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The Achaeans (Greek: Template:Polytonic, Akhaioí) is one of the collective names used for the Greeks in Homer's Iliad (used 598 times) and Odyssey. The other names are the Danaans (Template:Polytonic, used 138 times in the Iliad) and Argives (Template:Polytonic, used 29 times in the Iliad). In the historical period, the Achaeans were the inhabitants of the region of Achaea, a region in the north central part of the Peloponnese. The city states of this region formed a confederation known as the Achaean League which was influential during the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC.

Homeric versus later use[]

The Homeric "long-haired Achaeans" would have been a part of the Mycenaean civilization that dominated Greece from ca. 1600 BC, with a history as a tribe that may have gone back to the prehistoric Hellenic immigration in the late 3rd millennium BC.

However, by the Archaic and Classical periods, the term 'Achaeans' referred to inhabitants of the much smaller region of Achaea. Herodotus identified the Achaeans of the northern Peloponnese as descendants of the earlier, Homeric Achaeans. According to Pausanias, writing in the 2nd century AD, the term 'Achaean' was originally given to those Greeks inhabiting the Argolis and Laconia.[1] However, this is clearly not the manner in which Homer uses the term.

Pausanias and Herodotus both recount the legend that the Achaeans were forced from these homelands by the Dorians, during the legendary Dorian invasion of the Peloponnese. They then moved into the region that later bore the name of Achaea.

A scholarly consensus has not yet been reached on the origin of the historic Achaeans relative to the Homeric Achaeans, and is still hotly debated. Former emphasis on presumed race, in which John A. Scott could write an article on Achaean blondness, compared to the dark locks of "Mediterranean" Poseidon,[2] on the basis of hints in Homer, has been laid aside.

The contrasting view that "Achaeans", as understood through Homer, are "a name without a country", an ethnos created in the Epic tradition,[3] has modern supporters among those who conclude that "Achaeans" were redefined in the fifth century, as contemporary speakers of Aeolic Greek.

Karl Beloch has suggested that there was no Dorian invasion, but rather that the Peloponnesian Dorians were the Achaeans.[4] Eduard Meyer, disagreeing with Beloch, has instead put forth the suggestion that the real-life Achaeans were mainland pre-Dorian Greeks.[5] His conclusion is based on his research on the similarity between the languages of the Achaeans and pre-historic Arcadians. William Prentice disagrees with both, noting that archeological evidence suggests that the Achaeans instead migrated from “southern Asia Minor to Greece, probably settling first in lower Thessaly” probably prior to 2000 BC.[6]

Emil Forrer went as far to claim that there existed a "great empire" called Ahhijawa, which stood as equal by the side of the old states of the east. However, his conclusions were disproven by later researchers, especially by Ferdinand Sommer.[7]

Hittite documents[]

Some Hittite texts mention a nation lying to the west called Ahhiyawa.[8] In the earliest reference to this land, a letter outlining the treaty violations of the Hittite vassal Madduwatta,[9] it is called Ahhiya. Another important example is the Tawagalawa Letter[10] written by an unnamed Hittite king (most probably Hattusili III) of the empire period (14th-13th century B.C.) to the king of Ahhiyawa, treating him as an equal and suggesting that Miletus (Millawanda) was under his control. It also refers to an earlier "Wilusa episode" involving hostility on the part of Ahhiyawa. Ahhiya(wa) has been identified with the Achaeans of the Trojan War and the city of Wilusa with the legendary city of Troy (note the similarity with early Greek Template:Polytonic Wilion, later Template:Polytonic Ilion, the name of the acropolis of Troy). However the exact relationship of the term Ahhiyawa to the Achaeans beyond a similarity in pronunciation is hotly debated by scholars, even following the discovery that Mycenaean Linear B is an early form of Greek; the earlier debate was summed up in 1984 by Hans G. Güterbock of the Oriental Institute.[11]

Egyptian sources[]

During the 5th year of Pharaoh Merneptah, a confederation of Libyan and northern peoples is supposed to have attacked the Western Delta. Included amongst the ethnic names of the repulsed invaders is the Ekwesh or Eqwesh, whom some have seen as Achaeans, although Egyptian texts specifically mention these Equesh to be circumcised (which does not seem to have been a general practice in the Aegaean at the time). Homer mentions an Achaean attack upon the delta, and Menelaus speaks of the same in Book 4 of the Odyssey to Telemachos when he recounts his own return home from the Trojan War. Later Greek myths also say that Helen had spent the time of the Trojan War in Egypt, and not at Troy, and that after Troy the Greeks went there to recover her. There is also the strange myth of the brothers Aegyptus and Danaus, sons of Belus, with the latter supposedly coming from Egypt, that Marianne Luban has suggested may date to this time.

Greek mythology[]

In Greek mythology, the perceived cultural divisions among the Hellenes were represented as legendary lines of descent that identified kinship groups, with each line being derived from an eponymous ancestor. Each of the Greek ethne were said to be named in honor of their respective ancestors: Achaeus of the Achaeans, Danaus of the Danaans, Kadmos of the Kadmeioi, Hellen of the Hellenes (not to be confused with Helen of Troy), Aeolus of the Aeolians, Ion of the Ionians, and Dorus of the Dorians.

Kadmos from Phoenicia, Danaus from Egypt, and Pelops from Anatolia each gained a foothold in mainland Greece and were assimilated and Hellenized. Hellen, Graikos, Magnis, and Macedon were sons of Deucalion and Pyrrha, the only people who survived the Great Flood; the ethne were said to have originally been named after the elder son Graikoi but renamed later after Hellen who was proved to be the strongest. Sons of Hellen and the nymph Orsiis were Dorus, Xuthos, and Aeolus. Sons of Xuthos and Kreousa, daughter of Erechthea, were Ion and Achaeus.[12]

According to Hyginus, the Achaeans killed 362 Trojans during their ten years at Troy.[13]

See also[]

  • Achaea (modern province)
  • Achaea (Roman province)
  • Achaean League
  • Achaean Federation
  • Aegean civilization
  • Denyen
  • Historicity of the Iliad
  • Homer
  • Mycenaean Greece
  • Mycenaean language
  • Troy


  1. Pausanias VII, 1
  2. Scott, "The Complexion of the Achaeans" The Classical Journal.20..6 (March 1925:366-367)
  3. As William K. Prentice expressed this long-standing skepticism of a genuine Achaean ethnicity in the distant past, at the outset of his article "The Achaeans", American Journal of Archaeology 33.2 (April 1929:206-218) p 206
  4. K. J. Beloch, Griechische Geschichte, 1: I, p. 92, and p. 88, n. 1.
  5. Eduard Meyer, Geschichte des Altertums, 112, I (1928), p. 251
  6. Prentice 1929:206-218.
  7. Hermann Bengtson: Griechische Geschichte. C.H.Beck, München, 2002. 9th Edition. ISBN 340602503X. pp.8-15
  8. G.L. Huxley, Achaeans and Greeks (1960); Hans G. Güterbock, "The Hittites and the Aegean World: Part 1. The Ahhiyawa Problem Reconsidered" American Journal of Archaeology 87.2 (April 1983), pp. 133–138; and Machteld J. Mellink, "Part 2. Archaeological Comments on Ahhiyawa-Achaians in Western Anatolia", pp. 138–141.
  9. Translation of the Sins of Madduwatta
  10. Translation of the Tawagalawa Letter
  11. Hans G. Güterbock, "Hittites and Akhaeans: A New Look" Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 128.2 (June 1984), pp. 114–122. Bibliography.
  12. Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911: "Achaeans"
  13. Hyginus, Fabulae 114.

External links[]


  • Tsotakou-Karveli. Lexicon of Greek Mythology. Athens: Sokoli, 1990.

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