spearmen to fight against them, since to me they have done nothing.
Never yet have they driven away my cattle or my horses,
never in Phthia where the soil is rich and men grow great did they
spoil my harvest, since indeed there is much that lies between us,
the shadowy mountains and the echoing sea; but for your sake,
o great shamelessness, we followed, to do you favour [chairēs],
you with the dog’s eyes, to win your honour [timē] and Menelaos’
from the Trojans. You forget all this or else you care nothing.
Achilles makes clear that he and the other leaders followed Agamemnon as a favour (charis). This is interesting: according to other stories, most of the men in Greece had longed to marry the beautiful Helen, nominally the daughter of King Tyndaraeus of Sparta (but actually a child of Zeus). To maintain the peace, all men swore an oath to let Helen pick a husband of her own choosing, and to defend him against whoever would quarrel with him.
The Trojan War thus came about when the Trojan prince Paris ran off with Helen and took her to Troy. But there’s hardly a hint of this in the Homeric epic. Instead, use of the word charis suggests that the Greeks joined the expedition simply as a favour. Indeed, the poem suggests that the Trojan War was perhaps a voluntary endeavour.
Some men were even able to politely refuse an invitation to war by sending Agamemnon, the Greek commander-in-chief, some valuable gift. Echepolus, son of Anchises (not to be confused with Aeneas’ father!), gave Agamemnon a beautiful mare, specifically “so as not to have to go with him to windy Ilion but stay where he was and enjoy himself” (Il. 23.295–296).
Still, it seems likely that many men would have had to answer the call to arms for fear of losing face. While most men no doubt had to supply their own weapons and armour, at least some in the retinue of a wealthy man could be supplied from the latter’s surplus equipment.
That leaders had extra equipment is clear from a description of Odysseus’ palace in the Odyssey. The poet mentions that there’s a store-room filled with all sorts of treasures (keimēlia) and weapons (Od. 2.337–347). But weapons and other equipment could also adorn the central hall in a prince’s home. Earlier, Telemachus had removed all of the weapons and armour from Odysseus’ hall (Od. 19.1–34, 22.23–25).
In the Homeric world, armies consisted of leaders and their followers. These followers could be close friends, sometimes even retainers who lived in their master’s house. Other followers were perhaps obliged to follow their leader to war, or did so as a favour. Some men cast lots to determine who had to go off to war. And while they most likely had to supply their own equipment, a leader often had a reserve from which he could supply some of his men.
There are interesting parallels to be found between what we read in the Homeric epics and what Greek poets of the Archaic period (roughly the seventh and sixth centuries BC) wrote about warfare and society. But there are differences, too. Homeric society is ruled by kings, which were already a rarity in Archaic Greek communities. But in both instances, it seems that warfare was very much the perogative of the upper strata of society, and organized on a largely personal basis.