Greek Leaders in the Trojan War

A map of the origins of the Greek and Trojan troops and their leaders in the Trojan War
A map of the origins of the Greek and Trojan troops and their leaders in the Trojan War | Source

Some Greek leaders of the Trojan War come to mind immediately, such as Achilles and Agamemnon. Others may take longer to think of, or you may never have heard of them at all, such as Nestor and the two Ajaxes. Don't worry; I'm not here to judge, I'm here to teach. Read on to find out who the Greek leaders were and to see short bios on the most important leaders:

  • Agamemnon
  • Menelaus
  • Achilles
  • Odysseus
  • Nestor
  • Diomedes
  • the two Ajaxes

The Trojan War in Homer's Iliad

Our primary literary evidence for the Trojan War comes from The Iliad, attributed to Homer. It tells the story of a brief period in the tenth year of the war, during which Achilles, the best warrior of all the Greek forces, retires from battle because the high king, Agamemnon, has insulted him.

The Iliad and The Odyssey were originally part of what is known as the epic cycle: a series of lengthy epic poems that told the entire story of the Trojan War and assorted related adventures. Some fragments of these poems are still extant, but none tells us more about the Greek leaders than The Iliad.

The Catalogue of Ships

In The Iliad, Homer conveniently lists all the Greek forces in one section. In Book 2, ll. 494–759 is a lengthy excursus called "The Catalogue of Ships." The Greek leaders are named, usually including their genealogy (several are descended from gods), elaborate descriptions of their territory, and the number of ships they command. Several times the poet even editorializes on the nature of a given leader, such as when he essentially calls Nireus of Syme a lightweight pretty-boy (Il. 2.671–675).

Following is the complete listing of Greek troops and their primary leaders.

(click column header to sort results)
Greek Leaders  
Geographical Area  
People are called  
Number of Ships  
Leitus, Peneleos, Arcesilaus, Prothoënor, Clonius
Ascalaphus, Ialmenus
Schedius, Epistrophus
Little Ajax (son of Oileus)
Great Ajax (Telamonian Ajax)
Diomedes, Sthenelus, Euryalus
Thalpius, Amphimachus, Diores, Polyxinus
Elis, Buprasion
Dulichion, the Echinades
Idomeneus, Meriones
Antiphus, Phidippus
Protesilaus, Podarces
Philoctetes, Medon
Podalirius, Machaon
Polypoetes, Leonteus
Enienes, Peraebians
Detail of the monumental Lion's Gate in Mycenae at what is called Agamemnon's Palace
Detail of the monumental Lion's Gate in Mycenae at what is called Agamemnon's Palace | Source

Agamemnon, High King

Agamemnon was a descendant of Atreus (therefore sometimes called Atrides) and the brother of Menelaus. He became the commander in chief of the Greek forces in the Trojan War. He did not always make the best decisions: after killing a stag sacred to the goddess Artemis, he was forced to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to make amends, so that Artemis would allow the winds to blow and the ships to leave the port of Aulis; Agamemnon also caused the quarrel with Achilles told in The Iliad by taking Briseis (a girl Achilles won as a spoil of war and to whom he was very partial) away from Achilles.

After the war ended, Agamemnon sailed back to Mycenae with the seer Cassandra, daughter of King Priam of Troy, as his concubine. They were both brutally murdered by his wife Clytemnestra, who in his absence had taken up with Agamemnon's boyhood companion, Aegisthus.

Menelaus reclaiming his wife Helen (a red-figure stamnos from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ca. 470–460 BCE)
Menelaus reclaiming his wife Helen (a red-figure stamnos from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ca. 470–460 BCE) | Source

Menelaus, Whose Wife Helen Caused the Trojan War

Menelaus (also sometimes called Atrides), was Agamemnon's younger brother and the king of Lacedaimon (an area including Sparta). He won the hand of the most beautiful girl in the world, Helen, after Helen's father Tyndareus made all her suitors swear to support the victor. This so-called Oath of Tyndareus was what allowed Menelaus to call upon all the local kings and chiefs to support his quest to retrieve Helen after Paris kidnapped her and took her to Troy.

At the fall of Troy, Menelaus and Helen are reunited, and after several years of wandering, return to Sparta and live happily ever after.

Achilles, the Best Warrior

Achilles was the best, bravest, strongest, and most handsome of all the Greek warriors. He was also nearly invincible, except for a small area on his heel. It had been prophesied that he would either live a short but glorious life as a warrior, or a long, boring life as a private citizen. Achilles attempted to choose the quiet life, but was tricked by Odysseus into agreeing to go to Troy.

The Iliad tells the story of Achilles' anger, first at Agamemnon for stealing his prize (Briseis), and later at Hector for slaying his best friend Patroclus. When Achilles finally fights the Trojans after Hector kills Patroclus, he burns through the Trojans like a forest fire, and eventually kills Hector, King Priam's favorite son. Achilles dragged Hector's body behind his chariot to humiliate him in death, although when King Priam came to Achilles as a suppliant to beg for his son's body, Achilles relented.

Achilles also fought the Amazons, who were allies of the Trojans. He is said to have fallen in love with Queen Penthesileia after mortally wounding her.

Achilles was killed by Paris (with the help of the god Apollo), who shot an arrow from afar and hit the weak spot in his heel.

Nestor, the Oldest Leader

Nestor had already lived a full and exciting life by the time he reached Troy as the leader of the a large contingent of Pylians. He sailed with the Argonauts on their quest for the Golden Fleece, became friends with Heracles, fought with the Lapiths against the Centaurs, and even hunted the Calydonian Boar.

At Troy, Nestor's role was primarily advisory, as he was too old to be in active combat. He was considered to be the ultimate good counselor (even if his advice occasionally seems strange or bad to us today). He was one of the few warriors to make it safely home after the Trojan War ended, and he appears in The Odyssey as well, when Odysseus's son Telemachus journeys to Pylos for information about his lost father.

Odysseus giving wine to the Cyclops Polyphemus (2nd c. CE, Vatican Museum)
Odysseus giving wine to the Cyclops Polyphemus (2nd c. CE, Vatican Museum) | Source

Odysseus, the Crafty One

Because of The Odyssey, Odysseus's story is probably the most familiar to you. Odysseus ruled on Ithaca, and was married to the faithful Penelope. Together they had one son, Telemachus.

Odysseus did not want to join the expedition to Troy, and he pretended to be crazy when a delegation came to convince him to join up. Once he agreed to go, however, he did everything in his power to make the expedition a success: he found Achilles hiding in the court of King Lycomedes, dressed as a girl; he convinced Clytemnestra to send her daughter Iphigenia to Aulis so that she could be sacrificed to Artemis in order to make the winds blow; and of course, he thought of the way to finally take Troy, after ten long years — the Trojan Horse. Odysseus was the most cunning and tricky of the strategists on Agamemnon's war council, but he was a good and brave fighter, as well.

After the war, Odysseus wandered for ten years, as his ship was blown off course and lost in various ways. He had many adventures, including escaping from the Cyclops Polyphemus, avoiding the Sirens' song by having his crew tie him to the mast, and sailing through Scylla and Charybdis. Finally he returned home to Ithaca to find his house overrun by suitors looking to marry his wife. With the assistance of his son and the goddess Athena, Odysseus cleaned house and had a joyful reunion with his loyal wife.

Statue of Diomedes (Roman copy of a Greek original) in the Munich Glyptothek
Statue of Diomedes (Roman copy of a Greek original) in the Munich Glyptothek | Source

Diomedes, a Great Warrior

The other great warrior among the Acheans (after Achilles, alongside Telamonian Ajax) was Diomedes (also called Tydides, after his father Tydeus, one of the original Seven against Thebes). He was a favorite of Athena, and as a young man had conquered Thebes beside the other children of the Seven against Thebes, the Epigoni.

In the Trojan War, Diomedes, although still a young man, brings the third largest contingent of warriors. He had been one of Helen's suitors, and so had sworn the Oath of Tyndareus, which bound him to respond when Paris kidnapped Helen and took her back to Troy. Diomedes is an excellent strategist, and was such a great warrior that the entire fifth book of The Iliad is devoted to his prowess in battle.

Diomedes, along with Odysseus, sneaked into Troy and stole the Palladium (an image of Athena), because Troy would not fall as long as the Palladium resided there.

After the end of the war, Diomedes went to live in Italy, founded several cities, and was ultimately made immortal by Athena.

Ajax and Achilles gaming (a red-figure hydria from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ca. 490 BCE)
Ajax and Achilles gaming (a red-figure hydria from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ca. 490 BCE) | Source

Greater Ajax and Little Ajax

Have you ever been in class with another kid who had the same name as you? You probably had to resort to using your initials, last names, or nicknames to differentiate yourselves. Well, there's nothing new under the sun; this was already happening thousands of years ago in ancient Greece. There you had two commanders named Ajax, who ended up being distinguished by their patronyms, places of origin, and size.

Greater Ajax (also called Telamonian Ajax after his father Telamon, and Ajax from Salamis) commands just 12 ships, but he is larger and a better warrior than his counterpart. He is the biggest and strongest of all the Achaeans, and is very smart, having been trained by Chiron just as Achilles was. Ajax rescues Patroclus's body from the battlefield after Hector kills him, and does the same (along with Odysseus) for Achilles when he is killed. Unfortunately, he comes to a sad end. After Achilles' armor is awarded to Odysseus rather than to him, he kills himself in a fit of madness or depression.

Little (or Lesser) Ajax (also called Oilean Ajax after his father Oileus, and Locrian Ajax because he leads the troops from Locris) is small in stature, but he is a fast runner and good with a spear. After the fall of Troy, he desecrated Athena's temple by abducting and possibly raping the seer Cassandra, who had taken refuge there. Depending on the variant myths, he is killed on his way home from Troy by either Athena as retribution or by Poseidon for his hubris.

Comments 8 comments

Janis Goad profile image

Janis Goad 4 years ago

Love your hub! these old stories from the Greek and Roman mythologies have fascinated me since I first read them in elementary school. The narratives are complex, full of heroes, tragedy, and supernatural. The themes are timeless, and look how they continue to spin off in popular culture through the ages.

Tonight we were watching the movie "The Avengers," and it's another one filled with allusions to the Scandinavian pantheon. In those days the line was blurred between human and divine, leaving lots of opportunity for cross-over.

Brainy Bunny profile image

Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania Author

Thanks, Janis. I vividly remember first reading some Greek mythology in third grade and instantly falling in love. What you said about the blurred line between human and divine is absolutely true, and as a mental exercise I occasionally try to see the world that way. What do we do every day that would have been interpreted as interaction with the divine in the ancient world? How exciting, for instance, to interpret Achilles nearly drowning after falling into a river with his armor on as him battling a river god!

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 4 years ago from Hawaii

Where was this hub when I took Western Civ in college? This is so incredible detailed! Wow.

I think it's so cool that all of this was held to be myth for such a long time, but archaeological evidence now points to the existence of Troy. I wonder how many things from our era will be considered total fabrications far in the future.

Brainy Bunny profile image

Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania Author

Thanks, Natasha. As I was researching it, I dredged up memories of years and years of studying history and mythology. It was fun, actually!

I don't think our society will be all that mysterious to future people, actually, unless we enter another dark age and they lose the ability to use computers. How likely is that? We have left a tremendous record of ourselves in physical objects, debris, written records — way more (and more durable) than Bronze-Age peoples did. It's kind of sad to think there will be so little mystery or romance in thinking of the early 21st century by the time the 51st century rolls around.

Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK

Epic hub, in more ways than one! Super thorough and entertaining - love the "Soft Cell" Trojan War video!

Voted up - lots of students are going to love you for this :)

Brainy Bunny profile image

Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania Author

TeeHeeHee -- I really like the historyteachers' videos. I hope I'll be able to help some students and be a good resource for everyone interested in the Trojan War. Thank you for reading, Judi!

summerberrie 3 years ago

This brings back memories of my Latin class. Wow, lots of information. You could make a game out of this. Something similar to Axis and Allies.

Nicely done.

Brainy Bunny profile image

Brainy Bunny 3 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania Author

Thank you, summerberrie. All things ancient Greek were my passion for a good 20 years of my life, so it's nice to be able to revisit that in a format that can help others who are studying the same things I did.

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    Brainy Bunny has a master's degree in Greek and Latin Philology, with particular interest in historical linguistics and ancient religions.

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