The Trojans and their Allies

As the host of the Achaeans, gathered from every part of Greece, stepped out of their “curved ships” and filled the plain before Troy till they seemed like “sands of the seashore” to the anxiously watching Hector, the allies of Priam, who had come to his aid, were arrayed opposite them, an army of many nations’ and divers tongues. There were. Dardanians, led by Anchises, father of Aeneas, Pelasgians and Thracians; tribes from Paphlagonia and Mysia, also Phrygians, Lycians and Carians “of the outland speech”, and many others from every region of Asia Minor.

Of all these peoples it is the Phrygians in particular that shall concern us—not only because of the prominent role they are assigned in defending Priam’s citadel, but because the time of their presence and influence in Asia Minor is well known from ancient authors and is attested also by numerous archaeological investigations.

“Phrygian art first originated at the beginning of the eighth century”—so wrote Ekrem Akurgal, who devoted a lifetime to the study of the ancient cultures of Anatolia, adding that there is no sign of the Phrygians or any other people in central Asia Minor in the four centuries prior to ca. -800.1

The eighth century before the present era, starting in -776, was, together with the beginning of the seventh, a period of great natural upheavals. These changes in nature moved entire nations to migrations in the hope that beyond the horizon Fertile lands, not damaged by unchained forces of nature, awaited the conquerors.

It seems that in one of the earliest waves of the eighth-century migrations the Phrygians moved from Thrace over the Hellespont or the Bosporus into Asia Minor. Xanthus the Lydian is said by Strabo to have held the view that the Phrygians arrived in Asia Minor sometime after the Trojan War; but Strabo himself, noting that already in the Iliad they are listed among Priam’s allies, was of the opinion that the Phrygians’ migration must have taken place before the siege of Troy. Then, Strabo wrote, gaffer Troy was sacked, the Phrygians, whose territory bordered on the Troad, got mastery over it.”2 Arrian, the biographer of Alexander, explained the Phrygians’ crossing into Asia Minor as resulting from their being harassed by the Cimmerians.3 A few decades afterwards these same nomads were to destroy the short-lived Phrygian kingdom. The tradition of how Gordias, the first king of the Phrygians in their new domicile, selected the pile of his new capital, Gordion, is a well-known legend.4 Under Midas, the son of Gordias, the Phrygian kingdom reached the peak of its power;5 while Midas, even more than his father, was an object of legendary motifs—whatever he touched turned to gold, he had the ears of an ass—he was also a historical person, and is attested in contemporary documents.6 He reigned, according to the chronicle of Hieronymus, preserved by Eusebius, from -742 to -696;7 his prosperity and growing power involved him in international intrigue: he conspired with the rebellious king of Carchemish against Sargon II of Assyria (-722 to -705), and the curbing of Midas was the aim of Sargon’s campaign of the year -715.8 But eastern Anatolia was not yet pacified, and continuing disturbances brought Sargon several more times to the defense of his northeastern frontier; he finally met his death there in battle in -705.

The Phrygian kingdom in Asia Minor had an ephemeral existence.9 As we saw, no Phrygian presence can be recognized in the archaeology till the beginning or even the middle of the eighth century—and soon after the start of the seventh, about the year -676, the Phrygian kingdom was destroyed in the catastrophic Cimmerian invasion. This is also when Midas met his end10 and his capital Gordion was burned to the ground.11 Of the royal tumuli (kurgans) excavated by the Körte brothers, only three are antecedent to the Cimmerian invasion; this suggests that not more than three generations of kings reigned in Gordion from its founding to its destruction.12

“The Phrygian kingdom was thus at the apex of its power toward the end of the eighth century, when it apparently extended as far southeast as the Taurus and was in contact with Assyria. This period of power was apparently the time of the adornment and fortification of its capital city.”13 In 1953 a team from the University of Pennsylvania led by Rodney Young, in the course of their work at Gordion, exposed to view a large double gateway with a central courtyard, belonging to the Phrygian period. Its date, like that of most of the Phrygian constructions at Gordion, was put sometime in the eighth century.14 The manner of construction of the walls of the gateway reminded the excavators of the fortifications at another Anatolian site: the walls of the sixth city at Troy appeared to be nearly duplicated in those of the Phrygian Gate at Gordion. In his report of the discovery. Young wrote:


“In their batter as well as their masonry construction the walls of the Phrygian Gate at Gordion find their closest parallel in the wall of the sixth city of Troy . . . Though separated in time by five hundred years or thereabouts, the two fortifications may well represent a common tradition of construction in north-western Anatolia; if so, intermediate examples have vet to be found.”15

The search for intermediate examples is bound to be fruitless since the time gap between Troy VI and Gordion is unreal, a phantom construct of historians. Whereas the Trojans had a long tradition building in stone, the Phrygian gateway appears as if out of nowhere, without any visible antecedents; yet at the same time it displays technical skills that speak of a long period of development. This apparent contradiction is also noted by Young:


“ . . . The planning of the [Phrygian] gateway and the execution of its masonry imply a familiarity with contemporary military architecture and long practice in the handling of stone for masonry. The masonry, in fact, with its sloping batter and its more or less regular coursing recalls neither the cyclopean Hittite masonry of the Anatolian plateau in earlier times, nor the commonly prevalent contemporary construction of crude brick. The closest parallel is the masonry of the walls of Troy VI, admittedly very much earlier. If any links exist to fill this time-gap, they must lie in west Anatolia rather than on the plateau.”16

The Trojan fortifications belong according to the revised chronology, in the eighth century, and thus were roughly contemporary with the Phrygian.

A little light is thus shed on the alliance between Phrygians and Trojans, known to Homer; and the date of the Trojan War is delimited by the period when the Phrygians were a power in Asia Minor, between the years -750 and -676.

Regarding the Cimmerians and the extent of Homer’s knowledge of there, the question was already discussed by various ancient authors. Strabo, for one, was certain that Homer was acquainted with the historical Cimmerians, “for surely if he knows the name of the Cimmerians [Odyssey] he is not ignorant of the people themselves—the Cimmerians who in Homer’s own time, or shortly before his time, overran the whole country from the Bosporus to Ionia. At least he intimates that the very climate of their country is gloomy, and the Cimmerians, as he says, are ‘shrouded in mist and cloud, and never does the shining sun look upon them, but deadly night is spread o’er them.’”17

The Cimmerians are not mentioned in the Iliad by name, only in the Odyssey,18 but it is rather probable that the Amazons who are mentioned in the Iliad as well as in later authors like Diodorus,19 were the historical Cimmerians. Quite possibly the tales about the Amazons arose from accounts of the warlike Cimmerian womenfolk who used to accompany the men in battle.20

After destroying the Phrygian kingdom and pushing the Phrygians toward the Bosporus, the Cimmerians ravaged the western regions of Asia Minor settled by Greeks—Aeolis and Ionia,21 attacking Smyrna, Miletus, Sinope and other coastal cities.22 It appears that Homer refers to the Cimmerian invasion of Phrygia in the passage where he has Priam recall how once he “went into vine-clad Phrygia” and there saw “the Phrygian men with their gloaming horses, most numerous, encamped by the bank of the Sangarios. For I was mustered as an ally among them on that day when the Amazons came. But even so, they were not as many as are the glancing-eyed Achaeans.” Rhys Carpenter, discussing this passage in his Folk Tale, Fiction and Saga in the Homeric Epics reasoned thus: “. . . it is quite possible, and even probable, that the last stand [against the Cimmerians] was made behind the long, curving barrier of the great Phrygian river, the Sangarios. Here all the forces of western Asia Minor would have gathered to stop the terrible archers on horseback, who nonetheless overwhelmed them and rode westward to the sea. In the pages of the Greek historian Diodoros, centuries later, these same horsemen are the Amazons. If they were already Amazons for Homer, the date of Priam’s reference must be the year of Midas’ downfall, 676 B.C. . . . If the author of the Iliad was an Ionian Greek of the early seventh century, the most impressive and tremendous political event of his lifetime must have been the Cimmerian destruction of the Phrygian empire. Of what else could he have been thinking when he made Priam speak of Phrygian armies gathered against the Amazons on the banks of the Sangarios?”23

According to Herodotus the Cimmerians were originally displaced from the Asiatic steppes by the Scythians: but it was not until the second half of the seventh century that the Scythian hordes themselves arrived on the scene and, after decimating the Cimmerians with the aid of Assyria, pushed southward to the very border of Egypt, engulfing Palestine. The population fled in terror before “the noise of the horsemen and bowmen.”24

The Scythians at that time were worshippers of Mars, whom they represented as a sword, for a while leaving their ancient worship of Saturn in abeyance. They were called Umman-Manda, or “People of Saturn” in Akkadian and in the so-called Hittite literary texts.

If the author of the Iliad composed his poem in the early decades of the seventh century, he may or may not have known of the Scythians. At one point in the Iliad there is mention of a people named “the proud Hippemolgoi, drinkers of milk” and of “the Abioi, the most righteous of all men.”25 A scholium on Homer considers these to be tribes of Scythians26 as does Strabo: “How then,” he asked, “could the poet be ignorant of the Scythians if he called certain people ‘Hippemolgi’ [mare-milkers] and Galactophagi’ [curd-eaters]? For that the people of his time were wont to call the Scythians ‘Hippemolgi’ Hesiod too is witness in the words cited by Eratosthenes: the Ethiopians, the Ligurians; and also the Scythians, Hippemolgi’”27 That the Iliad is referring to some nomadic tribes appears certain. Whether it is the Scythians who are meant and whether they had by then already left the plains of South Russia cannot be decided on the basis of the vague Homeric reference.

In the tenth year of the siege, after the action described in the Iliad, Priam was said to have received a contingent of Ethiopians under the leadership of Memnon. The brave Ethiopians fought valiantly against the Greeks and caused them much hardship, till Achilles finally slew Memnon and caused them to depart. Some of these traditions are very ancient, in the Odyssey Nestor recalls the death of his son Antilochos,28 who died by the spear of “the glorious son of shining Dawn”29 which is an epithet of Memnon. Later in the Odyssey the Ethiopian warrior is mentioned by name as “great Memnon”.30 The epic Aethiopis, a sequel to the Iliad, recounted the deeds of Memnon and of the Ethiopians at Troy—it is considered to be among the earliest of the post-Homeric epics, possibly as early as the seventh century.31

The heyday of Ethiopian power lasted a little over half a century, from he end of the eighth to the middle of the seventh centuries; following their emergence out of Nubia, they fought repeatedly and at times successfully with the Assyrians for control over Egypt. The Ethiopian host mentioned in the Iliad suggests an Ethiopian attempt to outflank the Assyrian enemy by sending an expeditionary force in support of the Phrygians, under pressure from the Ionians in the West and the Assyrians and Cimmericans in the East.32

Again and again we are brought to the same period—the time of Phrygian power in Asia Minor, of its destruction by the Cimmerian invasion, and of the Ethiopian rule in Egypt is the end of the eighth and beginning of the seventh centuries before the present era. Then this is the historical background of the Trojan War, and if there be any core of truth to the story it must be seen in relation to these events.


  1. E. Akurgal, Phrygische Kumst (Ankara, 1955), p. 112; cf. idem, in Hittite Art and the Antiquities of Anatolia (Arts Council of Great Britain, London, 1964), p. 35.

  2. Strabo, Geography, transl. by H. L. Jones (Loeb Classical Library, 19.. ) Bk. X, ch, iii.22. Modern scholarship has also attempted to put the Phrygians in Anatolia in time to succor Priam in the thirteenth century (e.g.. The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. I, 19.., p. 108). The lack of archaeological evidence for their presence there before the eighth century is a serious drawback to this view. Cf. M.J. Mellink, “Postscript on Nomadic Art” in Dark Ages and Nomads c. 1000 B.C.; Studies in Iranian and Anatolian Archaeology, ed. by M.J. Mellink (Leiden, 1964), p. 64.

  3. Arrian, quoted by Eusthates in Denys Periegetes, 322.

  4. Arrian. The Anabasis of Alexander 11.3; Justin, XI.7; G. & A. Körte, Gordion (Berlin, 1904), pp. 12ff.; R. Graves, The Greek Myths (1955), no. 83.

  5. R. S. Young, “Gordion: Preliminary Report, 1953” in American Journal of Archaeology 39 (1955), p. 16.

  6. M. Mellink, “Mita, Mushki, and the Phrygians” in Anadolu Arastirmalari (Istanbul 1955); cf. Akurgal, Die Kunst Anatoliens, pp. 70-71.

  7. Eusebius Werke, ed. R. Helm (Leipzig, 1913), vol. VII, pp. 89, 92.

  8. Mellink, “Mita, Mushki, and the Phrygians” ; Akurgal, Die Kunst Antoliens, p. Master, L’Asie Mineure et l’Assyrie, p. 37.

  9. R. S. Young, the excavator of Gordion, estimated a period of “a half century” or more for the flourishing of Phrygian culture at the site—“The Nomadic Impact: Gordion” in Dark Ages and Nomads. p. 54.

  10. By suicide according to Eusebius (Chron. p. 92) and Strabo (Geography I.3.21.).

  11. The Cimmerian destruction level was found in 1956) see Young, “Gordion 1956: Preliminary Report” in American Journal of Archaeology 61 (1957), p. 320. Cf. also idem, “The Nomadic Impact: Gordion” pp. 54-56. 12

  12. Cf. Young, “The excavations at Yassihuyuk-Gordion, 1950” in Archaeology 3 (1950), pp. 196-199. The non-royal tumuli were much more numerous. A royal tomb, perhaps of Gordias, was excavated in 1957—Young, “The Royal Tomb at Gordion,” Archaeology 10 (1957), pp. 217-219.

  13. Young, “Gordion 1953: A Preliminary Report” p. 16.

  14. Ibid., loc. cit.

  15. Ibid., p. 13.

  16. Idem. “The Nomadic Impact: Gordion”, p. 52.

  17. Strabo, Geography I. 1. 10 (transl. by H. L. Jones, Loeb Class. Libr., 1917). Cf. ibid., III. 2. 12.

  18. However, the fact that some of the variae lectiones in the manuscripts give different readings of the name throws some doubt on Strabo’s argument. Cf. Rhys Carpenter, Folk Tale, Fiction and Saga in the Homeric Epics (University of California Press, 1946), pp. 148-149.

  19. Diodorus Siculus II. 45.

  20. This was the view expressed by Emile Mireaux in his Les poèmes homériques et l’histoire grecque (Paris, 1948-49).

  21. Strabo III.2.12.

  22. Herodotus IV. 12.

  23. Carpenter, Folk Tale, Fiction and Saga in the Homeric Epics, pp. 175-176, Cf. Strabo 1.2.9: “The writers of chronicles make it plain that Homer knew the Cimmerians, in that they fix the date of the invasion of the Cimmerians either a short time before Homer, or else in Homer’s own time.”

  24. Jeremiah 4:29.

  25. Iliad XIII. 5-6. A scholium takes the description “righteous’ to refer to the Scythian custom of holding all property in common (Venetus A). Cf. Herodotus’ description of the nomadic Massagetae (1. 216.1), Nasamones (IV. 172.2) and Agathyrses (IV.104). See also F. Buffiere, Les mythes d’Homère et la pensée grecque (Paris, 1956), pp. 362-363.

  26. Venetus A to Iliad XIII. 6.

  27. Strabo, geography VII. 3. 7.

  28. Odyssey III. 111-112.

  29. Odyssey IV. 185-202.

  30. Odyssey, XI. 522.

  31. We know of the contents of the Aethiopis only from the summary of it made by Proclus (Chrestomathia ii), preserved by Photius. It was ascribed to Arctinus of Miletus “who is said to have flourished in the first Olympiad (776 B.C.)”—H. G. Evelyn-White, Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica, Loeb Classical Library, (1914), p. xxxi. For several reasons this date appears much too early—writing was only re-introduced into Greece in the second half of the eighth century, and the Aethiopis is not likely to be earlier than the Iliad. A seventh-century date thus appears more probable. Later classical writers wrote extensively about Memnon, and it is not excluded that the Aethiopis was among their sources. Notable among these were the so-called “chronicles” of Dictys of Crete (lv. 5-8. VI. 10) and of Dare’s the Phrygian (25, 33), both apparently-composed in the first century (see the translation by R. M. Frazer Indiana University Press, 1966), and the Posthomerica of Quintus Smyrnaeus.(Bk. II) dating most probably from the fourth. The accounts of Diodorus Siculus (11.22. 1ff) and Plato (Laws III. 685C) are of less value being contaminated by the tabulations of Ctesias.

  32. Mireaux, Les poèmes homériques et l’histoire grecque. Mireaux sees many parallels between Homer’s Ethiopians and the rulers of Egypt’s XXVth Dynasty, most notably their bountiful sacrifices to the gods (Il. I,423-425; Od. I, 22-26). As several authors have noted it was these feasts that gave rise to Herodotus’ story of the Table of the Sun (III.18), located on the upper reaches of the Nile. The parallel with Homer’s Ethiopians is drawn also by A.D. Godley in a note to his translation of Herodotos (Loeb Classical Library, 1921). In Mireaux’s view the verses of Od. I, 23-24 that tell of the Ethiopians as divided into two groups, western and eastern, is an interpolation based on later geographical knowledge.