Monday, 31 October 2016


In the last post I took the first steps towards composing an army list for the Achaean army of the Trojan War. At that time I thought that I had a rough idea of what an Achaean army may look like; now, after a bit more digging around, I’m not so sure.

In this post I want to examine some of the available evidence but first I need to define some dates. However, it is worth pointing out that dates in this era can only be very approximate; not only that but dates quoted in different sources can also vary considerably.

In an earlier post I introduced the ‘Helladic’ system of dating; the Mycenaean era (c. 1600–1100 BC) more or less corresponds to the Late Helladic phase of the Bronze Age in Greece. Another dating system for the Mycenaean era divides the period into 3 parts by reference to the period of palace building, i.e. Pre Palatial, Palace and Post Palatial periods. The accompanying table shows how these periods are related to some important events of the era.

Approx. Date
Places & Events

2000 – 1550 BC
Destruction of Thera
Pre Palatial period
1550 – 1350 BC
1550 – 1500 BC
Mycenaean Grave Circle A
Mycenaeans at Knossos
1500 – 1450 BC
1450 – 1400 BC

1400 – 1350 BC
Destruction of Knossos
Palace period
1350 – 1200 BC
1350 – 1300 BC

1300 – 1230 BC
Battle of Kadesh
Destruction of Troy VIh
Lion Gate at Mycenae
1230 – 1190 BC
Mycenaean Warrior Vase
Destruction Mycenaean palaces
Destruction Troy VIIa
Ramesses III defeats Sea People
LHIIIC (Early)
Post palatial or sub Mycenaean
Post 1200 BC
1190 – 1130 BC
LHIIIC (Middle)
1130 – 1090 BC

1090 – 1060 BC

For this project I will be largely concerned with the end of the Mycenaean era; the Trojan War is typically dated somewhere in the region of c. 1260 – 1180 BC and the so called Bronze Age collapse c. 1200 – 1150 BC.

So now that I have defined the time period involved let’s have a look at how others have interpreted the available evidence.
For this I have relied on the following sources:
‘Armies of the Ancient Near East’ (Stillman and Tallis)
‘The Mycenaeans c. 1650-1100 BC’ (Grguric).
‘Henchmen of Ares’ (Brouwers)
‘Palace warriors: the end of Mycenaean civilisation in Greece’ (Brouwers;

For this post I’m going to restrict the discussion to a description of ‘heavy’ infantry; by which I mean those infantry expected to engage in hand to hand combat.
Theran Fresco

Mycenaean Rhyton
Mycenaean 'Lion Hunt' dagger
The aforementioned authors appear to be in agreement that the early Mycenaean army was Minoan influenced and that the bulk of the infantry were spearmen, wielding long two-handed spears and equipped with large body-shields, of both the so-called ‘Tower’ and ‘Figure of Eight’ type. These are nicely represented on frescoes from Thera (modern Santorini) and artefacts from Mycenaean grave circle A, dating to early in the Pre-Palatial period.

Pylos 'Tarzan' fresco
Grguric postulates a dramatic change in armament to infantry armed with small shields and short spears in about 1300 BC. Brouwers also points to a change in armament in the Palatial period to much more lightly equipped troops, based on the C13th frescoes from the palaces of Mycenae, Pylos and Tiryns. He also points out that no shields (bar one dubious example) are shown on the later frescoes which instead show helmeted warriors armed primarily with swords. This is exemplified by the so-called ‘Tarzan fresco’ from Pylos. In addition, Grguric uses the Pylos frescoes to propose the existence of light swordsmen as a distinct troop type.
Mycenaean 'Warrior Vase'

From the Post Palatial era there are images of Mycenaean infantry wearing horned helmets and carrying short spears and crescent shaped shields, most famously depicted on the ‘Warrior vase’ from Mycenae.

The evidence from either end of the period seems clear enough: either long spears and body shield or short spears and small shield. However, the Pylos frescoes create something of a conundrum. Frankly, I don’t buy the concept of unshielded swordsmen. We don’t really know the meaning of the Pylos frescoes and some scholars even argue that these are not true representations of everyday life being more decorative in nature. That aside, assuming the frescoes are illustrative of reality, what other interpretation could we put upon them? Well it strikes me that they illustrate a form of irregular warfare against ‘barbarians’ in inhospitable terrain; notice the river running through the scene. Could it not be that they have discarded their shields in favour of greater mobility? Of course this would suggest our hypothetical shields were on the large side. If equipped with a body shield then the Pylos warriors would look little different from those of the Pre-Palatial era.

Delos ivory
Tiryns fragment

In fact there is evidence to suggest that body shield were still used in the Palace period. An ivory plate from Delos (LH IIIA/B) shows a warrior with a boar’s tusk helmet and figure-of-eight shield.
Similarly, a pottery fragment from Tiryns (LH IIIB) shows both a tower shield and a figure- of- eight shield. Again the warrior is equipped with a boar’s tusk helmet but is wielding a short spear or javelin, rather than the earlier long spear.

Even if this seems a tad speculative there is also a slight suggestion that small round shields were in use during the Palace Period.
Tiryns krater
Pylos fresco
A possible early representation of a round shield is from a fresco fragment from Pylos (LH IIIB). However, it has been suggested that this is a hunting scene and the fragment is too small to be certain that there is a shield present. Nevertheless, 2 warriors with small round shields are shown on a krater from Tiryns (LH IIIB2).

Luckily, all of the above may be a red herring in any case. The Pylos frescoes are unlikely to show the most up to date images at the point that the palace was destroyed. Similarly, the ‘Warrior Vase’ is likely to show images of troop equipment in use before the vase was made. This by my reckoning easily puts it into the potential time of the Trojan War.

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