Aeneas was the son of Anchises and Venus. He was a cousin of King Priam of Troy, and was the leader of Troy's Dardanian allies during the Trojan War. After the fall of Troy, he led a band of Trojan refugees to Italy and became the founder of Roman culture (although not of the city of Rome itself). He was the mythical progenitor of the Julian gens through his son Ascanius, or "Iulus," and Virgil made him the hero of his epic, the Aeneid.
In the Trojan War, Aeneas was one of the most respected of the Trojan heroes, perhaps second only to Hector. He engaged in abortive single combat with the Greek heroes Diomedes, Idomeneus, and Achilles; twice he was rescued through the intervention of gods. When Troy was sacked by the Greeks, Aeneas fought on until he was ordered by the gods to flee. He finally left the city, carrying his father and the household gods (see Penates) on his shoulders; his wife Creusa was lost in the confusion, but his son Ascanius escaped with him.
Aeneas and the Trojan remnant then wandered across the Mediterranean, hounded by the enmity of Juno. In one of the most famous episodes of the Aeneid, they were cast ashore near the north African city of Carthage, where they were hospitably received by Dido, the city's founder and queen. There ensued a love affair between Dido and Aeneas which threatened to distract Aeneas from his destiny in Italy. Mercury was sent to order Aeneas to depart and Aeneas, forced to choose between love and duty, reluctantly sailed away. Dido, mad with grief, committed suicide. When Aeneas later encountered her shade on a trip to the underworld, she turned away from him, still refusing to forgive his desertion of her.
In Italy, Aeneas allied himself with King Latinus, and was betrothed to Latinus' daughter, Lavinia. Lavinia's former suitor, Turnus, goaded by jealousy and the machinations of Juno, declared war against the intruder, and a period of bloody fighting (the Italian Wars) followed. Aeneas was victorious, eventually killing Turnus in single combat, and went on to found the city of Lavinium. At the end of his life, Aeneas was deified at the request of his mother, Venus, and became the god Indiges.
In the Aeneid, Aeneas' most common epithet is "pius," and Virgil presents him as the exemplar of the Roman virtues of devotion to duty and reverence for the gods.