Why does a conflict take place between Agamemnon and Achilles in the Iliad?

A conflict between Agamemnon and Achilles takes place over a woman named Briseis. Both Agamemnon and Achilles are awarded a woman as a trophy of war, but when Agamemnon is forced to release his captive, Chryseis, he decides that he is entitled to Achilles's captive, Briseis. Achilles is offended by Agamemnon's decision, and in retaliation, Achilles decides to refrain from fighting for Agamemnon.

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The conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon over the sex slave Briseis may seem somewhat trivial on the face of it. But to both these men with big egos, this is a matter of honor.

As far as Achilles is concerned, Briseis is his; she belongs to him like any war booty. Disturbing as it is to us today, it was quite common for warriors in ancient civilizations to take women as spoils of war and use them as slaves or concubines. Achilles is one of many such warriors who believes himself entitled to such a glittering “prize.”

So when Agamemnon appropriates Briseis for himself, Achilles is absolutely furious. He feels he's been disrespected and dishonored as a warrior, even though as king, Agamemnon is perfectly entitled to take whatever he wants from one of his subordinates. Even though Agamemnon has a perfectly valid reason for snatching Briseis from Achilles—he has to in order to replace his own slave whom he had to give up to appease the wrath of the gods—Achilles is so full of pride that he cannot accept what he regards as a personal affront to his dignity as a warrior.

Of course, Briseis's dignity doesn't enter into the equation at all. As both a woman and a slave, she doesn't really count in the hyper-masculine society depicted in the Iliad.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 15, 2020
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The quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles which forms the principal subject of the first half of the Iliad was caused by Agamemnon taking Achilles's concubine Briseis. Agamemnon was forced to give up his own concubine Chryseis at the behest of Apollo, and his assumption that he could simply take Briseis instead so outraged Achilles that he withdrew to the ships and stopped fighting for Agamemnon.

Achilles declares that he loved Briseis, but it appears that he is more concerned with the insult to his honor than the actual loss of the girl. The precise status of the client kings who fought for the High King of Mycenae is a matter of dispute. They were semi-independent but clearly also owed some allegiance to Agamemnon. Agamemnon himself says that he is "more kingly" (the Greek word is "βασιλευτερος") than Achilles and that therefore Achilles should submit to him. This seems to have angered Achilles so much that even after Agamemnon sends an embassy, in book 9, with fabulous gifts (including many more concubines), Achilles still refuses to be reconciled.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on October 10, 2019
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This conflict emerges at the beginning of the poem and is crucial to the advancement the plot. It also marks an interesting parallel to the cause of the Trojan War itself: a dispute over Helen between Menelaus and Paris. After the Greeks sack a city allied with Troy, Agamemnon and Achilles each make off with a young woman. When Agamemnon is forced to give up his "prize," a girl named Chryseis, he determines to take Briseis, who has been awarded to Achilles. Achilles angrily protests and orders his men not to fight with the Greeks. He seeks the support of Zeus, who aids the Trojans. They meet with great success, thus showing the importance of Achilles to the Greek cause. The disagreement, then, is really about honor. Agamemnon profoundly insults Achilles by taking Briseis from him, and since Achilles never really acknowledged Agamemnon's authority, he revolts. Even when Agamemnon agrees to return Briseis along with some gifts, Achilles still sulks in his tent. Only the death of Patroclus (disguised as Achilles himself) at the hands of Hector motivates Achilles to rejoin the fight. He avenges his friend's death by killing Hector, whose funeral marks the end of the poem. 

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Essentially, the conflict between the two is one rooted in pride and ego.  Agamemnon is the leader of the Achaean empire and the one for whom expansion and conquest is of the most vital of importance.  Achilles is the brave warrior and great fighter.  The challenges between them is one where the former seeks to establish glory and power, but can only do so through the heroic valor of the latter.  The collision between them ends up becoming which one should wield more power.  Achilles is a warrior, one who believes in his own glory on the battlefield and his own sense of arete.  He believes Agamemnon as one who can only reap the benefits of what other soldiers have done.  For his part, Agamemnon believes that history remembers leaders and kings, and soldiers, like Achilles, have to understand that natural hierarchy.  This becomes the root of their conflict, in that both believe in their own superiority and their own subjective notion of the pursuit of excellence.  Both refuse to acquiesce to the other's vision and thus conflict arises between them.

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I assume that you are asking about the conflict between Agamemnon and Achilles that takes place in Book I of this epic.  In that case, the conflict comes about because Agamemnon wants to take Briseis away from Achilles.  Briseis is a woman who has been given to Achilles as a war prize.

Agamemnon had also had a woman, Chryseis, given to him as a war prize.  But her father was able to get the Achaeans to agree that she should be given back to him.  When that happened, Agamemnon demanded that he should be compensated for the loss of his prize.  The only compensation that he would agree to was Briseis.

When Briseis was taken from him, Achilles' honor was insulted and the conflict arose betwen him and Agamemnon.

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