Searching for Troy
This week on Facebook: Last week I suggested that renaming Woody Allan’s 1972 vignette to ‘Are the Findings of Writers and Historians Who Do Sexual Research and Experiments Accurate?’ may have contemporary connections. Of course it may simple be that the internet has allowed us all to take whatever view we may choose regarding history and to even publish papers on such views. Manipulating the truth is not new, even Homer realised that sex and the gods were important in the patriarchal society of the time and portrayed Helen of Sparta as the most beautiful woman in the world — adding a war that divides the gods in their choice of sides. Just a myth or a myth with a hint of reality?
The story really begins with Homer from last week’s post Searching for Helen and the podcast The Apple Of Discord. In this Zeus hosts a wedding with Eris being an uninvited guest who nevertheless crashes the wedding. Eris brings a gift of a golden apple to be awarded by Zeus to ‘the fairest’, which turns what was a happy wedding into one of discord and chaos. Zeus finds himself in a bind and the wheels of Western culture’s most awesome epic — the Trojan War — are set in motion.
In the podcast The Judgement Of Paris, and in an effort to get out of the bind he finds himself in, Zeus sends Hermes who finds Paris to judge a beauty contest between three powerful, vain and vindictive goddesses. It’s clear that Aphrodite (one of the goddesses) has certain victory in the bag, but Hera and Athena (her competitors) propose a “twist” on the contest rules. Paris is suddenly confronted with a choice between political power, military glory, or the most beautiful woman in the world, for an 18 year old boy this is a no brainer.
It comes as no surprise to find out the even Zeus, the king of the gods, is intellectually a few sandwiches short of a picnic, although the optimism of the three goddesses in expecting any other judgement from an 18 year old male is a surprise. Even among mortal males, and especially 18 year old Paris, sexual gratification beats future power and glory every time. Paris abandoned his first wife Oenone and sailed for Sparta where with the help of Aphrodite he kidnapped Helen, the wife of the Spartan king Menelaus. It would seem that even in ancient Greece cougars held a certain power over younger men and that a judgement of Paris inevitably leads to discord.
But what about the search for Troy: did it ever exist and the Trojan War ever take place? In Western culture it all begins with Homer. Whatever you may believe from the reference¹, the existence of Troy and the Trojan War still remains a matter of some speculation amongst writers and historians. I am sure that we mere mortals are captivated by Homer’s account of Troy’s existence and greatly influenced by Hollywood films about it. Fact or fiction, nothing can replace the epics of Homer.
Article 4 posits that the fall of Troy relates the fall of the Lutwian civilisation², beginning the dark age that followed the end of the bronze age. Archaeologists acknowledge that Troy has become famous mainly through the epics of Homer³ and yet despite this many scholars have long doubted the existence of Troy altogether. Today, however, it is generally accepted that the archaeological site on the Hisarlık hill in northwest Turkey, on the Southwest entrance to the Dardanelles, was that of the Bronze Age settlement. Already in the 3rd millennium BCE a fortified citadel had been erected on this knoll. The settlement was at its peak between around 1700 and 1200 BCE. The size of Troy and its role at the end of the Bronze Age are still highly controversial subjects.
1. Ancient Troy: The City & the Legend: The name Troy refers both to a place in legend and a real-life archaeological site. In legend, Troy is a city that was besieged for 10 years and eventually conquered by a Greek army led by King Agamemnon. The reason for this “Trojan War” was, according to Homer’s “Iliad,” the abduction of Helen, a queen from Sparta. This abduction was done by Paris, the son of Troy’s King Priam. Throughout the “Iliad” the gods constantly intervene in support of characters on both sides of the conflict.
2. The search for the real Troy – not just one city but at least 10: On the north-west coast of Turkey, atop a hill overlooking the mouth of the Dardanelles, lies the memory of a city which blurs the line between myth and history like no other. In mythology, Troy inspired the Greek epic poet Homer to conceive his two great works in (probably) the eighth century BC: the Iliad — set in the final year of the decade-long siege of Troy by a coalition of Greek states — and its “sequel”, the Odyssey.
3. Fall of Troy: the legend and the facts: Troy (in ancient Greek, Ἴλιος or Ilios), was located in western Turkey – not far from the modern city of Canakkale (better known as Gallipoli), at the mouth of the Dardanelles strait. Its position was crucial in controlling the trade routes towards the Black Sea and, as the Trojan prince Paris mentions to the Spartan king Menelaus in Homer’s epic tale, the Iliad, the city controlled access to Indian silks and spices.
4. The History of Troy: For a long time the existence and location of Troy ranked among the most controversial topics in archaeology. Today the majority of researchers assume that the settlement mound on Hisarlık, located at the southwest entrance of the Dardanelles, matches the Troy sang of in the Homeric poems. As early as the 3rd millennium BCE a fortified citadel arose on this hill. The settlement reached its peak of prosperity between 1700 and 1200 BCE. Later, during the Roman Empire, Troy and its heroes were still highly revered. At the beginning of the medieval period, however, the place fell into oblivion and its location was eventually forgotten.
5. World War Zero brought down mystery civilisation of ‘sea people’: By the second millennium BC, civilisation had taken hold throughout the eastern Mediterranean. The Egyptian New Kingdom coexisted with the Hittites of central Anatolia and the Mycenaeans of mainland Greece, among others. In little more than a single generation, they had all collapsed. Was the culprit climate change? Some sort of earthquake storm? Social unrest? Archaeologists can’t seem to agree.
Referenced Articles & Books:
- A text subscript above and preceding the title here, refers to a book, pdf, podcast, video, and a download that is usually free.
- Brackets containing a number e.g. (1) are used above to reference a particular article (1-5).
- A long read url* is followed by an asterisk.
- Occasionally an Open University (OU) free course is cited.
- JSTOR lets you set up a free account allowing you to have 6 (interchangeable) books stored that you can read online.
¹Assessing the Evidence for the Trojan Wars (pdf): Troy’s strategic geographical location made it a target of attack throughout its history. We speak of one Trojan war, but in fact there were many, stretching from the third millennium B.C. through 1915, the date of the Battle of Gallipoli, which occurred on the opposite side of the straits from Troy. Whoever controlled Troy, or Gallipoli for that matter, could control all maritime traffic between the Aegean and Black Seas. The wars, in other words, were fought for money and power, not for a woman named Helen.
²The Luwian Civilisation – The Missing Link in the Aegean Bronze Age (url/pdf): As far back as 1836, 180 years ago, the German scholar Johann Uschold published a 352-page compendium about the history of the Trojan War in which he concluded that the famous Carians, Lydians, Phrygians, Mysians, and Lycians in Asia Minor “had been considered in antiquity to be branches of one and the same nation.” He also pointed out that the predecessors of these people inhabited Greece in prehistoric times, and that so much information has been preserved by the best established writers in antiquity that we cannot understand why these people have been passed over in previous treatments.
³Introducing Homer’s Iliad (url/OU): Interested in Greek myths? We’ve condensed the epic narrative of Homer’s poems the Iliad and the Odyssey into short animations voiced by the dulcet tones of Don Warrington.
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