All About the Achaeans (Mentioned in Homer's Epics)

Ajax, Phoenix, Achilles, and Odysseus
Ajax, Phoenix, Achilles, and Odysseus.

In the epic poems of Homer, the Iliad and Odyssey, the poet uses lots of different terms to refer to the many different groups of Greeks who fought the Trojans. Lots of other playwrights and historians did the same, too. One of the most commonly used ones was "Achaean," both to refer to the Greek forces as a whole and specifically to people from the region of Achilles's homeland or Mycenaeans, the followers of Agamemnon.

For example, the Trojan Queen Hecuba laments her fate in Euripides's tragedy Hercules when a herald tells her that "the two sons of Atreus and the Achaean people" are approaching Troy.

Mythologically, the term "Achaean" derives from a family from which most of the Greek tribes claimed descent. His name? Achaeus! In his play Ion, Euripides writes that "a people called after him [Achaeus] will be marked out as having his name." Achaeus's brothers Hellen, Dorus, and Ion also supposedly fathered great swaths of Greeks.

Archaeologists seeking to prove the Trojan War really happened also cite the similarity between the word "Achaean" and the Hittite word "Ahhiyawa," which was archaeologically attested in a bunch of Hittite texts. The people of Ahhiyawa, which sounds like "Achaea," lived in western Turkey, as many Greeks later did. There was even a recorded conflict between the guys from Ahhiyawa and the people of Anatolia: perhaps the real-life Trojan War?

Additional Sources

  • "Achaeans" The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology. Timothy Darvill. Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • "Achaea" The Concise Oxford Companion to Classical Literature. Ed. M.C. Howatson and Ian Chilvers. Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • "The Achaeans"
    William K. Prentice
    American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 33, No. 2 (Apr. - Jun., 1929), pp. 206-218
  • "Ahhiyawa and Troy: A Case of Mistaken Identity?"
    T. R. Bryce
    Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Vol. 26, No. 1 (1st Qtr., 1977), pp. 24-32