Genocide in the Ancient World

Hans van Wees

in The Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780199232116
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

 Genocide in the Ancient World

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  • History
  • Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing
  • Ancient History (Non-Classical, to 500 CE)


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This article examines genocide in the ancient world, by examining European literature and comparing the atrocities committed during the events of the Trojan War. The massacre of all Troy's male inhabitants and the enslavement of its women and children were fictional, but it had many counterparts in ancient history. It was almost the normative form of genocide in ancient Greece and some other parts of the ancient world, although mass enslavements and mass executions which made no distinctions of gender or age are also widely attested. The Greeks' reasons for treating the Trojans so brutally were typical of the motivations for genocide in antiquity: it was usually an act of ‘conspicuous destruction’, a display of force designed to assert the power and status of the perpetrator in the face of a perceived challenge. Ancient genocide sometimes had a religious dimension.

Keywords: ancient genocide; mythology; Troy; European literature; Trojan War; ancient Greece; mass enslavements

Article.  9846 words. 

Subjects: History ; Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing ; Ancient History (Non-Classical, to 500 CE)

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