City of Legend: Unearthing the True Story of Troy


He has bickering and interfering gods, a sulky demigod and doomed hero, love and sorrow, triumph and defeat. It’s no wonder The Iliad has influenced Western literature for thousands of years.

The word “Iliad” comes from “Ilion,” an ancient name for Troy, and the story takes place in the last days of that city’s ten-year siege at the end of the Trojan War. The poem is generally attributed to Homer, a Greek poet writing in the late 8th or early 7th century BC. In any case, the events described in the poem took place several hundred years before it was written.

Much like the Arthurian legends, the story of Troy has been told in different ways by many different people. that of Homer Iliad is just one part of the story (and doesn’t even include the wooden horse). Much like the Arthurian legends, it is unclear to what extent the legend is based on something that actually happened. Was there a Trojan War? Was Troy even a real city?

Over the past 150 years, archaeologists have answered some of these questions. But there is still a lot to learn about Troy and the legends that surround the ancient city.

Keep digging, it’s over there somewhere

In the 19th century, Franck Calvert, an English scholar who became an American and British diplomat in Turkey, settled near Hissarlik, in western Turkey. As a trained archaeologist (albeit an amateur), Calvert carried out preliminary excavations, believing he had discovered the location of the legendary Troy on the basis of earlier data. research through Charles MacLaren, Scottish journalist and scholar. However, Calvert didn’t have the money to fund a real dig.

Heinrich Schliemann, however, did. Schliemann was a wealthy German businessman and self-taught archaeologist. In the 19th century, most scholars thought the Trojan War was a legend without a factual basis, and Schliemann was keen to prove them wrong. After Calvert told Schliemann that Hissarlik could in fact be Troy, Schliemann withdrew from his business interests and devoted his fortune to finding the ancient city – and proving the IliadThe description of his end was historically accurate. In 1870 he began digging at the site MacLaren and Calvert had identified. And, of course, he found Troy.

Schliemann did a lot of harm, But. He did not give MacLaren and Calvert credit for identifying the site. He also started digging before he got official permission from the Turkish government. But perhaps his worst mistakes were archaeological. After having had little luck to start, in the third season of excavation, he dug a huge trench through the site, descending 45 feet. In his determination to find the legendary Troy, he bulldozed through many layers of significant archaeological evidence, essentially rejecting anything that did not support his goal of finding Homer’s Troy. Nonetheless, archaeologists continued to excavate the site and made many significant finds in the remains of the city – or towns. In fact, they were new.

The perfect site

Whenever Troy was destroyed, most often by fire or earthquake, the survivors would rebuild the city right above the ruins of the previous Troy. The continued occupation and reconstruction of this city is probably due to its location. Troy stood at the entrance to the Dardanelles (also known as the Hellespont), a narrow strait that connects the Black Sea with the Aegean Sea, a key position for trade. The site was also strategic for land trade, as it was located along the route between Anatolia (Asia Minor) and Europe.

The first Troy, a small village, dates from around 3000 BC, at the start of the Bronze Age. Troy II (archaeologists date them starting with the oldest at the bottom and working your way up) was a somewhat larger settlement surrounded by a solid wall. Around 1750-1180 BC. AD, at the end of the Bronze Age, the cities had become even more fortified. Troy VI and VII were surrounded by thick sloping walls and contained impressive buildings. Later, Troys shows continued growth and prosperity for the legendary city. There is evidence that horse breeding and textile production may have contributed to Troy’s wealth.

Are the legends true?

So which Troy is Homer’s Troy? Is the story of the Trojan War, as told and told in legend, based on an actual historical event? Did Achilles chase Hector around the intimidating walls of Troy VI? Unlike Schliemann, archaeologists studying the site today are not trying to find evidence in one way or another of the veracity of The Iliad. However, what they found offers some clues.

Schliemann believed Troy II to be the setting for Homer’s poem, but carbon dating and analysis of the pottery have shown it to be at least 1,000 years too old to match the description. The Iliad. Troy VI and VII – from the Middle to Late Bronze Age – are more likely. Troy VI was destroyed by an earthquake, but not by the armies of Agamemnon. The survivors rebuilt the city, but it too was destroyed within a generation. It was ransacked, torched and looted – and most importantly, rebuilt not by survivors but by another people entirely. So here we have a Troy that was destroyed during the war, and the period, the Late Bronze Age, matches the details of the poem.

Is it Homer’s Troy? Perhaps. Some archaeologists believe it is likely that the war that destroyed Troy VII was the war that inspired The Iliad and other poems. Others are not so sure.

Either way, literature is not meant to be history. By the time Homer wrote his poems, up to 500 years after the Trojan War, the city was already a ruin. It is possible, if not probable, that when the poet wanted to tell a story of gods and heroes, he used the ruins of Troy (and the stories that developed around it) both as a source of inspiration. and as a frame. Homer and his fellow artists were free to take liberties with the tale, adding avenging husbands and a jealous goddess as they saw fit. Whether the poem contains the story or not, or whether it is just brilliant fiction, the story of Troy is still loved almost three thousand years later.


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