Historical Characters of Ancient Greece

    Gods and Myths     Heroes and Monsters     Homeric Epics     Early City-States     Persian War     Athenian Empire     Late Classical     Hellenistic Era



Gods and Myths—Legendary

Gaia and Uranus to Reign of the Olympians

CharacterDescription

Olympians-Second Generation of Gods, related to Zeus

Zeus  (Jupiter) God of Heavens, Weather, Lightning - King of Gods
Poseidon  (Neptune) God of the Sea, Rivers, Earthquakes, Horses
Hades  (Pluto) God of the Underworld,Dead, Precious Metals
Hera  (Juno) Goddess of Marriage, Women - Queen of Gods - Mother (with Zeus) of Ares, Hephaestus, Hebe, and Eris
Hestia  (Vesta) Goddess of the Hearth, Home, Chastity
Ares  (Mars) God of War, bloodshed, violence
Athena  (Minerva) Goddess of Wisdom, Strategy, Handcrafts, Skill
Apollo  (Apollo) God of Light,Prophecy,Music,Healing
Artemis  (Diana) Goddess of the Hunt,Forest,Wild Animals,Maidens
Aphrodite  (Venus) Goddess of Love,Beauty,Desire, mother of Cupid
Hermes  (Mercury) God of Travel, Commerce, Speed, Diplomacy, Trickery - Messenger of Gods
Hephaestus  (Vulcan) God of the Forge, Fire, Craftsmanship
Demeter  (Ceres) Goddess of Grain, Agriculture, Harvest, Fertility - Mother (with Zeus) of Persephone
Dionysus  (Bacchus) God of Wine, Revelry, Festivals, Madness
Persephone (Proserpina) Goddess of Spring - Wife of Hades
Hebe   (Juventus) Goddess of Youth - Cupbearer of the Gods
Eris  (Discordia) Goddess of Discord - Sister of Ares
Eros  (Cupid) God of Love - Son of Aphrodite
Pan  (Faunnus) God of Nature, Shepherds, Flocks



Heroes and Monsters—Legendary

Exploits of Perseus to Death of Hercules

CharacterDescription

Demigods—Sons of one god and one Mortal

Hercules (Son of Zeus) Greatest of Greek demigod heroes. Succeeded in twelve labors.
Perseus (Son of Zeus) Legendary hero who killed Medusa, a monster so ugly it turned people to stone.
Theseus (Son of Poseidon) Legendary hero, who killed the Minataur. Ancient King of Athens.
Pollux (Son of Zeus) Prince of Sparta, renowned horseman, boxer, and Argonaut. Twin of Castor (a mortal) and brother of Helen.
Aeneas (Son of Aphrodite) Trojan hero who escapes from the Destroyed city and founds Rome.
Minos (Son of Zeus) King of Crete, patron of Daedalus, and keeper of the Minotaur.

Mortal Heroes

Jason Led a voyage of 'Argonauts' on a quest to recover the Golden Fleece.
Oedipus Solved the mystery of the Sphinx, and became the King of Thebes. Then struck with tragedy.
Bellerophon Hero associated with Corinth, who killed the Chimera and rode the winged horse Pegasus.
Castor Mortal twin of Pollux, prince of Sparta and brother of Helen. Traveled with the Argonauts.
Daedalus renowed craftsman, credited with inventing many ingenious devices, and designing the Labyrinth.
Icarus Son of Daedalus who perished when he flew too near the son with waxen wings crafted by his father.
Meleager Hero who hosted the Calydonian Boar hunt, and was a suitor for Atalanta.
Orpheus renowed musician, famed for leading the Argonauts past the Sirens and rescuing his wife from the Underworld.
Midas Phrygian king who was granted the "Golden Touch", but repented when he turned his daughter to gold.
Eurystheus King of Tiryns, loyal to Hera, who imposes twelve labors on Hercules.

Mortal Heroines

Andromeda Ethiopian princess who is doomed to be sacrificed to a sea-monster, but rescued by Perseus.
Eurydice Wife of Orpheus, the only mortal ever rescued from the underworld.
Antigone Daughter of Oedipus, king of Thebes. Cares for him when he is exiled.
Atalanta Famed huntress who hunted the Calydonian Boar and was involved with Meleager.
Deianeira Third wife of Hercules who accidently kills her husband with the Tunic of Nessus.
Medea Sorceress wife of Jason, who helps him gain the Golden Fleece.
Circe Sorceress daughter of Helios, who enticed sailors with her hospitality and then turned them into animals.
Hippolyta Daughter of Ares and Queen of the Amazons. Possessed a magical girdle.

Partially Human Creatures

Centaurs Half-Man, half horse creatures that are usually prone to rowdy behavior. Chiron, the famous centaur tutor of Achilles, Jason, and Perseus, was exceptionally noble and wise. Nessus was another famous Centaur, known for killing Hercules.
Satyr Half-man, half goat creatures associated with Dionysus and drunkenness. Pan god of shepherds and flocks is the most famous satyr. Silenus, leader of the Satyrs, had the gift of prophesy when drunk.



Homeric Epics—1000 B.C.

Trojan War to Return of Odysseus

CharacterDescription

The Iliad - Trojans

Helen Beautiful Spartan princess, and wife of Menelaus who started the Trojan when she ran off with Paris.
Paris Prince of Troy, kidnaps Helen with the help of Aphrodite.
Hector Prince of Troy, Brave and Noble leader of Trojans. Killed by Achilles.
Aeneas Trojan hero, and son of Aphrodite, who escaped Troy and eventually settled near Rome.
Cassandra Trojan princess who was given the gift of prophesy, but was never to be believed.
Priam King of Troy, who pleads with Achilles for the body of his son Hector.
Hecuba Queen of Troy, mother of Hector, Paris, and Cassandra.
Andromache Faithful wife of Hector who becomes a concubine of Achilles' son after the war.
Pandarus Trojan archer who unwittingly sabotages a truce by shooting Menelaus.

The Iliad - Greeks

Menelaus Spartan king and husband of Helen, who raised a fleet of "1000 Ships" to rescue her from Troy.
Agamemnon Brother of Menelaus, and Greek leader in the Trojan War. Killed by his wife upon his return home.
Achilles Greatest warrior hero of the Greeks, renowned for his fighting skills. Central character of the Iliad.
Patroclus Dearest friend of Achilles who dons the armor of Achilles and is killed by Hector.
Thetis Immortal Mother of Achilles, who seeks to protect him from harm.
Nestor Veteran warrior who is too old to fight, but serves as a trusted advisor to the Greeks.
Iphigenia Daughter of Agamemnon who is sacrificed to the Gods while the Greek fleet is stranded at Aulis.
Diomedes Courageous and noble hero, who leads the Greeks in battle after Achilles quits the field.
Ajax (Greater) Strongest and Bravest of the Greek warriors, chosen to do single combat with Hector.
Briseis Greek princess who is the cause of a great row between Achilles and Agamemnon during the Trojan War.

The Odyssey - Heroines and Heroes

Odysseus Greek hero known best for strategy and craft. Central character of the Odyssey.
Penelope Patient and faithful wife of Odysseus. Kept suitors at bay for twenty years as she awaited his return.
Telemaches Son of Odysseus who leaves Ithaca in search of his father.
Laertes Father of Odysseus, who sailed with Jason on the Argo and grieves for his lost son.
Nausicaa Phaecian princess who rescues Odysseus when he drifts ashore her land.

The Odyssey - Monsters and Immortals

Lotus Eaters Race of people who eat lotus plants that put the into an oblivious sleep.
Aeolus Ruler of the four winds, including the Boreas, the North wind, and Zephyrus, the West Wind.
Circe Sorceress daughter of Helios, exiled to the island of Aeaea, where she turned men into beasts.
Scylla Six headed sea-monster that grabbed sailors from every vessel that approached her.
Charybdis Giant sea monster in the shape of a whirlpool, who consumed vessels that sailed too close.
Harpies Ugly winged bird-women, who torment people by snatching their food away.
Sirens Beautiful Sea Nymphs who lure sailors to their death with alluring song.
Clashing Rocks (Symplegades) A pair of Rocks in the Bosperous that smash ships between them as they pass.
Talos Bronze giant who protect Crete by hurling boulders at passing ships.
Cyclopes Race of one-eyed giants, sons of Gaia, freed from Tartarus by Zeus.
Polyphemus Giant Cyclops, son of Poseidon, who captures Odysseus in his cave.
Laestrygonians Race of man-eating giants who ate a great many of Odysseus's men.
Calypso Sea nymph who fell in love with Odysseus and kept him captive for many years.



Early City-States—800 to 500 B.C.

Rise of Sparta to Reforms of Cleisthenes


Character/Date Short Biography
Homer
~ 1000 BC
Blind poet who "wrote" the Iliad and Odyssey, before the age of writing.
Aesop
~ 550 BC
Famous Greek Fablist, alledgedly lived at the court of Croesus in Lydia.

Early Sparta

Aristomenes
d. 631 BC
Bravely defended Messenians from Spartan conquest, for 17 years.
Tyrtaeus
~ 650 BC
Wrote inspiring battle ballads for Sparta during the Messenian War. Historian of Sparta.
Lycurgus
884–820 BC
Mastermind of Spartan laws and lifestyle.
Cleomenes I
d. 489 BC
King of Sparta before Persian Wars, removed tyrants from Athens, defeated Argos.

Early Athens

Codrus
~ 1000 BC
Last King of Athens. Died nobly, and Athenians resolved to never have another king.
Draco
~ 621 BC
First wrote the laws of Athens, but made them very harsh.
Solon
638–559 BC
Rewrote the laws of Athens to better protect poor citizens from the rich.
Pisistratus
605–527 BC
Tyrant of Athens. Respected Solon's laws. Established festivals, and promoted culture.
Megacles
~ 555 BC
Opposed, and then allied himself with Pisistratus. Married Agriste of the Alcmaeonidae clan.
Hippias
~ 490 BC
Exiled son of Pisistratus; helped lead Persian forces against Athens at Marathon.
Cleisthenes
~ 510 BC
Athenian statesman who overthrew Hippias, and helped institute democratic reforms.

Corinth, Samos, Miletus

Thales
635–543 BC
Early Greek philosopher and scientist, one of seven sages of Greece.
Cypselus
d. 627 BC
Legendary Tyrant of Corinth. Under the rule of his family the city became powerful.
Polycrates
d. 522 BC
Prosperous king of Samos who was overthrown by Oretes, his enemy from Asia Minor.
Pythagoras
570–480 BC
Philosopher and mathematician; invented the Pythagorean Theorem.



Persian War—560 to 472 B.C.

Rise of the Persia to Aftermath of Persian War


Character/Date Short Biography

Early Empires

Nebuchadnezzar
645–561 BC
King who conquered much of Assyria and made his capital at Babylon.
Amasis II
d. 525 BC
Second to last king of Egypt, died before Egypt was overrun by Cambyses.
Croesus
560–547 BC
Wealthy monarch of Lydia who lost his kingdom to Cyrus the Great.

Rise of Persia

Cyrus the Great
558–529 BC
Prince of Persia who overran Medes, Lydia and Assyria to create the Persian Empire.
Harpagus
~ 550 BC
Minister of Astyages who betrayed him in favor of Cyrus.
Cambyses
d. 522 BC
Eldest son of Cyrus. Invaded Egypt, killed brother, then died.
Smerdis the Magi
~ 522 BC
Impersonated Smerdis, son of Cyrus and stole the throne of Persia.
Atossa
~ 521 BC
Daughter of Cyrus the Great, wife of Darius, mother of Xerxes
Darius the Great
d. 486 BC
With six conspirators seized the throne of Persia, primarily through craft rather than force.
Tomyris
~ 529 BC
Queen of the Scythians. Her army defeated and killed Cyrus the Great.
Democedes
~ 500 BC
Greek physician, valuable slave of Darius. Schemed and plotted to return to Greece.
Zopyrus
d. 482 BC
Loyal Persian General, helped Darius retake Babylon with an elaborate ruse.

Ionian Revolt

Histiaeus
d. 494 BC
Very close advisor to Darius, rescued him from disaster in Scythia, later rebelled. Father in law of Aristagoras.
Aristagoras
~ 494 BC
Son-in-law of Histiaeus. Led Rebellion of Greek Colonies in Asia Minor.

Persian Heroes

Artaphernes
~ 500 BC
Brother of Darius, Satrap of Lydia during Ionian Rebellion. Lead Persian forces at Marathon.
Xerxes
520–465 BC
Raised an enormous army for Persian invasion of Greece. Defeated at Battle of Salamis.
Mardonius
d. 489 BC
Brother-in-law of Xerxes and commander-in-chief of Xerxes's Army.
Artabanus
~ 480 BC
Brother of Darius. Close advisor to Darius and Xerxes.
Artemisia
~ 480 BC
Queen of Halicarnassas and Cos. One of Xerxes most trusted advisors and Generals.
Demaratus
~ 480 BC
Exiled King of Sparta, advisor to Xerxes during his invasion of Greece.
Pythius
~ 480 BC
Satrap who magnificently hosted Xerxes and was repaid by having his eldest son slain.

Greek Heroes

Bulis and Sperthias
~ 485 BC
Volunteered to sacrifice their lives to the Persian King to expiate the murder of Ambassadors.
Miltiades
d. 489 BC
Athenian General who led Greece to great victory at the Battle of Marathon.
Pheidippides
d. 490 BC
Ran from Athens to Sparta to warn of Persians. Ran to Athens after Marathon, then died.
Leonidas
d. 480 BC
Spartan King whose whole army died defending the pass of Thermopylae.
Themistocles
525–462 BC
Athenian hero of the Battle of Salamis. He masterminded Athenian naval supremacy.
Eurybiades
~ 480 BC
Head of Spartan Fleet during the Persian War.
Aristides
d. 468 BC
Athenian General and Statesman. Fought at Marathon, Salamis; created Delian League.
Pausanias
d. 470 BC
Spartan General who led Greece against Mardonius at the Battle of Plataea.



Athenian Empire—478 to 404 B.C.

Formation of Delian League to Fall of Athens


Character/Date Short Biography

Arts and Literature

Aeschylus
525–456 BC
First of the three great Greek Tragedians. Wrote plays including the tragedies of Oedipus and Antigone.
Sophocles
496–406 BC
Wrote Greek Tragedies, including the tragedies of Agamemnon, Electra, and Orestes.
Euripides
480–406 BC
Third of the great Greek Tragedians. Wrote Alcestis, Medea, Orestes, Electra and many others.
Aristophanes
448–388 BC
Greatest of Greek Comedian playwrights. Wrote Frogs, Clouds, Peace, Birds, and many others.
Pindar
518–438 BC
Most famous of Greek Lyric Poets.
Phidias
500–432 BC
Built statues of Athene in the Parthenon and Jupiter at Olympia. Friend of Pericles.
Herodotus
484–425 BC
Wrote Histories of the Persian War and empires of the east.
Thucydides
460–400 BC
Historian of Peloponnesian War. An Athenian general sent into exile after he failed a mission.

Science and Philosophy

Anaxagoras
500–428 BC
First Great Philosopher of Athens, thought to be a teacher of Socrates.
Socrates
469–399 BC
First moral philosopher, immortalized by Plato.
Hippocrates
460–377 BC
Father of modern medicine. Set up medical school to train doctors by scientific methods.

Statesmen

Pericles
499–429 BC
Athenian statesman during Golden Age of Athens. Made Athens cultural center of Greece.
Aspasia
~ 450 BC
Foreign born courtesan, and wife of Pericles. Highly educated for a woman of her age.
Archidamus
476–427 BC
Spartan King during the early years of Peloponnesian War. Sought peace with Athens, but was forced into the war.
Artaxerxes I
d. 424 BC
King of Persia during early part of Peloponnesian War, allied with Sparta

Military

Cimon
d. 449 BC
Athenian statesman and general. Fought Persians in Ionia after the war. Friend of Sparta.
Cleon
d. 422 BC
War mongering politician, opposed Sparta's peace proposals.
Brasidas
d. 422 BC
Eloquent Spartan general, turned tide of Peloponnesian War in Sparta's favor. Died at Amphipolis.
Lysander
d. 395 BC
Spartan naval Commander who defeated Athens in Peloponnesian War.
Gylippus
~ 413 BC
Lead the resistance in Syracuse that defeated Athenian forces during Peloponnesian War.
Alcibiades
450–404 BC
Controversial statesman and general of Athens, who betrayed the city, then returned as hero.
Nicias
d. 413 BC
After death of Pericles, emerged as leader of peace party. Led disastrous Sicilian Expedition.
Demosthenes
d. 413 BC
Important Athenian general in the Peloponnesian War. Perished at Syracuse.
Lamachus
d. 415 BC
Admiral who with Nicias and Alcibiades led the Sicilian Expedition. Died in early combat.



Late Classical—404 to 338 B.C.

Thirty Tyrants in Athens to Battle of Chaeronea


Character/Date Short Biography

Retreat of the 10,000

Xenophon
430–357 BC
Historian who led Greek army out of Persia, in retreat of the Ten Thousand.
Cyrus the Younger
d. 401 BC
Plotted to kill his brother Artaxerxes, and assume the Persian throne.
Clearchus
d. 401 BC
Spartan mercenary who commanded the 'Ten Thousand' Greeks at Cunaxa. Treacherously killed by Tissaphernes.
Tissaphernes
d. 395 BC
Persian Satrap of Asia Minor during Peloponnesian War. Allied with Sparta.
Artaxerxes Mnemon
d. 358 BC
King of Persia during the retreat of the Ten Thousand.

Sparta-Thebes Rivalry

Agesilaus
444–360 BC
Leader of Sparta after the Peloponnesian War. Campaigned in Asia Minor and warred with Thebes.
Pelopidas
410–364 BC
Helped to liberate Thebes. Leader of the "Sacred Band" of Theban Warriors.
Epaminondas
418–362 BC
Greatest General of his age. Defeated the Spartans at the Battle of Leuctra, and made Thebes predominant.

Science and Philosophy

Plato
427–347 BC
Writer of moral philosophy. Well known for 'Dialogues'. Student of Socrates.
Aristotle
384–322 BC
Renowned scientist and philosopher. Cataloged all types of knowledge. Tutor to Alexander the Great.
Diogenes
412–323 BC
Cynic Philosopher.

Tyrants in Sicily

Dionysius the Elder
430–367 BC
From humble origins, arose to become Tyrant of the city of Syracuse.
Damon and Pythias
~ 380 BC
Story of Damon and Pythias celebrates trusted friendship and willingness to die for one another.
Dionysius the Younger
397–343 BC
Continued tyrannical reign in Syracuse after the death of his father; student of Plato, overthrown by Dion.
Dion
409–354 BC
Brother-in-law of the Tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse; helped to overthrow him.
Timoleon
d. 337 BC
Liberated the entire island of Syracuse from Tyrants and Carthaginians.

Rise of Macedonia

Phocion
402–318 BC
Athenian statesmen who tried to avoid war between Athens and Macedonia. Sometimes opposed Demosthenes.
Philip of Macedonia
382–336 BC
Used statesmanship as well as military force to bring Greece under sway of Macedonia.
Demosthenes
385–322 BC
One of Greece's greatest orators. Spoke against Philip and the Macedonians.




Hellenistic Era—336 to 146 B.C.

Reign of Alexander to Rome Destroys Corinth


Character/Date Short Biography

Age of Alexander

Alexander the Great
356–323 BC
Greatest general of ancient times. Conquered Persian Empire with 40,000 soldiers.
Parmenio
410–330 BC
Chief general of both Philip of Macedon and Alexander the Great. Eventually killed by Alexander.
Antipater
d. 319 BC
One of Philip's most trusted generals. Left in charge of Macedonia during Alexander's conquests.
Olympias
d. 316 BC
Wife of Philip of Macedon. Alexander's mother. Quarreled with Antipater over charge of Macedonia.
Darius III
d. 330 BC
Last king of Persia, overthrown by Alexander the Great.
Porus
~ 325 BC
Proud King of India, defeated by Alexander, but then restored as Satrap of the region.

Diadochi - Early Division of Empire

Perdiccas
d. 321 BC
Took over the empire of Alexander at his death, but couldn't keep it.
Ptolemy I
d. 283 BC
General of Alexander, founded Egyptian Dynasty that lasted for 300 years.
Eumenes
361–316 BC
Enemy of Antigonus, allied with Perdiccas; controlled Asia Minor until killed by Antigonus.
Antigonus I
382–301 BC
Allied with Antipater and Ptolemy I in early Diadochi Wars. Won control of Asia Minor and Syria.
Cassander
358–297 BC
Son of Antipater. Wrestled control of Macedonia from Polyperchon. Enemy of Olympias.
Lysimachus
355–281 BC
Bodyguard of Alexander. Took control of Thrace on his death. Engaged in Wars of Diadochi.

Later Hellenistic Empires

Demetrius
337–284 BC
Son of Antigonus, active in the wars of the Diadochi.
Seleucus
d. 280 BC
Son of a general of Alexander. Founded Seleucid Dynasty, in Syria and Central Asia.
Pyrrhus
318–272 BC
Renowned general, won victories in Macedon, Italy, and Greece, but failed to follow up wins.
Cineas
~ 280 BC
Minister of Thessaly, and friend and advisor of Pyrrhus of Epirus.
Antigonus II
320–239 BC
Son of Demetrius. After many battles, ended with control of Macedon and established Antigonid Dynasty.
Antiochus III
241–187 BC
King of Syria who warred with Rome in Thrace and Asia Minor.
Judas Maccabee
d. 160 BC
Lead a Jewish rebellion during the reign of the Syrian King Antiochus V.

Sparta vs. Achaean League

Agis IV
d. 241 BC
King who tried to reform Sparta and return to laws of Lycurgus. Killed for his efforts.
Cleomenes III
236–220 BC
Successfully implemented many reforms in Sparta, but was resisted by Achaean League.
Aratus
d. 213 BC
Leader of Achaean League; First resisted Macedonia, then forced an alliance to defeat Sparta.
Philopoemen
252–182 BC
Lead the Achaean League. Tried to unite Greeks, shortly before Greece fell to Rome.

Hellenistic Era Science

Euclid
340–300 BC
Most eminent mathematician of his age, wrote Elements of Geometry.
Archimedes
287–212 BC
Eminent scientist and inventor. Held off Roman siege of Syracuse with clever defenses.
Eratosthenes of Cyrene
275–192 BC
Early Greek scientist from Alexandria who correctly predicted the precise size of the earth in 200 BC.
Polybius
203–120 BC
Taken as Greek hostage during Macedonian wars; historian of Punic Wars.

Greco-Roman Science and Literature

Strabo
64–24
Greek Geographer and philosopher. Well known for a 17 volume geographic history of the world.
Plutarch
46–122
Most outstanding moralist and biographer of ancient times. Wrote Lives of Greeks and Romans.
Ptolemy
90–168
Greatest map-maker of Roman times. Renowned expert in Astronomy and Geography.
Galen
129–199
Renowned physician and philosopher whose works on the human body were studied until the 17th century.
Hypatia
380–415
Philosopher and teacher who lived in Alexandria.