Troy, legend and archaeology


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March 1, 2013

Troy (Ancient Greek: Ἴλιον, Ilion, or Ἴλιος, Ilios; and Τροία, Troia; Latin: Trōia and Īlium; Hittite: Wilusa or Truwisa; Turkish: Truva) was a city, both factual and legendary, in northwest Anatolia in what is now Turkey, south of the southwest end of the Dardanelles / Hellespont and northwest of Mount Ida. It is best known for being the setting of the Trojan War described in the Greek Epic Cycle and especially in the Iliad, one of the two epic poems attributed to Homer. Metrical evidence from the Iliad and the Odyssey seems to show that the name Ἴλιον (Ilion) formerly began with a digamma: Ϝίλιον (Wilion). This was later supported by the Hittite form Wilusa.

A new city called Ilium was founded on the site in the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus. It flourished until the establishment of Constantinople and declined gradually during the Byzantine era.

In 1865, English archaeologist Frank Calvert excavated trial trenches in a field he had bought from a local farmer at Hisarlık, and in 1868, Heinrich Schliemann, wealthy German businessman and archaeologist, also began excavating in the area after a chance meeting with Calvert in Çanakkale. These excavations revealed several cities built in succession. Schliemann was at first skeptical about the identification of Hissarlik with Troy, but was persuaded by Calvert and took over Calvert’s excavations on the eastern half of the Hissarlik site, which was on Calvert’s property. Troy VII has been identified with the Hittite Wilusa, the probable origin of the Greek Ἴλιον, and is generally (but not conclusively) identified with Homeric Troy.

Today, the hill at Hisarlik has given its name to a small village near the ruins, supporting the tourist trade visiting the Troia archaeological site. It lies within the province of Çanakkale, some 30 km south-west of the provincial capital, also called Çanakkale. The nearest village is Tevfikiye. The map here shows the adapted Scamander estuary with Ilium a little way inland across the Homeric plain.

By Owen Jarus, Live Science Contributor:

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.

Troy also refers to a real-life ancient city located on the northwest coast of Turkey which, since antiquity, has been identified by many as being the Troy discussed in the legend. Whether the Trojan War actually took place, and whether the site in northwest Turkey is the same Troy, is a matter of debate. The modern-day Turkish name for the site is Hisarlik.

The idea that the city was Troy goes back at least 2,700 years, when the ancient Greeks were colonizing northwest Turkey. In the 19th century, the idea again came to popular attention when a German businessman and early archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, conducted a series of excavations at Hisarlik and discovered treasures he claimed to be from King Priam.

Troy the legend

The Trojan War is believed to have taken place near the end of the Bronze Age. That is around or before 1200 B.C. It took place around the time that a civilization that we call Mycenaean flourished in Greece. They built great palaces and developed a system of writing.

The earliest accounts of this war come from Homer, who lived around the eighth century B.C., several centuries after the events took place. They do not appear to have been written down until even later, likely during the sixth century B.C., when a tyrant named Peisistratus ruled Athens.

Homer’s “Iliad” is set in the 10th year of the siege against Troy and tells of a series of events that appear to have taken place over a few weeks. The story makes clear that the siege had taken its toll on the Greek force sent to recover Helen. The “timbers of our ships have rotted away and the cables are broken and far away are our wives and our young children,” the poem reads (translation by Richmond Lattimore).

The war had essentially become a stalemate with the Greeks unable to take the city and the Trojans unable to drive them back into the sea. We “sons of the Achaians [Greeks] outnumber the Trojans — those who live in the city; but there are companions from other cities in their numbers, wielders of the spear to help them,” the “Iliad” reads.

A number of key events happen in the poem, including a duel between Menelaos or Menelaus), the king of Sparta and husband of Helen, against Paris. The winner is supposed to receive Helen as a prize, ending the war. However, the gods intervene to break up the duel before it is finished and the war continues.

Another important duel occurs nears the end of the poem between Achilleus (or Achilles) and a great Trojan warrior named Hektor (or Hector). The Trojan knows that he’s no match for the Greek warrior and initially runs three laps around Troy, with Achilleus chasing him. Finally, the gods force him to face the Greek warrior and he is in turn killed.

Contrary to popular belief, the “Iliad” does not end with the destruction of Troy but with a temporary truce after which the fighting presumably continues. Another Homeric work called the “Odyssey” is set after the destruction of the city and features the Greek hero Odysseus trying to get home. That poem briefly references how the Greeks took Troy using the famous “Trojan Horse,” a gift concealing warriors within.

“What a thing was this, too, which that mighty man wrought and endured in the carven horse, wherein all we chiefs of the Argives were sitting, bearing to the Trojans death and fate!” reads part of the poem (Translation by A.T. Murray through Perseus Digital Library).

The city’s origin

The site of Hisarlik, in northwest Turkey, has been identified as being Troy since ancient times. Archaeological research shows that it was inhabited for almost 4,000 years starting around 3000 B.C. After one city was destroyed, a new city would be built on top of it, creating a human-made mound called a “tell.”

“There is no one single Troy; there are at least 10, lying in layers on top of each other,” writes University of Amsterdam researcher Gert Jan van Wijngaarden in a chapter of the book “Troy: City, Homer and Turkey” (University of Amsterdam, 2013).

Van Wijngaarden notes that archaeologists have to dig deep to find remains of the first settlement and from what they can tell it was a “small city surrounded by a defensive wall of unworked stone.” Outside the largest gate was a stone with an image of a face, perhaps a deity welcoming visitors to the new city.

Troy took off in the period after 2550 B.C., “the city was considerably enlarged and furnished with a massive defensive wall made of cut blocks of stone and rectangular clay bricks,” van Wijngaarden writes. He notes that on the settlement’s citadel were houses of the “megaron” type, which contained “an elongated room with a hearth and open forecourt.”

When Heinrich Schliemann excavated this level of Troy in 1873, he discovered a cache of treasure, which he believed belonged to King Priam. “The collection of weapons, gold, silver, electrum, copper and bronze vessels, gold jewellery, including thousands of gold rings, and a range of other objects made of precious materials apparently came to light close to the outer side of the city wall near the building which Schliemann designated as the royal palace,” writes University of Queensland researcher Trevor Bryce in his book “The Trojans and their Neighbours” (Routledge, 2006).

Some researchers have speculated that these treasures were not found all in one hoard but were rather precious objects, from across the site, which Schliemann gathered over a number of weeks. While Schliemann believed he had found Priam’s treasures it became clear in the following decades that these were a millennium too early for Priam.

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5 thoughts on “Troy, legend and archaeology

  1. Pingback: Manly Men (and sometimes Girly Girls) | greatbooksdude

  2. In the collection at the University of Pennsylvania Museum where I studied archaeology, we had a few small items of Priam’s treasure which were recently repatriated to Turkey. Great article!

  3. Pingback: Tarantulas, mating season and Halloween | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  4. Pingback: ‘Philistines were not European invaders’ | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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