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Heroes of the Trojan wars - part 1

The Trojan War was for a very long time believed to be a classic Greek Literary myth collected by Homer or Homers about a mythical war and a mythical place to be set alongside the other stories of Greek Myth. All that changed in 1870 when Schliemann excavated a site at Hisarlik in Turkey and 'discovered' Troy. Or rather Troys as there was occupation on the site for thousands of years from around 3000 BC to the end of the Roman period and literally everyone knew the site to be ancient Troy! Additionally the Troy (and jewels) Schliemann discovered and assigned to King Priam turned out to be around 1500 years too early. Still credit for effort....

Below Sophie Schliemann in the 'Jewels of Helen of Troy'

Later actual archaeologists located Homeric Troy at Level VIa of the site where after roughly 1250 BC an earthquake damaged much of the Level VI town a new city was built with significant walls. This site appears to have ended around 1220 to 1180 BC in fire and arrowheads making it the best candidate chronologically and thematically with Homeric Troy.

However while the layout and defences of the site matched up with Homer's description there were a couple of structural problems. Firstly it was nowhere near the sea and second it was rather small to be fought over for 10 years. In the 1990s new excavations revealed that the area previously thought to be the city was in fact just the citadel with a far more extensive and walled occupied area underneath the later Roman city. Additionally it appears that Troy was next to the sea at the mouth of the river Scamander but that years of silt deposit has moved the coast Westwards. In short there was an extensive city of Troy on the coast probably benefiting from the active Trade around the Mediterranean in the Bronze age and possibly at the end of the trade routes to the East through the Hittite Empire. The people appear to have been locally Anatolian based on the pottery rather than Greek Mycenean.

This leaves just one problem - the fact that by the date given for Troys fiery/arrow demise was considerably later than the end of the supposed Mycenean lead coalition which destroyed it. Dates for the end of the Mycenean hegemony of Greece/Crete and by extension into Troy are between the range 1250 and 1200 BC. So it would seem unlikely that an Empire in or past terminal decline would be capable of the Homeric effort required to besiege and sack Troy.

Mycenean power at its peak 1400-1300BC

Three possibilities have been suggested, firstly that indeed the destruction of Troy VIa was the last thrashings of a collapsing empire desperate for the trade goods and wealth of the city. This is feasible when we consider the general chaos of the end of the Bronze age and assume that the whole Trojan War thing was just warbands fighting over spoil which morphed in historical memory into something more epic. A folk memory of destruction reshaped by generations of poets into something greater.

The Assuwa rebellion - outside a Troy-like city

A second possibility is suggested by Eric Cline in his book '1177 BC the year civilisation collapsed.' He posits an earlier date for the end of Troy based on evidence from clay tablets and a Mycenean sword discovered as a votive offering. The clay tablets reveal a rebellion of Western Anatolia against its Hittite rulers - the Assuwa Rebellion - which appears to have been instigated/supported by the Myceneans. This was earlier 200 years earlier than the Trojan War dates of between 1250 and 1180BC but the records show that the Hittites broke the rebels not once but twice and named amongst the rebellious areas are two names associated with Troy and its environs. Once again this could be the folk memory of war which poets took and mutated.

Sea Peoples on the attack

The third theory is that Troy like many other towns and cities on the Eastern Mediterranean at the time fell to 'The Sea Peoples' in their own journey to destruction in the Nile Delta. This seems likely as far greater cities than Troy fell at around the same time to whoever the Sea Peoples were. One group named among the Sea Peoples were from Lukka which was the southern Anatolian coast - not a million miles from Troy - but really nobody knows exactly who they were or why they took up large scale brigandage. Once again we have a folk memory of conflict becoming the germ of a poem of a story of an epic.

Sea Peoples destroyed in Egypt from Egyptian source

In conclusion, Troy was a real place with real people which existed for a really long time. Just to contextualise it was continuously occupied for about 3 times longer than there has been a Kingdom of England. It was destroyed - possibly several times - and one or more of these destructions became via folk memory the Homeric epic. Below is a picture I took at the recent Troy exhibition at the British Museum of an Egyptian Greek copy of part of The Iliad. This was handwritten over 2000 years ago. Before the end rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the rise and fall of the Mongols, the rise and decline of the British Empire etc etc. I'm sure there is a lesson in here somewhere....


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