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Priam killed by Neoptolemus, detail of an Attic black-figure amphora, ca. 520–510 BC

In Greek mythology, Priam (/ˈpr.əm/; Greek: Πρίαμος, Príamos, pronounced [prí.amos]) was the king of Troy during the Trojan War and youngest son of Laomedon. In the Post-Homeric History of the Fall of Troy, he was described as provided with "a handsome face and a pleasant voice", "large and swarthy".[1] According to Jenny March, his original name was Podarkes, before it was changed to Priam on his ascendancy to the Trojan throne.[2]


Although there is no firm evidence that Troy was ever a Luwian settlement or that Luwian was the dominant local language, some scholars derive Priam's name from the Luwian name Pariya-muwas, which meant “exceptionally courageous”[3][4] and was attested as the name of a man from Zazlippa, in Kizzuwatna. A similar form is attested transcribed in Greek as Paramoas near Kaisareia in Cappadocia.[5]

Jenny March suggests the name comes from the Greek verb priamai, meaning to buy. This relates to the choice given to one of Laomedon's surviving daughters, Hesione, to allow one of the captive Trojans to be set free. Hesione chooses her brother Podarkes, thereby 'buying' his freedom, and Podarkes is consequently renamed Priam.[6]


Priam was originally called Podarces – the established epithet of Achilles in the Iliad – and he kept himself from being killed by Heracles by giving him a golden veil embroidered by his sister, Hesione. After this, Podarces changed his name to Priam. This is a folk etymology based on πριατός priatós, "ransomed" from πρίασθαι príasthai, "to buy".

In Iliad, Book 3, Priam tells Helen of Troy that he once helped King Mygdon of Phrygia to defend against the Amazons.

When Hector is killed by Achilles, the Greek warrior treats the body with disrespect and refuses to give it back. According to Homer in book XXIV of the Iliad, Zeus sends the god Hermes to escort King Priam, Hector's father and the ruler of Troy, into the Greek camp. Priam tearfully pleads with Achilles to take pity on a father bereft of his son and return Hector's body. He invokes the memory of Achilles' own father, Peleus. Priam begs Achilles to pity him, saying "I have endured what no one on earth has ever done before – I put my lips to the hands of the man who killed my son."[7] Deeply moved, Achilles relents and returns Hector's corpse to the Trojans. Both sides agree to a temporary truce, and Achilles gives Priam leave to hold a proper funeral for Hector, complete with funeral games. He promises that no Greek will engage in combat for at least nine days, but on the twelfth day of peace, the Greeks would all stand once more and the mighty war would continue.

Priam is killed during the Sack of Troy by Achilles' son Neoptolemus (also known as Pyrrhus). His death is graphically related in Book II of Virgil's Aeneid. In Virgil's description, Neoptolemus first kills Priam's son Polites in front of his father as he seeks sanctuary on the altar of Zeus. Priam rebukes Neoptolemus, throwing a spear at him, harmlessly hitting his shield. Neoptolemus then drags Priam to the altar and there kills him too.

It has been suggested by Hittite sources, specifically the Manapa-Tarhunta letter, that there is historical basis for the archetype of King Priam. The letter describes one Piyama-Radu as a troublesome rebel who overthrew a Hittite client king and thereafter established his own rule over the city of Troy (mentioned as Wilusa in Hittite). There is also mention of an Alaksandu, suggested to be Paris Alexander (King Priam's son from the Iliad), a later ruler of the city of Wilusa who established peace between Wilusa and Hatti (see the Alaksandu treaty).

Priam, the Slave[edit]

In Apollodorus' Library, Telamon was almost killed during the siege of Troy. Telamon was the first one to break through the Trojan wall, which enraged Heracles as he was coveting that glory for himself. Heracles was about to cut him down with his sword when Telamon began to quickly assemble an altar out of nearby stones in honor of Heracles. Heracles was so pleased, after the sack of Troy he gave Telamon Hesione as a wife. Hesione requested that she be able to bring her brother Podarces with her. Heracles would not allow it unless Hesione bought Podarces as a slave. Hesione paid for her brother with a veil. Podarces name was then changed to Priam – which, according to Greek author Apollodorus, is a pun on the Greek phrase "to buy".

Marriage and issue[edit]

See List of children of Priam

Priam had many wives; his first was Arisbe, who had given birth to his son Aesacus, who met his death before the Trojan War. Priam later divorced her in favor of Hecuba (or Hecebe), daughter of the Phrygian king Dymas. By his various wives and concubines Priam was the father of fifty sons and many daughters. Hector was Priam's eldest son by Hecuba, and heir to the Trojan throne. Paris (also known as Alexander), another son, was the cause of the Trojan War. Other children of Priam and Hecuba include the prophetic Helenus and Cassandra; eldest daughter Ilione; Deiphobus; Troilus; Polites; Creusa, wife of Aeneas; Laodice, wife of Helicaon; Polyxena, who was slaughtered on the grave of Achilles; and Polydorus, his youngest son.

Family tree[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pseudo-Dares of Phrygia, History of the Fall of Troy (12.A), a short prose work which purports to be a first hand account of the Trojan War by Dares, a Trojan priest of Hephaestus in the Iliad.
  2. ^ Jenny March, The Penguin Book of Classical Myths (London: Penguin Books, 2008), p.300
  3. ^ Frank Starke, “Troia im Kontext des historisch-politischen und sprachlichen Umfeldes Kleinasiens im 2. Jahrtausend”, Studia Troica 7 (1997), 458, n. 114, referring to the author's previous work, Untersuchungen zur Stammbildung des keilschrift-luwischen Nomens (1990), 455, n. 1645: “Priya-muwa- ‘der hervorragenden, vortrefflichen Mut hat’”.
  4. ^ Haas, Die hethitische Literatur: Texte, Stilistik, Motive (2006), 5.
  5. ^ Calvert Watkins, “The Language of the Trojans”, Troy and the Trojan War: A Symposium Held at Bryn Mawr College, October 1984, ed. Machteld Johanna Mellink (Bryn Mawr, Penn: Bryn Mawr Commentaries, 1986), 57, citing L. Zgusta, Kleinasiatische Personennamen (Prague 1964), 417:1203-1 and Anatolische Personennamensippen I (Prague 1964), 157.
  6. ^ Jenny March, The Penguin Book of Classical Myths (London: Penguin Books, 2008), p.300
  7. ^ The Iliad, Fagles translation. Penguin Books, 1991, p. 605.