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Historical Article

Argolis, Argos - Diomedes and the Palladion

Diomedes, the heroic king of Argos, was one of the famous Achaeans who fought at Troy. He and the Greater Ajax were considered their second-best warriors, after Achilles. According to Homer’s Iliad, he was a brilliant and courageous fighter, whose zeal in pitched battle led to the wounding of the goddess Aphrodite (Il. 5.330-351). In the non-Homeric stories of Troy, however, Diodemes, with the help of Odysseus, stole the Palladion from its sanctuary in the Trojan citadel, thereby fulfilling the prophecy that by doing so would effect the downfall of Troy (Apollodoros, Epitome 5. 10; Konon, Diegesis 34).

The Palladion (Latin Palladium) was a xoanon, or ancient wooden effigy, of Pallas Athena that had purportedly fallen from heaven. According to Apollodoros (Library 3.12.3), it was fashioned by Athena and named in memory of Pallas, the daughter of Triton, who was accidentally killed while sporting with the goddess. It remained on Olympos until it was cast out of heaven into the countryside around Troy. It was discovered there by Ilos, who enshrined it in his newly founded city of Ilion (Troy), where it remained until the Trojan War.

Following its theft, many legends arose regarding the whereabouts of the Palladion. It was reputed to have remained in the possession of either Diomedes or Odysseus. The Athenians claimed that it was kept in the Erechtheion on the Acropolis and was ritually cleaned in an annual ceremony called the Plyntereia (the Clothes Washing Ceremony). The Roman poet Virgil asserted that the figurine had not been stolen at all, but had been saved by the Trojan hero Aeneas during Troy’s fall, and brought to Italy, where centuries later it was installed in the Temple of Vesta on the Roman Forum. In early Christian times, Clement of Alexandria (Protrepticus 4.46.3) claimed to have personally seen it and described it as "a shapeless, dark piece of wood."

ARGOLIS, Argos. Circa 370-350 BC. AR Drachm (19mm, 5.32 g, 9h). Head of Hera right, wearing stephane ornamented with palmettes and single-pendant earring; to left, S oriented upward / AR-GEI-WN, Diomedes, nude but for chlamys tied around neck, advancing right, holding dagger and Palladion; N between legs. BCD Peloponnesos 1067 (same dies); SNG Copenhagen -; SNG Berry 854 (this coin); BMC 45 = Kraay & Hirmer 518 (same obv. die); Jameson 1255 = Traité III 626 (same dies).