Thursday 2 November 2023

Who has the highest K/D in the Iliad?

You’d imagine the answer would be Achilleus, right? Actually he’s only number three. Remember, he’s out of combat for most of the epic.

Now, I do have to apply some constraints, otherwise this won’t make sense.

First, people don’t get to respawn in the Iliad. (Well, mostly. I’ll come back to this.) So we’re not really talking about K/D, it’s really just K. Only a handful of characters get combat kills and also die: Patroklos, Sarpedon, Hektor, and a few minor characters (Antiphos, Peiros, possibly Akamas). For everyone else, the K/D involves a divide-by-zero error. But many online games calculate K/D as if everyone died at least once, so that’s the principle I’ll adopt.

Second, only named kills count. Unnamed characters don’t get reported individually: it’s impossible to keep a tally when the narrator says something like ‘And then Achilleus killed a countless throng’.

My tally is different from others that I’ve seen, by C. B. Armstrong (1969) and an anonymous user on the ‘ancient Greek’ subreddit (2021) — Armstrong and I have the same count for the top two people on the league table, but our counts differ for number three. Alas, there’s little prospect of reconciling the numbers without everyone sharing their data. So to that end, my own tally is online here. It probably contains errors. I’m sure you’ll tell me.

Here’s the overall kill count by book. Throughout this write-up, green represents Greeks killing Trojans, tan represents Trojans killing Greeks. (Do let me know if this is a poor choice for colour blindness: they were meant to be paler versions of the colours used on Loeb editions.)

Deaths of named characters in the Iliad

Most named deaths are Greeks killing Trojans. The highest densities of Trojans killing Greeks are in book 5 (Diomedes’ aristeia), 11 (Agamemnon’s aristeia), and 15 (the battle by the ships).

In the aristeiai, I get the general sense that the high Greek death counts are there for narrative balance. In book 5, Diomedes starts strong, but while his rampage continues throughout the book, the narrative focus moves around after the first 300 lines. From lines 541 to 659 there’s a mess of deaths on both sides, then Odysseus slaughters seven Trojans in two lines, then Hektor kills seven Greeks. Book 11 also adjusts its focus as it goes: Agamemnon gets a bunch of kills, then Hektor, then Diomedes and Odysseus, then Aias.

That balancing principle doesn’t apply in the aristeiai of Patroklos (book 16) and Achilleus (books 20–21). There, the whole point is that the fighting is not balanced. The vast majority of kills in those books are by Greeks, mostly Patroklos and Achilleus. The only Trojan kills are in book 16, where Hektor and Glaucus get one kill each at lines 569–600; and of course Hektor kills Patroklos at the end of the book.

The standings

Here are the top twenty.

Rank Player Team Kills
1 Hektor Trojan 28
2 Patroklos Achaian 27
3 Achilleus Achilleus 24
4 Diomedes Achaian 21
5 Odysseus Achaian 18
6= Aias Telamonios Achaian 15
6= Teukros Achaian 15
8 Agamemnon Achaian 12
9= Antilochos Achaian 8
9= Menelaos Achaian 8
11= Aineias Trojan 6
11= Idomeneus Achaian 6
11= Meriones Achaian 6
14 Leonteus Achaian 5
15= Euryalos Achaian 4
15= Polypoites Achaian 4
17= Eurypylos Achaian 3
17= Meges Achaian 3
17= Paris Trojan 3
17= Poulydamas Trojan 3

Two Achaians and four Trojans have 2 kills each. Five Achaians and six Trojans have 1 kill — including the god Ares, who gets a kill of his own at 5.842–844 (unless you want to count that as just teabagging). The lesser Aias, Sarpedon, and Glaukos get 2 each; Helenos gets 1. Nestor is the only major combatant with no kills.


But I also get irritated whenever good Homer nods.
Horace, Art of poetry 358–359

The classic example of the ‘Homeric nod’ is when a character gets killed and then pops up alive later on. Wikipedia, in its article on continuity in narrative, gives the example of the Paphlagonian leader Pylaimenes. He dies in Iliad 5, then respawns in book 13 to witness his son’s death.

There the two of them killed Pylaimenes, equal of Ares,
leader of the Paphlagonians, great-hearted and shield-wearing.
Atreus’ son, spear-famous Menelaos, got him
as he stood there, hitting him at the collarbone with his spear.
Iliad 5.576–579
Then noble Pylaimenes’ son sprang upon him,
Harpalion, who followed his own father into to make war
at Troy — but he didn’t come back home to his ancestral land.
. . .
... he breathed out his life, like an earthworm along the ground
lying down; his dark blood flowed out and soaked the earth.
The great-hearted Paphlagonians tended to him,
placed him in a chariot, and led him to holy Ilion
grieving. And with them walked his father, dripping tears.
There was no blood price for his dead son.
Iliad 13.643–645, 654–659

We can be sure it’s the same Pylaimenes both times, thanks to the references to the Paphlagonians. It shows it isn’t a stock name. Many names in Iliad death scenes are stock names, like the names in these lines —

Which of the Trojans did blameless Teukros slay first?
First Orsilochos, and Ormenos, and Ophelestes,
Daitor, Chromios and godlike Lykophantes,
and Polyaimonides, Amopaon, and Melanippos.
Iliad 8.273–276

Most of these names get repeated elsewhere. Orsilochos had already been killed at 5.541–553, Ormenos dies again at 12.187, Ophelestes at 21.210. Chromios has many appearances, at 4.295 as an Achaian, at 5.160 as a son of Priam killed by Diomedes, at 5.677 as a Trojan slain by Odysseus, here as a Trojan, and in book 17 as another (living) Trojan mentioned at lines 218, 494, and 534. Various Melanipposes appear elsewhere too.

I suppose you could say that Chromios doesn’t just respawn. He also team-hops.

But really, they’re stock names of course. One way of telling that a name is a stock name is if it also crops up in the ‘pair of brothers killed’ trope. What I mean by that is a common trope where the narrator gives a death scene pathos by telling us about what a tragedy it is that both brothers die, to the grief of their dear old father.

Here are the examples of the ‘pairs of brothers killed’ trope. They account for 9.9% of all named kills in the Iliad.

Passage Killer(s) Two brothers
5.148–151 Diomedes Abas, Polyidos Eurydamas
5.152–158 Diomedes Xanthos, Thoon Phainops
5.159–165 Diomedes Echemnon, Chromios Priam
5.541–560 Aineias Krethon, Orsilochos Diokles
6.21–28 Euryalos Aisepos, Pedasos Abarbare,
11.101–121 Agamemnon Isos, Antiphos Priam
11.122–147 Agamemnon Peisandros,
11.221–263 Agamemnon Iphidamas, Koon Antenor
11.328–334 Diomedes Adrestos, Amphios
(named at 2.830–834)
11.426–455 Odysseus Charops, Sokos Hippasos
16.317–329 Antilochos,
Atymnios, Maris Amisodaros
20.460–462 Achilleus Dardanos, Laogonos Bias

Most of these must be stock names. So there’s no good reason to see a continuity error when people with one of these names get killed and reappear later.

Still, for the record, here’s the list of names that get killed multiple times. Note that these aren’t necessarily Homeric nods: there’s no in-universe reason to suppose that it’s the same character each time. Rather, these are typical names for death scenes.

Name First death Second death Third death
Adrestos 6.65 (major scene) 16.694
Agelaos 8.259 11.302
Akamas 6.8 16.343
Apisaon 11.578 17.349
Autonoos 11.301 16.694
Chromios 5.160 5.677 8.275
Dolops 11.302 15.543
Echeklos 16.694 10.477
Echios 15.339 16.416
Erymas 16.349 16.415
Hippodamas 11.335 20.402
Hypsenor 5.81 13.412
Koiranos 5.677 17.618
Laogonos 16.606 20.462
Melanippos 8.276 15.577 16.695
Moulios 16.696 20.473
Mydon 5.588 21.209
Oinomaos 5.706 13.508
Ophelestes 8.274 21.210
Opheltios 6.20 11.302
Orestes 5.705 12.193
Ormenos 8.274 12.187
Orsilochos 5.560 8.274
Peisandros 11.144 13.617
Periphetes 14.515 15.650
Schedios 15.515 17.310
Thoon 5.155 11.422 13.547
Tlepolemos 5.658 (major scene) 16.416

A few of these show notable patterns in the identity of the killers. Echeklos’ and Moulios’ deaths are both at the hands of Patroklos first, and Achilleus second; Peisandros gets killed first by Agamemnon, later by Menelaos; Hippodamas is killed by Odysseus, then Achilleus, maybe hinting at OdysseyIliad parallels. Schedios is killed by Hektor both times.

Perhaps the most suggestive ones are the ones that have non-Greek names. Apisaon’s two death scenes are formulaic (11.578–579 = 17.348–349), with the result that he dies the same way twice, with a spear in the liver. Erymas’ two death scenes are in quick succession. But I wonder if fact that their names are non-Greek suggests that they’re less formulaic. Are they meant to be more memorable than the typical Greek names? If so, what would that imply?

Is Chromios a respawning Orc nemesis? (Middle Earth: shadow of Mordor, 2014)

Armstrong highlights the characters that die three times: Chromios, Melanippos, and Thoon. The many appearances of Chromios, in particular, make me wonder if the Iliad has a Nemesis System, where a character who dies may reappear stronger and buffed up, ready to take vengeance (Magnusson et al. 2022). Or maybe they’re the ones who acquire a new Nemesis each time they respawn. As Armstrong puts it,

With such adversaries it is scarcely surprising that they were finally disposed of.
Armstrong 1969: 31


  • Armstrong, C. B. 1969. ‘The casualty lists in the Trojan War.’ Greece & Rome 16.1: 30–31. [DOI | JSTOR]
  • Gainsford, P. 2023. ‘Iliad deaths.’ Online dataset. [Google Sheets]
  • Magnusson, S.; Hage, E.; Parosu, I. 2022. ‘The Nemesis System. How games create stories.’ Diss. Uppsala. [Digitala Vetenskapliga Arkivet]
  • /u/rebelzephyr 2021. ‘Iliad K/D ratio.’ Online forum post. [Reddit]

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