I know Achilles was born around 1200-1100 BC because he participated in the Trojan War, but I do not know when Hercules was born, nor Theseus for that matter.


2 Answers 2


Chronologically, it goes Hercules/Heracles, Theseus, and then Achilles in the main mythological accounts.

Achilles is last. Hercules older by far because he's the one who placed child Priam on the throne, and Priam was far older than Achilles in the Iliad. Achilles was essentially the baby of the Greek kings, likely younger even then Priam's son Hector. So Hercules is far, far older than Achilles.

With regards to Theseus, Heracles is still older. Pausanias has this story about them both going to the house of Pittheus. Heracles is a grown man, and Theseus is 7 years old.

[1.27.7] One of the Troezenian legends about Theseus is the following. When Heracles visited Pittheus at Troezen, he laid aside his lion's skin to eat his dinner, and there came in to see him some Troezenian children with Theseus, then about seven years of age. The story goes that when they saw the skin the other children ran away, but Theseus slipped out not much afraid, seized an axe from the servants and straightway attacked the skin in earnest, thinking it to be a lion.

[1.27.8] This is the first Troezenian legend about Theseus. The next is that Aegeus placed boots and a sword under a rock as tokens for the child, and then sailed away to Athens; Theseus, when sixteen years old, pushed the rock away and departed, taking what Aegeus had deposited. There is a representation of this legend on the Acropolis, everything in bronze except the rock.

Later authors equated the Marathonian Bull that Theseus kills with the Cretan Bull of Heracles' seventh labor, again making Heracles' adventures prior to Theseus'.

Of course, Greek mythical figures aren't real (as depicted), so you might find some inconsistencies in accounts, but I think other stories can fit well with the chronology. For example, in Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus, Oedipus goes to Athens to see King Theseus. Well, Oedipus' kids fought each other in the war of the Epigoni, which was the war right before the Trojan War. If Achilles was a child or even not born yet during the Epigoni, that would also confirm Theseus' seniority over him.

  • It’s real enough in its own way, but not in the way that Parmenides of Elea defined reality, with his radical claim that truth is one. Greek myth routinely traffics in multiple contradictory versions. And the dating of Theseus, relative to other mythic heroes, is very much a case in point. Some make him an Argonaut, but Euripides’ Medea presents Aegeus complaining of lifelong infertility after the Argonautic Quest. And relative to archaeology (though that is always a problematic relation), the Labyrinth story seemingly evokes Minoan neopalatial (~C18–15 B.C.). Commented Nov 20, 2021 at 16:39
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    @BrianDonovan I would consider the origin of the heroes in Greek mythology to be a separate question from what OP asked, at least how it's worded now, so I wouldn't exactly consider the Minoan provenance of the Minotaur story (which may not even have originally included Theseus!) as relevant. But you're right that Theseus is very much difficult to pin down, since Attic writers tried to shoehorn him in every event, even where he clearly doesn't belong.
    – cmw
    Commented Nov 20, 2021 at 23:35
  • I once called BS on a lecturer who claimed that Horatio Nelson (1758–1805) played a commanding role in a certain naval action of the early 1760s; but I would never similarly presume to tell ancient Attic writers in which myths Theseus does or doesn't belong. Pace Schliemann et al., myth is not history; it is not obliged to conform to actuality, consistency, or probability. Commented Nov 21, 2021 at 13:59
  • Also, the sons of Oedipus fought and killed one another during the war of the Seven Against Thebes; among the Epigoni, Oedipus's bloodline is represented by his grandsons (though his sons are also his half-brothers, and his grandsons thus also his nephews). Commented Nov 21, 2021 at 14:09
  • @BrianDonovan I do think even the ancients had a difficult time grasping that, although it's unfortunately impossible to reconstruct exactly what they were thinking when they wrote a story that contradicted another or denied a story altogether. I do know that, especially the later we go, the more the poets' tales are considered historical yet heavily embellished. So you may not have told an Attic writer that Theseus wasn't around for Oedipus, but Greeks were fine doign so. Cf. e.g. Pindar Olympians 1 in which he denies the older stories of Tantalus' sacrifice of his son.
    – cmw
    Commented Nov 21, 2021 at 14:20

It seems that during the time of the Dorian conquests that the Local Mycenean men were away at Troy and the Dorians combined Cretian & Mycenean myths with their own to give the Dorians a birthright to the land. The return of Odysseus created a dilemma that was resolved with a ridiculous myth about where Odysseus had been and the question of his return. Re-writing history was common in ancient times for political reasons and I suspect Odysseus was a sea people who got beat bad in Egypt and returned in shame to find his homeland conquered. I suspect all Greek history was re-written into myth during this period, that Perseus & Achilles were combined into Hercules, the prefix and suffix combined to make Perchilles... and even more ridiculous changes. The overall purpose of political re-writing was an attempt to hide their involvement with the sea people, their destruction of the world around them and the shame of their ultimate defeat.

  • "Dorian conquest" is not considered valid history anymore.
    – Spencer
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 23:59
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