The Hippodrome of Constantinople » Achaemenid Empire » Achilles » Origins and History

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  • The Hippodrome of Constantinople » Origins
  • Achaemenid Empire » Origins
  • Achilles » Who was

Ancient civilizations » Historical places, and their characters

The Hippodrome of Constantinople » Origins

Ancient Civilizations

Author: Mark Cartwright

The Hippodrome of Constantinople was an arena used for chariot racing throughout the Byzantine period. First built during the reign of Roman emperor Septimius Severus in the early 3rd century CE, the structure was made more grandiose by emperor Constantine I in the 4th century CE. The Hippodrome was also used for other public events such as parades, public executions and the public shaming of enemies of the emperor. Following the Fourth Crusade in the early 13th century CE, the Hippodrome fell out of use and its spectacular monuments and artworks were looted.

Horses from the Hippodrome of Constantinople


Many important Roman cities had an arena which, like the Circus Maximus of Rome, hosted thrilling chariot races for public entertainment. Byzantium (which would become Constantinople) was no exception, and Emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193-211 CE) funded the building of one there in the 3rd century CE. Constantine I (r. 306-337 CE) understood that the Hippodrome provided an unrivalled opportunity to show the people the emperor’s power, wealth, and generosity in lavish public entertainments that went on for days at a time, often coinciding with public holidays. Consequently, he not only refurbished and extended the old circus when he switched the empire’s capital from Rome but he made sure to hand out cash and clothes to the crowd at his first race event. Located in the heart of the city right next to the Great Palace, which was the imperial residence, Constantine ensured there was even a connecting stairway between the two buildings to provide a physical link between the emperor and his well-entertained people.
The Hippodrome was the typical long rectangular shape with a curved end seen elsewhere in the Roman Empire. It was around 400 metres (1300 feet) in length and up to 200 metres wide. One lap of the track would have measured around 300 metres (1000 feet). Historians cannot agree on the seating capacity, and estimates range from 30,000 to over 60,000 people. VIPs had marble seats in the front rows while everyone else made do with wooden benches, although cushions could be hired from hawkers. The seating tiers rose 12 metres (40 feet) high above the track and were separated from it by a moat. The monumental entrance gate, the Carceres, was topped by a gilded bronze chariot group. In 1204 CE, during the Fourth Crusade when Constantinople was sacked, the four horses from this sculpture were looted. They are probably those which were taken to Venice, where they still reside today, in the Cathedral of St Mark.
The chariots had to race around a central island or spina seven times. The spina was a veritable museum of miscellaneous art clutter looted from across the empire with monumental sculptures of early Roman emperors and figures associated with victory such as eagles and the Greek hero Hercules. The central island was further embellished with a number of obelisks, including a false one made of individual blocks but entirely covered in bronze sheeting, and several columns, including the famous bronze Serpent Column of the Plataian tripod, a 5th-century BCE dedication looted from the sacred sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi. The column is formed from the entwined bodies of three snakes and was once 8 metres tall; the lower portion of it still stands today in Istanbul. The more celebrated charioteers had their own monuments here, too, such as the early 6th-century CE racer Porphyrius whose marble statue base still survives.

Plan of the Hippodrome of Constantinople

Most impressive of all of the spina’s antique collection was an Egyptian obelisk removed from Karnak and dating to the reign of Thutmose III in the 15th century BCE. The monument, measuring 25.6 metres in height, was probably erected in the Hippodrome by Theodosius I to commemorate his victory over the usurpers Maximus and Victor in 389 CE, although it had been lying horizontally at the site for some time before. The base on which the obelisk stood was made of marble and decorated with relief scenes showing the emperor watching the chariot races and surrounded by his family and bodyguards.
The chariot races - ranging from 8 to 25 over a particular games - were hugely popular with the masses and the charioteers were acclaimed as heroes, or at least those who won on a regular basis were. Charioteers raced in three different categories of youths aged under 17, young men between 17 and 23, and men over 23 years of age. Betting, of course, added a little extra spice to the proceedings for many spectators. Musicians, dancers, acrobats, and animal trainers amused the crowd during race intermissions. Emperors regularly attended, too, seating themselves in the plush seats of the imperial box or kathisma. To add even more interest to the races the four charioteers involved in each race represented four different factions which were represented by different colours: Blue, Green, Red, and White. There does not seem to have been any political or social significance to each faction, and so they functioned merely as a group of convenience that anyone could join and support. The factions were very much like the more fanatical sections of modern football stadiums, as the historian T. E. Gregory explains:
…the fans often engaged in organised chants or shouts, they commonly wore outlandish and immediately identifying clothes and haircuts, and they sometimes engaged in violence, especially against members of opposing factions. This violence not uncommonly spilled outside the hippodrome into the streets. (133)




The Hippodrome also hosted important festivals and commemorative events. The most important and most enduring was the anniversary of the founding of the city by Constantine I. Held every 11th of May, starting in 323 CE and continuing for a thousand years, the city’s population gathered to celebrate the birth of what became the greatest city in the Mediterranean region. No doubt all the spoils of war which were hung around the Hippodrome as decoration served to remind of all the peoples the Eastern Empire had conquered since that day.
Justinian I (r. 527-565 CE), always partial to a bit of public spectacle, rewarded his gifted general Belisarius with a triumph for his victories against the Vandals in North Africa in 533 CE. This was a great honour as no one outside the imperial family had been allowed to celebrate a Roman triumph since 19 BCE, and it was to be held in the Hippodrome. Belisarius, in full gleaming armour and with his face painted red, rode his chariot around the arena, followed by a selection of the most impressive Vandalcaptives, their insignia, and a lengthy train of booty which included jewelled chariots, gold thrones, and all the loot the Vandals themselves had swiped following their attack on Rome.


The base of the Hippodrome’s Karnak obelisk mentioned above reveals that other events besides sporting and commemorative ones were held there. On one side of the base there are prisoners cowering before their emperor, probably about to be executed. On another side there are barbarian captives offering tribute to their new sovereign. The arena saw many other scenes of imperial punishment besides the execution of criminals. The opportunity for rulers to show the people who was boss and what happened to any challengers to that idea was too good to resist. For example, Constantine V (r. 741-775 CE) had faced a coup at the beginning of his reign when a military governor named Artabasdos, backed by the bishop of Constantinople Anastasios, took over the capital in 743 CE. Constantine’s army quickly quashed the rebellion and retook Constantinople for the emperor. As punishment, Anastasios was publicly whipped and sent naked around the Hippodrome riding backwards on a donkey. Artabasdos faired even worse and was blinded along with his two sons in a public ceremony held, again, in the Hippodrome.

Roman Emperor at the Hippodrome

Constantine V, in his drive to banish icons from the Church, also used the arena to humiliate monks and clergy who opposed him, forcing them to parade around the spina,holding the hands of nuns while the public spat on them from above. The imperial use of public mockery as a political weapon and the huge crowd of the Hippodrome seemed made for each other - the two would be used in combination by many emperors.


The colour factions of Constantinople’s Hippodrome commanded great loyalty from supporters and fierce rivalry from competitors. The Blues and Greens, who dominated the 5th and 6th century CE, were particularly known for their violence and general hooliganism. Indeed, it was one of the responsibilities of the Eparch, a high-ranking city official, to supervise the factions, such was their reputation for misconduct. Besides a sporting role, the factions were also called on as a means to organise the defence of the city’s walls if necessary. Supporter groups were not shy of politics either, and they often backed popular causes, using the Hippodrome as a forum to raise awareness of issues they felt strongly about. Even the emperor, if rumoured to be guilty of an indiscretion or abuse, could be railed in the arena which was the place most likely for ordinary people to see their ruler.
There were occasions when the factions got completely out of control, notably the infamous riots of the Nika Revolt of 11-19th January 532 CE. The real causes for complaint were Emperor Justinian I’s tax hikes and his general autocracy, but the riot was sparked by the emperor’s refusal to pardon Blue and Green supporters for a recent outburst of violence in the Hippodrome. The troublemakers joined forces for once, and using the ominous chant “Conquer!” (Nika), which they usually screamed at the particular charioteer they were supporting in a race, they organised themselves into an effective force. The trouble began with Justinian’s appearance in the Hippodrome on the occasion of the opening races of the games. The crowd turned on their emperor, the races were abandoned and the rioters spilt out of the Hippodrome to rampage through the city. They left an impressive trail of destruction wherever they marched, burning down the Church of Hagia Sophia, the Church of Saint Irene, the baths of Zeuxippus, the Chalke gate, and a good portion of the Augustaion forum including, significantly, the Senate House. The starting point of all this destruction, the Hippodrome, escaped with only minor damage.

Obelisk of Thutmose III, Istanbul

The riot had become a full-scale rebellion and Hypatios, the general and nephew of Anastasius I (r. 491-518 CE), was crowned in the Hippodrome as the new emperor by the rioters. Justinian was not to be so easily pushed from his throne, though, and his generals Belisarius and Mundus ruthlessly quashed the revolt by slaughtering 30,000 of the perpetrators inside the Hippodrome. Hypatios, who had not actually wished to be crowned by the rioters, was executed nonetheless. No games were held in the Hippodrome for several years after the crisis. It is significant, too, that from the 7th century CE the factions were curtailed and only permitted for ceremonial purposes. Clearly, emperors were wary of mixing sport and politics. Finally, Leo III(r. 717-741 CE) used the Hippodrome as a forum in which to make solemn announcements. Previously, these had been made to a select gathering known as the silention, but Leo expanded his audience to as many people as could squeeze into the arena.


From the 7th century CE, the number of races held in the hippodrome declined, like in many others across the empire as the Roman culture wained, but it still hosted some up to the 9th century CE. Public events such as executions and festivals continued there until the 13th century CE and the Fourth Crusade attack on the capital when the monuments were stripped from the arena. The Hippodrome has long since disappeared, its building materials cannibalised for other structures, but its outline is clearly marked out, several metres above the original level, in the form of a public park complete with what remains of the serpent column and two original obelisks in modern downtown Istanbul.

Achaemenid Empire » Origins

Definition and Origins

Author: Atlas of Empires

East of the Zagros Mountains, a high plateau stretches off towards India. While Egypt was rising up against the Hyksos, a wave of pastoral tribes from north of the Caspian Sea was drifting down into this area and across into India. By the time the Assyrians had built their new empire, a second wave had covered the whole stretch between the Zagros and the Hindu Kush. Some tribes settled, others retained their semi-nomadic lifestyle. These were the Iranian peoples.


Like all nomadic peoples lacking police and law courts, a code of honour was central to the Iranian tribes, and their religious beliefs differed from those of farming people. Whereas the farmers of Egypt and Mesopotamia had converted nature gods into city guardians, the Iranians had begun distilling them into a few universal principles. Zoroaster, who lived some time around 1000 BCE, drove this process. For him, the only god was the creator, Ahura Mazda, bringer of asha – light, order, truth; the law or logic by which the world was structured. Even those who were not practising Zoroastrians grew up shaped by a culture that valued simple ethical ideas such as telling the truth.
In some areas, one tribe would manage to gather a collection of other tribes under its leadership. The Medes were one such. They built a capital at Ecbatana (‘meeting place’) in the eastern Zagros from where they extended their power. In 612 BCE, Cyaxares, King of the Medes, stormed Nineveh with the Chaldeans, after which he pushed into the north-west. In 585 BCE, the Medes were fighting the Lydians on the Halys river when a solar eclipse frightened both sides into making peace. Soon afterwards, Cyaxares died leaving an empire of sorts to his son Astyages (585–550 BCE).
One of the regions whose tribes paid tribute to the Medes was Persia, which lay south-east of Ecbatana, beyond Elam. There were around 10 or 15 tribes in Persia, of which one was the Pasargadae. The leader of the Pasargadae always came from the Achaemenid clan, and, in 559 BCE, a new leader was chosen: Cyrus II (‘the Great’).

Tomb of Cyrus the Great


We are told that Cyrus was the grandson of Astyages on his mother’s side, but that did not stop him wanting to shake off the Median yoke. By 552 BCE, he had formed the Persian tribes into a federation and begun a series of uprisings. When the inevitable showdown with his grandfather came in 550 BCE, the Medes mutinied and joined Cyrus to march on Ecbatana.
Cyrus took the title ‘Shah [‘King’] of Persia’ and built a capital on the site of his victory, which he called Pasargadae, after his tribe. Winning the Medes over had landed Cyrus with a vague, sprawling empire of countless different peoples, however. He faced cultural diversity, suspicion, and outright hostility. Lydia and Chaldean Babylon had agreements with the Medes; neither felt comfortable about a Persian takeover.
Lydia was won because Cyrus did not play by the rules. After an indecisive battle near the Halys river one autumn, King Croesus (c. 560–c. 546 BCE) returned to Sardis, expecting to resume fighting in the spring according to custom. But Cyrus followed him home and captured Sardis itself, Lydia’s capital and richest of the Ionian cities. A century earlier, Lydia had minted the first coins, making Ionia a hub of commerce. Now all this fell to Cyrus.
As for Croesus himself, it seems Cyrus may have spared his life, again against all precedent. Cyrus developed a reputation for sparing conquered rulers so he could ask their advice on how best to govern their lands. How much of this reputation was warranted is hard to know, but before Cyrus no one would have wanted it anyway; it would have been a sign of weakness.


Cyrus, by contrast, saw cooperation as a strength, particularly when it came to securing the main prize: Babylon. Rather than trying to take the world’s greatest city by force, Cyrus fought a propaganda campaign to exploit the unpopularity of its king, Nabonidus. Babylon’s traditions would be safer with Cyrus, was the message. The gates were opened and palm fronds were laid before him as he entered the city.
Once in Babylon, Cyrus performed the religious ceremonies Nabonidus had neglected and returned confiscated icons to their temples around the country. These acts enabled Cyrus to claim legitimate rule in Babylon; rule sanctioned by the Babylonian gods. He then explained what place this would take in his empire: his would be an empire based, in effect, on a kind of contract between himself and the various peoples in his care. They would pay their tribute and he would ensure all were free to worship their own gods and live according to their customs.

Empire of Cyrus the Great

The exiled Jews were allowed to go home and given money towards the building of a new temple in Jerusalem. This earned Cyrus a glowing write-up in the Old Testament as well as providing him with a useful buffer state against Egypt. Cyrus’s multiculturalism made an enduring imperial peace a real possibility at last and defined the way later empires sought to achieve stable rule. It was obvious to Cyrus that this was the only way he could hope to hold on to his conquests, but his was a vision only someone from outside the civilizations of the river valleys, with their intense attachments to local gods, could have conceived.


Cyrus’s son and successor Cambyses II (529–522 BCE) added Egypt to the Persian Empire, but then a revolt broke out at home, led, it seems, by a Median priest posing as Cambyses’s brother, whom Cambyses had secretly murdered. Cambyses hurried back but died on the way, leaving one of his generals, a distant relative, to step in. His name was Darius. Darius I(‘the Great’) killed the pretender to the throne, but uprisings were now breaking out all over and he found himself having to re-establish Cyrus’s conquests. Backed by the army and the noble clans of Persia, grown rich from imperial rule, Darius regained the Empire and extended it into the Indus Valley, a prize worth several times more in tribute than Babylon.
Darius realized that if the Empire were to work, it needed efficient organization. He divided it into 20 satrapies, or provinces, each paying a fixed rate of tribute to Persia. Each satrapy was run by a centrally appointed satrap, or governor, often related to Darius. To prevent the satrap building a power base, Darius appointed a separate military commander answerable only to him. Imperial spies known as the ‘king’s ears’ kept tabs on both and reported back to Darius through the postal service – the Empire was connected by a network of roads along which couriers could change horses at stations spaced a day’s travel apart.
Darius took much of this structure from the Assyrians, simply applying it on a larger scale, but his use of tribute was something new. Previously, tribute had been essentially protection money paid to avoid trouble, but Darius treated it as tax. He used it to build a navy and embarked on massive public-spending programmes, pumping money into irrigation works, mineral exploration, roads, and a canal between the Nile and the Red Sea.

Ranks of Immortals

He also established a common currency, which made working far from home much easier. Darius now brought together teams of craftsmen from all over the Empire to build, under the direction of Persian architects, an imperial capital at Persepolis. Here he could keep his gold and silver in a giant vault (which soon became too small) and show off the multi-ethnic scope of his empire. Persepolis became a display case for the artistic styles of just about every culture within the Empire, held in a frame of Persian design. It was a visualization of Cyrus’s idea of empire.
But Darius never acknowledged Cyrus. He seems to have had a chip on his shoulder about not belonging to Cyrus’s branch of the Achaemenid clan. As he outstripped Cyrus’s achievements, he began to carry himself in an ever more exalted manner, dropping the title Shah for the grander Shahanshah (‘King of Kings’). Like Persepolis, however, this followed directly from Cyrus’s vision. Cyrus had played the part of Babylon’s king when he entered the city, but his concept of empire demanded a ruler who stood above all kings linked to the interests of any one community. It required a king of kings.


Darius’s later rule saw trouble in the Mediterranean. In 499 BCE there was a Greek revolt in Ionia. After eventually quashing it, Darius’s fleet sailed to punish Athens for backing the rebels, only to encounter a surprise defeat. If the Persian administrative machine were not to look dangerously weak, the Greeks would have to be taught a lesson. But when Darius raised taxes to fund a rearmament drive, he provoked unrest in more important areas such as Egypt.
It fell to Darius’s son Xerxes I (486–465 BCE) to restore order in Egypt and take up the Greek question. Xerxes carried himself more loftily still than Darius and, with two great empire builders to follow, had even more to prove. But he lacked their cultural sensitivity. When tax increases produced riots in Babylon in 482 BCE, Xerxes sacked the city, destroyed the temple, and melted down the solid gold statue of Marduk, three times the size of a man. With it went Babylon’s greatness.
Marduk’s gold allowed Xerxes to begin assembling his forces to crush the Greeks in 480 BCE. Forced into battle too soon, however, he suffered a worse humiliation than his father. After that, Xerxes seems largely to have withdrawn into the luxury of his court and harem. When Cyrus entered Babylon he had aped the behaviour of a Mesopotamian king for public consumption, but now the private lives of Persian rulers took Mesopotamian form. Shut up in opulent isolation, the later Achaemenids played out an increasingly gaudy pantomime of harem intrigue and palace assassination.

Achaemenid Silver Drinking Bowl

The empire Cyrus and Darius had built was strong enough to weather this slide into decadence for 200 years, but gradually it took its toll. Satraps carved out their own islands of power. Inflation began to bite as taxes kept rising. Even the multiculturalism of the Empire, initially its great strength, had its drawbacks; the huge army was a bewildering ragbag of troops all trained and equipped according to their own traditions, all speaking different languages.
In 401 BCE, Cyrus the Younger, Satrap of Lydia, Phrygia, and Cappadocia, staged a coup against his brother Artaxerxes II (404–358 BCE) with the help of 10,000 Greek mercenaries who returned home when the coup failed. The information they brought back paved the way for the triumphant arrival of Alexander the Great in 334 BCE.
Persia had been the first real empire, an empire with an organizational structure developed from a realistic idea of how to govern different subject peoples. It defined the role of an emperor and set a template for future empires from the Romans to the British. When Alexander came to replace the dying Persian Empire with a vision of his own, he held the example of Cyrus in the front of his mind.

Achilles » Who was

Definition and Origins

Author: Mark Cartwright

Leader of the fearsome Myrmidons, sacker of cities, and slayer of Hektor, godlike Achilles was quite simply invincible in battle, and only the divine intervention of Apollo finally put an end to his long reign as the greatest Greek warrior of them all. The bravest, strongest, and even the best-looking hero of the all-star Greek army that went to Troy to recapture Helen, Achilles was also rather too proud and bad-tempered for his own good and his reckless rage would cost both his countrymen and the enemy dear.


In Greek mythology, Achilles was born to Peleus and Thetis the Nereid. His mother, in order to make her son immortal, held him over a divine fire or in some accounts, the River Styx. However, the infant was suspended by his heel and so this part of his body remained mortal flesh and ultimately, this weakness would lead to Achilles’ downfall. Thetis, knowing that her son was fated to a glorious but short life, sought to hide Achilles away from the world, and so the boy was raised on Skyros with the royal family of Lykomedes, even in some accounts disguised as a girl. Some accounts also credit the hero’s education to Chiron, the wise centaur who also included Hercules in his roll of pupils.


By far the richest source of our knowledge concerning Achilles’ escapades is Homer’s account of the Trojan War in the Iliad. Indeed, one may reasonably argue that Achilles is the star of the piece, and Homer himself describes his story as a tale of the rage of Achilles. Early on in the book, Odysseus, the wily king of Ithaca, is sent on a mission to find Achilles and persuade him to participate in the coming war between Greeks and Trojans. Odysseus was a formidable negotiator, and with Achilles’ thirst for glory, the embassy was successful and Achilles, leaving behind his son Neoptolemus, sailed for Troy. With him went 50 fast ships, each carrying 50 men of his own private army, the Myrmidons - fearsome fighters who had been transformed from ants by Zeus himself and given to his son Aiakos, King of Aegina and father of Peleus.

Penthesilea & Achilles

The Achaean siege of Troy lasted for ten years and during this time, Achilles excelled in battle and sacked no less than 23 cities in the surrounding area. Early on in the conflict, the hero also ambushed the Trojan prince Troilos as he drank at a spring and sacrificed him in honour of Apollo. This was fortuitous for the Greeks, as an oracle had decreed that if the prince were killed before he reached 20 years of age, then Troy would fall. In some accounts the murder of Troilos occurred at a sanctuary of Apollo, and this may explain the archer god’s fateful grudge against Achilles.
Things, then, were looking pretty good for the Greeks at this point, but their fortunes changed dramatically for the worse when Agamemnon, King of Mycenae and leader of the Greek forces, fell out with his greatest warrior and Achilles withdrew from the conflict. The quarrel started after Achilles had abducted two beauties in one of his raids - Breseis and Chryseis. Keeping the former for himself, he gave Chryseis to Agamemnon. However, Chyryseis’ father Chryses offered a tempting ransom for the girl’s safe return. Agamemnon refused and perhaps because the girl had been a priestess of Apollo, the god was displeased with the decision and sent a plague to wreak havoc amongst the Achaean camp. Agamemnon eventually relinquished his prize, but to console himself at his loss, promptly took Breseis from Achilles. Miffed at this sleight and claiming he was dishonoured before all of his compatriots, Achilles and his Myrmidons stormed off to their camp to sit out the rest of the war.
Without their talismanic warrior, the Achaeans' fortunes waned and the Trojans took confidence from Achilles’ absence, even reaching dangerously close to the walls of the Achaean camp in their attacks and managing to start a fire amongst the Greek ships. Agamemnon offered fabulous gifts and the return of Breseis but to no avail, and in this hour of great danger, even Achilles’ great friend Patroklos pleaded with the hero to re-enter the fray or at least allow him to lead out the Myrmidons in battle. Achilles agreed to the latter, and giving Patroklos his armour, made his friend promise only to engage in defensive action and not pursue the Trojans back to Troy. When the Trojans saw the armoured Patroklos, they thought that Achilles had re-entered proceedings and a panic ensued. Patroklos, flushed with success, ignored his leader’s advice and chased after the fleeing Trojans, even killing the Lycian Sarpedon, a son of Zeus, and reached the walls of Troy. Unfortunately for the young warrior, Apollo, protector of the Trojans, decided at that moment to intervene, and he struck the helmet and armour from his body and guided the spear of Euphorbos to strike him in the back. Patroklos was only wounded by the blow but Hektor, the Trojan prince, was at hand to deliver the final, fatal blow. A long battle then followed over possession of the body, with the Achaeans, led by Menelaos and Ajax, finally managing to take the fallen Patroklos back to their camp.


When Achilles discovered the tragedy he was mad with rage; now he would fight and take terrible revenge for the death of his friend. He immediately asked his mother Thetis to provide new armour and she enlisted Hephaistos, the god of metallurgy, to forge for the hero the most magnificent armour ever made. Homer describes the armour in great detail; the gleaming shield depicted all manner of scenes in gold, silver, and enamel, the greaves were of shining tin, and the helmet had a crest of gold.
Achilles the man-breaker, decked out in his divine armour and still livid with rage, took to the battlefield once more and routed the enemy left, right, and centre, sending a long line of Trojan heroes down to Hades. He then went after Hektor, and although Apollo tried three times to protect the prince in clouds of mist, the two finally met in single combat outside the walls of Troy. Hektor, although a great warrior himself, was no match for Achilles, who swiftly dispatched the Trojan, and by tying him to his chariot, dragged the corpse in front of the walls of the city in full-view of his grieving family and then back to the Achaean camp, a sacrilegious act, breaking all etiquette of ancient warfare.
Priam, King of Troy, travelled in secret to his enemy’s camp in order to plead with Achilles to return the body of his son so that he might receive a proper burial. After a long and moving appeal and with a little extra counsel from Athena, Achilles finally agreed to the old king’s request.

Achilles and Ajax By Exekias

Notwithstanding these dramatic events, the war rumbled on and Achilles continued to dominate proceedings, even killing Memnon, King of the Ethiopians and nephew of Priam. However, the end was near for the great warrior. Just as his mother had feared, despite winning glory and renown, our hero was to be cut down in his prime. Once more, it was Apollo who intervened in man’s affairs and directed an arrow let loose by Paris - the Trojan prince who had started the war in the first place by abducting fair Helen. Of course, the arrow hit the only vulnerable place, the heel, and so Achilles was sent down to Hades. The hero Ajax managed to recover the body and took it back to the Achaean camp where funeral games were held in honour of the fallen warrior. The magnificent armour, after a squabble with Ajax, was given to Odysseus, whose ruse of the wooden horse would finally bring an end to the siege and victory for the Greeks.


Achilles is a popular subject in ancient Greek art, appearing on vases from all over Greece, from Athens to Mykonos. Scenes on black- and red-figure pottery from the 7th to the 5th century BCE include Peleus giving his son to the care of Chiron, Achilles receiving his divine armour from his mother Thetis, the hero pursuing prince Troilos, slaying Hektor and dragging the Trojan prince behind his chariot. Achilles, when in armour, most often wears a Corinthian helmet and a shield with a gorgon device. One of the most common representations (more than 150 exist) is a depiction of Achilles and Ajax dressed in their armour and casually playing a board game with dice during a respite in the Trojan War. Perhaps the most celebrated example is a black figure amphora dating from 530 BCE and now in the Vatican Museum.

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