ACHAEANS (Άχαιοί, Lat. Achivi), one of the four chief divisions of the ancient Greek peoples, descended, according to legend, from Achaeus, son of Xuthus, son of Hellen. This Hesiodic genealogy connects the Achaeans closely with the Ionians, but historically they approach nearer to the Aeolians. Some even hold that Aeolus is only a form of Achaeus. In the Homeric poems (1000 B.C.) the Achaeans are the master race in Greece; they are represented both in Homer and in all later traditions as having come into Greece about three generations before the Trojan war (1184 B.C.), i.e. about 1300 B.C. They found the land occupied by a people known by the ancients as Pelasgians, who continued down to classical times the main element in the population even in the states under Achaean and later under Dorian rule. In some cases it formed a serf class, e.g. the Penestae in Thessaly, the Helots in Laconia and the Gymnesii at Argos, whilst it practically composed the whole population of Arcadia and Attica, which never came under either Achaean or Dorian rule. This people had dwelt in the Aegean from the Stone Age, and, though still in the Bronze Age at the Achaean conquest, had made great advances in the useful and ornamental arts. They were of short stature, with dark hair and eyes, and generally dolichocephalic. Their chief centres were at Cnossus (Crete), in Argolis, Laconia and Attica, in each being ruled by ancient lines of kings. In Argolis Proetus built Tiryns, but later, under Perseus, Mycenae took the lead until the Achaean conquest. All the ancient dynasties traced their descent from Poseidon, who at the time of the Achaean conquest was the chief male divinity of Greece and the islands. The Pelasgians probably spoke an Indo-European language adopted by their conquerors with slight modifications. (See further Pelasgians for a discussion of other views.)
The Achaeans, on the other hand, were tall, fair-haired and grey-eyed, and their chiefs traced their descent from Zeus, who with the Hyperborean Apollo was their chief male divinity. They first appear at Dodona, whence they crossed Pindus into Phthiotis. The leaders of the Achaean invasion were Pelops, who took possession of Elis, and Aeacus, who became master of Aegina and was said to have introduced there the worship of Zeus Panhellenius, whose cult was also set up at Olympia. They brought with them iron, which they used for their long swords and for their cutting implements; the costume of both sexes was distinct from that of the Pelasgians; they used round shields with a central boss instead of the 8-shaped or rectangular shields of the latter; they fastened their garments with brooches, and burned their dead instead of burying them as did the Pelasgians. They introduced a special style of ornament (“geometric”) instead of that of the Bronze Age, characterized by spirals and marine animals and plants. The Achaeans, or Hellenes, as they were later termed, were on this hypothesis one of the fair-haired tribes of upper Europe known to the ancients as Keltoi (Celts), who from time to time have pressed down over the Alps into the southern lands, successively as Achaeans, Gauls, Goths and Franks, and after the conquest of the indigenous small dark race in no long time died out under climatic conditions fatal to their physique and morale. The culture of the Homeric Achaeans corresponds to a large extent with that of the early Iron Age of the upper Danube (Hallstatt) and to the early Iron Age of upper Italy (Villanova).
See W. Ridgeway, The Early Age of Greece (1901), for a detailed discussion of the evidence; articles by Ridgeway and J. L. Myres in the Classical Review, vol. xvi. 1902, pp. 68-93, 135. See also J. B. Bury’s History of Greece (1902) and art. in Journal of Hellenic Studies, xv., 1895, pp. 217 foll.; G. G. A. Murray, Rise of the Greek Epic (1907), chap. ii.; Andrew Lang, Homer and his Age (1906); G. Busolt, Griech. Gesch. ed. 2, vol. i. p. 190 (1893); D. B. Monro’s ed. of the Iliad (1901), pp. 484-488. (W. Ri.)