What did Flaminius bring to the Greeks?

What did Flaminius bring to the Greeks?


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In Montaigne's essay "Of Cannibals", Montaigne writes:

"I know not," said he, "what kind of barbarians" (for so the Greeks called all other nations) "these may be; but the disposition of this army that I see has nothing of barbarism in it."--[Plutarch, Life of Pyrrhus, c. 8.]--As much said the Greeks of that which Flaminius brought into their country; and Philip, beholding from an eminence the order and distribution of the Roman camp formed in his kingdom by Publius Sulpicius Galba, spoke to the same effect.

What is the sentence in bold referring to, when it talks of "that which Flaminius brought into their country"? The wiki link for Flaminius seems to imply that all he did was sell cheap grain in Rome, but I don't know how that has anything to do with the sentence.

(There's also another person called Flamininus, so was it maybe a typo?)


(Since I was requested to do this in a comment, and no closure or other answer appears to be forthcoming… )

My assumption on reading that passage, prior to even reading the text of your question was that in (Montaigne's?) phrase "that which Flaminius brought into their country", the "that" is referring to the "this army" from the previous quoted sentence.

A similar question about "that which" was raised over on the ELU site. Its a somewhat archaic turn of phrase. The accepted answer there contained this:

The that is a pronoun referring back to a noun phrase and the which is the relative pronoun used for non-animate antecedents

The King James Version of the Bible is about the only place a modern English reader is liable to come across this turn of phrase.


This is just a confirmation of T.E.D. answer, but too long for a comment.


Michel de Montaigne wrote in French (when not in Latin), and the original text is available online:

Quand le Roy Pyrrhus passa en Italie, apres qu'il eut reconneu l'ordonnance de l'armée que les Romains luy envoyoient au devant, je ne sçay, dit-il, quels barbares sont ceux-ci (car les Grecs appelloyent ainsi toutes les nations estrangieres), mais la disposition de cette armée que je voy, n'est aucunement barbare. Autant en dirent les Grecs de celle que Flaminius fit passer en leur païs, et Philippus, voyant d'un tertre l'ordre et distribution du camp Romain en son royaume, sous Publius Sulpicius Galba.

(emphasis mine)

In French there is no ambiguity: the construction "de celle que" (translated as "that which") clearly refers to "l'armée" ("the army"). In short, Greeks were impressed by the organization of Flaminius' army and Philippus by Galba's as well as Pyrrhus had been impressed by the army Romans had sent towards him.


Ancient Greek Women Who Changed History

Women in ancient Greece were very often confined to the home. Besides maybe the Spartan women, ancient Greek women were rarely considered a fundamental part of society, and yet a few women were defiant and established themselves as respected doctors, philosophers or mathematicians. Here are seven ancient Greek women who impacted the course of history.


Greek Colonization and its Impact on the Mediterranean World

Greek legends often tell us about countless expeditions and stopovers on distant islands and shores. These legends actually recount episodes of the Greek colonization movement that took place in the archaic period of Greek history.

Founding a New Colony

The extensive emigration of Greeks from their homeland in the Aegean begun in the mid-eight century and it continued for over two centuries. This expansion was driven by two major needs: to provide citizens of the motherland more fertile land and to satisfy the Greeks’ growing appetite for imported goods. Other colonies were founded by Greeks who fled in front of foreign armies, or by over-populated cities with the intention to avoid internal convulsions.

The process of founding a colony required careful preparation and it often involved the whole community. The polis that founded a colony was called “metropolis” (mother polis) and it was responsible for choosing a site for the new settlement, obtaining divine approval for building it, planing out the colony and choosing its official founder, also known as oikistes, among men of high status. The colonies remained linked to the metropolis by kinship and cult, as indicated by the sacred fire brought from homeland to the new polis by the oikist.

The oikist was the most important man for the newly created colony. He was responsible for leading out the colonists, choosing the name of the colony, organizing the settlement’s defence, assigning land to the colonists and establishing sanctuaries for the gods. Oikistes who proved successful in founding and administrating a new colony were venerated as guardian heroes of the polis after their death.

Extent of the Colonization Process

The ancient Greek colonization movement had two main phases, each of them lasting for about a century. The initial phase began at the middle of the eight-century and it was directed to the Western Mediterranean and to Italy the second took place a century later and focused on the Black Sea and north Aegean.

Euboeans were the pioneers in the colonization of Italy, by establishing a trading colony on the island of Pithecusae (modern Ischia) in the eight century BC. The success of the colony attracted both Greeks and Phoenicians, since the colony was well situated for exploiting the iron deposits on the island of Elba. Western Mediterranean colonies included Cyme, Zankle, Rhegium, Naxos, Syracuse (8th century BC), Massalia, Agathe, Emporion (early 6th century BC), Antipolis, Alalia and Cyrene (late 6th century BC).

Throughout the Archaic period the Greeks established new colonies in the east, focusing on the Black Sea. Some of the Greek colonies founded in this area became powerful and rich, among them Byzantium, which would become a thousand years later the capital of the Roman Empire, under its new name, Constantinople. Some of the eastern Greek colonies included Olbia, Tomis, Istria, Callatis, Panticapeum, Trapezus (on the Black Sea shores) and Abydus, Cyzicus and Phaselis (in Asia Minor).

Relations with Natives

Greek’s relations with people who inhabited the lands where they settled colonies were complex. With the arrival of Greeks, the colonies became gateways through which different peoples of southern Europe and the Black Sea gained access to the Greek culture. Some of them eagerly embraced Greek art, religious cults and adapted the Greek alphabet. Cultural exchange worked in both ways, with Greeks adopting the cult of the Thracian goddess Bendis, which spread throughout the Aegean. In other cases, the Greeks were regarded as intruders and thus conflict with natives occurred frequently.


12 Gifts Ancient Greece Gave To The World

It's easy to forget just how much credit we owe the brilliant minds of ancient Greece. They are responsible for so many of the world's early steps into language, politics, education and the sciences, so it's important to take an occasional, humble look back -- way back -- in time to ponder these roots and appreciate the ideas that have fueled progress throughout the centuries.

Here are 12 of the richest gifts ancient Greece has given to the world that still impact us today.

It was home to the first recognized historian.

The mission of Herodotus, also known as the "father of history," was to make sure that "human achievement may be spared the ravages of time, and that everything great and astounding, and all the glory of those exploits which served to display Greeks and barbarians alike to such effect, be kept alive – and additionally, and most importantly, to give the reason they went to war." Born around 484 BC in Halicarnassus, Herodotus was banned from his homeland by the tyrant Lygdamis and spent much of his time traveling and gathering the stories of others before he returned. He was one of the first writers to not only collect stories of ancient Greece, but also have them survive for others to read.

It's the birthplace of world-famous mathematicians.

The earliest mathematic theorems, Thales' theorem and Intercept theorem, both stemmed from the work of Thales of Miletus, recognized as the first of the seven wise men of Greece. Thale's theorem, which asserts that an angle inscribed in a semicircle is a right angle, lies at the crux of any modern-day geometry class. Following Thales, Pythagoras of Samos coined the word mathematics, meaning "that which is learned." Some of us may be able to recount the critical geometry theorem named after him as well.

It's the foundation of Western philosophic thought.

Pythagoras is also responsible for the word philosophy, signifying "a love of wisdom." During the Hellenistic period, ancient Greece's leading thinkers began searching for explanations of the world beyond the realm of mythology, instead looking to reason and empirical evidence. From Socrates to Plato to Artistotle, the Greeks expanded the new field into one of research and conversation regarding the role of knowledge, the capabilities of the human senses, and how man exists within the world. Each of these elements have had a direct impact on the shaping of Western thought as we know it.

Its founders designed the initial concept of democracy.

Americans are familiar with the famous description of democratic government by Abraham Lincoln, "a government of the people, by the people, for the people." It's less well known that the word democracy comes from our ancient Greek friends.

Demokratia, Greek for "power of the people," was born in Athens in the 7th century BC. As the city-state's oligarchy exploited citizens and created economic, political and social problems, Athenians were inspired by the successful, semi-democratic model Sparta had adopted. They turned to lawmaker Solon, who tried to help the struggling majority without disadvantaging the wealthy minority. He gave each Athenian the right to vote, and their assembly the ability to elect officials, pass laws and weigh in on the court's affairs.

It was the first place to bring trial by jury into the courtroom.

Athens is also the home of the original trial by jury practice. While any one citizen could raise charges against another in an ancient Greek courtroom, they were not allowed to select the jurors for their own trial. Their juries proved far larger than those used today -- it wasn't uncommon for the courts to use up to 500 citizens for any given case, and even to surpass 1,500 when it came to issues of death, exile and property seizure. Each decision was made via majority rule to keep the courtroom as reasonable as possible. The tradition of ensuring that all who serve receive a day's pay also originated in ancient Greece.

It educated and entertained us with mythology.

When it came to magical storytelling, the ancient Greeks were true professionals. Their myths were used to teach people about gods, heroes, nature, and why they practiced their religion the way they did. The narratives chart the globe, sharing new adventures and life truths with anyone who chooses to listen. From Achilles and Poseidon to Hercules and Athena, these stories have preserved the most colorful parts of Greek history well into the present day.

It brought us the origins of theater.

The early days of ancient Greek theatre began as festivals honoring the god Dionysus, and eventually evolved into an art all its own, once more than one person was allowed to take the stage at any given time. After performing the first known dramatic poetry reading on stage, Thespis became recognized as the first Greek actor and founder of the tragedy genre. Comedy, another genre introduced soon after by the Greeks, relied mainly on imitation. Aristophanes, for example, is most well known for writing comedic plays, 11 of which have managed to survive to the present day. Satyr plays centered around mythology stories with amusing twists.

It created the Olympic games.

The breathtaking city of Olympia is home to one of the world's greatest -- and oldest -- sport event traditions. More than 3,000 years ago, the ancient Greeks began hosting the games every four years in honor of the god Zeus. This practice continued for almost 12 centuries until Emperor Theodosius banned "pagan cult" rituals in 393 AD. The first modern Olympic games took place in Athens in 1896.

It introduced beautiful architecture.

With religion reigning as a dominant force in ancient Greek society, citizens needed to construct temples that reflected such devotion. The Parthenon and the Erechtheum are just two of the many impressive examples of their age-old architectural knowledge and practice that are still revered today. Flaunting ornate columns and beautiful figures, the temples are designed with particular attention to how all of the components of the structure relate to one another. The precision and skill behind these buildings inspired subsequent architectural concepts and designs that can be noticed in modern landmarks worldwide.

It shared with the world an incredible collection of sculptures and pottery.

The ancient Greeks are also highly revered for their sculpture work. Making use of their natural supply of marble, limestone and bronze, they created visions of their various god and heroes, as well as representations of important historical events and dominant elements of their culture. While pottery was created mainly for everyday use rather than display, many jars, jugs and containers were decorated with similarly themed paintings that are beautiful enough to be displayed on museum shelves.

It brought us the explanation of true tranquility.

In her latest book, Thrive: The Third Metric To Redefining Success And Creating A Life Of Well-being, Wisdom, And Wonder, Arianna Huffington writes, "From that place of imperturbability -- or ataraxia, as the Greeks called it -- we can much more effectively bring about change." That word first came from philosopher Epicurus and his famous list of principles. He believed that to achieve a state of inner tranquility, we must not attempt to maximize our sense of pleasure, but instead remove unnecessary desires from the equation. The simple parts of life are what keep us in a perpetual state of peace.

It gave us the most comprehensive, meaningful word for "happiness."

Eudaimonia, a term introduced by Aristotle in his work, Nicomachean Ethics, and a part of the ancient Greek virtue ethics system, is a simpler way of expressing a true, full sense of happiness that includes being part of something larger than yourself. This moral philosophy explores how making wise decisions in life can lead us to a state of well-being that not only benefits us but the world around us. Happiness and meaning become one and the same as we move through everyday life, make use of our practical wisdom, resolve any and all conflicts, and ultimately reach a state recognizable as the good life. Eudaimonia is the ideal for which we all strive.


Were Spartans Better Fighters?

WATCH: Spartans: Implements of Death

Strictly speaking, the Agoge didn’t include military training, which didn’t start in earnest until they became adult soldiers. Its real focus was to prepare Spartan males to be compliant members of society, who were ready to sacrifice their all for Sparta. Unlike other Greek city-states, Sparta “was exceptional in its socio-political stability,” Hodkinson says. “Part of the reason for this was that the boys’ upbringing had instilled behaviors that encouraged harmony and cooperation.”

But Spartan schooling’s emphasis on fitness did help Spartan soldiers on the battlefield. “It made them tougher/stronger, more able to sustain the weight of a heavy basically wooden shield in the summer sun, better at pushing and shoving, better at stamina,” Cartledge says.

The Spartans’ real secret wasn’t physical fitness or indifference to pain and suffering, but rather superior organization. Spartan troops drilled relentlessly, until they could execute tactics with perfection. “It was probably their training in tactical maneuvers which really gave Spartan soldiers their edge on the battlefield,” J.F. Lazenby writes in his book The Spartan Army.

“Xenophon says a Spartan army could perform maneuvers that others couldn’t, because of their training,” Cartledge says.

According to Plutarch, Spartans continued regular military training throughout their adult lives. “No man was allowed to live as he pleased, but in their city, as in a military encampment, they always had a prescribed regimen,” he wrote. As Cartledge writes in Spartan Reflections, it wasn’t until age 60 that Spartans finally were allowed to retire from the army—provided that they lived that long.


The secret history of beauty: How the Greeks invented Western civilization's biggest idea

By David Konstan
Published January 3, 2015 10:00PM (EST)

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The English word beauty is semantically rich that is, it has a wide range of meanings and connotations. In everyday speech, this is not a problem: we can apply the noun, or the corresponding adjective beautiful, to a great variety of objects that do not seem to have much, or indeed anything, in common, and yet we know perfectly well what is meant. For example, we can speak of a beautiful woman, a beautiful child, a beautiful painting, a beautiful mathematical proof, and a beautiful catch in baseball. The expression “that’s a beauty” can be said of almost anything at all. In some of the preceding examples, we might mean “attractive” or even “sexy,” as when we use the term to describe a model or actress in others, we may mean something more like “well executed,” as in the case of a good play in athletic competitions. When ascribed to a work of art, the term may signify balance or proportion, or some other quality that we think of as aesthetic in the case of mathematics, we perhaps mean that a proof is elegant because it is crisp and compact, or innovative in method. Very generally, beautiful is a term of approbation, and its precise sense depends on the context. However, it would seem to retain in most of its uses some connection with attractiveness, and its connotations do not overlap entirely or precisely with other expressions of approval such as good or fine. Upon reflection, one is naturally led to wonder whether all the different applications of beauty or beautiful really have a core quality in common, despite some outlying or marginal uses, or whether the term rather embraces a set of homonyms, in which the connection between the various senses is either thin or nonexistent, like pool when it bears the sense of a small body of water and then again when it refers to a game similar to billiards.

The nature of beauty became a central intellectual question with the emergence of the discipline known as aesthetics in the mid-eighteenth century, when the word was first coined. Aesthetics took beauty as its special province, above all in the domain of art. Why this interest should have arisen just then, and in Germany (or what is now Germany) in particular, is an intriguing issue in the history of philosophy, to which we shall return. From this point on, at any rate, serious thinking about beauty had to take account of well-developed theoretical positions and confront the paradoxes or difficulties that arose as a result of the umbrella character of the concept, which covered so great a variety of notions.

The present investigation is historical and looks to understand how our modern notions of beauty arose in relation to the prevailing ideas and accounts of beauty in classical antiquity, beginning with the Greeks. From this perspective, perhaps the quandary that most immediately presents itself concerning the nature of beauty is the apparent variety of forms that it takes across different times and places. This is evident in relation to the human form, the ideals for which may vary even in a relatively short period of time: for several recent decades, glamour was associated with models so thin as to appear anorexic. They would have aroused a certain revulsion in periods accustomed to more fulsome figures. The current practice of piercing and tattooing the body is another variation in the criteria for beauty, as is long hair or totally shaved heads for men compared to the trim haircuts of fifty or sixty years ago (I am not sure that younger people even know what a “part” is, in relation to a hairstyle). The ancient Greeks also had their preferences, which doubtless varied over time and in different locales. The same would be true for the Romans and the vast empire they eventually ruled. Although I mention, when relevant, the traits (for example, height) that counted as contributing to beauty, whether male or female, in antiquity, they are not the primary subject of the present book.

Did the Ancient Greeks Recognize Art?

I propose rather to examine the kinds of things that were described as beautiful (Did the term cover the same wide range of objects that it does in modern English usage?) and what the typical response to beauty was understood to be (What did people feel or think of themselves as feeling, when they beheld something they called beautiful?). As I mentioned, one of the characteristic spheres in which the modern notion of beauty is applied is the aesthetic one, that is, as a response or relation to art. Yet some have claimed—with what validity we will examine in due course—that the ancient Greeks had no sense of art as a self-standing sphere of experience, any more than they had a word for “literature” in the way we understand it today. Indeed, this is the dominant view today. As Elizabeth Prettejohn observes in her book about the reception of ancient Greek art, “ancient society, according to a prevalent view, did not have a ‘conception of art comparable to ours.’ ” As a result, seeing ancient sculpture, for example, as part of a “chain of receptions is not just irrelevant to their contemporary context, but a positive falsification.” As Prettejohn says, to scholars today “this sounds like common sense” (Prettejohn 2012, 98). The view was given its most influential expression in a well-known paper by the eminent historian of the Renaissance Paul Oskar

Kristeller, who affirmed that “ancient writers and thinkers, though confronted with excellent works of art and quite susceptible to their charm, were neither able nor eager to detach the aesthetic quality of these works of art from their intellectual, moral, religious and practical functions or content, or to use such an aesthetic quality as a standard for grouping the fine arts together or for making them the subject of a comprehensive philosophical interpretation” (Kristeller 1951, 506). According to Kristeller, an understanding of art as an autonomous sphere arose only in the eighteenth century, coincident with the rise of the new discipline of aesthetics.

To be sure, there are also contrary voices. Perhaps the most incisive critic of the view associated with Kristeller is James Porter, who has turned the tables on Kristeller’s picture of the ancient conception by asking: “Is it even true as a description of the state of the arts and their classification in the eighteenth century?” But this still leaves the status of ancient art up in the air. Porter quotes a noted essay, in which Simon Goldhill and Robin Osborne signal “a danger in using the general word ‘art’ ” in connection with painted images on classical pottery or friezes on temples, for example, insofar as “significant nuances of contextualization may be effaced.” Their basic thesis is, as Porter puts it, that “the term art risks misleading us into a false identification of the nature of ancient aesthetic production altogether.” If it is “really the case that the ancients had no conception of art comparable to ours,” then the question is, as Porter says: “Can we ever hope to approach their art on its own terms? Or worse still, in order to gain access to ancient culture, must we abandon all hope of approaching it through what we used to call its art?” The question has an immediate bearing on the ancient conception of beauty. For if the ancient Greeks had no notion of “art” as we understand it, we may well wonder whether it makes sense at all to ask whether they thought of beauty as a feature of art itself as opposed to the objects—human or otherwise—represented in a work of art.

The question of whether spheres of life that we consider autonomous were also regarded this way in other cultures and more specifically in classical antiquity is not limited to matters of art or culture. Some scholars have questioned, for example, whether it is right to speak of an ancient Greek or Roman “economy” in the sense of an independent and self-regulating social domain with its own laws and history. They have argued rather that trade and other economic transactions were embedded in social relations generally, and only with the rise of modern capitalism did the economy as such emerge, distinct and separate from the wider social context that included family, religious practices, political formations, and so forth. This view too has been challenged, and other scholars have seen in ancient banking and insurance practices ample evidence of strictly economic activity, in which people made investments with a view to profit and calculated gains and losses in relation to market values. Efforts have been made in recent years to move beyond the polarity of embedded versus autonomous economies by paying closer attention to local behaviors, which may have varied from one place to another or even within different occupations in a single community. The question continues to be disputed, but the debate itself is a salutary reminder of the need to avoid anachronism when we seek to understand ancient attitudes, values, and social categories.

Did the Ancient Greeks Recognize Beauty?

This book is concerned not with artistic beauty as such but with beauty more generally, which of course ranges well beyond the sphere of art. Even in the relatively narrow sense in which it is applied to visually attractive objects, beauty is perceived not only in paintings and sculptures but also in man-made items such as automobiles and furniture, which we would not necessarily classify as works of art. Still, it is hard to say just where the boundary is to be drawn between “art” and “design.” But above all—and in some ways most fundamentally—beauty is an attribute of the human form and of certain objects in the natural world. We do not typically classify these under the rubric of art, although here again our notions of what a beautiful woman or beautiful landscape looks like may well be influenced by artifice, via the cosmetics and fashion industries or images of cultivated gardens and country scenes. Thus Lessing wrote in his classic treatise on poetry and painting: “If beautiful men created beautiful statues, these statues in turn affected the men, and thus the state owed thanks also to beautiful statues for beautiful men.” Our question, then, is whether the ancient Greeks had a well-defined conception of beauty in general, even if they did not “use such an aesthetic quality as a standard for grouping the fine arts together,” in the words of Kristeller. It may seem even less likely that the Greeks lacked the idea of beauty than that they somehow failed to single out the more abstract notions of art or economy, which after all depend on the development of certain social practices that may not be common to all cultures. We can understand, for example, that ritual masks we gaze at in museums may not have been produced with an aesthetic purpose in mind but were intended to serve a religious function, and it is conceivable that images in a classical temple or on the altarpiece in a church were imagined as inspiring something other than an aesthetic response—at least in the first instance. So too, while we may think of the exchange of goods as strictly financial, we can recognize other contexts in which such transactions were primarily intended to promote solidarity and may have been the dominant form of exchange.

But beauty would seem to be a fundamental experience of human beings in any society, ancient or modern. Can there be a culture that has no such concept, or no term to express it? This would seem even more unlikely in the case of ancient Greece, with its brilliant art that to this day has set the standard for what we imagine to be the ideal representation of the human form. As Michael Squire has observed, “Like it or not—and there have been many reasons for not liking it—antiquity has supplied the mould for all subsequent attempts to figure and figure out the human body” (Squire 2011, xi). He adds, “Because Graeco-Roman art bestowed us with our western concepts of ‘naturalistic’ representation . . . ancient images resemble not only our modern images, but also the ‘real’ world around us” (xiii). Can the Greeks really have lacked the very idea of beauty?

Surprising as it may sound, leading scholars have in fact questioned whether any word in classical Greek corresponded to the modern idea of beauty. The absence of a specific term does not, of course, necessarily mean that the concept itself was lacking: languages, including our own, do resort to paraphrase after all, and we may recognize and respond to classes of things for which we have no special name. The so-called Whorf-Sapir hypothesis, according to which the vocabulary and structure of a given language not only influence but in fact strictly determine how its speakers perceive the world, is hardly tenable in its strictest form, which would deny that people can even conceive of a class of things that has no name in their own tongue. Edward T. Jeremiah has recently offered what he calls a “milder version” of the thesis that should “be uncontroversial.” He writes, “What a culture does not have a word for is not important for them as an object of inquiry or socio-cultural signifier” (Jeremiah 2012, 12). Still, it would be no less shocking, perhaps, to discover that beauty was insignificant for the ancient Greeks as a “socio-cultural signifier,” that is, a term charged with a specific meaning and value in their view of the world.

We shall take up in due course the question of whether there was a word for “beauty” or “beautiful” in classical Greek and Latin. For now, let me put the reader at ease and reveal that, despite the reservations entertained by serious scholars on this matter, I will argue that there was indeed a term for “beauty” in Greek and, what is more, that a proper appreciation of its meaning and use has something to tell us about our own ideas of the beautiful. The point requires argument, because if it were self-evident then it would not have been and indeed have remained controversial. But before tackling this debate directly, inevitably via an examination of the ancient Greek vocabulary, it is worth looking at some of the problems that beset the idea of beauty in its modern applications. For the idea of beauty, as we employ it, is not so simple or innocent a notion as it might seem. If beauty turns out to be a problematic concept for us, it may be less surprising to discover that some cultures may make do perfectly well without it or—if they do have such a notion (as I believe the ancient Greeks did)—may define and understand it in ways sufficiently different from ours to shed some light on our own difficulties and possibly on ways to resolve or circumvent them. Regarding the Greeks in particular, we may be able to see how the modern conception of beauty, with whatever baggage of contradictions and tensions it carries, emerged in the first place, since Greek works of art and Greek ideas about art had a massive influence on the Western tradition, even if they were sometimes misunderstood (not that this is necessarily a terrible thing: misunderstanding is one of the great sources of creativity).

Excerpted from “Beauty: The Fortunes of an Ancient Greek Idea” by David Konstan. Copyright © 2014 by David Konstan. Reprinted by arrangement with Oxford University Press, a division of Oxford University. All rights reserved.


Troy’s Night of the Horse

He is the last Greek at Troy. Pale in the morning light, he looks like a weak, ragged runaway. But looks can deceive. Sinon, as he is called, claims to be a deserter— the only Greek remaining when the entire enemy and its cursed fleet had suddenly departed. But can he be trusted? His name, Sinon, means “pest,” “bane” or “misfortune” in Greek, leading some historians to consider it a nickname, like “the Desert Fox” for German General Erwin Rommel, or a generic name, like “Bones” for a military doctor. Sinon played a key role in the plot to take Troy, although he is often forgotten, overshadowed by the most famous trick in Western civilization.

The famous horse may be imagined as a tall and well-crafted wooden structure, towering over the wildflowers of the Scamander River plain. Its body is made of the pine of Mount Ida, a tree known today as Pinus equi troiani, “Trojan Horse Pine,” and renowned since antiquity as a material for shipbuilding. The horse’s eyes are obsidian and amber, its teeth ivory. Its crest, made of real horsehair, streams in the breeze. Its hooves shine like polished marble. And hidden inside are nine Greek warriors.

Everyone knows the story. The Greeks are said to have packed up their men, horses, weapons and booty, set fire to their huts, and departed at night for the nearby island of Tenedos, where they hid their ships. All that they left behind was the Trojan Horse and a spy, Sinon, pretending to be a deserter.

The Trojans were amazed to discover that after all those years, the enemy had slunk home. But what were they to do with the Horse? After a fierce debate, they brought it into the city as an offering to Athena. There were wild celebrations. The Trojans underestimated the cunning of their adversaries. That night, the men inside the horse sneaked out and opened the city’s gates to the men of the Greek fleet, who had taken advantage of Troy’s drunken distraction to sail back from Tenedos. They proceeded to sack the city and win the war.

Everyone knows the story, but nobody loves the Trojan Horse. Although scholars disagree about much of the Trojan War, they nearly all share the conviction that the Trojan Horse is a fiction. From Roman times on, there have been theories that the Trojan Horse was really a siege tower, or an image of a horse on a city gate left unlocked by pro-Greek Antenor, or a metaphor for a new Greek fleet because Homer calls ships “horses of the sea,” or a symbol of the god Poseidon, who destroyed Troy in an earthquake, or a folk tale similar to those found in Egyptian literature and the Hebrew Bible. There has been every sort of theory about the Trojan Horse except that it really existed.

Many of these theories sound convincing, particularly the horse-as-siege engine, since Bronze Age Assyrians named their siege towers after horses, among other animals. But sometimes a horse is just a horse. Although epic tradition might exaggerate the details of the Trojan Horse and misunderstand its purpose, that the object existed and that it played a role in tricking the Trojans into leaving their city without defenses might just be true.

More about the Horse presently: In the meantime, back to the spy whom the Greeks had left behind. Although Sinon is less dramatic than the famous Horse, he was no less effective as an agent of subversion, and he inspires far more confidence as a genuine historical figure. The Trojan Horse is unique and improbable, although not impossible. But Sinon plays a well-attested role in unconventional warfare as it was waged in the Bronze Age.

In Virgil’s retelling in the Aeneid, Sinon pretends to be a deserter in order to work his way into Troy. He testifies that the Greeks have left for good and argues that the Trojan Horse is a genuine gift and not some trick. Eventually, after a stormy debate, the Trojans decide to bring the Horse into the city.

Deceit is not unique to the Trojan saga it was a fundamental ingredient in Hittite military doc- trine. Consider some examples: A king broke off the siege of a fortress at the approach of winter, only to send his general back to storm the unsuspecting city after it had gone off alert. A general sent agents into the opposing camp before battle, where they pretended to be deserters and tricked the enemy into letting down his guard. Another king attacked a neighbor via a roundabout route to avoid enemy scouts. Nor were the Hittites alone in their use of trickery. For example, the siege of one Mesopotamian city by another involved sneak attacks at night and the impersonation of an allied unit of soldiers in an attempt to lull the besieged into opening their gates. (It failed.)

Think of the fall of Troy not as a myth about a Horse but as an example of unconventional warfare, Bronze Age style. The Trojan Horse might be better known as the Trojan Red Herring. Everyone focuses on the Horse, but the real story lies elsewhere. In fact, it would be possible to leave out the Trojan Horse and yet tell a credible and coherent narrative of the capture of Troy much as the ancients told it.

Without the Trojan Horse, the story might go like this: The Greeks decided to trick the Trojans into thinking they had gone home when, in fact, they had merely retreated to Tenedos. Once they had lulled the enemy into dropping his guard, they planned to return in a surprise attack—at night. To know when to move, the Greeks would look for a lighted-torch signal, to be given by a Greek in Troy who had pretended to turn traitor and desert. Signals were used often in ancient battles, most famously at Marathon (490 BC), when a Greek traitor in the hills flashed a shield in the sunlight to communicate with the Persians. In the clear skies of the Mediterranean, fire signals could be seen from far off. They were visible as smoke signals during the day and as beacons at night. Tests show that the signals were visible between mountaintops up to a distance of 200 miles.

At the sign, the Greeks would row back rapidly to Troy. The final part of the plan required a few men inside Troy to open the city gate. These men might either have been Trojan traitors or Greeks who had sneaked into the city. With the emergency supposedly over, Troy’s gatekeepers would not have proved difficult to overcome.

Compare the set of tricks by which the south Italian port city of Tarentum was betrayed in turn to Hannibal and then to the Romans. In 213 pro-Carthaginian citizen of Tarentum arranged BC a for Carthaginian soldiers to come back with him from a nighttime hunting expedition. The soldiers wore breastplates and held swords under their buckskins they even carried a wild boar in front, to appear authentic. Once the city gate was opened to them, they slaughtered the guards, and Hannibal’s army rushed in. Four years later, the Romans under Fabius Maximus recaptured the city by having a local girl seduce the commander of Hannibal’s garrison. He agreed to guide Roman troops over the walls at night while Fabius’ ships created a distraction at the harbor wall on the other side of town. Although these events took place 1,000 years after the Trojan War, they could easily have been carried out with Bronze Age technology.

The Greek plan at Troy was to trick the enemy into dropping his guard. It worked: the Trojans relaxed. At that point, one Greek inside the city lit a signal fire to bring the Greek fleet back and then others opened a gate.

The island of Tenedos (now Bozcaada) lies about seven miles (six nautical miles) from the Trojan harbor. The Greeks might have moored their ships in one of the sheltered coves on the island’s east coast, near Troy but out of sight. At a rate of about five knots (about that of a 32-oared Scandinavian longship traveling 100 miles), they could have covered the distance in little more than an hour. That is, in daylight the trip would no doubt have taken longer at night. But the Sack of Ilium claims it was a moonlit night, and, anyhow Bronze Age armies knew how to march by night. So the trip from Tenedos took perhaps no more than two hours. From the Trojan harbor it was another five miles by land to Troy. It was nighttime, and the road was primitive, but the Greeks knew it well. They could have covered the distance in three hours. Athenian sources claim the month was Thargelion, roughly modern May. At that time of year, sunrise at Troy is 5:30-6 a.m., sunset 8-8:30 p.m. If the Greeks left Tenedos at, say, 9 p.m., and if everything went without a hitch, they would have arrived at Troy between 2 and 3 a.m., that is, about three hours before sunrise. A forced march may have gotten the Greeks to Troy an hour or so earlier.

To carry out their plan, the Greeks had had to infiltrate a small group of soldiers into the city. But they did not need the Trojan Horse to do so. Odysseus had already sneaked in and out of the city on two separate occasions shortly before. People came and went through the gates of Troy throughout the period of the war, making it all the easier now to trick the gatekeepers into letting in a handful of disguised Greek warriors.

Once inside the city, all the Greeks needed was arms, which a determined man would not have found difficult to get. Hardened commandos could easily have overpowered a few Trojan soldiers and seized their shields and spears. Ancient cities under attack were also often betrayed from within. Not even weapons could stand up to “dissatisfaction and treachery,” says an Akkadian poem. Troy no doubt had its share of Trojans who preferred dealing with the Greeks to prolonging the misery of war.

But if the Trojan Horse was not strictly necessary to the Greeks’ plan, it might well nonetheless have been part of it. The Trojan Horse would certainly be more believable if ancient history recorded another occasion on which a similar ruse was employed. But how could it? The Trojan Horse was such a famous trick that it could have been used only once.

According to Homer, it was Odysseus who conceived of the idea and Epeius, known otherwise as the champion boxer at the funeral games of Patroclus, who built the Horse. Certainly the Greeks had the technology to build it. Ancient fleets usually sailed with shipwrights because wooden ships constantly need repairs, and Linear B texts (ancient inscribed clay tablets) refer both to shipwrights and carpenters as professions. There would have been no shortage of men in the Greek camp to do the job.

And there would have been no question about whether or not a statue of an animal would catch the Trojan king’s fancy. Bronze Age monarchs liked animal imagery. A Babylonian king of the 1300s BC, for example, had specifically asked the pharaoh for a gift of realistic figures of wild animals, with lifelike hides, made by Egyptian carpenters. But which animal should the Greeks build at Troy? A Trojan Dog would have been insulting a Trojan Lion frightening a Trojan Bull or Cow would have thrown Greek cattle raids in the enemy’s teeth. But a horse symbolized war, privilege, piety, popularity and Troy itself.

Horses are expensive, and in the Bronze Age they were usually used in military context, rarely as farm animals. Rulers of the era often sent horses as a gift between kings, while ordinary Trojans might cherish a figure of a horse. In the Late Bronze Age, horse figurines, made of baked clay, were collected throughout the Near East. Excavators recently found a clay model of a horse in Troy of the 1200s BC. Finally, there was the religious connotation: As a votive offering, the horse was all but an admission of Greek war guilt, a symbolic submission to the gods of the horse-taming Trojans.

The Horse could have been used to smuggle a small number of Greek soldiers into the city, but the chances of detection were very high. Although the traditional story of the Trojan Horse cannot be ruled out, it seems more probable that, if the Horse did exist, it was empty. There were simpler and less dangerous ways of smuggling soldiers into the city. The Horse’s main value to the Greeks was not as a transport but as a decoy, a low-tech ancestor of the phantom army under General George Patton that the Allies used in 1944 to trick the Germans into expecting the D-Day invasion in the area of Pas de Calais instead of Normandy.

Epic tradition has some Trojans accepting the Horse as a genuine sign that the Greeks had given up while others remain skeptical. The debate lasted all day, according to Virgil, or three days, according to Homer. The Sack of Ilium identifies three camps: those who wanted to burn the Horse, those who wanted to throw it down from the walls and those who wanted to consecrate it to Athena. The length of the debate was in direct proportion to the stakes. The safety of the city as well as individual careers were hanging on the decision.

Virgil makes much of Priam’s daughter Cassandra, an opponent of the Horse who enjoyed the gift of prophecy but suffered the curse of being ignored. This story does not appear in Homer, or what we have of the Epic Cycle. One person who does feature in the tradition is the Trojan priest Laocöon, a staunch opponent of the Greeks, who wanted to destroy the Horse. In Virgil, the debate over the Horse comes to an end when Laocöon and his sons are strangled by two snakes from the sea. The Sack of Ilium apparently places this event after the Horse had already been brought into town. Surely the snakes are symbolic surely Laocöon and his boys were killed not by a sea snake but by a member of the pro-Greek faction, and so, therefore, by someone perceived as a tool of a signifier of evil like a snake.

Laocöon’s snakes may well be rooted in Anatolian Bronze Age religion, local lore of the Troad, or both. Hittite literature made the snake a symbol of chaos and the archenemy of the Storm God. It makes sense for a snake to foil the Storm God’s servant, the Trojan priest who was trying to save his city. The Troad, meanwhile, is rich in fossil remains of Miocene animals such as mastodons and pygmy giraffes, and these objects might have made their way into myth. For example, an Iron Age Greek painter probably used a fossilized animal skull as a model for a monster that Heracles is supposed to have defeated on the shore of Troy. So the story of Laocöon’s murder by monsters from the sea may well have Trojan roots.

Laocöon’s fate convinced Aeneas and his followers to leave town they withdrew to Mount Ida in time to escape the Greek onslaught. Virgil famously tells a different story, in which Aeneas stays in Troy, fights the Greeks and then at last escapes the burning city while carrying his elderly father, Anchises, on his back. But the account in the Sack of Ilium, which records Aeneas’ departure, strikes a more credible note. Aeneas would not have been eager to die for Priam, a king who had never given Aeneas the honor that he felt he was due. His homeland was south of the city, in the valley of Dardania beside the northern slopes of Mount Ida. What better place to regroup if Aeneas believed that Troy was doomed?

Helen played a double game. She had helped Odysseus on his mission to Troy and learned of his plan of the Horse. Now she tried to coax the Greeks out of the Horse, but Odysseus kept them silent—or perhaps the Horse was empty. Helen is supposed to have gone back home that night and prepared herself for the inevitable. She had her maids arrange her clothes and cosmetics for her reunion with Menelaus.

Whether or not there was a Trojan Horse, and whether or not the Trojans brought it into town and dedicated it to Athena, it is easy to imagine them celebrating the end of the war. They treated themselves to a night of partying, according to the Sack of Ilium. It was now, when the Trojans were occupied, that Sinon supposedly gave the prearranged torch signal. Once watchers on Tenedos saw it, the expedition to take Troy rowed rapidly back to the mainland.

Surprise, night and Trojan drunkenness would have given the Greeks substantial advantages, but taking Troy would require hard fighting nonetheless. Experienced warriors, the Trojans would have recovered quickly after their initial shock. If the battle began in darkness it no doubt would have continued into the daylight hours. The epic tradition offers a few details of Trojan resistance. The Greek Meges, leader of the Epeans of Elis, was wounded in the arm by Admetus, son of Augeias. Another Greek, Lycomedes, took a wound in the wrist from the Trojan Agenor, son of Antenor.

But what the tradition highlights, of course, is Greek victory. Admetus and Agenor, for instance, did not savor their successes, because that same night one was killed by Philoctetes and the other by Neoptolemus. A Greek named Eurypylus, son of Euaemon, killed Priam’s son Axion. Menelaus began his revenge by killing Helen’s new husband, Deïphobus, brother of Paris and son of Priam. But the Greek with the reputation for scoring the most kills during the sack of Troy is Achilles’ son, Neoptolemus. Among his victims, besides Agenor, were Astynous, Eion and Priam himself, either at the altar of Zeus—no doubt the Storm God, where the Trojan king had sought shelter—or, as some say, at the doors of the palace because, not wanting to violate a god’s altar, Neoptolemus was careful to drag his victim away first.

As for the Trojan women, tradition assigns Andromache to Neoptolemus and Cassandra to Agamemnon. Locrian Ajax had attempted to seize Cassandra but violated the altar of Athena or a Trojan goddess, which made the Greeks loath to reward him and thereby earn divine enmity.

Prudent Bronze Age warriors knew better than to insult an enemy’s god. For example, when Hittite King Shuppiluliuma I conquered the city of Carchemish around 1325 BC, he sacked the town but kept all his troops away from the temples of Kubaba and Lamma. He bowed to the goddesses instead.

Priam’s daughter Polyxena was, according to the Sack of Ilium, slaughtered at the tomb of Achilles as an offering to the hero’s ghost. Little Astyanax, Hector’s son, was murdered by Odysseus— thrown from the walls, in one version—lest he grow up and seek vengeance.

And then there was Helen. The Little Iliad states that Menelaus found her at home, in the house of Deïphobus. Menelaus’ sword was drawn to seek vengeance on the agent of his humiliation and suffering, but Helen had merely to undrape her breasts to change his mind. It is the sort of story that we can only wish is true.

So much for the epic tradition. What do other Bronze Age texts and the archaeological excavations tell us about the sack of Troy?

Bronze Age documents show that however brutal the sack of Troy may have been, it would have conformed to the laws of war. Cities that did not surrender would, if they were captured, be destroyed. This rule goes as far back as the first well-documented interstate conflict, the border wars between the two Sumerian city-states of Lagash and Umma between 2500 and 2350 BC.

When the Greeks sacked the city, they put Troy to the torch. Archaeology discloses that a savage fire destroyed the settlement level known as Troy VIi (formerly referred to as Troy VIIa). Blackened wood, white calcined stone and heaps of fallen building material were found in a thick destruction layer of ash and dirt that varied from about 20 inches to 6 feet deep. That inferno can be dated, according to the best estimate, sometime between 1230 and 1180 BC, more likely between 1210 and 1180.

The flames must have spread fast. One house in the lower city tells the story: A bronze figurine, as well as some gold and silver jewelry, was left abandoned on the floor of a room. The inhabitants had clearly fled in panic.

Imagine Troy’s narrow streets clogged, and imagine the cries of disoriented refugees, the wailing of children the growls and snorts, bleating, high-pitched squeals and relentless howls and barks of terrified barnyard animals (in the Bronze Age, typically kept within the town walls at night). Imagine too the clatter of arms, the clang and whistle of cold bronze, the cheers of the avengers, the whiz of javelins in flight, the reverberation of a spear that has found its mark, the holler and thud of street fighting, the surge of wails and curses, the gush and choking of pain, and much of it muffled by a fire burning fast and furious enough to sound like a downpour.

Archaeology draws a picture that is consistent with a sack of Troy. Outside the doorway of a house on the citadel, for example, a partial human male skeleton was discovered. Was he a householder, killed while he was defending his property? Other human bones have been found in the citadel, scattered and unburied. There is also a 15-year-old girl buried in the lower town the ancients rarely buried people within the city limits unless an attack prevented them going to a cemetery outside town. It was even rarer to leave human skeletons unburied—another sign of the disaster that had struck Troy.

Two bronze spear points, three bronze arrowheads, and two partially preserved bronze knives have been found in the citadel and lower town. One of the arrowheads is of a type known only in the Greek mainland in the Late Bronze Age. The lower town has also yielded a cache of 157 sling stones in three piles. Another supply of a dozen smooth stones, possibly sling stones, was found on the citadel, in a building beside the south gate that looked to the excavators like a possible arsenal or guardhouse.

None of this evidence proves beyond doubt that Troy was destroyed in a sack. The fire that ravaged the city could have been caused by accident and then been stoked by high winds. If Troy was destroyed by armed violence, were the Greeks responsible? The archaeological evidence is consistent with that explanation but does not prove it.

This article is excerpted from Barry Strauss’ book The Trojan War, published by Simon & Schuster in 2006.

Originally published in the March 2007 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.


The Death of Achilles, the Greatest of the Greek Warriors

Achilles is a renowned figure in Greek mythology and one of the greatest of the Greek warriors who participated in the Trojan War.

Achilles was the product of a union between a mortal father (Peleus of Thessaly) and an immortal mother (Thetis, a sea nymph). After his birth, his mother attempted to make him immortal through a variety of different means, the most famous of which was dipping him in the mythical River Styx. Each of her attempts to secure Achilles’ immortality ultimately failed, however, and it was prophesied by the seer Calchas that Achilles would die during the Trojan War.

Achilles Kills Hector and Desecrates the Body

According to The Iliad, an epic poem that was written by the famous Greek poet Homer, Achilles ravaged many of the Trojan cities and eventually killed the noble Hector, a son of the Trojan King Priam. After his death, Achilles dishonored the body and dragged Hector’s corpse behind his chariot for twelve days, exacting revenge for the fact that Hector had killed Achilles’ close friend (some sources say lover), Patroclus.

Achilles’ Immortal Horse, Xanthus, Foretells Achilles’ Death

As legend has it, Achilles had an immortal horse named Xanthus which the goddess Hera endowed with the power of speech. After the death of Patroclus, Achilles rebuked the horse for allowing him to die. In response, the horse warned Achilles that he too was about to face death in the war. The horse’s magical power of speech was then revoked by the Furies, but not before this prophecy was made. This knowledge was nothing new, however, since Thetis had known since the beginning of Achilles’ life that her son would face an early death.

The Death of Achilles

Because of his mother’s attempts to make him immortal, Achilles was invincible in all but the heel, which his mother had failed to dip in the mighty River Styx. As a result, Chalcas’ prophecy of Achilles’ fate rang true when he was struck in the heel with a poisoned arrow.

The majority of sources convey that it was Paris, Hector’s brother and the younger prince of Troy, who shot the arrow which took Achilles’ life. Yet, many versions of the tale claim that it was Apollo, the god of prophecy, who guided the arrow to Achilles’ vulnerable heel. Indeed, this is the story that the Roman poet Ovid describes in “Achilles’ Death” which is taken from his Metamorphoses. Ovid writes, “If fame, or better vengeance be thy care, There aim: and, with one arrow, end the war.” He goes on to say, “The deity himself directs aright/Th’ invenom’d shaft and wings the fatal flight.”

There are a few sources which claim that it was Apollo himself who shot the arrow, but these stories are less widely told and seemingly less popular. Either way, though, this event spelled death for the greatest of the Greek warriors and ended the slaughter and destruction that Achilles had wrought upon so many of the Trojan warriors.


Listen to the oldest known song in Ancient Greek

What did music sound like in Ancient Greece? A song known as the Seikilos Stele has been found to be the earliest complete song in known memory and dates back to c.100 BCE. This video explains how it sounds. Do you think it’s a love song?

As long as you live,
shine forth do not at all grieve,
Life exists for a short while,
Time takes its course.

Hoson zēis phainou
mēden holōs su lupou
pros oligon esti to zēn
to telos ho chronos apaitei.

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This video was orginally published by the Ancient History Encyclopedia

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The Lasting Influence of the Ancient Greeks on Modern Military

Written more than two thousand years ago, texts by ancient Greeks still have a major impact on the modern militaries of today in numerous ways.

At the start of the Cold War, the then US secretary of state, George Marshall, read the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides, convinced that the events of the Peloponnesian War and the fall of Athens were worthy of review in those unprecedented times when the United States and Russia— the Athens and Persia on the contemporary age, faced each other in conflict.

Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War is still studied at many military academies, including West Point, the Command and Staff College of the US Marine Corps, and the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. Recruits at army and naval colleges are encouraged to study what the text has to say about strategic leadership, garnering support in a protracted war and the impact of biological warfare.

The “Melian Dialogue” is considered particularly important, containing the Athenians’ justification for conquering Melos in what was one of the bloodiest conflicts of the late 5th century BC.

Also known to have studied Greek military texts are Colin Powell and David Pet­raeus, whose fall from grace in 2012 after the revelation that he had leaked classified information to his mistress has often been noted in Sophoclean terms. It did not go unnoticed at the time that “Petraeus” was the name of a centaur, a half-man, half-horse figure of Greek myth, renowned for his sexual appetite.

But Greek text also have a therapeutic nature for the military, as well as victims on the other side of the conflict.

The Greek tragedies of Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides continue to provide a powerful lens through which soldiers heal after returning from conflict. In his recent book, The Theater of War: What Ancient Greek Tragedies Can Teach Us Today, Bryan Doerries describes his work with Theater of War, a traveling drama collective that performs Sophocles’s most intense explorations of the psychological impact of war for US soldiers and veterans.

In Amman in 2013, a group of female refugees from Syria performed a version of Euripides’s Trojan Women as a way of collective catharsis for the women who were impacted by the war.



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