Summary of the Chapters of Barry Strauss' 'Trojan War: A New History'

'Priam and Achilles', 17th century. Artist: Padovanino
'Priam and Achilles', 17th century. Artist: Padovanino.

 Heritage Images / Getty Images

The Trojan War: A New History, by Barry Strauss, re-examines The Iliad of Homer and other works of the epic cycle, as well as archaeological evidence and written material about the Bronze Age in the Near East, to present evidence that the Trojan War actually did take place much as Homer describes it.

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Introduction to 'The Trojan War: A New History,' by Barry Strauss

Map of Ancient Greece
Map of Ancient Greece.

Duncan1890 / Getty Images 

Archaeological evidence since the 1980s has led support to the idea that Troy was real and in its heyday in about 1200 B.C.

In the introduction of Barry Strauss' book on the Trojan War, he points to the archaeological evidence supporting Schliemann. Troy was an Anatolian city, not a Greek one, with a language related to Troy's allies' language, Hittite. The Greeks were like Vikings or pirates. The Trojans, horsemen, were like used-car salesmen. Their rise to prominence was based on the geographic location of windy Troy at the entrance of the Dardanelles and its amenities like animal-filled woods, grain, pastures, abundant fresh water, and fish. The Trojan War was fought between Troy and its allies against a coalition of Greeks. There may have been as many as 100,000 men in each army and more than a thousand ships. Strauss sets out to show that much of what we knew is wrong: The war was not decided by a series of duels -- it was more like the war on terror, Troy actually could have withstood the assault -- "the Greeks were underdogs," and the Trojan Horse could have been real -- or at any rate, all it could have taken to win in the end was a trick.

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Chapter 1 War for Helen - Causes of the Trojan War: Wife Stealing and Plunder.

Menelaus as he gives Helen the gift of a fawn
Menelaus as he gives Helen the gift of a fawn.

Fototeca Storica Nazionale. /  Getty Images

The abduction of Helen, wife of Menelaus of Sparta, was not the only factor that launched a thousand ships.

Helen of Troy or Helen of Sparta, wife of King Menelaus, may have been drawn to the attentive Prince Priam of Troy. She may have gone willingly because Menelaus was oppressive, Paris good-looking, or because Anatolian women had more power than their Greek equivalents. Paris may not have been motivated so much by lust as by the desire for power, which he might gain by carrying "out a bloodless raid on enemy territory." Modern readers aren't the only ones skeptical of the love motive. However, by making the war a case of wife-stealing, Homer creates the sort of motive that suited the Bronze Age, when personal terms were preferred to abstracts. Troy had become an ally of the Hittites earlier in the century and could at that time count on protection. Priam probably didn't believe the Greeks would come to take back a missing queen and whatever possessions she took with her. Agamemnon would have had a hard task persuading the other Greek kings to join him in the risky war, but taking Troy meant plenty of plunder. Strauss says, "Helen was not the cause but merely the occasion of the war."


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Chapter 2 - The Black Ships Sail

Reproduction of ancient Greek ship
Reproduction of ancient Greek ship.

Kisa_Markiza / Getty Images 

The black pitch-painted ships of the Greeks carried soldiers, diviners, priests, physicians, scribes, heralds, carpenters, wainwrights, and much more.

In the third chapter, Strauss explains the Greek hierarchy, giving Agamemnon the title of "anax" or "wanax". His kingdom was more of a household than a state and it produced luxury goods for trade and gifts, like bronze breastplates, arrowheads, and chariots. The rest of the area was run by local "basileis". Strauss says that since Linear B was only an administrative tool only the leaders like Agamemnon had no reason to learn to write in it. Then Strauss lists the leaders of a warrior band ("laos") who would join Agamemnon and their particular skills. He says "they shared a single dream: to set sail home from Troy in ships with timbers creaking from the weight of plunder." The story of the sacrifice of Iphigenia at Aulis comes next, with information on human sacrifice, and alternative explanations for how Agamemnon had offended Artemis. Once the goddess lifted the curse, the Greeks, "the first sea power on the continent of Europe," set sail in the new oared, wooden, ramless galley type of ship, generally, a penteconter or 50-oared ship about 90 feet long. Strauss thinks there were not 1,184 ships, but more like 300 carrying about 15,000 men. Although Troy was a sea port, it did not fight at sea.

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Chapter 3 - Operation Beachhead

Hittite Chariot
Hittite Chariot.

The third chapter describes the landing of the Greeks and the composition of the armies.

The Greeks can't just land on the Trojan beach. Since the Trojans would have been warned by signal fires, the Greeks had to fight to win a spot. First, though, they had to land in the right spot, which they didn't on their first try. Hector struck the first blow. Strauss takes this opportunity to say that Hector was a great warrior, but a mediocre husband who shrugged his shoulders at the thought of the fate of Andromache if he aggressively pursued glory. He needed to prove himself. Hector leads the Trojan allies, the European Thracians and Macedonians, as well as the members of the Troad and other regions of Anatolia. Based on surviving material about ancient Egypt, Strauss deduces that the armies were in units of 5,000 men divisions. The smallest group was the squad of 10, which was grouped into platoons of 5 squads, companies of 5 platoons, and hosts of 2 or more companies. The Iliad mentions comparable figures. Shardana troops in Egyptian carved reliefs were foreign fighters in the Egyptian army, who fought with swords and spears at close range. Strauss says the Greeks fought like the Shardana and although not Shardana, did indeed fight in the Egyptian army. The Greeks had only a limited number of chariots, while the Trojans had many. "The chariot was part tank, part jeep, and part armored personnel carrier." After Achilles heads into the Trojan territory and kills Cycnus, son of Poseidon, the landing of the Greeks is assured.

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Chapter 4 - Assault on the Walls

Shields, including a Figure-8 shield. Armor of Pyrrhus
Shields, including a Figure-8 shield. Armor of Pyrrhus.

 NYPL Digital Gallery

Etiquette required that the Greeks give the Trojans one last chance for peace, so Menelaus and Odysseus addressed the Trojan assembly.

Barry Strauss says that Priam could not afford to admit fault by returning what his son had stolen from the Greeks. It would have led to civil war and his ousting, as had recently happened to a Hittite ally, King Walmu. What happens in the first part of the war is not told in The Iliad. The Trojans spent most of the war working on defense -- and therefore were called cowards by Poseidon, while the Greeks led attacks. The Trojans needed to keep their allies happy by avoiding too many casualties. There were 3 ways to conquer a fortified city in the Bronze Age: assault, siege, and ruse. The Greeks had trouble getting enough food for a siege or manpower, since some of the force was always off getting food. They never surrounded the city. However, they did attempt to scale the 33 feet high and 16 feet thick walls of Troy. Idomeneus was one of the Greeks who took part in the assault. He and Diomedes wore figure-8 shields, which Strauss says were once thought to be old-fashioned and anachronistic, but were still in use in the 1300s, and may still have been a century later. Ajax bore a tower-shaped shield. The Greeks were unable to storm the city.

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Chapter 5 - The Dirty War

Eurybates and Talthybios lead Briseis to Agamemmon
Eurybates and Talthybios lead Briseis to Agamemmon.

Leemage / Getty Images

Achilles appears on the scene charging like a boar and slaughters the sons of the King of Thebes-Under-Plakos in order to take their cattle.

By the so-called 9th year of the Trojan War, Achilles claims to have destroyed 23 cities, using the Trojan coastline as a jumping off place for attacks on other cities in order to take women, treasure, and cattle, which provided a break from monotony, in addition to loot and food. The frequent attacks also hurt Troy. Achilles treated his royal victims' corpses respectfully. In Achilles' attack on Thebes-Under-Plakos, Chryseis was taken and given to Agamemnon as a prize. Achilles also attacked Lyrnessus where he killed the brothers and husband of Briseis, and then took her as his prize. The share each man had of the plunder was called his "geras". This prize could lead to fights. Such raids allowed the war to go on and on.

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Chapter 6 - An Army in Trouble

Nestor meets Agamemnon in a dream
Nestor meets Agamemnon in a dream.


ZU_09 / Getty Images

Agamemnon takes Achilles' war-prize when he surrenders his own in order to stop the plague afflicting the Greeks; then Achilles withdraws from battle.

The Greeks suffer from an epidemic, which Strauss thinks might be malaria. The prophet Calchas explains that Apollo or the local war-god Iyarru is angry because Agamemnon has not returned war-prize Chryseis to her father Chryses, a priest of Apollo/Iyarru. Agamemnon agrees but only if he takes Achilles' war-prize, Briseis. Agamemnon wants respect from Achilles while Achilles wants a larger part of the booty since it is he who does most of the work. Achilles surrenders Briseis and then cries, as did Mesopotamian and Hittite heroes. Achilles withdraws from the battle, taking his troops with him. The removal of the Myrmidons amounts to about a 5% reduction in the Greek forces and may also have meant the withdrawal of the fastest troops. It would have demoralized the Greeks. Then Agamemnon has a dream that Zeus would give him victory. Bronze Age rulers did believe in their dreams. Agamemnon addressed his troops pretending the dream had told him the opposite. His demoralized troops are not unhappy to leave, but then Odysseus stops the Greek stampede for the ships. He ridicules and then beats one of the Greeks who favored leaving (which Strauss calls a mutiny). Odysseus demands the men stay and fight. When Homer provides the catalog of ships, Strauss says he is merely describing the standard military policy.

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Chapter 7 - The Killing Fields

Heroes Of The Trojan War
Heroes Of The Trojan War.


traveler1116 / Getty Images

The two men who want Helen, Menelaus and Paris, fight, but the fight isn't fair and the Trojans break the accompanying truce.

Although Paris has to be taunted into agreeing: "real men think about war not women," he and Menelaus agree to a duel for Helen and the wealth she took with her from Sparta. Menelaus is winning when Paris is whisked away by the goddess. Then, as if that weren't disgrace enough for the Trojans, another Trojan, Pandarus, breaks the truce and wounds Menelaus. Strauss details the treatment options available during the Bronze Age, which include a honey and olive oil antibiotic/antifungal. The use of honey is fascinating: In Chapter 2, honey mixed with ghee was used as a paste by Assyrians cementing rows of mud brick. Since the truce has been broken, a pitched battle can no longer be avoided. Strauss explains the use of chariots and the armor of the ordinary soldier. He says that soldiers usually used spears at close range because swords had a tendency to break, unless they were the new sort, the Naue II sword, which Diomedes appears to wield in his murderous charge which drives the Trojans back behind the Scamander River. Sarpedon urges Hector to rally the troops, which he does and then takes a break for sacrifice. Hector arranges for a duel between himself and Ajax, but their fight is inconclusive, so the two exchange gifts. Strauss' run-down of the day's events include Menelaus' disgracing Paris, Ajax accepting Hector's challenge, kills by Agamemnon, Idonmeneus, Odysseus, Eurypylus, Meriones, Antilochus, and Diomedes on the Greek side and the death of many Greeks, including Hercules' son Tleptolemus for the Trojans. Antenor then advises returning Helen, but Paris and Priam suggest only returning the treasure and hoping for a ceasefire to bury the dead. The Greeks reject the offer but agree to the burial ceasefire, which they use to build a palisade and trench.

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Chapter 8 - Night Moves

Aeneas rescued by Aphrodite before the mighty Diomedes
Aeneas rescued by Aphrodite before the mighty Diomedes.

ZU_09 / Getty Images

The night after the burial ceasefire, Trojans led by Hector set out to meet the Greeks on the plain.

On this day, the gods favor the Trojans, although Hector loses his charioteer to a javelin hurled by Diomedes. The Trojans push the Greeks back across the Scamander and behind their palisade. Then Hera rouses the Greeks and Teucer kills 10 Trojans. The Trojans are not prepared to retreat, so they pitch camp and build fires to keep burning all night. This is their first night outside the city in 10 years (or, at any rate, a very long time). The Greeks panic. Nestor says they need Achilles and his Myrmidons, and Agamemnon agrees, so they send an embassy to Achilles. They also decide to send out a scouting party of Diomedes and Odysseus to learn what the Trojans are up to. The Trojans had decided to do the same, but choose an incompetent for the job, whom the Greek scouts intercept, pressure into revealing all, and then kill. The description of this expedition is unusual in behavior and in anti-Trojan bias, as well as vocabulary, so it may have been written by someone other than the writer of the rest of The Iliad. Strauss also says the Trojans should have spent their time harassing the Greeks, infiltrating their ranks and feeding them misinformation, but they did not. He then explains the Bronze Age familiarity with personal violence like ear chopping and nose biting-off. He concludes that Hector was not interested in anything but a full, glorious victory.

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Chapter 9 - Hector's Charge. Patroclus leads Myrmidons in Achilles' Armor

Apollon save Hector before Achilles' furious attacks
Apollon save Hector before Achilles' furious attacks.

 ​ZU_09 / Getty Images

This chapter covers most of the excitement of The Iliad, including the fight between Patroclus and the Trojans leading to Achilles' leaving retirement.

Achilles lets Patroclus wear his armor and lead the Myrmidons against the Trojans, but gives him specific instructions as to how far to go. Patroclus feels flushed with success and goes further. He loses his armor and then Euphorbus sticks his spear into Patroclus' back. This is not a killing blow. That is left to Hector who stabs Patroclus in the belly. Strauss says a Syrian general referred to destroying an enemy as "'smashing his belly.'" Achilles then roars three times and scares the Trojans away. Achilles returns to battle partly because the Myrmidons would have rejected his leadership if he had continued to be a useless weight. After Achilles has shown his superhuman power by fighting the Scamander River, Hector is fearful and runs around the Trojan Plain with Achilles behind him three times. Strauss has made a point of Achilles' speed, so it is odd that Achilles doesn't catch up with Hector and odder yet that Strauss doesn't mention this. Then Hector stops to face Achilles who drives his spear into the Trojan prince's neck. Strauss then says that the Trojans should have used Muhammad Ali's rope-a-dope strategy to tire out the enemy, but again, glory-hungry Hector couldn't tolerate it and so paid the ultimate price. Just because Hector was dead did not mean the war was over. The Trojans could have waited out the Greeks.

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Chapter 10 - Achilles Heel. Odysseus steals the palladium of the Trojans.

Odysseus and Diomedes steal the Palladium from Troy,
Odysseus and Diomedes steal the Palladium from Troy,.

ZU_09 / Getty Images

In the 10th chapter of The Trojan War: A New History, by Barry Strauss, Achilles kills Hector, kills an Amazon, is killed and his death is avenged.

The meeting between Achilles and Hector's father is told in Homer's Iliad, which Strauss interprets as a "classic gesture of prostration and self-abasement." Strauss also says that it is with his death that Hector's image is revised from a "Self-absorbed, ... sharp-tongued martinet" to a "selfless martyr for his homeland." After the death of Hector, in the epic cycle, but not Homer, Achilles meets the Amazon Penthesilea. Later Achilles meets his death after he forces his way inside the walls of Troy. His armor is given to Odysseus on the basis of the judgment of some overheard Trojan girls. Ajax goes mad because he doesn't win the armor and kills the valuable cattle whose capture had been so difficult for the Greeks. He then kills himself, which is not a courageous act for the Greeks. A new phase of the war begins and Philoctetes, with the bow of Hercules, is brought in to avenge Achilles by killing Paris. In a marriage ceremony showing Homer's familiarity with non-Greek levirate mores, Helen marries Paris' brother. Odysseus then fetches Achilles' son Neoptolemus and surrenders to him the hard-won armor of his father. Odysseus sneaks into Troy where only Helen recognizes (and aids) him. He steals the palladium of the Trojans, which Strauss says forms a third miraculous object with the bow of Hercules, and the divinely wrought armor of Achilles. Odysseus hopes the theft of the palladium will weaken Troy. However, there is a possibility that he stole a fake palladium.

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Chapter 11 - The Night of the Horse. Plausibility of the Trojan Horse

The Trojan Horse
The Trojan Horse.

TwilightEye / Getty Images 

In Chapter 11 of The Trojan War, Barry Strauss looks at the evidence for the destruction of Troy by the Greeks.

Although most scholars doubt the existence of the Trojan Horse, Strauss shows that the story of the Greek destruction of Troy doesn't rest on the literal existence of a Trojan Horse. Odysseus had already sneaked into Troy a couple of times and had help. What with the dissatisfaction of the residents, a few carefully placed spies/traitors, a few blows to the head of Trojan guards and a well-timed attack on the city, the Greeks could have surprised the Trojans in their drunken revelry. Strauss says that evidence from an archaeological settlement now called Troy VIi (formerly Troy VIIa), shows that Troy suffered destruction via fire probably between 1210 and 1180 B.C., the time period in which the Trojan War, if it did occur, is thought to have taken place.

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Summary of the Conclusion to Trojan War: A New History, by Barry Strauss

A Roman marble sarcophagus depicting scenes from the Trojan War
A Roman marble sarcophagus depicting scenes from the Trojan War.

George Rose / Getty Images

Strauss says that Homer is true to Bronze Age warfare in The Iliad.

Following the end of Troy, the departing Greeks start fighting amongst each other, set off by Locrian Ajax' sacrilege against the Trojan equivalent of Athena when he grabbed Cassandra from her image. Agamemnon doesn't think stoning Ajax is sufficient atonement, but Menelaus, now with Helen in tow, wants to get going. Although Menelaus and Helen return to Sparta and witness their daughter's marriage to Neoptolemus, all is not rosy there, and brother Agamemnon dies at his wife's hands. Odysseus takes 10 years (or just "a long time") getting back to Ithaca. Archaeology shows a series of catastrophes in many of the Greek centers. We don't know who or what caused them. The city of Priam was rebuilt, nowhere near as extravagantly, and composed of a different mix of people, including "newcomers from the Balkans."