Ethiopians, Assyrians & Amazons in the Trojan War?

In this post we present a very interesting excerpt from the Library of History of Diodorus Siculus.


Combat between Achilles and Memnon, Grave amphora, southern Italy, 330 BC

There is no special need of giving all the names of the kings and the number of years which each of them reigned because nothing was done by them which merits mentioning. For the only event which has been recorded is the despatch by the Assyrians to the Trojans of an allied force, which was under the command of Memnon the son of Tithonus.

For when Teutamus, they say, was ruler of Asia, being the twentieth in succession from Ninyas the son of Semiramis, the Greeks made an expedition against Troy with Agamemnon, at a time when the Assyrians had controlled Asia for more than a thousand years. And Priam, who was king of the Troad and a vassal of the king of the Assyrians, being hard pressed by the war, sent an embassy to the king requesting aid; and Teutamus despatched ten thousand Ethiopians and a like number of the men of Susiana along with two hundred chariots, having appointed as general Memnon the son of Tithonus.

Now Tithonus, who was at that time general of Persis, was the most highly esteemed of the governors at the king’s court, and Memnon, who was in the bloom of manhood, was distinguished both for his bravery and for his nobility of spirit. He also built the palace in the upper city of Susa which stood until the time of the Persian Empire and was called after him Memnonian; moreover, he constructed through the country a public highway which bears the name Memnonian to this time.

But the Ethiopians who border upon Egypt dispute this, maintaining that this man was a native of their country, and they point out an ancient palace which to this day, they say, bears the name Memnonian.

At any rate, the account runs that Memnon went to the aid of the Trojans with twenty thousand foot-soldiers and two hundred chariots; and he was admired for his bravery and slew many Greeks in the fighting, but was finally ambushed by the Thessalians and slain; whereupon the Ethiopians recovered his body, burned the corpse, and took the bones back to Tithonus. Such is the account concerning Memnon that is given in the royal records, according to what the barbarians say.


The Departure of Memnon for Troy. Greek, c. 550-525 BC

Heracles, the son of Alcmenê and Zeus, was assigned by Eurystheus the Labour of securing the girdle of Hippolytê the Amazon.

Consequently he embarked on this campaign, and coming off victorious in a great battle he not only cut to pieces the army of the Amazons but also, after taking captive Hippolytê together with her girdle, completely crushed this nation. Consequently the neighbouring barbarians, despising the weakness of this people and remembering against them their past injuries, waged continuous wars against the nation to such a degree that they left in existence not even the name of the race of the Amazons.

Achilles kills Penthesilea in the tondo of an Attic red-figure kylix, 470–460 BC

Achilles kills Penthesilea, Attic red-figure kylix, 470–460 BC

For a few years after the campaign of Heracles against them, they say, during the time of the Trojan War, Penthesileia, the queen of the surviving Amazons, who was a daughter of Ares and had slain one of her kindred, fled from her native land because of the sacrilege. And fighting as an ally of the Trojans after the death of Hector she slew many of the Greeks, and after gaining distinction in the struggle she ended her life heroically at the hands of Achilles.

Now they say that Penthesileia was the last of the Amazons to win distinction for bravery and that for the future the race diminished more and more and then lost all its strength; consequently in later times, whenever any writers recount their prowess, men consider the ancient stories about the Amazons to be fictitious tales.

(Source: “The Library of History”, Book II, by Diodorus Siculus, Loeb Classical Library)

The battle of Achilles and Penthesileia. Lucanian red-figure bell-krater, late 5th century BC.jpg

The battle of Achilles and Penthesileia. Lucanian red-figure bell-krater, late 5th century BC

NovoScriptorium: In Homer, our oldest available source, the Trojan War is described as a war among people sharing the same cultural background. We have spotted the exception of the Carians who are named ‘βαρβαρόφωνοι‘ (i.e. speaking ‘barbarically’) but notβάρβαροι‘ (‘barbarians’), a thing that would indicate a totally different cutlural/ethnic background. As we have explained in previous posts, being a ‘barbarian’ is a completely different thing than being a ‘mixo-Hellene’ or a ‘barbarized’ Greek. Homer generally describes the two opposing camps as being culturally homogeneous. The only difference recorded is that of language. Except the Carians, who were most likely -as Mythology strongly suggests- ‘barbarized’ Greeks, Homer states that in the Trojan camp there were ἀλλόθροοι, i.e. people who speak foreign/different languages. Therefore, even though Homer was not fully analytic in his description of the Trojan camp, indirectly he also knew/suggested that the Trojans had foreign allies on their side. Various ancient sources, Diodorus included, agree on this.

Ajax and Achilles playing a board game (Black-figure Attic lekythos, c. 500 BC).jpg

Ajax and Achilles playing a board game (Black-figure Attic lekythos, c. 500 BC)

Research-Selection-Comments for NovoScriptorium: Isidoros Aggelos



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