How do we know what ancient Greek warriors wore for battle? It's in 'The Iliad.'

Hector and Achilles might have been the stars of Homer’s epic poem, but their helmets, shields, and weapons are what took center stage.

Corinthian helmet, fifth century B.C. Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich, Germany.
Peter Horree/Alamy

As an epic poem about the Trojan War, that momentous clash of two great armies around the city of Troy, Homer’s Iliad describes many acts of combat. Of these, the climactic battle to which all the epic action has been driving is the ferocious duel between the Greek Achilles and the Trojan Hector. 

Despite their very different personalities, the two men share general traits. Both are noble; Achilles is the son of a goddess and the king of Thessaly. Hector is the son of the king and queen of Troy. Both are the outstanding warriors of their respective armies. Both men are young and honorable in their different ways, and both men, as the epic takes pains to show, want desperately to live.

For both, their final confrontation is highly personal. Achilles’ devastation of the Trojan army and its allies claimed the lives of Hector’s own brothers and brothers-in-law. Hector in his turn has slain Achilles’ closest comrade, Patroclus. And, improbably, the two heroes also briefly share a spectacular set of armor. How Hector came to wear it and the consequences of his doing so, accounts for one of the most dramatic themes in the entire epic.

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