History : Dec 2015-Jan 2016
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 35 THE MANY LAYERS OF TROY The trouble was that Troy might not even have existed. The acclaimed Greek poet Homer pop- ularized the Trojans and their city in The Iliad and The Odyssey, his 8th-century b.c. epic po- ems. These works told the story of a 10-year war between Greece and Troy, fought by such time- less characters as the kings Priam and Agamem- non, the warriors brave Hector and mighty Achilles, and the survivors crafty Odysseus and loyal Aeneas. The poems tell of bloody battles, fantastic adventures, heroic deeds, and tragic consequences. But was Troy a real place? Schliemann set out to prove it was. And he did. Hisarlik is now widely accepted as the setting for Homer’s epic tales. Studies have revealed that the 100-foot-high mound contains not just one, but nine Troys, each built over the ruins of the one before. Today archae- ologists consider Troy VI—the sixth counting from the bottom up—to be the likeliest can- didate for Homer’s Troy. This city dates from around 1700 to 1250 b.c., and its citizens lived in dynamic times. To their east was the waning Hittite Empire and to their west the mighty Mycenaean Greeks. Troy itself occupied a strategic location com- manding the entrance to what is now the Dar- danelles. Whoever held Troy would control the traffic along that busy commercial route, a fact that would not have escaped the attention of their Greek rivals. The Roots of War However, Homer’s depiction of Troy revolves around passion not politics. It begins with the love affair between the Trojan prince, Paris, and Helen, the wife of the Spartan king Menelaus, brother to powerful Agamemnon, leader of the Greek forces. They elope to Troy triggering war between the nations and the decade-long siege that the Greeks bring to a terrible end with the famous ruse of the wooden horse. In reality, the motives for such a war were probably more pragmatic. Whether or not there was a Helen, so beautiful that her face would launch a thousand ships, the commercial and strategic value of Troy made it a desirable target for any of its neighbors. The citizens of Troy had anticipated outside threats. They had built a defensive wall and even dug trenches to stall war chariots, the assault vehicles of the ancient world. Trouble seems to have peaked around 1250 b.c. when the archae- ological remains show signs of an attack and a devastating fire. But we cannot tell who the assailants were or if the destruction was caused by a single action or a series of onslaughts over time. Where the certainties of archaeology fade, H einrich Schliemann, the German archaeologist, was in Turkey in the late 19th century on an eccentric quest. He was excavating a tell—an artificial mound that covers long abandoned settlements. The site, known as Hisarlik, was familiar to only a few special- ists. But as Schliemann dug, he was pinning his hopes on finding the ruins of the most famous city in classical literature: Troy. 8th century b.c. Homer composes The Iliad and The Odyssey. In 1870 they inspire Heinrich Schliemann to hunt for the real Troy. 1250-1100 b.c. After Troy VI is destroyed, the city is once again rebuilt (Troy VII). Two more will succeed it in Hisarlik. 1700-1250 b.c. Troy VI that thrived at this time is now believed to be that of Homer’s legend. It had 6,000 inhabitants. 2500-2300 b.c. This site (Troy II) was initially identified as the city of Homer’s tale by Heinrich Schliemann. 2700 b.c. Troy (I) is founded near the Dardanelles Strait. This first city seems to have been destroyed by fire.