The Sack of Troy

The Sack of Troy

Who knows how long the Trojan War would have lasted if it wasn’t for Odysseus’ cunning stratagem in the tenth year of the conflict! In retrospect, it seems to have been an all-or-nothing move, one which would have almost certainly forced the end of the war either way. For if the Trojans had decided to take heed of Laocoon’s advice and resolved to do away with the Trojan Horse – instead of wheeling it inside their walls – then the Greeks would have probably lost not only their fifty best soldiers (left there without any proper backup) but also their morale and, undoubtedly, the whole war. However, the Trojans did mistake the Horse for a divine gift, and after spending a night euphorically celebrating their victory, they became an all too easy target for the raucous and conquering Greeks. Violent and ruthless, the Greeks sacked and pillaged the city, and also took care of almost every member of the Trojan royal family. Here is how.

The Fate of the Royal Couple


Even though Odysseus had apparently promised Helen that his soldiers would spare everybody who offered no resistance, as soon as the Greeks climbed down the Trojan Horse, they forgot all about this or any other promises. Being one of the first to wake up and notice their vicious fervor, the Trojan queen Hecuba took a few of her daughters with her and hid with them beneath an ancient laurel-tree at the altar of Zeus in the royal palace. Next, she convinced her husband to hide with them as well, to which he, timeworn and intoxicated, begrudgingly agreed. However, as soon as he took cover beneath the laurel, his son Polites dragged himself past him, an arrow in his leg, Neoptolemus at his feet. It was right before Priam and Hecuba’s eyes that Achilles’ son struck the fatal blow. Unable to bear the sight, Priam hurled a spear in the direction of Neoptolemus. The spear didn’t even scrape the Greek, who first yanked Priam far from the altar and then killed him at the threshold of the royal palace.


Priam’s spear gave away the hiding place of Hecuba and the Trojan princesses. All of them were either killed or enslaved; it is difficult to say who of the two fared better. Hecuba was one of those who ended up as a Greek slave-wife – in her case, to none other than Odysseus. However, this was a fate she was not willing to accept: she cursed at her captor so hideously and shockingly that the Greeks saw no other option but to kill her. Some say that after her death she was transformed into a black dog, leaped into the sea and swam towards the Hellespont. Yet others claim that this story is merely a fable and that Hecuba was, in fact, spared by the Greeks. This is why she was able to avenge the death of her son Polydorus by blinding Polymnestor and killing his two sons. It was only after this that she transformed herself – or was transformed – into a dog: to prevent any future retribution in the first case or as a light punishment from the gods in the second. However, according to the most tragic, but also most believable account, even though spared by her enemies, the grieving Hecuba went mad by sorrow upon seeing the corpses of her children, Polydorus and Polyxena; it was because of this that she suddenly started howling and barking like a dog, an event misrepresented by later authors.

The Fate of the Trojan Princesses


Cassandra knew what awaited Troy as soon as she witnessed the death of Laocoon and the wheeling of the Trojan Horse inside the city gates. So, she spent the whole night in the temple of Athena hugging a wooden statue of the goddess. Eventually, she was discovered by the Locrian Ajax (Ajax the Lesser), who immediately grabbed her and tried dragging her away. However, in the process, the statue of Athena broke, and the Lesser Ajax ended up hauling both Cassandra and the goddess with him; many maintain that, disgusted at the treatment of the prophetess, the figurine of Athena miraculously averted its eyes in horror and loathing. Irrespective of whether that actually happened, Odysseus – knowing full well that Agamemnon had intended Cassandra for himself – explicitly pointed this out when the time for the sharing of the war spoils came. So, Agamemnon got his wish and took Cassandra with himself to Mycenae, where the Trojan princess was able to foresee the death of her captor at the hands of Clytemnestra, just moments before the queen killed her as well.


Before drawing his last breath, Achilles had begged that his beloved Polyxena, the youngest of Priam and Hecuba’s twelve daughters, should be sacrificed upon his tomb. The Greeks were unwilling to grant Achilles’ wish, believing, with Agamemnon, that even the most celebrated dead warriors should have no right over living women. However, Achilles appeared in the dreams of his son Neoptolemus, reminding him of his demand and explicitly stating that if it is not met, he will keep the winds from blowing and, thus, prevent the Greek fleet from ever leaving Troy. So, eventually, Neoptolemus sacrificed Polyxena at the foot of Achilles’ tomb, an act which was immediately followed by the raising of favorable winds. As we implied above, when the waves brought the bodies of Polyxena and Polydorus to the beach, Hecuba, upon recognizing her children, went permanently mad.


Hector’s wife, Andromache, lived long enough to learn of the death of her child as well. Despite having an agonizingly fervent wish to bury her son herself, in the end, it was Hecuba, her mother-in-law, who prepared his body for proper burial. Unfortunately, by the time of the arrival of Astyanax’s corpse, Andromache was already taken a concubine by Neoptolemus. During the following years, she bore Achilles’ son three children before being handed over to Hector’s brother, Helenus, after her second husband’s death.

The Fate of the Trojan Princes


After the death of Paris, Helen was given in marriage to his brother Deiphobus, a fierce warrior. Unsurprisingly, his house was the first one Menelaus headed to as soon as he got out of the Trojan Horse, incensed even further after having heard Helen entertaining Deiphobus right under the horse a few hours earlier. Odysseus soon joined him and there the bloodiest of all combats of the night occurred. Eventually, Deiphobus fell, probably killed by Menelaus – but only after Helen had unexpectedly stabbed him in the back with a dagger. Some say that this act endeared Helen to the heart of Menelaus all over again and almost instantly he went back on his plan to kill her.


Polydorus was the youngest son of Priam, by Laothoe. The Greeks were reasonably sure that Achilles had managed to kill him on the fields of Troy, but as it turned out, he had been, in actual fact, sent with much gold by his father to Thrace. There he was supposed to be kept safe by his sister Ilione (the oldest daughter of Priam and Hecuba), and her husband, king Polymnestor. However, Polymnestor eventually killed Polydorus, either for the gold he brought with him or because the Greeks had promised him both money and the hand of Electra in return for the Trojan’s head. Polymnestor got neither: at least according to Euripides, soon after killing Polydorus, he was blinded by the infuriated Hecuba who killed his two children as well.


After dividing the spoils, the Greeks started debating the fate of Hector and Andromache’s infant son, Astyanax (also known as Scamandrius). Even though some of the Greek chieftains thought it cruel to kill him, Odysseus was adamant: the Trojan royal line should be exterminated, and all members of Priam and Hecuba’s family should be executed, regardless of their age or sex. In the end, Odysseus prevailed, but not before convincing Calchas to tell a false prophecy according to which, if allowed to survive, Astyanax would avenge his parents. Unwilling to disregard a prophecy by Calchas, the Greek leaders eventually approved the death sentence, and Astyanax was hurled from the battlements of Troy. Most think that the deed was done by the unremorseful Odysseus, though some suggest that it was Neoptolemus who killed Hector’s son. Either way, despite the extravagant claims by one or two ancient authors that Calchas couldn’t have lied and that Astyanax ultimately – and incredibly – came back to Troy to claim what’s his own, there should be no doubts whatsoever that the Trojan prince didn’t survive the fall.

The Spared Ones

Even though they didn’t spare Astyanax, according to later, mostly Roman, stories, the Greeks seem to have shown mercy to at least two Trojan families: Antenor’s and Aeneas’. In the case of Antenor, the reason was clear and simple: he had advised Priam to order the return of Helen to Menelaus from the start and was strongly in favor of negotiating a truce with the Greeks. So, as soon as he killed Deiphobus, Menelaus hung a leopard’s skin over the door of Antenor’s house as a sign that he and his family should be spared. However, it is difficult to guess why Aeneas’ family was granted the same boon. It is entirely possible, however, that it had been on the order of Agamemnon, who, upon noticing Aeneas carrying his father, the venerable Anchises, on his shoulders, pronounced that a pious man such as him deserves to be unharmed, even if a Trojan.

The End of Troy

Some authors say that Antenor founded a new Trojan kingdom upon the ruins of the old one. However, it is far more believable that he left the devastated city as well, and founded, in Northern Italy, the city of Patavium, modern-day Padua. Aeneas also fled to Italy where he became an ancestor of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. As for Troy, no matter how many fables tried to resurrect it from its ashes, the once mighty kingdom never did.

The Sack of Troy Sources

Learn more about some of the events recounted here by consulting the second book of the Aeneid. You can also read an even more concise summary in the epitome of Apollodorus’ Library.

See Also: Trojan War, The Trojan Horse, Troy, The Returns of the Greek Heroes