The paper is devoted to the problem of ruining the site which is believed to be the ancient city of Troy. In particular, the paper studies historical archaeological evidence of the conflict resulting in the fall of the empire comparing it to mythological description of the war called Trojan in classical epics.
The legend of the Trojan War – the Bronze Age severe conflict between the kingdoms of Mycenaean Greece and Troy, – reflecting Greek invasion on Troas (present North West Turkey), has been striding through the mythology and history of ancient Greece, inspiring the greatest men of letters of antiquity, from Homer and Virgil to Hamilton, Bulfinch and Waterfield.
The late Bronze Age Greek warriors invading Troy in Anatolia has been grabbing the imagination for many centuries. Still, despite the fact that the conflict between Hittites and Mycenaeans might have occurred, its epic representation in Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, Virgil’s The Aeneid, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, Thomas Bulfinch’s Bulfinch’s Mythology, and Robin Waterfield’s The Greek Myths is nearly certainly more myth than truth. Many events described in the Trojan War epics are unreal to read historically, with a number of protagonists being children of the Greek gods (Helen, for example, was Zeus’ daughter), and much of the action being led by (or interfered with) many competing gods. Besides, while long sieges were depicted in the era by writers, the strongest cities of that time could only stand up for a few months, not the full of ten years.
Nevertheless, the Trojan War has defined and directed the way antique Greek culture has been perceived right up to present days. The story about heroic warriors and gods is one of the richest surviving ancient sources offering the reader insights into the religion, customs, warfare and attitudes of the early Greeks.
According to Greek mythology, Trojan War was between the people of Greece and those of Troy. The discord began after Paris, the Trojan prince, kidnapped Helen, a spouse of Menelaus of Sparta. Despite Menelaus’ demand in her return the Trojans refused. Then Menelaus decided to persuade his brother Agamemnon to lead his warriors against Troy. So, troopships gathered at Aulis headed by the greatest ancient Greek warriors Odysseus, Patroclus, Achilles, Nestor, Diomedes, and the two heroes named Ajax. In order to get favourable winds for their long journey, Agamemnon sacrificed Iphigenia, his daughter, to Artemis. In such a way the winds rose and the fleet succeeded in sailing for Troy. For 9 years the early Greeks ravaged cities surrounding Troy and its countryside. However, the city itself held out thanks to its strong fortification and commanding of Hector and other sons of the royal family. Finally the Greeks built a huge hollow wooden horse in whose belly a small group of warriors could have been concealed. The remaining Greeks sailed home, leaving at Troy’s walls only the wooden horse and Sinon, who treacherously persuaded the Trojans, despite the warnings of Laocoön and Cassandra, to accept the horse within the walls of the city. Under favour of the darkness the Greeks returned; their companions manages to creep out of the horse and open the city gates. In such a way Troy was shattered (Homer).
Considering the historical part of the Trojan War and the fall of Troy, the Trojan War in mythology is considered to reflect a real war (c.1200 B.C.) between the ancient Greeks and the people of the territory called Troas, which might have broken out for the control of the trade route through the Dardanelles (Alexander 14).
Troas is “the region about ancient Troy, on the northwest coast of Asia Minor, in present NW Turkey; traversed by Mt. Ida (Kaz Daği) and strategically located on the Hellespont (Dardanelles), it was involved in various struggles to control the straits; Troas was an ancient center of Aegean civilization (Infoplease.com)”. Greek and Roman sources regularly treated Troas as “a major boundary point between ‘Europe’ (their own continent) and ‘Asia’; these boundaries had always been arbitrary — early Greeks had defined everything to their east as Asia, and to their south as Africa, and themselves as Europe (Keener 87)”.
The poet Homer is believed to have written the epic in the 18th or 19th century B.C., 4 hundred years after the real war is thought to have taken place. Much of the story is sure to be fantasy. For example, there is no good evidence of Achilles’ or even Helen’s existence. Still, most scholars agree that the city of Troy itself was not an invented Shangri-la but a real place, and that the War between Creeks and Trojans really happened.
As to archaeological evidence of the Trojan War, there has been much academic debate as to whether the legendary Troy really existed and if it were a real place, whether the archaeological site discovered in Anatolia revealing a kind of a city that has been prospering over hundreds of centuries of habitation was actually that very city. Nonetheless, it is now nearly universally accepted that the archaeological excavations on the site have revealed the city of Iliad described by Homer.
Archaeologists who for years have been digging into the legend of Homer's poem consider the legendary conflict to have been a course of action rather than just a single event. According to Eric Cline, an archaeologist and historian at the George Washington University (in Washington, D.C.), the textual and archaeological evidence speaks for the Trojan War or several wars having taken place. And it may be suggested that Homer chose to write about these wars as a great single ten-year-long chronicle (Cline 49).
Major excavations were made in 1870 in North Western Turkey (at the site believed to be Troy) under direction of Heinrich Schliemann, German archaeologist and adventurer, who took a sole credit for the finding, although he was digging at the location called Hisarlik, at Frank Calvert’s (a British archaeologist) behest.
The excavations revealed a small citadel mound in the middle of the site and layers of 25 meters deep ruins. Later excavations have discovered more than 45 levels of inhabitations composed into 9 bands that represented inhabitation of the site from 3,000 B.C. until the days of its eventual abandonment in 1350 A.D. These bands – 9 cities built on the top of one another – have been named Troy I to Troy IX after original classification of Schliemann and Dorpfeld, his successor.
Eager to find the famous treasures of Troy, the German archaeologist Schliemann paved his way down to the second band, where he found what he supposed were the jewellery that belonged to Helen a long time ago. But the jewels turned out to be more than a thousand years older than the era described by Homer.
Today archaeologists consider Troy VI and VII discovered in the layers at Hisarlik to be the best candidates for The Iliad’s Troy.
Magnificent and strong, Troy VI looks like Homer's city (Kolb 577). City VI was somewhat destroyed. Still, the problem is that nobody can define the exact cause of it destruction beyond some evidence of fire. Mysteriously, spear tips, bronze arrow heads, and sling shots were found at Troy VI, with some of them being even embedded in the fortification walls, that may suggest some sort of an armed conflict. The dates of these evidences (c. 1250 B.C.) and destruction of the site correlate with dates of Herodotus’ Trojan War. Long lasting conflicts between the Hittite and Mycenaean civilizations are more than possible, with colonial expansion and control of profitable trade routes being major motivators. However, such conflicts are quite unlikely to have taken place on the scale of war depicted by Homer. On the other hand, collectively these conflicts might well have been the source of the epic tale of the Trojan War that has fascinated people’s minds for centuries (Cartwright et al.).
Jeff Elder suggests Troy VI destruction in 1250 B.C. to have been caused by an earthquake rather that war. But Homer's epics may well provide a clue. Thus, in Homer’s The Iliad, the Greeks have broken the city walls by hiding a giant horse (presented to Trojans as a gift) inside. At that this “Trojan horse” could have been a kind of a metaphor for “Poseidon”, the god that was often associated with animals, especially horses, who was not only the god of oceans and seas, but the one of earthquakes. So, Elder’s suggestion is that Homer knew that the site he was telling about had been shattered by an earthquake. However that's not how a poet would like to end his epic saga. So he decided to invent this fancy of a Trojan horse (98).
The 7th ancient city at the site (c. 1750-1300 B.C.) is the most likely candidate for the besieged fortified city of the Trojan War described by Homer. Impressive fortification walls with a number of towers no doubt fit the Homeric portrayal of a strong-built Troy. Here the lower city covers an impressive nearly 300,000 m² protected by an encircling ditch cut of rock, suggesting a splendid city like the legendary Troy. Thanks to archaeologists’ discovering of arrowheads in the streets, this site fits the depiction of a city under siege destroyed by a great war in 1175 B.C.
Many scholars believe that Homer, using poetic license, might have blurred the portrayal of Troy VI and the ruining of Troy VII into a ten-year-long saga (Ibid.).
The latest excavations have discovered an inhabited area which is nearly 10 times the size of the bastion, making Troy a noteworthy Bronze Age city. Excavations dated to circa 1180 B.C. revealed scattered skeletons and charred debris — the evidence of a wartime damage of the city that might have inspired a great part of the epic of the Trojan War. After all, in Homer’s day, 4 hundred years later, its ruins might have still been visible.
As to the real reasons of the war and the fall of the site called Troy in Greece mythology, there are several theories.
According to Elder, Troy in the late Bronze Age, if situated at the Hisarlik site, would have been a big prize for kings hungry for power. Located at the entrance of the Black Sea, this city would have standing at an intercontinental crossroads. The Greek Mycenaean realm might have lain to the west. The Hittite realm, stretching from Mesopotamia to Syria, might have been located to the east. As for Troy’s great wealth, the city might have acquired it by taxing seafarers who sailed into the Black Sea. It might have been a huge plum for the Mycenaeans to win. This war might have been fought for common reasons: greed, economic gain, territory, glory, and the control of trade routes (98).
Some scholars state that the Greeks might not have fought the war in Troy at all. They suggest that it was the lesser known so-called Sea Peoples who ruined Troy. Originally from the territory that is now Italy, the Sea Peoples sailed from west across the Mediterranean Sea to east. According to inscriptions dating back to the ancient Egypt, this group of people came through Troy at the period of the Trojan War, about 1200 B.C (Cook 32).
Yet another theory, backed by early Hittite texts, suggests a discontinuous 200-year conflict raging between the empire of Hittite and a rebel coalition including Troy. According to Hittite texts, the Mycenaeans of Greece actually made the Trojans their allies in the war against the Hittites. In Troy VI archaeologists have found Mycenaean pottery that appeared to support the suggestion about the two nations having been allies.
The least reasonable explanation, as the majority of archaeologists agree, is that the great Trojan War was caused by Helen, described as the most beautiful woman in the whole world by Homer.
However, there is a historical precedent for a conflict having occurred over a kind of injustice done to a king. Thus, in the 14th century B.C., the Hittite king happened to receive a letter from the Queen of Egypt. She said in the letter that her husband had died and asked the Hittite king to send one of his sons for her to tie the knot. The Hittite king eventually agreed to send one of his sons. However, on his way to Egypt, the prince was killed. Having decided that it were Egyptians who killed his son, the Hittites king declared war on Egypt.
A problem with this hypothesis is that if the Hittites could go to war on the Egyptians in the 14th century over the king’s son, why the Mycenaeans wouldn't go to war on Trojans less than 100 years later because of kidnapping of the king's wife. Nobody can really rule out that the war was fought over Helen. Still nobody now doesn't have any supporting evidence or arguments for that (Cline 49).
What is clear is that the wars seem to have ended an era. As Diane Thompson in her book about legends and literature of the Bronze Age noticed that Homer wrote a memory of the world’s end, with a kind of nostalgia fuelling his inspiration (54).
When the Roman famous poet Virgil in the 1st century B.C. rewrote Homer's epic in his own classical work The Aeneid, he described the Greeks as shabby villains, presenting the Trojans as beautiful losers who continued to set up the Roman Empire. Through the centuries, Europeans stick to this version — many of them tracing their origin back to the great city of Troy.
"It's an exciting story of war and love (Ibid.)," Thompson said.
So, in the ancient Greek epic The Iliad, serving the basis for Troy, Paris (the prince of Troy) stole the beautiful Helen (of Greece) from her husband (King Menelaus). This act brought the two nations to a great war, and ultimately Greeks headed by the warrior Achilles and others laid the siege to Troy.
Troy and its great war have become a staple legend of Classical Greek and Roman creative writing and were revisited again and again by writers in such works as Euripedes’ Trojan Women, Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, and Virgil’s Aenid. Also artists were obsessed by the Trojan War representing its famous scenes in sculpture and pottery decorations. Scenes of the Paris’ judgement, Achilles fighting against Hektor and playing dice with Ajax, and with the latter falling on his sword were just some of the countless scenes from the epic that would appear in art and literature again and again over many centuries.
There are milestones in the history of mankind which, irrespectively of a view of history, can be considered fundamental, radical. One of them is Trojan War. This war is covered by the fog of a remote past, it is a myth and a fairy tale, but, at the same time, as any heroic epos, it is a true story in a way .
Perhaps what is more important, the Trojan War came to symbolize the struggle of early Greeks against overseas powers, telling sagas of times when men were better, more honourable, and more able.
Since the 19th-century rediscovery of Troy, the site that is now western Turkey, archaeologists have revealed an important evidence of a kingdom that peaked and might have been ruined about 1,180 B.C., forming most likely the basis for the legends recounted by Homer some four hundred years later in his The Iliad and the Odyssey.
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Cartwright, Mark et al. 'Troy'. Ancient History Encyclopedia. N.p., 2015. Web. 18 Apr. 2015. < http://www.ancient.eu/troy/ >
Cline, E.H. 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. Print.
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