Roman Republic

Roman Pre-History

Legend of Aeneas before the

First Punic War (264 - 241 BC)

Linked pages: Legend of Aeneas before the First Punic War; Legend of Aeneas after the First Punic War

Aeneas leaving Troy, carrying his father, Anchises, with his wife, Creusa, to the left

Black figure vase (ca. 520 BC) from an unrecorded location, now in the Musée du Louvre

Andrew Erskine (referenced below, at p. 15) set out the essential features of the Romans’ foundation myth, as articulated, for example, in Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’ (ca. 17 BC):

  1. “After the fall of Troy, Aeneas and his band of Trojan survivors fled westwards.  Their wanderings stopped only when they had arrived in [Latium], where they founded two settlements, Lavinium and Alba Longa.  Later, ... the descendants of these Trojan refugees, in the persons of Romulus and Remus, established a third settlement in Latium: the city of Rome.”

Timothy Cornell (referenced below, 1975, at p. 1) argued that:

  1. “... the familiar story of the origins of Rome appears to combine two distinct and incompatible legends:

  2. that of Aeneas: and

  3. that of Romulus and Remus.

  4. [These legends had different origins]:

  5. [The legend of Aeneas’ arrival in Italy] was ... a development of a Greek story rooted in the epic tradition ... ; [while]

  6. that of Romulus and Remus was localised in Latium.”

He further argued (at p. 3) that:

  1. “... at some stage, [the Greeks] heard about [the Roman tradition relating to] Romulus ... [and], in versions such as those of [the Greek scholars]:

  2. Lycophron [probably in the early 2nd century BC]; and

  3. Eratosthenes [in the second half of the 3rd century BC];

  4. Romulus and Remus appear as the sons or grandsons of Aeneas.”

An observation by Peter Wiseman (referenced below, 2015, at p. 45) might well explain the circumstances in which Eratosthenes and his fellow Greeks first became aware of the ‘Roman’ Romulus: immediately after the Romans’ victory over the Carthaginians in the First Punic War (264 - 241 BC), they sent ambassadors to King Ptolemy III at Alexandria to offer their assistance in his war with King Antiochus of Syria and, as Wiseman observed:

  1. “King Ptolemy will certainly have taken the Roman ambassadors to see the famous library of Alexandria.  The librarian at the time was the great polymath and historian, Eratosthenes ...”

In this page, I discuss the development of the Aeneas legend in Greek scholarship before the First Punic War.

Aeneas in the Homeric Tradition

Ancient Troad, Dardania and Chalcidice

Adapted from the Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire

As noted above, Aeneas was originally a figure from Greek legend: he is first recorded in our surviving sources in Homer’s catalogue of the Trojan allies who faced the Achaeans’ attack on Troy:

  1. “The Trojans were led by great Hector of the flashing helmet, the son of Priam, [King of Troy] ... [Their allies included] Aeneas, whom fair Aphrodite [Roman Venus] conceived to Anchises among the spurs of [Mount] Ida, was ... the leader of the Dardanians.  He was not alone:with him were Antenor’s two sons, Archelochus and Acamas ... ”, (‘Iliad’, 2: 815-23, translated by Augustus Murray, referenced below, at Vol. I, pp. 121-3).

Homer explained (at ‘Iliad’, 20: 215 - 239) that both Hector and Aeneas descended from Dardanus, son of Zeus. but that the line had split at the time of the brothers Ilus, and Assaracus:

  1. Priam and Hector belonged to the line that descended from Ilus; and

  2. Anchises and Aeneas belonged to the line that descended from Assaracus

According to the Greek geographer Strabo (who was writing in the period 20 BC - 20 AD):

  1. “The part of [the Trojan]  plain alongside [Mount Ida] is narrow, extending:

  2. on one side, towards the south as far as the region of Scepsis; and

  3. on the other, towards the north as far as the Lycians of Zeleia.

  4. This is the country that [Homer] makes subject to Aeneas and the sons of Antenor, calling it Dardania”, (‘Geography’, 13: 1: 33).

Poseidon’s Prophecy

Aeneas played a relatively minor role in the military engagements described in the ‘Iliad’, and his precise fate after the fall of Troy was not recorded there: as Nicholas Horsfall (referenced below, 1987, at p. 12) pointed out, his importance in the Homeric legend lies in the fact that Poseidon declares that he is fated to survive:

  1. “...  so that the race of Dardanus, whom Zeus loved more than all sons whom mortal women bore to him, will not die, blotted out without seed.  For Zeus has cursed the generation of Priam, and now the might of Aeneas will rule over the Trojans, and his sons’ sons, and those born in the future”, (‘Iliad’, 20: 300-308, translated by Charles McNelis, referenced below, 2018, at p. 6).

Poseidon’s prophecy is quite specific: Zeus has ordained that:

  1. Priam and his generation (meaning the line descended from Ilus) would cease to rule over the Trojans; and

  2. this prerogative would pass to Aeneas and his descendants( meaning that it would now pass to the line descended from Assaracus). 

Homer himself ended his poem before the fall of Troy, but the layer author of the epic ‘Iliou Persis’ (Sack of Troy), who was subsequently identified as Arctinus of Miletus, gave what was probably the earliest account of Aeneas’ survival: when the wooden horse that had been built by the Achaeans appeared outside the city:

  1. “The Trojans were suspicious, ... and, standing round it, debated what they ought to do.  Some thought they ought to hurl it down from the rocks, others to burn it up, while others said they ought to dedicate it to Athena.  At last this third opinion prevailed.  Then they turned to mirth and feasting believing the war was at an end.  But, at this very time, two serpents appeared and destroyed [the priest], Laocoon, and one of his two sons, a portent that so alarmed the followers of Aeneas that they withdrew to [Mount] Ida. Sinon then sent the fire-signal to the Achaeans, having previously got into the city by pretence.  The Greeks then sailed in from Tenedos, and those in the wooden horse came out and fell upon their enemies, killing many and storming the city”, (‘Iliou Persis’, fragment 1).

Another later follower of Homer picked up Poseidon’s prophecy and put it into the mouth of Aeneas’ mother, Aphrodite: she had seduced Anchises on Mount Ida when disguised as a young woman, but she then revealed her true identity to him and promised that:

  1. “You need have no fear of suffering any harm from me or the other [gods], for you are dear to [them].  [Furthermore], you are to have a dear son who will rule among the Trojans, as will the children born to his children in perpetuity; his name shall be Aeneas (Aineias), because an ainon akhos (terrible sorrow) took me, that I fell into a mortal man’s bed”, (‘Hymn to Aphrodite’, 5: 192-9, translated by Martin West, referenced below, at p. 175).

In view of Poseidon’s prophecy, one might have expected that, at least in the local tradition, Aeneas would have ruled in the Troad after the Achaens returned to their respective cities, and that he would have passed this rule down to his descendants when he died.  However, Homer’s testimony was not apparently taken literally: for example, as Andrew Erskine (referenced below, at p. 110) pointed out:

  1. “Many [putative] burial places are known for Aeneas, but none [of them is] in the Troad itself.”

In other words, neither Ilium (traditionally the successor of Homer’s Troy) nor any other city in the Troad claimed to be the city that Aeneas had ruled until his death.   Furthermore, as we shall see, according to Dionysius of Halicarnassus (at (=‘Roman Antiquities’, 1: 47: 5-6), Hellanicus of Lesbos (5th century BC) recorded that:

  1. “... when Scamandrius and the other descendants of Hector, who had been permitted by [the Achaean commander] Neoptolemus to return home from Greece, came to [Ascanius, son of Aeneas], and he went to Troy [with Scamandrius and his followers] in order to restore them to their ancestral kingdom. ... As for Aeneas, ... he embarked with his father, [Anchises] and the rest of his sons and, taking with him the images of his gods, he crossed the Hellespont ...”,  

I discuss the testimony of Hellanicus in more detail below: we should simply note here that he certainly did not record that Aeneas and his descendants replaced Scamandrius and the line descended from Ilus as rulers of the the ancient kingdom of Troy.  In a similar vein, according to the Scholia for Euripides’ ‘Andromache’ 10, Dionysius of Chalcis (who has been variously dated within the period from the 4th to the early 2nd century BC):

  1. “... says that Akamas [the son of the mythical King Theseus of Athens], having taken ... Scamandrius, the son of Hector and Ascanius, the son of Aeneas, ... attempted to fortify Ilium and Dardanus with walls.  However, when the Athenians entreated him not to do so, ... he went on to found the cities of Gergis, Perkote, Kolonai, Khruse, Ophrynion, Sidene, Astyra, Scepsis, Polikhne, ... Daskyleion, ... Iliou Kolone and Arisba, designating Scamandrius and Ascanius as founders of these cities”, (based on the translation by Gregory Nagy, referenced below, at p. 342).

Andrew Erskine (referenced below, at p. 108) argued that this tradition is likely to have been developed in conjunction with Athenian territorial ambitions in the Toad after ca. 600 BC, and that:

  1. “The strange altruism of Akamas in allowing [Scamandrius and Ascanius] to get the credit for the foundation of these cities is most easily explained if he is being incorporated into earlier stories that held the two Trojans [themselves] to be the founders, ... [which] were probably current locally well before the 5th century BC.”

This early evidence might suggest that the Homeric prophecy of Poseidon had little effect on the development of the legend of Aeneas, and it is certainly true that, as we shall see below, Greek sources had taken Aeneas to Italy by the late 4th century BC.  However, as late as the Augustan period, Strabo insisted that thos scholars who argued that Aeneas had reached Macedionia, Arcadia and even Latinum (via Sicily) must be wrong because:

  1. “Homer ... appears to disagree with ... [these] stories ...”, (‘Geography’, 13: 1: 53).

Interestingly, the broadly-contemporary Greek historian, Dionysius of Halicarnassus was more pragmatic:  he asserted that those scholars who were of this opinion were:

  1. “... deceived by mistaking the sense of Homer's verses in the ‘Iliad’ in which he represents Poseidon as foretelling the future splendour of Aeneas and his posterity:

  2. ‘But now indeed, the power of Aeneas will rule over the Trojans , and so will the children of his children, and those who will come afterwards.’

  3. ... They overlook the fact that] it was not impossible for Aeneas to reign over the Trojans that he had taken with him [to Latium], even though they were settled in another country”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 1: 53: 5, with Dionysius version of the Homeric prophecy of Poseidon translated by Beatrice Poletti, referenced below, at p. 103).

However, as Andrew Erskine (referenced below, at p. 100) pointed out, in making this argument at all, Dionysius acknowledged the strength of  Strabo’s position.


Tabula Iliaca Capitolina (late first century BC)

From Bovillae: now in the Musei Capitolini (Rome)

Adapted from the image in the website of the Kiwi Hellenist

Like ‘Arctinus of Miletus’ (above), Stesichorus wrote poem that was known as ‘Iliou Persis’ (the ‘Sack of Troy’).  According to Malcolm Davies and Patrick Finglass, (referenced below, at p. 6), although Stesichorus poetry is difficult to date:

  1. “If we say that [his] career covered some of the period between 610 and 540 BC, we shall not be far wrong.”

In other words, Stesichorus’ ‘Iliou Persis’ was written at about the same time as that of Arctinus.  However, there was an important difference between them:

  1. Arctinus was an epic poet who, like Homer, wrote in dactylic hexameters; while

  2. Stesichorus wrote his poems in less regular lyric meters (literally, meters that could be accompanied by a lyre).

Stesichorus’ ‘Iliou Persis’ is of particular interest for the present discussion because it is possible that it described Aeneas escape from Troy and his subsequent voyage to the West.  However, the only potential evidence for this comes from the so-called Tabula Iliaca Capitolina, a small carved tablet from Bovillae in Latium (see the illustrations above), which Davies and Finglass discussed (at pp. 428-36) as fr. 105 of Stesichorus’ poem. 

Tabulae Iliacae

The tablet under discussion here (which is known as the ‘Capitolina’ because it is now in the Musei Capitolini in Rome) is one of 23 known Tabulae Iliacea (Ilian Tablets): as David Petrain (referenced below, at pp. 1-2) pointed out, they:

  1. “... represent scenes from Greek mythology and history with a distinctive combination of miniature illustrations and inscribed texts: they derive most of their subject matter  from epic poetry ... Although information on [their] provenance ... is frequently sketchy, most of them come from Rome or its environs and seem to have been produced by the same workshop: we are dealing with objects created to mediate Greek subject matter, particularly the stories of Homeric epic, for a Roman audience.  Because the majority of [them] ... carry material related to the ‘Iliad; and the story of Troy, the entire class is known by the suggestive if not entirely accurate, label ‘Tabulae  Iliacae’ ... ”

Petrain noted (at pp. 16-7) that six of them bear the name Theodorus:

  1. four of these, including the Tabula Iliaca Capitolina, are concerned with the story of Troy, and five others of similar format and content must also be linked to him; while

  2. the other two that bear his name relate to the shield of Achiles, as described in the ‘Iliad’.

However, none of the known tablets exists in its entirety, and the Tabula Iliaca Capitolina is the only one of the nine tablets in the first category in which the lower part of the central panel survives.  Unfortunately, it is precisely in this part of the composition that we find the content that is of particar reference to the present discussion:

  1. the inscription referring to Stesichorus’ ‘Iliou Persis’ (my inscription 1 on the upper image above); and

  2. all three images (my images 1-3) relating to Aeneas’ escape from Troy.

Tabula Iliaca Capitolina

Sketches of the three scenes relevant to Aeneas’ departure from Troy:

1: Aeneas receives his household gods

2: Aeneas escapes from Troy

3: Aeneas embarks for the West

Adapted from the website ‘The Capitoline Tabula Iliaca

The sketches above illustrate the three scenes on the tablet that are central to the present discussion:

  1. In my Scene 1, the fleeing Aeneas (identified by the inscription below him), who is still within the city walls, receives a casket from an unnamed figure.

  2. In my Scene 2, which is at the centre of the composition:

  3. Aeneas escapes from the city, holding Ascanius’ hand and led by Hermes (all three identified by the inscriptions below them); and

  4. Anchises (identified by the inscription above him) sits on Aeneas’ shoulder, holding a casket; and

  5. In my Scene 3 (with the inscriptions translated by David Petrain, referenced below, at p. 204):

  6. Aeneas embarks on a warship (identified by the inscription at the upper right, ‘Aeneas sailing away’), still holding the hand of Ascanius;

  7. the figure ahead of them is Anchises, still holding the casket (identified by the inscription above him, ‘Anchises with the sacred objects’); and

  8. the figure behind them is Misenus (identified by the inscription below him), who carries a trumpet.

  9. The inscription above Misenus tells us that the scene depicts ‘Aeneas with his comrades, departing for Hesperia’: Pertrain (at p. 7) glossed ‘Hesperia’ as ‘the land of the west’.

Three key inscriptions below the central panel

Image adapted from Nicholas Horsfall (referenced below, 1979, Plate II)

David Petrain (referenced below, at p. 93) translated the inscriptions directly below Aeneas’  feet in my scene 2 (my inscriptions 1 and two) as:

Sack of Troy/ according to Stesichorus / Trojan;

[Line of Greek ships]

Iliad/ according to Homer

Aethiopis, according to Arcti/nus of Miletus

the Iliad known as the ‘Li/ttle’ according to/ Lesches of Pyrrha

He translated and completed the epigram along the strip below the beach scene (at p. 49) ) as follows:

Learn the art (techne) of Theodorus, the arrangement (taxis) of Homer

so that, having mastered it, you may possess the measure of all wisdom

Pertrain observed (at pp.  93-4) that the central position of the first two inscriptions:

  1. “... is no accident: they catch the viewer’s eye along with the emblematic Aeneas group [above] and allow him to comprehend in a single ... glance both the principal figures of the central panel and the identities of the poems contained in the outer bands.”

The arrangement within these ‘outer bands’ is as follows:

  1. the two strips below the third inscription contain miniature scenes from Arcitinus’ ‘Aethiopis’ and Lesches’ ‘Little Iliad’, respectively; while

  2. references to Homer’s ‘Iliad’ are confined to the other miniature scenes around the periphery of the tablet and the tiny inscriptions on the pillars to the sides of the central panel. 

Since all of these ‘peripheral’ scenes were from epic poems, written in in dactylic hexameters, one might have expected Arcitinus’ ‘‘Iliou Persis’ to complete, the composition as it did the Homeric ‘Epic Cycle’.

Malcolm Davies and Patrick Finglass, (referenced below, at p. 429) argued that the depiction of the works of Homer, Arctinus and Lesches around the periphery of the tablet:

  1. “... corresponds closely with what we have of them [in our other surviving sources].  In the case of the ‘Iliad’, only the most trivial divergences can be observed. ... The illustrations [from Arcitinus’ ‘Aethiopis’ and Lesches’ ‘Little Iliad’] are similarly accurate, corresponding exactly to what is known of these poems from the extensive plot summaries provided by Proclus and from the other fragments, right down to the order of events.  Getting the ‘Iliad’ right was not hard; accurately illustrating the [other two works] required specialised knowledge of much more recherché poems.”

They therefore argued (at p 430) that we might reasonably accept the apparent claim of Theodorus that the scenes on the central panel accurately illustrate the events of Stesichorus’ ‘Iliou Persis’, and suggested that he might have chosen this rather than the epic poem of the same name by Arctinus:

  1. “... precisely because [Stesichorus] offered the first trace of the association between Aeneas and Italy [see below].  We should therefore disbelieve [Theodorus apparent claim on] the tablet  only if:

  2. the events it portrays are manifestly incompatible with the written sources of Stesichorus’ poem; or

  3. we can say with confidence that they are unlikely to have been included in the poem on some other ground”

Theodorus might therefore have been inviting the viewer to concentrate on the central panel (primarily taken from Stesichorus ?), which represents the culmination of the Homeric scenes and inscriptions that surround it.

If my Scene 3 really does reflect the content of Stesichorus’ ‘Iliou Persis’, then this poem represents the earliest source known to us in which Aeneas sailed to Hesperia, the lands of the West. 

A number of scholars have argued against the putative link between my Scene 3 and Stesichorus: Sergio Casali, for example, summarised the ‘case against’ as follows:

  1. “The hypothesis that a Sicilian poet of the 6h century BC might already have known of

  2. a connection between Aeneas and the ‘Hesperia’ (a substantive by the way unknown to archaic and classical Greek and in general use only from the Hellenistic period onwards); and

  3. maybe also between Aeneas and Cape Misenus (Misenus is not known as a Trojan before Virgil);

  4. has given rise to much discussion and a good deal of balanced skepticism. ... The most we can say is that Stesichorus perhaps knew of a tradition according to which Aeneas sailed towards the West ... . But even this much is doubtful ... “.

However, Malcolm Davies and Patrick Finglass, (referenced below, at pp. 433-5) argued that:

  1. even if Stesichorus himself did not use the noun ‘Hesperia’, he could certainly have used the adjectival form ‘Hesperian’, which is attested from the time of  Homer; and

  2. as a westerner himself (see below) Stesichorus could well have been familiar with the Punto di Miseno on the coast of Campania, and this promontory might well have been associated with Misenus and voyages from Troy by his time.  (They pointed out that Strabo (‘Geography’, 5: 4: 6) new of a tradition in which Misenum had been named for a companion of Odysseus).

They also argued (at p. 430) more positively in favour of the presumption that all of the scenes in the central part of the tablet illustrate events that had been described in Stesichorus’ poem.  In particular, they argued that the other reliefs on the tablet were linked by inscription to:

  1. Homer’s ‘Iliad’, along the top and in the panel to the right; or

  2. ;

and that these accurately reflected events that are known to have been described these poems.  Finally, they pointed out that, since all three of these were epic poems, there must have been a particular reason why the central panel had not been used to illustrate Arcitinus’ epic ‘Iliou Persis’.  They therefore speculated that Stesichorus’ ‘Iliou Persis’ might have been preferred precisely because it:

  1. “... offered the first trace trace of the association between Aeneas and Italy”. 

It seems to me that we can firm up the case in favour of the putative link between my Scene 3 and Stesichorus by looking at the following passage from the so-called ‘Origins of the Roman Race’ (probably 4th century AD):

  1. “After [leaving the island of Delos, and] having traversed many seas, [Aeneas] was brought to the promontory of Italy that is near Baiae, around the lake of Avernus, and there he buried his navigator, Misenus, who had been carried off by disease.  [It is said] that the city [that was later built here] was called Misenon in honour of Misenus, as  Caesar writes in Book I of of his Libri Pontificales, although he relates that this Misenus was not a navigator but a trumpeter”, (‘Origo Gentis Romanae 9: 6 - this link goes directly to a pdf).

The now-unknown author of this passage, having pointed out that Virgil characterised Misenus as both a navigator and a trumpeter, then paraphrased the following Virgilian lines:

  1. “But loyal Aeneas heaps over [the dead Misenus] a massive tomb, with the soldier’s own arms, his [navigator’s] oar and his trumpet, beneath a lofty hill, which now, from him, is called Misenus, and keeps from age to age an ever living name”, (‘Aeneid, 6: 232-5, translated by H. Rushton Fairclough, referenced below, at p. 549).

The ‘Caesar’ cited in the ‘Origo’ was Lucius Caesar, a cousin of Julius Caesar.  Since he was one of the consuls of 64 BC, his Libri Pontificales almost certainly pre-dated both the work of Virgil and the carving of the Tabula Iliaca Capitolina

Moreover, as Carole Newlands (referenced below, at p. 139) pointed out, Bovillae:

  1. “... had a major connection with Julius Caesar and his ancestral family.  [It] was closely associated with Trojan foundation-legends, [and] was an offshoot settlement of Alba Longa, which was traditionally founded by Aeneas’ son, Iulus [i.e., Ascanius].”

She also referred to a passage by David Petrain (referenced below, at p. 143), in which he noted that:

  1. “An altar ... that was discovered [outside Bovillae] around 1826 ..., [which] probably dates to the latter half of the 2nd century BC,... names, with archaic orthography, a group of members of the Julian family ... who dedicate it to father Vediovis,‘according to Alban law’ ... The city’s ties to the mythic ancestry of the Julians ... might well have influenced the proprietor of the nearby villa at Tor Ser Paolo to display an object like the Tabula Iliaca Capitolina that portrayed the history of Aeneas and his family.”

Malcolm Davies and Patrick Finglass, (referenced below, at p. 15) translated his name as ‘he who sets up the chorus’, and it is likely that this and his other poems were intended to be sung: according to the Byzantine encyclopaedia known as the ‘Suda’ (10th century AD), his original name was Teisas (although there is no earlier evidence for this). 

Hellanicus of Mytilene/Lesbos

Dionysius of Halicarnassus (above) began his account of Aeneas’ voyage with from Troy to Latium with what he considered to be:

  1. “... the most credible account of Aeneas’ flight, which is the one that Hellanicus ... adopts in his ‘Troica’”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 1: 48: 1).

Dionysius referred here to the ‘Troica’ of Hellanicus of Lesbos (5th century BC), which (as its name name indicates) was concerned with the history of the Troad.  Dionysius’ summary of Hellanicus’ account began after Aeneas had assembled the other Dardanian survivors on Mount Ida.  He then:

  1. “... sent Ascanius, his eldest son, with some of the allies, chiefly Phrygians, to the country of Dascylium, in which lies the Ascanian lake, since he had been invited by the inhabitants to reign over them.  Ascanius did not stay there long: when Scamandrius and the other descendants of Hector, who had been permitted by [the Achaean commander] Neoptolemus to return home from Greece, came to him, he went to Troy in order to restore them to their ancestral kingdom.  Regarding Ascanius, then, this is all that is told.  As for Aeneas, ... he embarked with his father, [Anchises] and the rest of his sons and, taking with him the images of his gods, he crossed the Hellespont, sailed to the nearest peninsula, which lies in front of Europe and is called Pallene.  This country was occupied by a Thracian people called Crusaeans, who were allies of the Trojans and had assisted them during the war with greater zeal than any of the others”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 1: 47: 5-6). 

We also have another relevant fragment from Hellanicus  from Strabo: : he believed that Homer’s Troy had been located at what he called the ‘Village of the Ilians’, some 5 km east of the city of Ilium, but explained to his readers that:

  1. “... in order to gratify the Ilians ... , Hellanicus agrees with them that the present Ilium is the same as the ancient [city of Troy]”, (‘Geography’, 13: 1: 42).

Thus, it seems that Hellanicus originally recorded that:

  1. Priam’s capital was located on the later site of Ilium; and

  2. after the Achaeans destroyed it:

  3. Aeneas fled from the Troad by crossing the Hellespont to the Pallen peninsula (see the map above); while

  4. Ascanius left for Phrygia and then returned to Troy, where he helped Scamandrius, the grandson of Priam, to:

  5. -re-take and presumably restore the ruined city; and

  6. -re-establish his family’s rule over the Trojans.

There is no reason to think that Hellanicus paid any particular attention to the Homeric prophecy of Poseidon: as Andrew Erskine (referenced below, at p. 102) pointed out:

  1. “... there is no suggestion here that Ascanius and his family continued to rule.”

Peter Smith (referenced below, at p. 301) suggested that, when Hellanicus:

  1. “... brings Ascanius back from rule in Phrygia and Scamandrius back from captivity in Greece in order to join in a re-establishment of Troy, we should see this as ... [a] response to a local (or other antiquarian) tradition.  We may grant that Hellanicus had heard of this tradition the 5h century BC, and it may have been the accepted story among the [Greek] inhabitants of Ilium [at that time].”

Aeneas in Thrace: Hellanicus, Hegesippus and ‘Cephalon of Gergis’

Silver Tetradrachm from Aeneia (525 - 480 BC), illustrated by the American Numismatic Society

Obverse probably depicts Aeneas carrying Anchises (on the left) and his wife, Creusa, holding their son

As we have seen, Dionysius cited Hellanicus for Aeneas’ arrival in Pallene.  However, he did not name his source for the later passage in which he recorded that Aeneas and his followers:

  1. “... stayed the winter season in Thrace, [where they] built:

  2. a temple to Aphrodite on one of the promontories; and a

  3. a city called Aeneia, where they left all those who ... were unable to continue the voyage and all who chose to remain there as in a country they were henceforth to look upon as their own.  This city ... was destroyed in the reign of Cassander, when Thessalonica was being founded [in ca. 306 BC], and its inhabitants, like many others, were removed to the newly-built city”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 1: 49: 4).

The city of Aeneia, to the north of the Pallene peninsula (see the map above), had been using Aeneas on its coins since at least ca. 500 BC (see, for example, the coin illustrated above), which suggests that he was claimed as the city’s founder by at least that time.  This probably explains why Hellanicus brought Aeneas to Pallene; and Andrew Erskine (referenced below, at p. 94) argued that the information in the passage above:

  1. “... may ultimately derive from the ‘Troica‘ (5th century BC) of Hellanicus ...” 

However, Dionysius used other sources when he described the subsequent events:

  1. “What happened after [Aeneas’] departure [from Thrace] creates still greater difficulty for most historians.  For some, after they have brought him as far as Thrace, say he died there:

  2. one of these is Cephalon of Gergis; and

  3. another is Hegesippus, who wrote concerning Pallene.

  4. Both of them are ancient and reputable men.  Others make him leave Thrace and take him to Arcadia ...”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 1: 49: 1).

Hellanicus’ account of Aeneas’ subsequent travails, if indeed he wrote one, is now lost (unless he was ‘the the author of the history of the priestesses [of Hera] at Argos’, whom Dionysius cited at ‘Roman Antiquities’, 1: 72: 2, a possibility that I discuss below).

The first source that Dionysius gave for Aeneas’ death in Thrace was ‘Hegesippus, who wrote concerning Pallene’: Beatrice Poletti (referenced below, at p. 102, note 125) identified him as Hegesippus of Mecyberna (late 4th century BC), whose only known work was the ‘Palleniaca’ to which Dionysius referred.  He would almost certainly have described Aeneas’ foundation of Aeneia here, despite the fact that he might have lived after its destruction by Cassander: Livy recorded that, as late as ca. 180 BC, people travelled:

  1. “... from Thessalonica to Aenia, [for] a festival [that] was ... celebrated with great pomp every four years in honour of Aeneas, the founder of the city”, (‘History of Rome’, 40: 4: 8-9).

Furthermore, since Hegesippus thought that Aeneas had died in Thrace, he presumably knew of a tomb in the area (quite possibly located at Aeneia) that claimed to have held his remains.

Cephalon of Gergis was the pseudonym of Hegesianax of Alexandria Troas, a courtier of Antiochus III of Syria (222 - 187 BC) who wrote after the First Punic War (and is therefore discussed on the following page).  For the moment, we might simply note that he claimed the authority of ‘Cephalon of Gergis’ for a work on the Troad that extended back to the time of Homer.  Dionysius cited him again as:

  1. “... a very ancient writer, [who] says that [Rome] was built in the second generation after the Trojan war by those who had escaped from Troy with Aeneas, and he identifies its founder as Rhomus, who was ... one of Aeneas' sons”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 1: 72: 1).

Thus, it seems that Hegesianax had:

  1. maintained the impression that he was writing at an early date by dating the foundation of Rome to within two generations of the fall of Troy; and

  2. reconciled Aeneas’ death in Thrace with the Romans’ tradition of their Trojan origins by inventing Aeneas’ son ‘Rhomus’, who had presumably buried his father at Thrace and then continued to Italy, where he had founded Rome.

His relatively late testimony that Aeneas died in Thrace (which  may well have relied on Hellanicus and/or Hegesippus) adds little to our present discussion.

Author of the History of the Priestesses at Argos

According to Dionysius:

  1. “... the author of the history of the priestesses [of Hera] at Argos and of what happened in the days of each of them, [who] says that Aeneas came into Italy from the land of the Molossians [of Epirus, on the eastern Adriatic coast] with Odysseus and became the founder of the city, which he named after Romê, one of the Trojan women.  He says that this woman, growing weary with wandering, stirred up the other Trojan women and they set fire to the [Trojan] ships.  And Damastes of Sigeum and some others agree with him”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 1: 72: 2).

Nature of the Work that Contained this Passage

As Angelika Kellner pointed out:

  1. “In the second half of the 5th century BC, lists of eponymous secular and sacred officials that reached back into the Archaic period (ca. 800-500 BC) were published in various Greek cities.  This is usually understood to mark the beginning of a new genre, namely ancient Greek chronography.  These chronographical lists ... include the registers of:

  2. the Spartan kings;

  3. the ... priestesses of [Hera at] Argos;

  4. the victors [in the stadion (foot) race at successive, four-yearly] Olympic Games; and

  5. the Athenian archons. 

  6. The highly fragmentary preservation [of these lists] renders ancient Greek chronography a difficult subject: all of the 5th century BC chronographic texts owe their survival to quotations by later authors, thus [creating]  methodological challenges for modern scholars.”

We know of two occasions on which the list of the priestesses at Argos was used for dating purposes:

  1. according ot Hellanicus of Lesbos, cited by Dionysius:

  2. “... the Sicel nation left Italy [for Sicily] in:

  3. the third generation before the Trojan war, [which, according to Greek tradition, dated to the 12th centuryBC]; and

  4. the 26th year of the priesthood of Alcyone at Argos” (‘Roman Antiquities’, 1: 22: 3); and

  5. according to Thucydides, the Peloponnesian War began (in the year that we call 431 BC):

  6. “... when:

  7. Chrysis was in the 48th year of her priesthood at Argos;

  8. Aenesias was ephor at Sparta;  and

  9. Pythodorus still had four months to serve as archon at Athens ...”, translated by Charles Smith, referenced below, at p. 259).

From this, we can conclude that:

  1. a list of eponymous priestesses at Argos was available by at least the time of Hellanicus and Thucydides:

  2. it was arranged chronologically and gave the number of years that each priestess had served; and

  3. it claimed to date back to at least three generation before the Trojan war.

We also know from Polybius (ca. 150 BC) how these lists were used at around the time of the First Punic War: he disparagingly characterised Timaeus of Taoromenium (died in ca. 264 BC) as:

  1. “... the man who:

  2. matches the [Spartan] ephors with the kings of Sparta starting from the earliest times; and

  3. sets the lists of the Athenian archons and priestesses of Hera at Argos alongside those of the Olympic victors; 

  4. pointing out mistakes [of as little as] three months made by the poleis (cities) in these registers !”, (‘Histories’, 12: 11: 1) , based on the translation by Paul Christesen (referenced below, 2007, at p. 279).

Timaeus presumably worked in this way in order to synchronise the city-specific eponym lists from Sparta, Athens and Argos with the more convenient pan-Hellenic list of Olympic victors (which began with the first recorded games in the year that we call 776 BC: after the time of Timaeus, Greek scholars would have given the date for the start of the Peloponnesian War (for example) as Ol. 87:2.

Felix Jacoby classified this fragment to the well-attested ‘Hiereiai tes Heras en Argei’ (Priestesses of Hera at Argos) by Hellanicus of Lesbos (as FGrH 4, F84), and many scholars have accepted this hypothesis: for example, Beatrice Poletti (referenced below, at p. 74) asserted that Dionysius had taken this passage from:

  1. “... the ‘History of the Priestesses at Argos’, an early chronicle compiled by Hellanicus of Lesbos.”

She pointed out (at p. 75) that:

  1. “Dionysius states that this version was later accepted by other writers as well, including Damastes of Sigeum, a pupil of Hellanicus (late fifth-century BC)”;

and argued that:

  1. “Hellanicus thus supplies the earliest certain evidence of the Trojan origin of Rome.”

The although Dionysius explicitly cited Hellanicus’ ‘Troica’ in the passage discussed above (in which Aeneas reached Pallene), he referred to neither Hellicanus nor his ‘‘Hiereiai’ in the passage under discussion here.  Some scholars have therefore doubted that he was the authour of this second passage: for example:

  1. Erich Gruen (referenced below, at p. 17) expressed doubts as to whether Hellanicus:

  2. “... took any notice of Rome, an insignificant little town in the 5th century BC”;

  3. and herefore argued (at p. 18) that:

  4. “A more plausible setting [for the account attributed to the unnamed chronographer] would seem to be the later 4th century BC, when tales of Aeneas and Latium, of Odysseus’ western ventures, and of  arsonist Trojan women were circulating in the school of Aristotle and elsewhere”; and

  5. Nicholas Horsfall (referenced below, 2020, at p. 90) argued that:

  6. “[While it is possible that]:

  7. Hellanicus referred to Aeneas in the ‘[‘Hiereiai’] in terms similar to those of part of FGrH 4, F84 ...; [and]

  8. Damastes followed his master Hellanicus ...;

  9. it remains unlikely that either [Hellanicus or Damastes] mentioned the foundation of Rome”.

Trojan Settlement on Sicily


At the start of his account of the Athenians’ failed attempt to establish colonies on Sicily in 415-3 BC, the Athenian scholar Thucydides ( (late 5th century BC) recorded that:

  1. “... after the capture of [Troy], some of the Trojans who had escaped the Achaeans came in boats to Sicily and, settling on the borders of the Sicanians, were called, as a people, Elymi [or Elymians], while their cities were named Eryx and Egesta [or Aegesta and, in Latin, Segesta]”, (‘History of the Peloponnesian War’, 6: 2: 3, translated by Charles Smith, referenced below, at p. 185).

However, Thucydides made no mention here of Aeneas: as Karl Galinski (referenced below, at p. 3) observed:

  1. “... the legend of a Trojan landing [at Eryx and Segesta] had been in existence long before it was fused with the Aeneas legend.”

Alcimus (possibly late 4th century BC)

According to the Augustan grammarian M. Verrius Flaccus, as epitomised by Festus (2nd century AD):

  1. “Alcimus says that Romulus was the son of Aeneas’ wife, Tyrrhenia, and from Romulus was born Aeneas’ granddaughter, Alba, whose son, called Rhodius, founded Rome”, (‘De verborum significatu’, pp. 326- 8L, translated by Peter Wiseman, referenced below, 2008, at p. 302).

As Tim0thy Cornell (referenced below, 1975, at p. 7, note 1) observed, the Sicilian Alcimus:

  1. “... wrote a work entitled ‘Sikelika’, of which, five fragments survive, dealing with the antiquities of Sicily and Italy.”

Erich Gruen (referenced below, at p. 15) observed that this fragment contains what may be earliest surviving source that connects Aeneas with the founding of Rome, and Tim0thy Cornell (referenced below, 1975, at pp. 6-7) observed that it contains the earliest attested mention of Romulus, albeit that:

  1. “Alcimus gave a curious genealogy in which Romulus was the son of Aeneas and [a presumably Etruscan lady called] Tyrrhenia.  [They] had a daughter called Alba, whose son, [Rhodius], founded Rome.”

Erich Gruen (referenced below, at p. 15) observed that Alcimus would have been aware of the Romans’ involvement in Magna Graeca from the 4th century BC,  and argued that he introduced their putative Trojan lineage to explain their pre-eminence in Latium and Etruria at that time.  Peter Wiseman (referenced below, 2008, at p. 302) argued that, since the Latin word ardea and the Greek word rhodios both mean the same thing (heron):

  1. “... Rhodius can be the eponym of [the Latin city of] Ardea, which evidently claimed at one time to be the mother-city of Rome.”

If so, then it is possible that Alcimus was attempting to reconcile two mutually exclusive  Latin traditions in this passage:

  1. one in which Ardea had been the mother-city of Rome; and

  2. another in which Romulus founded both Alba Longa (which he named for his daughter) and Rome.

Aeneas in Sicily

There is circumstantial evidence for the existence of a tradition in that linked Aeneas with Segesta: according to Cassius Dio (ca. 200 AD), as transmitted by John Zonaras (12th century AD), in 263 BC, soon after the start of the First Punic War:

  1. “... the Romans took Segesta without resistance, because its inhabitants, ... [who] claimed that they are descended from Aeneas, killed the Carthaginians [who were garrisoned there] and joined the Roman alliance”, (‘Roman History’, 11, fragment from Zonaras, 8: 9: 12).

However, this is obviously a very late source: the earliest surviving written references to this tradition date to the late Republic:

  1. Cicero, in a speech that he delivered during his prosecution of Verres in 70 BC, asserted that:

  2. “There is ... a very ancient town in Sicily named Segesta; it is alleged to have been founded by Aeneas, when he fled from Troy and arrived in our part of the world”, (‘Against Verres’, 2: 4: 33, translated by Leonard Greenwood, referenced below, at p. 369); and

  3. Diodorus Siculus (shortly thereafter) recorded that:

  4. “Aeneas, the son of Aphrodite, when ... he was on his way to Italy and anchored off [Sicily], embellished the sanctuary [of Aphrodite at Eryx] with many votive offerings, since it was dedicated to his mother”, (‘Library of History’, 4: 83: 4).

The sources on which Diodorus relied are unknown, but Dionysius seems to have later relied on local traditions relating to the cult sites at Eryx and Segesta:

  1. “There are many proofs of the coming of Aeneas and the Trojans to Sicily, but the most notable are:

  2. the altar of Aphroditê Aeneas erected on the summit of Elymus, which was built by Aeneas himself in  honour of his mother, [Aphrodite/ Venus]; and

  3. a temple erected to Aeneas in Aegesta (sic)  ..., [which] was an offering made by those of the expedition who remained behind to the memory of their deliverer”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 1: 53: 1).

Read more:

Horsfall N., “Fifty Years at the Sibyl's Heels: Selected Papers on Virgil and Rome”, (2020) Oxford

Kellner A., “Kings, Officials and Priestesses: Chronographic Lists As Cornerstones of Chronology in Greece and The Neo-Assyrian Empire”, Kaskal: Rivista di Storia, Ambiente e Culture del Vicino Oriente Antico, 16 (2019) 393-408

McNelis C., “Mythical and Literary Genealogies: Aeneas and the Trojan Line in Homer, Ennius and Virgil”, in:

  1. Knox P. E. et al., (editors), “They Keep It All Hid: Augustan Poetry, its Antecedents and Reception”, (2018) Berlin, at pp. 3-15

Poletti B., “Dionysius of Halicarnassus and the 'Founders' of Rome: Depicting Characters in the Roman Antiquities”, (2018), thesis of the University of Alberta

Wiseman T. P., “The Roman Audience: Classical Literature as Social History’, (2015) Oxford

Davies M. and Finglass P. J., “Stesichorus: The Poems”, (2014) Cambridge

Petrain D.’ “Homer in Stone: the Tabulae Iliacae in their Roman Context”, (2014) Cambridge and New York

Casali S., “The Development of the Aeneas Legend”, in:

  1. Farrell J. and Putnam M. (editors), “A Companion to Vergil’s Aeneid and its Tradition”, (2010) Oxford and Chichester, at pp. 37-51

Nagy G. “Homer, the Pre-Classic”, (2010), Berkeley, Los Angeles and London

Wiseman T. P., “Unwritten Rome”, (2008) Exeter

Christesen P., “Olympic Victor Lists and Ancient Greek History”, (2007) Cambridge

West M. (translator), “Homeric Hymns. Homeric Apocrypha. Lives of Homer”, (2003) Cambridge MA

Erskine A., “Troy Between Greece and Rome: Local Tradition and Imperial Power”, (2001) Oxford and New York

Wiseman T. P., “Remus: A Roman Myth”, (1995) Cambridge, New York and Melbourne

Gruen E. S., “Culture and National Identity in Republican Rome”, (1992) Ithaca and New York

Horsfall N. M., “The Aeneas Legend from Homer to Virgil”, in:

  1. Bremmer J. N. and Horsfall N. M., “Roman Myth and Mythography”, (1987) London, at pp. 12-24

Smith P., “Aineiadai as Patrons of Iliad XX and the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite”, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 85 (1981) 17-58

Horsfall N. M., “Stesichorus at Bovillae?”, Journal of Hellenic Studies, 99 (1979) 26-48

Cornell T. J., “Aeneas and the Twins: the Development of the Roman Foundation Legend”, Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society, 21 (1975) 1-32

Galinski G. K., “Aeneas, Sicily, and Rome”, (1969) Princeton NJ

Greenwood L. H. G. (translator), “Cicero: The Verrine Orations, Vol. II: Against Verres, Part 2, Books 3-5”, (1935) Cambridge MA

Jones W. H. S. (translator), “Pausanias: Description of Greece, Vol.III: Books 6-8.21 (Elis 2, Achaia, Arcadia)”, (1933) Cambridge MA

Murray A. T. (translator), “Homer: Iliad, Vol. I, Books 1-12”, (1924) and “Homer: Iliad, Volume II, Books 13-24”, (1925) Cambridge MA

Smith C. F. translator), “Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War: Vol. III, Books 5-6”, (1921) Cambridge MA

Fairclough H. R. (translator), “Virgil: Eclogues. Georgics. Aeneid: Books 1-6”, (1916) Cambridge MA

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