Palladium (mythology)

Palladium (mythology)

In Greek and Roman mythology, a palladium or palladion was an image of great antiquity on which the safety of a city was said to depend. "Palladium" especially signified the wooden statue of Pallas Athena that Odysseus and Diomedes stole from the citadel of Troy and which was later taken to Rome by Aeneas. The Roman story is related in Virgil's "Aeneid" and other works.

The Trojan Palladium


The Trojan Palladium was said to be a wooden image of Pallas (whom the Greeks identified with Athena and the Romans with Minerva) and to have fallen from heaven in answer to the prayer of Ilus, the founder of Troy.

"The most ancient talismanic effigies of Athena," Ruck and Staples report, "...were magical found objects, faceless pillars of Earth in the old manner, before the Goddess was anthropomorphized and given form through the intervention of human intellectual meddling." [Carl Ruck and Danny Staples, "The World of Classical Myth"]

Arrival at Troy

The arrival of the Palladium, fashioned by Athena in remorse for the death of Pallas, ["Bibliotheke" iii.144] at Troy, as part of the city's founding myth, was variously referred to by Greeks, from the seventh century BCE onwards. The Palladium was linked to the Samothrace mysteries through the pre-Olympian figure of an Elektra, [Not the familiar Electra of Greek tragedy.] mother of Dardanus, progenitor of the Trojan royal line, and of Iasion, founder of the Samothrace mysteries. ["Bibliotheke", iii.10.1, iii.12.1 and 3.)] Whether Electra had come to Athena's shrine of the Palladium as a pregnant suppliant and a god cast it into the territory of Ilium, because it had been profaned by the hands of a woman who was not a virgin, ["Bibliotheke" iii.145] or whether Elektra carried it herself [Scholia on Euripides "Phoenissae" 1136.] or whether it was given directly to Dardanus [Triphiodorus (fourth century CE), "Taking of Ilios" ( [ on-line text] ).] vary in sources and scholia. In Ilion, King Ilus was blinded for touching the image to preserve it from a burning temple. [Dercyllus, "Foundations of Cities", book i, noted by Pseudo-Plutarch "Parallel Stories", "Ilus and Anytus".]


During the Trojan War, the importance of the Palladium to Troy was said to have been revealed to the Greeks by Helenus, the prophetic son of Priam. Since Troy could not be captured while it safeguarded this image, the Greeks Diomedes and Odysseus made their way to the citadel in Troy by a secret passage and carried it off. In this way the Greeks were then able to enter Troy and lay it waste using the deceit of the Trojan Horse.

After Paris' death, Helenus left the city but was captured by Odysseus. The Greeks somehow managed to persuade the warrior seer to reveal the weakness of Troy. The Greeks learnt from Helenus, that Troy would not fall, while the Palladium, image or statue of Athena, remained within Troy's walls. The difficult task of stealing this sacred statue again fell upon the shoulders of Odysseus and Diomedes.

Odysseus, some say, went by night to Troy, and leaving Diomedes waiting, disguised himself and entered the city as a beggar. There he was recognized by Helen, who told him where the Palladium was. Diomedes then climbed the wall of Troy and entered the city. Together, the two friends killed several guards and one or more priests of Athena's temple and stole the Palladium "with their bloodstained hands". Diomedes is generally regarded as the person who physically removed the Palladium and carried it away to the ships. There are several statues and many ancient drawings of him with the Palladium.

According to the 'Epic-Cycle' stories ("Little Iliad"), on the way to the ships, Odysseus plotted to kill Diomedes and claim the Palladium (or perhaps the credit for gaining it) for himself. He raised his sword to stab Diomedes in the back. Diomedes was alerted to the danger by glimpsing the gleam of the sword in the moonlight. He disarmed Odysseus, tied his hands, and drove him along in front, beating his back with the flat of his sword. From this action was said to have arisen the Greek proverbial expression "Diomedes' necessity", applied to those who act under compulsion. (The incident was commemorated in 1842 by the French sculptor Pierre-Jules Cavelier (1814-94) in a muscle-bound plaster statue; it depicts Diomedes alone, his noble face peering apprehensively over his right shoulder, as he cradles the Palladium). Because Odysseus was essential for the destruction of Troy, Diomedes refrained from punishing him.

Diomedes took the Palladium with him when he left Troy. According to some stories, he brought it to Italy. Some say that it was stolen from him on the way.

Arrival at Rome

According to various versions of this legend the Trojan Palladium found its way to Athens, or Argos, or Sparta (all in Greece), or Rome in Italy. To this last city it was either brought by Aeneas the exiled Trojan (Diomedes, in this version, having only succeeded in stealing an imitation of the statue) or surrendered by Diomedes himself. It was kept there in the temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum.

In Late Antiquity, it was rumored that the Palladium was transferred from Rome to Constantinople by Constantine and buried under the Column of Constantine in his forum. [Averil Cameron, "The Later Roman Empire", 170.] Such a move would have undermined the primacy of Rome, and was naturally seen as a move by Constantine to legitimize his reign.

Palladium-equivalents in other cultures

*Ancile, a Roman palladium
*The Emerald Buddha, a palladium ( _th. ขวัญเมือง kwan meuang; colloquially มิ่งเมีอง ming meuang) of the Kingdom of Thailand. Every Thai city and town has a kwan or ming meuang (usually, but not necessarily, an image of Buddha).

ee also

*Pallas (son of Crius)



Other sources

*"The Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion". "s.v." "Palladium"

External links

* [ Diomedes with the Palladium]

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