Immortalized by Homer in his epic poem, The Iliad, Troy was the city where the Greeks fought the Trojans to retrieve Helen, (wife of the Spartan king, Menelaus) who had eloped with Paris, a prince of Troy. This war is called the Trojan War. Many wonder if the events and characters in The Iliad were real but there is no definitive proof that they existed. However there is proof that the city of Troy did exist, and that there wasn’t just one city, but nine.
Mentions of Troy and Significance
Rose, in the journal article “Troy and the Historical Imagination”, stated that Herodotus, a Greek geographer and historian, provided the earliest literary reference that states Troy was the site of the Trojan War. He noted that in 480 BCE the Persian king Xerxes sacrificed 1000 oxen at Priam’s citadel in Troy to improve his attack against Greece (Priam was the king of Troy in The Iliad). He further mentioned sacrifices to the heroes who were believed to be buried in mounds in the surrounding Trojan landscape. Furthermore, Rose mentions that Alexander the Great also visited Troy in 334 BCE and is said to have made a vow to build a city that would live up to Troy’s legendary heritage, though he did not live long enough to fulfil this. However, his wishes were carried out by others after his death.
Coin of Julius Caesar, showing Aeneas, making his escape from Troy. ca. 45 BCE. Located at Westfälisches Römermuseum, Haltern. Photo and description by Jona Lendering.
https://www.livius.org/pictures/a/roman-coins/coin-with-aeneas/ Accessed 06 Aug 2021
Lendering, in “Troy XIII-IX”, mentioned that Julius Caesar claimed that Rome was founded by Aeneas (a prince of Troy), making it very important to the Roman identity. He also claimed that Ascanius, son of Aeneas, had the surname Ilus, meaning “boy from Ilion”, which is another name for Troy. In Virgil’s Aeneid, Aeneas survives the fall of Troy and later founds Rome. In his article ‘Troy’, Mark Cartwright mentioned that the Romans called Troy ‘Sacred Ilium’ and Emperor Constantine had considered establishing his new capital at Troy before finally choosing Constantinople instead.
‘ ‘Troy II, Southwest gate (1)’, ca. 2350 BCE–ca. 2250 BCE. Photo by Marco Prins.
https://www.livius.org/pictures/turkey/hisarlik-troy/troy-ii-southwest-gate-1/ Accessed 06 Aug 2021
Discovery of the Ruins of Troy
The Archaeological Site of Troy is located in Hisarlik, Çanakkale Province, Turkey. Cartwright mentioned that Frank Calvert first excavated the site in 1863 CE. Later, Heinrich Schliemann continued excavating the site from 1870 CE to 1890 CE. Lendering stated that Schliemann made mistakes at first as he was looking for a strong-walled city that was burnt down. However, what was eventually discovered were nine levels of settlements as the city was erased and another was built on top of it several times. For the purpose of this article, the approximate dates of the settlements mentioned by Cartwright have been used. The nine cities are called Troy I-IX and some slight adjustments were made to the dates in early 21st century CE as per carbon dating results.
Archeological plan of the Hisarlik citadel (Troy). Legend: 1: Gate, 2: City Wall, 3: Megarons, 4: FN Gate, 5: FO Gate, 6: FM Gate and Ramp, 7: FJ Gate, 8: City Wall, 9: Megarons, 10: City Wall, 11: VI. S Gate, 12: VI. H Tower, 13: VI. R Gate, 14: VI. G Tower, 15: Well-Cistern, 16: VI. T Dardanos Gate, 17: VI. I Tower, 18: VI. U Gate, 19: VI. A House, 20: VI. M Palace-Storage House, 21: Pillar House, 22: VI. F House with columns, 23: VI. C House, 24: VI. E House, 25: VII. Storage, 26: Temple of Athena, 27: Entrance to the Temple (Propylaeum), 28: Outer Court Wall, 29: Inner Court Wall, 30: Holy Place, 31: Water Work, 32: Parliament (Bouleuterion), 33: Odeon, 34: Roman Bath
Bibi Saint-Pol, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plan_Troy-Hisarlik-en.svg Accessed 19 Jul 2021
Troy I (c. 3000-2550 BCE): Cartwright mentioned that this was simply a small village protected by stone walls. The excavated pottery and metal that is dated to this era is like those from Lesbos and Lemnos in the Aegean and in northern Anatolia. As per Lendering, ‘megarons’, which were hall-like buildings, were found here. These were the main type of housing in the fortified part of Troy for centuries. Troy I-III were part of the Early Bronze Age.
Troy II (c. 2550-2300 BCE): This city was approximately 9000 sqm and measured 330m in circumference and shows signs of being destroyed by fire at least thrice. Lendering further stated that the presence of gold objects in this layer led Schliemann to believe that this was Priam’s city from The Iliad and he called the treasure the ‘treasure of Priam’. However, there is no proof that this is Homer’s Troy. Cartwright mentioned that the treasure included 60 earrings, 6 bracelets, 2 diadems and 8750 rings, all of which were made of solid gold.
‘Troy II, Priam's Treasure, headwear (replica)’, ca. 2300 BCE, located at the Neues Museum, Berlin. Photo by Jona Lendering.
Troy III - Troy V (c. 2300-1750 BCE): Cartwright stated that information regarding these three cities are scarce, as a lot was hastily removed to reach the levels beneath it. Even though these seemed less prosperous than the previous layers, there are signs of trade with foreigners - Anatolian style dome ovens and Minoan pottery. Lendering stated that Troy III belonged to the Early Bronze II culture, and Troy IV and Troy V belonged to Early Bronze III and Middle Bronze I periods.
Troy VI (c. 1750-1300 BCE): This settlement is the most likely to be Homer’s Troy if it were to ever exist, as noted by Cartwright. There are several reasons for this. The walls - made of limestone blocks- were 5m thick and 8 m in height and had several towers on top of it. Furthermore, sections of the wall are slightly offset every 10cm to form a curved wall so that corners can be avoided– a uniquely Trojan feature. Cartwright further stated that Troy VI is likely to hold 10,000 inhabitants and excavations have also unearthed signs of horse rearing which were missing from the previous ruins which allude to Homer’s description of the ‘horse taming Trojans’. Interestingly there are some suggestions of conflict - bronze arrowheads, spear tips and slingshots, dating to 1250 BCE, have been found on-site and embedded on the fortification walls. The dates and the destruction of the site approximately match Herodotus’ dates for the Trojan War.
‘Troy VI, Spearhead’, ca. 1300 BCE, located at the Neues Museum, Berlin. Photo by Jona Lendering.
https://www.livius.org/pictures/turkey/hisarlik-troy/troy-vi-spearhead/ Accessed 19 Jul 2021
Lendering states that Troy VI was called Wilusa by the Hittites, a Central Angolian nation. It is further mentioned that a king of Wilusa had asked the Hittites for help to fend off an enemy attack; and the name of the king was Alaksandu which is very similar to Alexandros, which is another name of Paris, the prince of Troy in Homer’s The Iliad. Additionally, the enemy attack was said to be supported by a Greek nation called Ahhiyawa, which could further point to the existence of the Trojan War. However, no conclusion can be reached as there is no proof of Wilusa actually being attacked by Ahhiyawa.
Troy VIIa (c. 1750-1300 BCE) – Troy VIIb (c. 1180-950 BCE): Cartwright mentions both the cities show signs of regressing and being not as developed as the previous ruins, which again point to the aftermath of the sacking of Troy as per Homer. Both ultimately got burnt down.
Metope from the temple of Athena showing the sun god. This was one of the first discoveries by Heinrich Schliemann.
‘Troy VIII, Metope of Helius’ located at the Neues Museum, Berlin. Photo and description by Jona Lendering.
https://www.livius.org/pictures/turkey/hisarlik-troy/troy-viii-metope-of-helius/ Accessed 19 Jul 2021
Troy VIII - Troy IX (c. 950 BCE to 550 CE): Greek Ilion was the name of Troy VIII and Troy IX was called Roman Ilium, writes Cartwright. Though the city never reached its past grandeur, it was held in high regard as the Persian King Xerxes and Alexander the Great both visited Troy during this era. A temple to Athena was established here at the beginning of the 3rd century BCE by Lysimachus, one of Alexander’s successors. Lendering mentioned that Troy developed as a city to be able to accommodate 8000 people during this time. Later, Julius Caesar’s nephew and successor, Emperor Augustus continued his propaganda that Romans had Trojan ancestry. He visited Troy in 20 BCE and developed it further so that it became a popular city for tourists at the time. Cartwright noted that Emperor Constantine, who reigned from 324-337 CE, had also started to develop the city before halting it in favour of Constantinople. Afterwards, the city slowly declined and was abandoned, only to be discovered again after 1500 years.
The Archaeological Site of Troy has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. In 2018, the Troy Museum, which displays the historical artefacts from the site, opened in Tevfikiye village, Çanakkale, Turkey. Whether the events in The Iliad are true or not, Troy still continues to dominate people’s curiosity and imagination.
Sources and Further Reading:
Erbil, Ömer. “Çanakkale villagers rush to newly opened Troy Museum”. Hürriyet Daily News. 18 Oct 2018. Web. https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/canakkale-villagers-rush-to-newly-opened-troy-museum-138025 Accessed 18 Jul 2021.
Homer. The Iliad. Translated by E. V. Rieu. London: Penguin Classics, 2003
Lendering, Jona. “Troy: excavation”. Livius. livius.org/articles/place/troy/ Accessed 18 Jul 2021.
Lendering, Jona. “Troy I-V”. Livius. https://www.livius.org/articles/place/troy/troy-2/ Accessed 18 Jul 2021.
Lendering, Jona. “Troy VI-VII”. Livius. https://www.livius.org/articles/place/troy/troy-3/ Accessed 18 Jul 2021.
Lendering, Jona. “Troy VIII-IX”. Livius. https://www.livius.org/articles/place/troy/troy-4/ Accessed 18 Jul 2021.
Lendering, Jona. “Hittites”. Livius. https://www.livius.org/articles/people/hittites/ Accessed 18 Jul 2021.
Rose, Charles Brian. “Troy and the Historical Imagination.” The Classical World, vol. 91, no. 5, 1998, pp. 405–413. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4352107 Accessed 17 Jul 2021.
Virgil. The Aeneid . Translated by W. F. Jackson Night. London: Penguin Classics, 1977
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