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The different military tactics of the Greek and Trojan armies during the Trojan War

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The cause for the Trojan War began much before the Greek hero Achilles was born. Zeus and Poseidon tried to force Thetis, the sea-goddess to lay with them. Prometheus warned them that any son born to Thetis would become greater than his father, and probably rule Olympus. Zeus decided to marry Thetis off to a mortal.

Zeus chose the hero Pelus, son of Aeacus, as the most worthy of mortals. All the gods and goddesses attended her wedding except Eris, the goddess of discord. A golden apple thrown be her amidst the wedding crowd makes the goddesses, Hera, Athena and Aphrodite to claim possession of it as their rightful own. Zeus, wishing to have no part in this directs Hermes to refer the arbitration to Paris, a Trojan prince.

The three goddesses offer to reward him if he chose her. Athena offers to make him a great hero or general; Hera offers to make him ruler of the richest and powerful kingdom; while Aphrodite offers him the most beautiful woman in the world in marriage, Helen of Sparta. Paris decides in favor of Aphrodite, and offers her the golden apple thrown by Eris. Troy was to suffer the enmity of the other two most powerful goddesses.

But Helen had many powerful Greek suitors wooing her in Sparta at the same time. Her father, Tyndareüs or Tyndareus (her real father was Zeus), king of Sparta, requested the help of Odysseus, the King of Ithaca. He asked each suitor to swear in oath, that they would defend the interests of whoever Helen chooses to marry. All the suitors agreed and swore to accept whoever became Helen’s husband.

Helen chooses Menelaus as her husband. Menelaüs, the son of Atreus, and brother of Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae, marries Helen and Tyndareüs abdicates his throne, leaving Menelaüs to become the king of Sparta.

Paris, living in Mount Ida with his wife Oenone, abandons her for Helen. Despite warnings from his brother and sister, Helenus and Cassandra that his journey would end in destruction of Troy, Paris sails to Greece with his cousin Aeneas.

At Sparta, Aphrodite makes Helen fall in love with Paris. In Menelaüs’ absence, Helen runs off to Troy with Paris with most of the treasure, leaving her daughter, Hermione, behind.

When Menelaüs returns to Sparta to find Helen gone, he calls Helen’s former suitors to fulfill their obligations and aid him in bringing her back. They all answer Menelaüs’ call to arms, bringing contingents of men and ships with them. Menelaüs’ brother, Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, brings 100 ships with him, and becomes the commander-in-chief of the Greek forces.

Before landing in Troy, the Greeks send Menelaüs and Odysseus as ambassadors, to ask for Helen’s return. The Trojan elders from Dardania, Antenor support the return of Helen to her husband Menelaüs, in order to prevent a war.

Unsuccessful in their attempt to reconcile, the Greek ships landed on the coast of Troy. Hector, eldest son of King Priam, is the commander-in-chief of the Trojan forces. His second-in-command is Aeneas, the son of Aphrodite. Aeneas was the bravest Trojan next to Hector. Other allies included two leaders from Lycia, Sarpedon, son of Zeus and Deïdameia, and Glaucus, son of Hippolochus.

Before landing in Troy, the Greeks send Menelaüs and Odysseus as ambassadors, to ask for Helen’s return. The Trojan elder from Dardania, Antenor and some other elders supported return of Helen to her husband Menelaüs, in order to prevent a war.

Paris, however, refused to hand over Helen, was vehemently supported by Antimachus, another Trojan elder. Antimachus even tried to have Menelaüs and Odysseus killed before they could leave the city. This plan would have succeeded had Antenor not rescued the Greeks.

Returning to the ships, Menelaüs brought the inevitable news of war. The Greek ships landed on the coast of Troy, but not of them wish to lead, because it was prophesied that the first Greek to set foot on the soil will be the first to die (Timeless Myths, Jimmy Joe, 1999).

2.0    Weapons, Tactics, Armor, Ships, and Fighting Styles

The Greek spent a lot of their time fighting each other and others. The Greek poet Homer described the battles in the Trojan War, where Greek and Trojan heroes fought each other on chariots, and ordinary soldiers on foot. They used sword blades, which had a short blade and a spike so that it could be fitted onto a hand-grip. The spear head was fitted onto a wooden shaft. The soldiers fought in a strict battle line, standing in rows. They wore heavy armor to protect them in groups, called hoplites. Their shields were hoplons.  Greek helmets were made of bronze; with one type covering the face and ears, and the other had flaps of bronze to cover the soldier’s cheeks and the back of his neck without covering the face and ears. The ridge across the top was used to attach a plume made of horse’s hair. The Greek soldiers also wore breastplates made of bronze to cover their chest and back. They wore bronze leg guards, protecting their legs from the knee down to the ankle (About.com, 2007).

The Greeks were the Vikings of the Bronze Age. They built some of history’s first warships. Whether on large expeditions or smaller sorties, as formal soldiers, or sailors or as traders, the Greeks fanned out across the Aegean and into the eastern and central Mediterranean, with one hand on the rudder and the other on the hilt of a sword. What the sight of a dragon’s head on the stem post of a Viking ship was to an Anglo-Saxon, the sight of a bird’s beak on the stem post of a Greek galley was to a Mediterranean islander or Anatolian mainlander. The 1400s B.C. saw the Greeks conquer Crete, the southwestern Aegean islands, and the city of Miletus on the Aegean coast of Anatolia, before driving eastward into Lycia and across the sea to Cyprus. 1200s saw them begin muscling their way into the islands of the northeastern Aegean, which presented a big threat to Troy.

The Trojan War, which probably dates to around 1200 B.C., from Achilles’ heel to Cassandra’s warnings, is not in Homer at all.

The Greeks landed at Troy and demanded the return of Helen and the treasure to her husband. The Trojans refused. In the nine years of warfare that followed, the Greeks ravaged and looted the Trojan countryside and surrounding islands, but they made no progress against the city of Troy. The Iliad focuses on a pitched battle on the Trojan Plain and two months in the nine long years of the war, whereas, most of the war was fought elsewhere and consisted of raids. The Greek army nearly fell apart, first to a murderous epidemic and then a mutiny on the part of Achilles. The issue, once again, was a woman. A furious Achilles withdrew himself and his men from fighting. Agamemnon led the rest of the army out to fight. The Trojans, led by Prince Hector, took advantage of Achilles’ absence and nearly drove the Greeks back into the sea. At the eleventh hour, Achilles asked his lieutenant and close friend Patroclus to lead his men back into battle to save the Greek camp, which he did, and lost his life. Hector killed him on the Trojan Plain. In revenge, Achilles returned to battle, devastated the enemy, and killed Hector. Achilles was so angry that he abused Hector’s corpse.

The Odyssey is set after the war and it explains how Odysseus led the Greeks to victory at Troy by thinking up the brilliant trick of smuggling Greek commandos into Troy in the Trojan Horse, an operation which he also led. Achilles did not play a part in the final victory; he was long since dead.

While the Iliad is a championship boxing match, fought in plain view at high noon and settled by a knockout punch, the Trojan War was a thousand separate wrestling matches, fought in the dark and won by tripping the opponent. The Iliad is the story of the hero, Achilles, while the Trojan War is the story of a trickster, Odysseus, and a survivor, Aeneas.

To the Greeks, who laid claim to the Aegean islands and who held a foothold in Anatolia, the road was a threat and a temptation, Troy was a sturdy fortress. The plain of Troy was broad but, otherwise, it was no place for a bloody brawl. It was soggy, very bad for the Greek chariots. There was the epidemic that also laid the Greek soldiers low. And then, the Trojan army and Troy’s wide network of alliances. Though the city was strong, Troy had weak spots, as twenty-eight towns lay in Troy’s rich hinterland without fortifications to match the walls of the metropolis. These places overflowed with the material goods and women whom the Greeks coveted.

Practiced and patient raiders, the Greeks were ready for the challenge of protracted conflict. Living in tents and shelters between the devil and the wine dark sea would be miserable, but no one becomes a “Viking” in order to be comfortable. The Trojans enjoyed all the rewards of wealth and sophistication. But the Greeks had three advantages of their own: they were less civilized, more patient, and they had strategic mobility because of their ships. In the end, those trumped Troy’s cultural superiority. And so we come to the Trojan War (Barry Strauss, 2006).

3.0    Facts

People had fought for over two thousand years by the time Homer’s Greeks are said to have attacked Troy. Over the centuries, armies have swept past Troy’s ancient walls, from Alexander the Great to the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915. Archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann announced that a mound near the entrance to the Dardanelles contained the ruins of Troy. Schliemann, an amateur, relied on preliminary work by Frank Calvert, but when trained archaeologists followed him by the hundreds in the 130 years since the excavations, have put on a firm and scientific basis for this revelation. Ancient Troy existed, but was it anywhere a splendid city of Homer’s description? Did it face an armada from Greece? Did the Trojan War really happen?

Evidence says it did exist, and the Trojan War indeed took place. New excavations have since proved that Homer was right about the city. Earlier, one thought that Troy was just a small citadel, about half an acre, but with further study, it is estimated that Troy was, in fact, about seventy-five acres in size, a city of gold amid amber fields of wheat. There is independent confirmation that says that Troy was a byword in the ancient Near East. The city that Homer calls Troy or Ilion is Taruisa or Wilusa, and in the early form of the Greek language, Ilion was rendered as Wilion.

What was earlier thought that Trojans were Greeks, has now given way to new evidence that suggests otherwise. The urban plan of Troy looks less like that of a Greek than of an Anatolian city, as seen in the citadel and lower town, its house and wall architecture, and its religious and burial practices, and its pottery. Greek pottery and Greek speakers were also found at Troy, but neither predominated. Trojans spoke a language closely related to Hittite and that Troy was a Hittite ally, and their enemies were the Greeks.

Homer describes the story in two long poems, the Iliad or Story of Ilion (Troy) and the Odyssey or Story of Odysseus. According to Homer, the Trojan War lasted ten years, the conflict pitting the wealthy city of Troy and its allies against a coalition of all Greece. It involved 100,000 men in each army as well as 1,184 Greek ships. The cause of the war was the seduction, by Prince Paris of Troy, of the beautiful Helen, queen of Sparta, as well as the loss of the treasure that they ran off with. The war ends with Achilles killing Hector. King Priam of Troy begged Achilles to give back his son Hector’s body for cremation and burial, and a sadder but wiser Achilles at last agreed. He knew that he too was destined to die soon in battle.

The Iliad ends with the funeral of Hector.

Much of what was thought of the Trojan War was wrong. Earlier it was thought that the war was decided on the plain of Troy by duels between champions, and the besieged city never had a chance against the Greeks, and the Trojan Horse must have been a myth. But it has been proved that the Trojan War consisted mainly of low-intensity conflict and attacks on civilians, similar to today’s war on terror than World War II. There was no siege of Troy. The Greeks were underdogs, and only a trick, using the Trojan horse could have allowed them to take Troy.

Homer lived perhaps around 700 B.C., about five hundred years after the Trojan War. New discoveries vindicate the poet as a man who knew much more about the Bronze Age than had been thought. Key insight into the Bronze Age warfare is very well documented. In Greece, archaeologists showed that the arms and armor described by Homer really were used in the Bronze Age, and recent discoveries pinpoint them to the era of the Trojan War. The richest evidence of Bronze Age warfare comes from the ancient Near East. The 1300s and 1200s B.C. Bronze Age, was an age when international trade and diplomacy, migration, dynastic marriage, and war led to cultural changes. The abundant evidence of Assyria, Canaan, Egypt, the Hittites, and Mesopotamia puts in perspective the events of the Iliad and Odyssey.

Some things in Homer were true reflection of similar customs during the Bronze Age, like, the surprise attacks at night, wars over livestock, iron arrowheads, battles between champions instead of armies, the mutilation of enemy corpses, shouting matches between kings in the assembly, battle cries as measures of prowess, and weeping as a mark of manhood. These are not Homeric inventions but well-attested realities of Bronze Age life.

The war probably took place sometime between 1230 and 1180 B.C., more likely between 1210 and 1180. The city of Troy lay destroyed by a raging fire. The presence of weapons like, arrowheads, spearheads, and sling stones, and unburied human bones points to a sudden and violent attack. The towns in the Troad says archaeologists, may have been abandoned around 1200, consistent with the invasion.

Some skeptics find the veracity of the Trojan War far-fetched, as few weapons have been found in the ruins of Troy. But, Troy is no undisturbed site, it was the premier tourist attraction of the ancient world and its soil was dug up in search of relics for such VIP tourists as Alexander the Great and the Emperor Augustus. Recent urban renewal has also flattened the citadel for terraces of Greek and Roman temples, a process that destroyed layers of Bronze Age remains.

History is about people, and speaking of them, were there people by the names of Helen, Achilles, Aeneas, Hector, Odysseus, Priam, Paris, Hecuba, Agamemnon, Menelaus, and Thersites? There may not have been an Achilles or a Helen, but Greek warriors did use his tactics of raiding cities and fighting battles by attacking chariots on foot. Whether Helen’s face launched a thousand ships or not, queens of the Bronze Age wielded great power and kings made war over marriage alliances. Priam may never have ruled Troy, but Kings Alaksandu and Walmu did, and Anatolian rulers lived much like Homer’s description of Priam; from his dealings with uppity nobles to his practice of polygamy. (Barry S. Strauss, 2006).

4.0    Conclusion

‘Preface to a Military Explanation of the Catastrophe’ is a discussion on the problems in trying to reconstruct military tactics of the Bronze Age. Robert Drews (1993), admits that prior to c. 700 BC., questions about warfare in the Late Bronze Age began to arise. In the late Bronze Age, in kingdoms of the eastern Mediterranean, a king measured by his might in horses and chariotry.

The ‘catastrophe’ came about when men in barbarian lands awoke to the truth that chariot-based forces on which the Great Kingdoms relied on could be overwhelmed by swarming infantries equipped with javelins, long swords, and a few essential pieces of defensive armor. The barbarians found it within their means to assault, plunder, and raze the richest palaces and cities on the horizon, which they did with great success.

Chariots were mobile platforms from which archers could fire. The scale of this type of forces was apparently large [At Kadesh, the Hittite king fielded 3500 chariots, and this was probably matched by Ramesses II of Egypt]. Drews turns to a speculative section on ‘How Chariots were used in Battle’, where he rejects the view that Mycenaean chariots were of no use on the battlefield or that bows were a marginal weapon. He suggests that the large batches of arrows recorded in the Knossos tablets [6010 and 2630] were the ammunition for chariot teams. This leads to a reconstruction of chariot tactics, with lines of chariots charging each other and archers firing as they came into range. The idea was to bring down as many opposing horses as possible. This would cripple their foes mobility, making them easier targets. Drews also points out that the Dendra Corslet was more suited armor for a cavalryman, than an infantryman.

The Late Bronze Age charioteers fought in support of massed infantry formations.

Much of what was thought of the Trojan War was wrong. Earlier it was thought that the war was decided on the plain of Troy by duels between champions, and the besieged city never had a chance against the Greeks, and the Trojan horse must have been a myth. But it has been proved that the Trojan War consisted mainly of low-intensity conflict and attacks on civilians. Troy was never seized, and it was the Greeks who were the underdogs, using the Trojan horse the only possibility of denting the strong fortress of Troy (Robert Drews, 1993).

5.0    Reference

1.0       Jimmy Joe, Timeless Myths, Classical Mythology, Trojan War, 1999,


2.0       About.com, The World of the Greeks, Armour and Weapons, http://ancienthistory.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?zi=1/XJ/Ya&sdn=ancienthistory&cdn=education&tm=38&gps=87_10_784_393&f=00&tt=14&bt=1&bts=1&zu=http%3A//www.ncl.ac.uk/shefton-museum/greeks/armour.html

3.0       Barry Strauss, The Trojan War, 2006,


4.0       Robert Drews, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 94.01.09, 1993, Robert Drews, The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe ca. 1200 B.C. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993. Pp. xii + 252; 4 figs., 10 pls. $35.00. ISBN 0-691-04811-8. Reviewed by David W.J. Gill, University College of Swansea, http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/1994/94.01.09.html

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