There was a prophecy that should Zeus bring forth any child with Thetis, that child was destined to be greater than Zeus. In attempt to avoid the prophecy, Zeus betrothed Thetis to a mortal king, i.e. Peleus.

The Trojan War – Zeus’ plan to depopulate the Earth

In one of version of the myth, the Trojan War was simply an elaborate plan by Zeus, chief of the gods, to reduce the world’s population. Zeus feared that the world could tip over if the population continued to increase. He was also concerned about the sheer number of children, i.e. demigods, he had fathered outside of marriage. Other Greek deities also mated with many mortal women, producing many demigods, which Zeus had grown to see as inferior to the gods.

Eris throwing the Apple of Discord, and the three goddesses fighting for the apple…all those events were orchestrated by Zeus. He was the one pulling the strings behind the curtain, according to Greek poet Hesiod. In other words, the Trojan War was Zeus’ way of cleansing the world of the undesirable demigods as well as depopulating the world.

The above point explains why Zeus and Hera did not step in to save the life of Lycean hero Sarpedon, the son of Zeus. Instead, they allowed Sarpedon, just like many other demigods, perish in the war.

The prophecy about Prince Paris

When Prince Paris was born, there was a prophecy that stated Paris would be the one to bring doom and destruction to the city of Troy. Therefore, the leaders of Troy cast the young prince out to Mount Ida, where he was raised by a family of shepherds. As fate would have it, Zeus picked this very young man to arbitrate the conflict among the three goddesses. What are the odds of that happening?

The walls of the city of Troy

Following the landings of the Greeks on the beaches of Troy, fierce fighting ensued, with many people dying on both sides. In the end the Greeks were able to take the beach and then force the Trojans to retreat into their walled city. The walls of Troy were in effect an impenetrable structure. For many years, many armies tried to breech the wall, but all of them failed miserably. The Greeks had a similar experience.

According to the myth, the walls of Troy were built by Poseidon and Apollo. As part of their punishment for trying to overthrow Zeus, Poseidon and Apollo were made indentured servants to the Trojan king Laomedon for a year. It was during that period of forced service that Poseidon and Apollo built Troy’s impenetrable wall.

The decade-long siege of troy

In the sources that we have today, much emphasis seems to be placed on the events that occurred in the tenth and final year of the Trojan War. Image: Thetis gives her son Achilles weapons forged by Hephaestus (detail of Attic black-figure hydria, 575–550 BC)

In the myths, the Greeks put the city of Troy under a decade-long siege. In the surviving sources that we have today, the emphasis is on the events that took place in the tenth year of siege. It’s been suggested that in the nine years, the Greek armies, under the leadership of Ajax and Achilles, conducted sporadic raids against Trojan allies on the shores and entrance to the Dardanelles. Homer states that Achilles and his men devastated 11 cities and 12 islands in the region. The Greeks shored up their meager finances with the loot from those cities they raided.

In those nine years, the Greeks also took to farming on the Thracian peninsula. According to Thucydides, it was not until the tenth year that the Greeks fully assembled their armies and went on a massive offensive against the Trojans.

Even with all their armies, the Greeks still could not breech the walls of Troy, which was not entirely besieged as the city continued to receive vital military and civilian reinforcements from allies in interior Asia Minor. The Greeks held only the shores of the Dardanelles.

Location of Troy and the site of the Trojan War

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Dardanelles is generally regarded as the site where the Trojan War happened

To the ancient Greeks the Trojan War was a real event that took place close to the Dardanelles. Also known as the Strait of Gallipoli, the Dardanelles is located in northwestern Turkey. Today, the Dardanelles, known in Turkish as Çanakkale Boğazı (‘Çanakkale Strait’), serves as an important international waterway that links the Sea of Marmara with the Aegean and the Mediterranean seas.

The Dardanelles spans about 61 kilometres (38 miles) in length and about 1.2-6 kilometeres in width.  In addition to connecting the Sea of Marmara with the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, the Dardanelles provides a route to the Black Sea in the north.

The ancient city of Troy is believed to have lied near the western entrance of the Strait of Gallipoli. As a result, the city of Troy prospered from its control of the marine traffic that went through the waterway.

The Persian army under the leadership of Xerxes the Great crossed the Dardanelles in his journey to invade Greece in 480 BC. After the two massive pontoon bridges that he built across the waterway at Abydos got destroyed in a storm, Xerxes had all the engineers and workers involved in the construction beheaded. According to Greek historian Herodotus, Xerxes also had the waterway whipped and shouted at.

Similarly, Alexander the Great of Macedonia crossed the waterway en route to invading Persia in the year 334 BC.


As stated in the introduction, the Trojan War was quite a popular theme in many works and paintings by ancient Greek and Roman artists. The most widely cited sources of the war come from the likes of ancient Greek poet Homer, Roman poets Virgil and Ovid.

What’s even interesting is that many of those writers preferred focusing or highlighting on particular episode of the war, rather than the entire events that transpired in the war. For example, Homer, in his epic poems the Odyssey and the Iliad, highlighted the events that occurred in the tenth year of the war. The Iliad concerns itself with the events that took place in the latter stages of when the city of Troy was under siege; while the Odyssey narrates the 10-year perilous journey Greek hero Odysseus endured to get home to his wife and children in the Kingdom of Ithaca.

In Virgil’s book the Aeneid, the Roman author focuses on last few days of the sack of Troy, as well as how Trojan hero Aeneas fled the burning city with a number of Trojans to establish the city of Rome. Virgil describes Aeneas as the first true hero of Rome.

As a result of this episodic description of the war by different authors, it is not uncommon to have contradictions in the narrations. It’s most likely that many of those epic stories about the Trojan War had roots in oral lore and tradition. Centuries after the Homeric epics, Athenian tragedians like Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus would incorporate a lot of those episodes in the war into their dramas.

Was the Trojan War a historical event?

Modern historians that believe the event was a historical one opine that the war happened around the 12th century BC.

There is no conclusive evidence to support the notion of ancient Greeks who believed that the Trojan War actually happened. However, the vivid descriptions of the events of the war by the ancient writers have made some scholars to rethink about immediately relegating the war to annals of myth.

For millennia, scholars have debated the historicity of the Trojan War. A good number of ancient Greek authors believed that the war was a historical event, even though Homer may have taken a bit of artistic liberties and exaggerated some of the events in the war. Today, some scholars state that the war probably took place, however, not like the way Homer describes it in the Iliad, which was written around the 8th century BC.

According to ancient Greek historians, the Trojan War probably took place around the 13th or 12th century BC. Herodotus, the Father of History, opined that the war occurred about 800 years before his time, which was the 5th century BC. That will mean that the war happened around the 13th century. On the other hand, Greek mathematician Eratosthenes stated that the war erupted between 1184 and 1183 BC.

Beginning around the 19th century AD, doubts began to swell up as to whether the Trojan War was a historical event. Some of those doubts were dispelled by excavations works done by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in 1868 at the Hisarlik site in what is now Çanakkale, Turkey. Scholars and historians now generally agree that the ancient city of Troy was real, and it was located in Turkey.

The generally accepted view is that the Trojan War or something of that sought took place; however, the version that Homer presents was probably an amalgamation of different wars from different timelines in the Bronze Age.


The Trojan War story has been an inspiration to many epic poets and writers beginning from the ancient Greek, the ancient Romans, and down to our modern era. Some of the brilliant writers wrote on this Bronze Age war include Homer, Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles, Eratosthenes, Herodotus, Virgil, and Ovid.

Those writers’ Trojan War-inspired works are considered by many scholars as some of the greatest classic epics of all time. Homer gave the world two brilliant works the Iliad and the Odyssey, while Roman poet wrote the Aenid.

Away from the exceptional nature of the story, the Trojan War has remained a very fascinating to scholars and writers because of the possibility that it may have actually happened. This is why many modern authors have taken immense joy in translating the story, keeping it alive and relevant for future generations to come. The likes of Louis MacNeice and Alexander Pope have all worked on the story, producing many versions that only add to the richness of the story.

Did you know?

Greek historian Herodotus states that Paris’ abduction of Helen from Sparta was not the first time a beautiful maiden was kidnaped by a hero or a god. The historian goes on to say that Paris most likely influenced by those stories. For example, Phoenician princess Europa was taken against her will from Phoenicia. Similarly, Jason abducted Medea, the daughter of King Aeetes, from Colchis.

Before Menelaus took arms against the city of Troy, he and King Odysseus of Ithaca visited Troy to have the problem resolved in a diplomatic manner. Menelaus appeal to the Trojans to release his wife Helen fell on deaf ears as Helen was by then madly in love with Paris. That said the Trojan rulers and military leaders stood by Paris and refused letting Helen go back to Sparta.

In some account, many of the heroes who fought in the Trojan War were initially reluctant to fight. For example, Achilles’ mother Thetis is said to have disguised Achilles as a woman in order to prevent Achilles from enlisting in the Greek army. Thetis was worried about the prophecy that stated that her son was fated to either live an uneventful life to a ripe age or die very young as a hero in a battle. Achilles’ disguise got blown after he was found secretly admiring spears and swords instead of necklaces and rings.

Then, there was Odysseus who feigned mental insanity in order to not to be eligible to fight in the war. In the end, he was found out and subsequently compelled to fight in the war.

Telephus, king of Mysia, was the one who helped the Greeks find the way to Troy.

In one account, there was a prophecy that stated that the first Greeks to land on the shores of Troy would be the first to die. With no Greek soldier wanting to land due to the prophecy, Achilles played a trick on them. He threw his shield on the land and then stepped on it so that his feet did not necessarily make contact with the land. As a result, other soldiers were inspired to land. The first person to land was actually Protesilaus, commander of the Phylaceans. And just as the prophecy had stated, Protesilaus died in battle; he was killed by Hector.

In the ninth year, disgruntled Greek soldiers mutinied against the Greek military leaders. It’s said that the soldiers had grown tired of fighting an enemy whose walls were unbreachable. The Greek camp was also plagued by a lack of supplies and perhaps riddled with diseases. Therefore, the soldiers demanded that Greek leaders allow them return home to wives and mothers. Had it not been for the swift intervention of Achilles, who inspired confidence in the Greek armies, the troops would most likely have rebelled and headed back home.

The Greeks believed that the plague and diseases that they suffered while besieging Troy was due to the leaders dishonoring the gods. For example, Chryses, a priest of Apollo, was insulted by Agamemnon when he came to the king begging for the return of his daughter, Chryseis. The Greek god Apollo went on to punish Agamemnon by inflicting a severe plague upon the Greeks. Not until Agamemnon returned Chryseis, Apollo did not grant the soldiers any respite from the plague and hardship.

There are some versions of the story that state that the Helen that Paris took to Troy was not the real Helen. The real Helen was instead in Egypt, and she later reunited with Menelaus after Menelaus’ ship had been blown off course to Egypt.

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