5 Commentary

The Catalogue of the Ships (together with the Trojan Catalogue) provides the necessary introduction to the warfare in the Iliad; and a Catalogue of this kind must also have formed the prologue of the original complete saga of a Greek expedition against Troy (Chapter 3). The concept of this armada, made up from almost all of mainland Greece south of Macedonia, and from the Dodecanese islands and central Crete, is the essential basis for the epic of a ten-year siege and eventual sack of Troy. For this original full length epic (of which we have only a synopsis derived from later sources, see Chapter 3), the list of the Achaean forces would, of course, have been of those assembled at Aulis at the start of the expedition, as is shown by Odysseus’ reminder of the muster there and of the prophecy of Calchas that the war would last ten years (Il. 2. 303-322). Homer adopted and adapted this traditional list for his own Catalogue. An introduction, naming the participants, was also needed for his own Iliad; but it is obvious that the Catalogue was not designed for the Iliad, whose action is confined to only a few months of the tenth year of the War, and ends before its final episode, the sack of Troy. Homer is fully aware of the chronological implications, and does his best to eliminate the most conspicuous inconsistencies. He has already mentioned the assembly of the ships at Aulis at the start of the War (Il. 2. 303-304). He explains the absences (now, in this tenth year of the War) of Protesilaos (Il. 2. 699-709) and of Philoctetes (Il. 2. 721-728). It was, of course, also necessary to emphasize that Achilles in his wrath had withdrawn himself and his contingent from the fight (Il. 2. 684-694). Homer is also presumably responsible for several other explanations in the Catalogue (Il. 2. 528-530, distinguishing the two Ajaxes; 547-551, about Athens; 532-535, giving Menestheus a personality; 594-600, Thamyris’ contest with the Muses; 641-642, a note on the Aetolian commanders; 673-675, the beauty of Nireus; 612-614, to remind Ionians that Arcadia was land-locked; and 535, to distinguish eastern Locris?). He also provides some details of the ‘battle stations’ of the contingents, in order to remind the audience that they are now not at Aulis but in front of Troy (Il. 2. 525-526 where the Phocians are drawn up on the left, near the Bocotians; 588, where the men of Salamis are placed next to the Athenians – although this line is absent in two papyri and in many medieval MSS, Allen 1921, 56-57). Other embellishments, and the pedigrees of some of the leaders, help to build up a picture of the protagonists, some of whom will become heroes (in the ‘Aristeia’) and/or die in battle (in the ‘Androktasiai’).


The recital of the Catalogue is preceded by a long dramatic prelude (Il. 2. 1-483). At the beginning of this tenth year of the War, the morale of the Achaean troops is low. When Agamemnon tests this morale by the ruse of pretending to urge them to set sail for home, they are indeed ready to do this. It is only by the speeches and actions of Nestor, Odysseus, and other leaders that they are persuaded to leave their beached ships and march out to battle. The heralds have to fetch the men out from the ships and huts where they have been skulking (Il. 2. 437-438, 464). The leaders rush about “singling men out’ (Il. 2. 446, θØνον κρίνοντες). Before the parade (Il. 2. 455-458) can take place, morale must be restored. When they finally march out to battle, added weight is given to the climax by the description of the earth groaning beneath the tramping feet ‘as it does when Zeus in his anger delights in the thunderbolt’ (Il. 2. 780-785, cf. Wade-Gery 1952, 49-53, 83-84 and Hope Simpson 1968).


Homer’s introduction to the Catalogue itself is an unusually long and elaborate and very personal invocation to the Muses (Il. 2. 484-493). Its first line is indeed identical to other invocations to the Muses in the Iliad (Il. 11. 218 = 14. 508 = 16. 112). But this first line is here followed by nine additional lines, in which poet stresses his own inadequacy for the task he must undertake, i.e. the recitation of a long and entirely specific list of the leaders, their contingents, and their places of origin. This feat of memory has been rightly termed a “tour de force” (Beye 1966, 90). And the nature of the invocation may also imply an acknowledgement of reverence for the poet or poets who first created the Trojan War epic.

With the exception of the additions (discussed above) made by Homer himself, the Catalogue appears to be substantially that designed for an original epic of a ten-year siege of Troy. There was no need for Homer to invent a new list; and the authenticity of any such a newly contrived list would surely have been called in question by the audiences of the time.

The Catalogue is not a complete introduction to the warfare and other episodes in the Iliad. Some of the places in it are never again mentioned in the poem, whereas some major characters in the Iliad, particularly Patroklos and Antilochos, are not included in the Catalogue (for those not mentioned, see Allen 1921, 169). From the context alone it is deduced that the Catalogue was based on an earlier poetic list of the Achaean forces mustered at Aulis at the beginning of the War. There are, of course, varying theories as to how such a poetic “muster list” would have been put together (cf. the extended discussion in Latacz 2004, 219-238). The most likely sources are the “Little Catalogues” in other Greek epics (CSHI, 165-166, 169; for other catalogues by later Greek authors, see Allen 1921, 22-33) and information from sailors and other travellers, from local informants and from emigrants to Asia Minor (Cook 1971). Stories briefly recounted or referred to in the Iliad itself, probably included Catalogues of participants, especially The Seven against Thebes (Il. 4. 376-400), The Kalydonian Boar (Il. 9. 529-599) and Nestor’s campaigns again the Epeians (Il. 11. 670-761) and against the Arcadians (Il. 7. 132-156). And the original poets would perhaps have filled in some gaps in their catalogues with the aid of their audiences. Homer’s audiences would have been familiar with the tale of Troy; although discerning, they would have permitted minor anomalies in the recitations. And Homer certainly succeeds in welding the traditional Catalogue into his narrative, and thereby breathes new life and meaning into its dry bones. Despite the chronological and other difficulties, it provides a fine introduction to the fighting.


There are, of course, no precise indication in the Iliad of the locations of districts and places. In Homer’s time map-making was in its infancy. The Earth was conceived as a flat circular disc, surrounded by deep-flowing Oceanos, from which come all rivers, all of the sea, all fountains and deep wells (Il. 2. 195-197). The sun rises out of Oceanos, and sinks again into it. There are no points of the compass, but the four main winds are named and given formulaic descriptions. Sunrise and sunset are the main terms of reference, usually in the formulae “towards the dawn and the sun” (πρὸς ἠῶ t’ἠέλιόν τε) and “towards the misty gloom” (ποτὶ ζόϕον ἠερόεντa). All these are, of course, only rough indications. (Thomas and Stubbings 1962).


The place names are the core of the Catalogue. For the purposes of the story itself, they are assumed by Homer, and by his audience, to have been real places at the time of the War. Some were still in existence (with the same names) in the historical period, and others were known to the ancient Greeks as having existed previously. Mycenaean habitation has now been proven at many of the places identified. But Homer himself could not have seen most of the places listed in the Catalogue or mentioned elsewhere in the Iliad. He is simply presenting the details of people and places handed down in the oral poetic tradition. This tradition was greatly revered by the Greeks of Homer’s time, especially those whose families had emigrated to Asia Minor. They would have been keenly interested in the history of peoples and places in their former homeland. This desire to learn the truth about their past is reflected by the subsequent historiai (‘enquiries’) of the historians Herodotus and Thueydides and their contemporaries, and later by antiquarians such as Strabo and Pausanias. Hope Simpson and Lazenby (in CSHI) reviewed the evidence available (up to 1968) for the identifications and locations of each of the place names in the Catalogue and for the relevant periods of human occupation of the ancient settlements indicated or suggested. Their conclusions were introduced by careful modifications and cautions: “….. we cannot even locate all the places mentioned in the Catalogue ….. even if we ignore these ‘lost’ places and concentrate on those which can be more or less securely located, we still can not really come to any clear-cut conclusion about the period reflected, for the Greece of the Catalogue will resemble the Greece of any period to some extent, since most of the places mentioned in it were inhabited throughout antiquity” (CSHI, 153). Nevertheless, there are several place names in the Catalogue which can be securely or fairly securely located and which, on our present evidence, were inhabited in the Mycenaean period but were not inhabited subsequently until after the 8th century B.C., by which time the Catalogue, together with the rest of the Iliad, probably reached substantially the form in which we have it. Despite the uncertainties, it was concluded that “….. in the Catalogue we have a reflection, however partial and distorted, of Mycenaean Greece …..” (CSHI, ibid.). This position was, however, contested in several reviews of CSHI (cf. Hope Simpson 1983, 131-132 with refs.); and it has recently been called into question by Dickinson (1999 and 2007). After an interval of over 40 years it is indeed time for a review of the tentative conclusions made in CSHI. Although Dickinson and others may wish to put an end to this enquiry, it is still both relevant and worthwhile. The place names in the Catalogue have been, and still are, a subject of natural curiosity. The need for a detailed analysis of them and the degree of their historicity still remains. And, contrary to Dickinson’s supposition, this investigation is required, whether or not there was a real historical Trojan War, since it concerns the Greek epic tradition as a whole, and their concept of their Bronze Age past. Even if a muster of forces from most of Greece never actually happened, a poet or poets evidently gathered together a list of such forces. In order to satisfy the audiences, this list would have to be as real as possible. It is appropriate, therefore to try to determine when such a list would have been made and how closely the Catalogue as we have it reflects the Greece of the heroic (Mycenaean) age which it was designed to portray.

In a graduate seminar in 1979, at the University of Texas at Austin, I discussed the relevant archaeological discoveries subsequent to the publication of CSHI, I observed that “the growing number of Mycenaean settlements discovered may prove an embarrassment to those seeking to identify certain Homeric place names, since the choice would in some cases be too wide” (Hope Simpson 1983, 134). Dickinson echoes this point “….. there will be a Mycenaean candidate wherever you look for a site whose identification is uncertain but the general whereabouts are known from some historical reference” (Dickinson 2007, 237). But he further insists that sites chosen for inclusion in the Catalogue must have been those “thought to be the most significant sites in each region” and asks “on what basis were Catalogue sites chosen?” (Dickinson 2007, 235). Such a question implies a deliberate and self-conscious process of selection, obligatory for a modern archaeologist, but surely unlikely for an oral poet. Nevertheless, it is obvious that our candidates for Catalogue names should be places of importance in their districts. “….. a place with major visible Bronze Age remains would be more likely to have accrued a heroic past than one that could produce little or none” (Marchand 2002, 142, n. 57). Due to some recent discoveries, there are now some cases where sites more appropriate than those suggested in CSHI for various names have now been indicated. Some of these have already been noted (Hope Simpson 1983, 133-134); others are listed above (e.g. Dorati and Aidonia).

Archaeological excavations have established that most of the major Mycenaean centres are correctly named in the Catalogue: Mycenae, Tiryns, Argos, Pylos, Athens, Orchomenos, Thebes, Iolkos (and in Crete Knossos and Phaistos – and see above for Sparte and Pharis). But we must also test the historicity of the less important Catalogue names. Of the sites identified with names of this category some have now been investigated by excavation: Eutresis, Eleon and Haliartos in Boeotia; Pytho (Delphi) and Krisa in Phocis; Kynos in Locris; Eretria in Euboea; Salamis; Asine in the Argolid; Aegina; Aigion and Helike in Achaea; Amyklai in Laconia; Samikon (Arene) in Triphylia; Pheneos, Mantinea and Tegea in Arcadia; Pyrasos, Pherai, Boibe, Trikke and Argissa in Thessaly; and sites in all of the Ionian islands and most of the Dodecanese. Two of these at least, Eutresis and Krisa, were deserted for a time after the Mycenaean period. Some other partly excavated Mycenaean sites are probably, although not certainly, equated with place names in the Catalogue, including Vlicha (Aulis?), Aigeira (Hyperesia?) in Achaea, Teichos Dymaion (Myrsinos?) in Elis and Chalkis in Aetolia. For other such places we usually have only the evidence of potsherds on the surfaces of the sites where the names are traditionally located. The most valuable tests cases are those where the identification is supported by a reliable ancient source, for example Mykalessos in Boeotia, which, as Thueydides relates, was ravaged by Thracian mercenaries in the Peloponnesian War (Thue. vii. 29, 2-4). Less certain are identifications which rely on accounts by antiquarians of the Hellenistic or Roman periods, usually Strabo the geographer and/or Pausanias the traveller.

In the following list the names in the Catalogue which have been a) securely located and b) are identified as significant Mycenaean settlements as italicized. Other names, not italicized, are those only probably located and provisionally associated with Mycenaean settlement.

+ denotes sites tested by excavation.

* denotes important remains found since 1968.

There are strong candidates for several other names. Details of these candidates are given above, under their kingdoms, and the varying degrees of uncertainty in each case are indicated on Maps 1 to 7, which have been revised in accordance with the relevant archaeological discoveries since 1968.

Map 2. Hyrie+; Aulis? (Vlicha+*); Eleon+*; Eutresis+; Thisbe*; Haliartos+*; Plataea+*; Hypothebai+*; Anthedon+; Orchomenos+*; Aspledon+; Pytho+*; Krisa+; Daulis+; Panopeus+; Lilaia+*; Kynos+*; Eiretria+*; Histiaia+*; Dion.

Map 3. Athens+*; Salamis+*; Argos+*; Tiryns+*; Hermione+*; Asine+*; Troizen+*; Mycenae+*; Korinthos+*; Kleonai; Orneai? (Dorati*); Araithyrea? (Aidonia+*); Sikyon*; Hyperesia? (Aigeira+*); Aigion+*; Helike+*.

.Map 4. Pharis (Ayios Vasilios+*); Sparte (The Menelaion+*); Amyklai+*; Helos (Ayios Stephanos+*); Pylos+*; Arene (Samikon+*); Thryon+; Kyparisseeis+; Dorion+; Pheneos+; Mantinea+*; Tegea+*.

Map 5. Myrsinos? (Teichos Dymaion+); Ithaca+*; Zakynthos+*; Samos (Kephallinia+*); Chalkis (Aetolian+*); Kalydon*.

Map 6. Knossos+*; Gortyn+*; Phaistos+*; Lindos+*; Ialysos+*; Kameiros+; Karpathos+*; Kasos*; Kos+*; Kalydnai (Kalymnos*).

Map 7. Alos? (Lamia+*); Trechis+*; Pyrasos+; Pteleon+; Pherai+*; Boibe+*; Iolkos (Dimini etc.+*); Trikke+; Argissa+; Elone? (Argyropouli).

Names of whose locations we have the testimony of ancient authors (mainly from Strabo and Pausanias) or inscriptions and where some Mycenaean remains have been found are the following:

Map 2. Thespeia; Mykalessos; Harma; Erythrai; Medeon; Kopai; Koroneia; Glisas; Onchestos; Hyampolis; Opous; Kerinthos.

Map 4. Orchomenos (Arcadian).

Map 5. Hyrmine; Pleuron; Olenos.

Map 6. Syme; Nisyros?

Map 7. Iton? Oloosson.

Some of these Mycenaean sites and others suggested as candidates for Catalogue names, were also occupied in the Early Iron Age. But in no case can any Catalogue name be associated with an important Early Iron Age site only. At Asine, at Volos (part of Iolkos) and at Pherai (formerly Velestino) in Thessaly, the amounts of Early Iron Age material found, although considerable, are all less than those of the Mycenaean period. Other important protogeometric sites, such as Lefkandi (Lemos 2002; Dickinson 2007) do not appear in the Catalogue (although advocates of an 8th or 7th century date for the Catalogue might argue that they were deliberately excluded). It is no surprise that Olympia and Isthmia are also missing, since these great sanctuaries were in a very early stage of their development in the Early Iron Age (Morgan 1999, 373-386); and that of Delphi began even later. There is an obvious contrast between the predominantly Mycenaean character of the Catalogue and the catholic mixture of Bronze Age and Early Iron Age seen in most of the material and social setting of the Iliad (with the exception of some of the weapons and armour, as discussed in Chapter 3). The physical setting would naturally have been altered in the process of the oral transmission, according to changing conditions. But the names of people and places are inherently more memorable, especially when embodied in formulaic hexameter verse.


The numbers of the ships allotted to most of the contingents of the Achaean force are obviously exaggerated, as is to be expected in an epic. Even the relative figures are unreliable. Some attempt, however, is made to convey an impression of reality. It is recognized that the Arcadians would not have their own ships, and so their 60 ships are provided by Agamemnon. And the 12 ships of Salamis are appropriate for this small island, when compared to the 40 given to many other contingents. On the other hand, Odysseus, the ruler of three islands, has only 12 ships (Il. 2. 637), whereas 40 ships are allotted to the smaller dominion of Meges (Il. 2. 630). Eumelos, whose kingdom includes the many harbours of Iolkos, has only 11 ships (Il. 2. 713), while the inland Kingdoms in Thessaly, under the Asklepiadai, Eurypylos and Polypoites, have 30, 40, and 40 respectively (Il. 2. 733, 737 and 747). The number 40 is patently frequent. “There is, too, a suspicious ring about the constant refrain tᾠ *’ἅμα teσσeϱάκονtα :Xλαιναι νήeς ἕπονtο, while such contrasts between the 9 ships of Rhodes and the 33 from the neighbouring islands, or the 11 ships of Eumelos and the 30s and 40s of the other Thessalian princes, are hard to explain” (CSHI, 161 with nn. 44-47). The grand total, 1,186 ships is, of course, unbelievable, an exaggeration only surpassed in antiquity by that of the figure 1,207 given by Herodotus for the warships of Xerxes’ fleet in 480 B.C. (Herod. vii, 184). The only figures given for the complements of the ships listed in the Catalogue are the 120 men in each of the Boeotian ships (Il. 2. 509-510) and the 50 rowers in each of Philoctetes’ ships (Il. 2. 719-720) and in each of Achilles’ ships (Il. 16. 168-170). For comparison, Pylos tablet An 1 lists 30 rowers (e-re-ta) “to go to Pleuron”. In An 661 30 men from ti-mi-to-a-ke-i are to go ne-do-wo-ta-de (“to the Nedon”, DMG, 193-194, 427-430). It has been suggested that these men would have made this journey by sea, “themselves rowing”, in order to avoid crossing the marshes at the south end of the Pamisos Valley (Hope Simpson 2014, 69, cf. 64). In any case, it could be deduced that 30 rowers might have been the norm for a typical Pylian warship (cf. Chadwick 1976, 173). The ships of the flotilla on the ‘miniature fresco’ in Room 5 of the West House at Thera show (schematically) 19 rowers on the side of one ship and 21 on the side of another ship, i.e. 38 rowers in one ship and 42 in the other (Doumas 1984, 105-106; Doumas 1999, 68-83). But these are evidently not warships, but part of a procession or regatta, since the ships carry passengers, seated and protected by canopies. And the ships themselves are of a style presumed to be Minoan, and painted on a wall of LM IA date. A sherd from a LH IIIC krater from Livanates (Kynos) shows (schematically) 19 oarsmen on one side of a warship (Crielaard 2006, 279, fig. 14. 2b).


Although the Catalogue includes most of the territory of mainland Greece and the Dodecanese islands (the absence of the Cyclades and other Aegean islands is discussed by Allen 1921, 105) it is certainly not a complete Gazetteer of the major settlements. The idea that the

Catalogue omits places is a misconception. “….. it is dangerous to argue from what it does not say” (CSHI, 155). Some names, even those of important settlements, may simply have disappeared in the course of oral transmission. Such names are not “omitted”; they are simply absent. No process of selection was involved; and Homer would have had no means of verifying the degrees of importance of the settlements named, and obviously had no more than a vague idea of most of their locations. The most frequently cited supposed “omission” is the absence from the Catalogue of Midea (or Mideia), identified with the great Mycenaean fortress above the modern village of Dendra. This name is also absent from the rest of the Iliad and other epics, although it and its connections with ancient mythical characters, are mentioned by Theocritus and Pausanias (see discussion above, under THE KINGDOM OF AGAMEMNON). Some other absent names were more prominent in Greek mythology, such as Nemea and Lerna, the locations of two of the Labours of Herakles. Dickinson cites also the fortress of Gla in Boeotia, as “impossible to identify in the Catalogue” (Dickinson 1999, 200). But Iakovidis’ excavations have proved that Gla, despite its vast enclosure, was not a city but a fortified agricultural depot, under the control of, and primarily for the benefit of Orchomenos. Together with some smaller fortresses, it was built to safeguard the agricultural produce of Lake Cupais, which was successfully drained at the same time by a system of massive dykes and canals (Iakovidis 1998, esp. 275-278, cf. Hope Simpson and Hagel 2006, 77-78, 185-209 with refs.). Of the other so-called “omissions” listed by Dickinson (loc. cit. and cf. 2007, 235), Prosymna and Berbati are close enough to Mycenae to be regarded as ‘satellite’ settlements subordinate to Mycenae; and Prosymna was mainly a cemetery in the Mycenaean period. The same may be true for Nauplion, although the size of its Mycenaean settlement is uncertain (see Chapter 1). About a quarter of the place names in the Catalogue were apparently unknown to the Greeks of historical times. The best explanation for these in most cases is that they were destroyed and/or deserted at the time of the collapse of Mycenaean civilization (CSHI, 154; pace Anderson 1995 and Giovannini 1969). Indeed we already know that very many Mycenaean sites were deserted, especially in the Argolid and Messenia, at the end of the LH IIIB period. The fact that we have not been able to determine the locations of some Catalogue names does not mean that further investigation would be futile, despite the implications of some cynical comments. There are now strong candidates (detailed above) for some of these ‘lost’ places. There is also a very large ‘elephant in the room’, disregarded by the sceptics, namely the number of positive identifications of Catalogue place names (as listed above).


There is a wide spectrum of modern views concerning the compilation of the Catalogue, the degree of its authenticity, and the period(s) of Greek history it may reflect. It is obvious that no certainty is possible, and that a subjective element is always involved (cf. Latacz 2004, 215). Opinions range from outright rejection of any historicity (e.g. Dickie 1995), or 8th century B.C. compilation (e.g. Raaflaub 1998) through skeptical agnosticism (e.g. Dickinson 2007) to the theory that the Catalogue was based on an official Mycenaean muster list (Burr 1944). There is also the further complication that even the (approximate) date of the Iliad itself is still disputed, since a 7th century B.C. date is advocated by some scholars (e.g. Dickie 1995, Crielaard 1995, Kullmann 1999). Indeed Dickie apparently regards the Iliad and the Odyssey as pure fiction, “….. the Iliad and Odyssey are a largely imaginative and in some degree self-conscious reconstruction of a non-existent heroic past” (Dickie 1995, 29). This is, of course, an apposite description of the battle scenes in the Iliad and of Odysseus’ travels “….. in an Ancient Greek Fairyland” (Hope Simpson 1983, 123-124). But it does not take into account the arguments, set out by West and several others, for Mycenaean epic poetry (West 1988, and see Chapter 3 above), or the historical evidence for Mycenaean involvement in western Anatolia (Chapter 2).


Some at least of the modern heresies concerning the Catalogue have been systemically refuted by Latacz (2004, 218-238). Especially pertinent are his meticulous arguments for rejection of the theory that a “research-minded” wandering minstrel would have travelled throughout Greece and the islands collecting data for all of the 178 geographical names in the 29 divisions of the Catalogue. Such a research project is an entirely modern concept, implying that an 8th century Greek poet (Homer) would have been the equivalent of a modern archaeologist. It would certainly not be in accord with the conditions of Early Iron Age Greece. Even for a team of ancient Greek poets, the amount of travel involved would have been impossible at this time. Although with the benefit of modern transport, Hope Simpson and Lazenby were not able to visit all of the territory involved; and it has not yet been adequately explored since the time of their travels. As for Homer, it has been questioned whether he ever travelled to west of his native Asia Minor (Chadwick 1976, 186).

As Latacz remarks, all the place names in the Catalogue that we have been able to locate do belong in the regions to which they are assigned (Latacz 2004, 223). And not one of the 178 geographical names has been proved to be fictitious. Many of the names appear to be derived from ‘little catalogues’ in previous epic tales. Giovannini’s suggestion, that the Catalogue was created by the priests of Delphi (in the 7th century B.C.) in order to promote a (supposed) Pan-Hellenism, takes no account of the function of the Catalogue in the tale of Troy, as Latacz points out (Giovannini 1969, 51-71; Latacz 2004, 225, n. 12).

The disproportionally large number of Boeotian place names in the Catalogue has naturally prompted the suggestion that the original version was compiled by a Boeotian poet. And the presence, on the Theban Linear B tablet TH Ft 140, of the names for Eutresis and Eleon together with the name for Thebes, provides support for the authenticity of the Boeotian division (cf. Latacz 2004, 238-247). In another instance, however, where support for ancient traditions concerning Boeotia has been claimed, the evidence alleged has been questioned. In a letter to a Hittite King (probably Hattusili III, c. 1267-1237 B.C.), a ruler of Ahhiyawa asserts his sovereignty over islands off the coast of Wilusa, on the grounds that his ancestor had received these islands from a king of Assuwa. The ruler names his ancestor as Kagamuna, interpreted by Latacz and others as Kadmos (Latacz 2004, 243-244). But this interpretation is now discounted by several experts. Melchert in particular noted that “the structure of the text suggests that Kagamuna is more likely to have been a forebear of the king of Assuwa than the king of Ahhiyawa” (Wiener 2007, 16-17 with nn. 103-113).

Aulis was probably the main harbour for ancient Thebes, and it would be natural for the poet(s) who compiled the original Catalogue to begin with Boeotia. But it does not follow that its author was a Boeotian; and there are many arguments against this view (Allen 1921, 41-46, cf. CSHI, 168-169). The Boeotian leaders have no great pedigrees and are no heroes. They have only a minor part in the Iliad battles (two flee from Hector; others are only mentioned as casualties). West suggests that the gathering of the Achaean fleet at Aulis “as we sense from Hesiod” was a local Euboean invention (West 1988, 168-169). The reference here is presumably to Hesiod’s voyage from Aulis to Euboea (cf. Allen 1921, 47) in order to compete with other poets for prizes at the funeral games of Amphidamas, King of Chalcis (Hesiod, Th. 98-103). But, although West endeavours to boost the credentials of the Euboeans, the Euboean genealogies and other mythical connections he adduces are all derived from later (post-Homeric) sources. Like the Boeotians, the Euboeans play an insignificant role in the rest of the Iliad.


It is obvious that Homer did not invent the Catalogue; his version is seen to have been an adaptation of the Catalogue which must have been incorporated in a previous Trojan War saga of the whole ten years of the War. If the event which gave rise to this saga was the destruction of Troy at the end of Troia VIIa (c. 1200 B.C.), the tale may have been composed soon after this. There are some indications in the Iliad itself that the original Catalogue in this tale would have been fuller than Homer’s and more detailed (cf. Allen 1921, 172), e.g. the additional detail of Achilles’ troops (Il. 16. 168-197) and the list of Achaean participants in the Battle at the Ships (Il. 13. 685-722). In Homer’s Catalogue the recollections of a past age appear somewhat blurred, although the places themselves in general do seem to reflect the time of the height of Mycenaean civilization, before the ‘collapse’ at the end of LH IIIB. The overall impression is that, by the time the Catalogue was passed down (orally) to Homer, it had already been partly modified and almost certainly reduced in length. But the theory that it was created in the 8th or 7th century B.C. is indefensible. As Latacz points out, “….. Homer embeds his tale of Achilles in it” (Latacz 2004, 228). We must also consider the audiences for whom the tale of Troy was composed. The first audiences would have been themselves Mycenaeans, if the tale was composed at some time within the LH IIIC period. It was probably sung also in the courts of the ‘Big Men’ of the Protogeometric period, at Lefkandi and elsewhere. The material and social setting of the story would have been subject to modifications and some alterations made over time by successive bards, some of whom may have been Boeotian or Euboean (West 1988, 168-172), in accordance with changing physical and political conditions. The Catalogue appears in the same Ionic dialect as the rest of the Iliad. (Euboean Ionic, according to West, ibid.). But there would have been no need or incentive to alter the actual place names in the Catalogue. Since most of the audiences would have known the story, they would probably have objected to the insertion of any names which were not in the tradition. An Ionian audience would, of course, know that, before their colonies were founded (i.e. before c. 1000 B.C.), Asia Minor was not part of Greece.


“….. The Greece of the Catalogue will resemble the Greece of any period to some extent, since most of the places in it were inhabited throughout antiquity ….. (CSHI, 153).

It is not possible to reach any definitive conclusions as to the archaeologically defined periods the Catalogue may reflect. We can only outline the probabilities on the basis of the archaeological data and the ancient written sources. From the data available in 1968 Hope Simpson and Lazenby (in CSHI) argued that in the main the Catalogue was a reflection of the situation in later Mycenaean times, LH IIIB and LH IIIC. The numerous discoveries since 1968, of previously unknown Mycenaean and Early Iron Age sites, now call for a review of the arguments, not only those made in CSHI but also those presented by many scholars since then (although full discussion of all of the latter is impracticable).

The Catalogue is presented by Homer as a list of Achaeans in a war of a long past Heroic Age (which is now called Mycenaean). The divisions in the Catalogue are mostly quite large, and (with the exception of Thessaly and some islands) they cover about the same territory as the equivalent later historic divisions of Greece. In the Protogeometric period Greece was divided into much smaller communities, and, apart from Athens, with no major centres. A Greek expedition against a fortified foreign city would have been impossible at this time (cf. Latacz 2004, 231 n. 22, citing Visser 1998, 41-42). The alternative suggestion, that the Catalogue reflects the 8th century B.C., involves the supposition that some Greeks of this time contrived to falsify their own traditions by inserting fictitious names in the traditional Catalogue. The Greeks of Asia Minor resisted any such temptations; to their credit they did not add their names to the list of Greek contingents (the modern suggestion that they deliberately ‘suppressed’ any mention of themselves is well answered by Latacz, who also follows Page 1959 in rejecting the ‘projection’ theory of deliberately planned archaizing (Latacz 2004, 233-238).

The only reasonable option is to accept that the Catalogue is essentially a reflection of the Greece of the Mycenaean age, however partial and imprecise, and poetically embellished. Hope Simpson and Lazenby observed that, while several of the place names in it which can be identified appear to reflect the situation in LH IIIB, the time of the Mycenaean floruit, the divisions often suggest a time within LH IIIC, after the collapse of the palace administrations (CSHI, 161-164, cf. Hood 1995).

If the event which gave rise to the epic tale of the Trojan War was the destruction of Troy at the end of Troia VIIa, c. 1200 B.C., this original ‘Ur-Iliad’ may have been composed soon after this, at some time in LH IIIC. The archaeological evidence suggests LH IIIC Middle, a period of partial recovery and moderate prosperity, as revealed especially at Tiryns (Maran 2006) and in some parts of central Greece (Crielaard 2006). The great Palace kingdoms were now replaced by smaller communities under local chiefs, a new aristocracy. It is suggested that warfare may now have been common. The LH IIIC ‘Warrior tombs’, mainly in Achaea, appear to be those of the ‘elite’ leaders in their localities, from whom “….. military prowess was a quality which was generally expected …..” (Deger-Jalkotzy 2006, 176). But by the end of LH IIIC (c. 1050 B.C., according to Mountjoy 1999b, 298) this revival ended in disaster. The survivors “with their world collapsing around them” (CSHI, 167) could only look back to a former more glorious age, and no doubt would have welcomed tales of the heroes of the past.

The most reliable evidence we possess concerning the actual political divisions of Mycenaean Greece is that derived from the Linear B inscriptions. Those of Mycenae, Tiryns and Thebes are of the LH IIIB period; the Pylos tablets are attributed to the transitional period LH IIIB2 to LH IIIC Early. The Knossos archive is of a date within LM IIIA2, and the Kydonia tablets are LM IIIB. All these archives are records maintained by the palace administrations. Although they do not include diplomatic correspondence or historical records, they demonstrate the strong central control exercised by the rulers over quite large territories. The picture presented in several divisions of the Catalogue is somewhat different. Tiryns and Argos appear to have been under the control of Mycenae in the Third Palatial Period, LH IIIA2 – LH IIIB; but in the Catalogue they are assigned to Diomedes, the hero of Argos. In LH IIIC Tiryns was extensively remodelled, and Argos also flourished. At both Tiryns and Argos there was some continuity from LH IIIC into the Early Iron Age. In the Catalogue Thebes has been reduced to Hypothebai (‘lower Thebes’ or ‘below Thebes’), and is no longer the capital of a Boeotian state, but only one of the Boeotian place names, and not named first. In sharp contrast, at the time of its Linear B records, Thebes is proved to have been the palatial centre of its district; and two at least of the Catalogue’s place names, Eutresis and Eleon, are recorded, together with Thebes, on one of the Theban tablets. Eleon is now known to have been an important site in both LH IIIB and LH IIIC, but Eutresis was destroyed and abandoned at the end of LH IIIB, as was Thebes itself, although there was some re-occupation there in LH IIIC. Orchomenos, which flourished in LH IIIA2 and LH IIIB, is in the Catalogue apparently no longer in control of the Kopais, but has “….. only Aspledon to comfort her isolation …..” (CSHI, 163-164). This situation is more reminiscent of that in LH IIIC, after the destruction by fire of the fortified agricultural depot of Gla in LH IIIB2, following which the system of canals and dykes in the Kopais must have ceased to function.

For the rest of Central Greece it is more difficult to define the periods reflected by the divisions in the Catalogue. At several LH IIIB sites, on both sides of the Euripos channel, there was continuity or reoccupation in LH IIIC and often into the Early Iron Age (Crielaard 2006). In Phocis Krisa was destroyed at the end of LH IIIB, but Pytho (the later Delphi) continued into LH IIIC. In Locris the site of Kynos flourished in both LH IIIB and LH IIIC and into the Early Iron Age. Giovannini and Anderson maintain that the Euboea place names were added in the 8th century B.C., on the grounds that they are those of the main historical towns. But all except Styra and Karystos are now known to have been inhabited in Mycenaean times, and flourishing in LH IIIB. The earliest pottery found so far in the Karystos excavations is Early Iron Age; but the occurrence of ka-ru-to on a Thebes Linear B tablet implies a Mycenaean Karystos. The Euboean names are all of places with harbours, and would have been well known. They do not include all of the main later towns of Euboea, since Kyme and Dystos are missing.

In Laconia some names may reflect LH IIIB (Sparte at the Menelaion), others LH IIIB or LH IIIC (Amyklai and Helos). For the Arcadians, the Epeians, Aetolia and the Ionian Islands, the evidence is not sufficient to enable an estimate. The Kingdom of Pylos, as revealed by its Linear B archive, probably included all of Messenia, from the Neda river on the north to Mt. Taygetos on the east, and the district of the Nedon river on the south (Chadwick 1976, cf. Hope Simpson 2014). But, since some of the places of Nestor’s Kingdom in the Catalogue (i.e. Arene and Thryon/Thryoessa) are the same as those in Nestor’s tale of the war against the Epeians by his father Neleus, this suggests a time when Pylos was expanding both northward towards the Alpheios and eastward into eastern Messenia, i.e. LH IIIA2. The problem of the relationship between Nestor’s Kingdom in the Catalogue and the Seven Cities offered by Agamemnon to Achilles still remains.

From the Knossos tablets it is deduced that Knossos controlled most of central Crete in LM IIIA2; the warrior graves are an indication that the Mycenaeans were already established at Knossos in LM II. The Kingdom of Idomeneus may partly reflect the Knossos of LM IIIA2; but it could be considered more appropriate to that of the post-palatial period in LM IIIB, when Knossos and Phaistos were reoccupied and the settlement at Gortyn began. In the Dodecanese, Rhodes, Kos, Kalymnos and Karpathos flourished in LH IIIA2 and LH IIIB, and the Mycenaean pottery from Ialysos includes a significant amount of imports from the Argolid (see above). The ancient traditions do not support the modern theory that Ialysos, Kameiros and Lindos reflect the (much later) Dorian colonization of Rhodes. That the other Dodecanese islands are listed separately, and not under Rhodes, should not be considered a problem, since their distances would have prevented effective control from Rhodes. But, as in the case of Rhodes, these other islands also had connections with the Argolid. Two of the Kalymnos cemeteries have Argive imports, and the Mycenaean pottery from Kos, Kalymnos and Astypalaia shows strong influences from the Argolid. And Agamemnon was ‘king of many islands’ (Il. 2. 100-103). Nevertheless, the Dodecanese of the Catalogue could equally well reflect the situation in LH IIIC, when there appears to have been a “loosening of ties” (CSHI, 162).

In the Catalogue Thessaly and Phthiotis are divided into nine Kingdoms, beginning with Achilles’ Spercheios valley and Malis [Thessaly (Thessalia) was a later creation]. The Kingdoms are geographically intelligible, although their borders are indistinct. They do not, however, closely reflect the political reality now established for the LH IIIA2 – LH IIIB Third Palatial period, when it is obvious that the Volos area, with its many harbours, was the main population centre. But Mycenaean civilization also extended over the whole area of ancient Thessalia, even in the far west (Metropolis and Trikkala) and the far north (Elasson). And, although the Mycenaean settlements in the Larisa district were smaller than those around Volos, they were numerous. It is sometimes objected that the interior ‘land-locked’ Kingdoms (of Eurypylos, Polypoites, The Asklepiads and Gouneus) are said to have possessed quite large numbers of ships. In the case of the Arcadians, their ships were provided by Agamemnon (Il. 2. 612-614). But Homer was too good an artist to labour this point about landlocked Kingdoms, and refrained from adding any such explanation in the case of the inland contingents from Thessaly. Allen’s commentary on Northeastern Greece as portrayed in the Catalogue gives a thorough review of the ancient evidence (Allen 1921, 106-141). Especially valuable are his citations of remarks by Wace, who knew more about Thessaly and Phthiotis than even Tsountas.


In all of the many discussions of the Catalogue and of its historicity, there has always been, and always will be, a subjective element. No definitive solutions are possible, since the debate is mainly concerning probabilities and possibilities. There is little documentary evidence for Mycenaean or Early Iron Age history, and there is a limit to deductions which can be made from archaeology or philology. In this book it is maintained that the Catalogue, although in poetic form and designed for an epic tale, happens to be a remarkably good overall reflection of the political geography of Mycenaean Greece, although obviously not a thorough Gazetteer. Although the Catalogue was composed not by geographers but by poets, the divisions of the Achaean contingents are in general consistent with the physical geography. The relatively few anomalies, discussed above, appear to be mainly due to the ignorance of the poets themselves, who could not have visited most of the regions concerned.

The dramatic context of the Catalogue is the Bronze Age, and many of the places in it were Mycenaean. It certainly can not be demonstrated that any of the Catalogue’s place names or divisions reflect any later period of Greek history or that they were invented by Homer or by the earlier poet(s) who composed the original story of the Trojan War. Those who believe that the Catalogue is an 8th or 7th Century B.C. compilation would also have to deny the existence of Mycenaean epic poetry. But this supposition is now untenable, as has been shown by several linguistic studies. Much has been made recently of the so-called ‘poetic distance’ between the Iliad and the era it professes to portray; and stress is laid on an assumed continual process of alteration in the course of oral transmission over the actual time distance. Another frequently enunciated modern theory is that the Iliad was designed as a kind of national anthem for the emerging Greek city states, and intended to promote a (supposed) new spirit of ‘pan-Hellenism’. The few records we have of 8th and 7th century Greek history in fact reveal intense rivalry between states, punctuated by periods of actual warfare.

The Iliad itself supplies proof of a preceding saga of a Ten Year Greek siege of Troy, which had obviously attracted and incorporated the names of places and persons (particularly heroes) from other Greek epic sagas and their ‘Little Catalogues’, drawn from various Greek localities. And the Iliad itself shows that this previous Ten Year saga had included a list of the Greek contingents mustered at the start of the Trojan War, and that this list was adopted and adapted by Homer for his Tenth Year Iliad, the Wrath of Achilles. Homer uses the Catalogue as an introduction to the subsequent battles (in which 35 of the 43 commanders listed in the Catalogue are featured). The recitation of the Catalogue, with all its formidable contingents, also helps to build up the suspense and the expectations of the audience. The language of the Catalogue is the same Ionic as that of the rest of the Iliad; and this strongly suggests that the Iliad was designed primarily for an Ionian audience. The tale of the Trojan War would have had a special appeal to audiences in Asia Minor, reminding them of their homeland. And these audiences would have been familiar with the full scale Trojan War story, as Homer assumes, since he alludes to it frequently but briefly. These audiences would not be inclined to allow the insertion of names which were not in the tradition. Moreover, the names of people and places are essentially more memorable. Homer would have had no need to invent these for the Catalogue, so long as he could rely on his memory of the orally transmitted list. The importance of this memory is demonstrated by his unusually long and personal entreaty to the Muses before his recital of the Catalogue. Homer obviously was not himself familiar with mainland or island Greece or its geography, as is shown by various anomalies, especially in the Kingdom of Nestor and that of the Epeians. Indeed he may never have set foot outside Asia Minor. The few additions made by Homer to the Catalogue are easily recognizable, and all are intended to adapt it to the context of his Tenth Year Iliad. The Catalogue is successfully incorporated in the Iliad, and it is not a variance with the story of the Wrath of Achilles. It is, however, also independent from the Iliad in some respects. It is not affected in any way by the parts played by four of the main heroes in the Iliad, namely Achilles, Agamemnon, Ajax and Odysseus.

It is suggested here that the original Catalogue which accompanied the Ten Year Trojan War saga may have reached substantially its present form by the end of the Bronze Age. There is certainly no proof that any alterations or additions were made in the Early Iron Age to its place names or divisions. Several of the place names which can be identified appear to reflect the LH IIIB period, but some of the divisions (especially that of the Boeotians) seem more appropriate to LH IIIC. The Kingdom of Nestor, however, together with Nestor’s tales, may reflect an earlier period, perhaps LH IIIA; and the Kingdom of Idomeneus suggests either LM IIIA or LM IIIB. Although based on the evidence, these estimates of Mycenaean periods that may be reflected are, of course, hypothetical. It is obvious that, by the time the Catalogue was passed down to Homer, any recollections of the actual political situation in Mycenaean Greece had become dimmed. But the names of people and places in the Catalogue seem to have become fixed in the tradition by the end of the Mycenaean period or very soon thereafter.


The historicity of Homer’s Trojan War will always remain a controversial problem. The historical records and scientific archaeology can only provide indications, and Greek tradition is not always reliable. Unfortunately also, those who apply linguistic or psychological criteria to the study of Homer are not always conversant with the archaeological data, and archaeologists are seldom also literary experts. In Homeric studies it is essential to combine scientific analysis with a humanistic approach. Homer makes even the Gods human. In his adaptation of the traditional Catalogue of the Ships, inherited from the original Trojan War epic, he successfully moulds it into the framework of his own Iliad. The Catalogue will undoubtedly continue to pose a challenge, despite modern attempts to ‘sweep it under the rug’. Since it has been shown to be at least a partial reflection of Mycenaean Greece, it also constitutes a partial vindication of the Homeric tradition.


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Mycenaean Greece and Homeric Tradition Copyright © by Richard Hope Simpson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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