Iliad and Troy, Troy in the Iliad

First there was a book, the Iliad, written approximately 2720 years ago by Homer, one of the greatest poets the world has ever known. This epic work told of a war, inescapable fate, the destruction of a city, and tragic defeat. This splendid city lying southeast of the Dardanelles Strait was known as Wilusa, Taruisa, (W)ilios or Troia. When Homer began to write his epic poem about the ten-year war between the Achaeans, as he called the Greeks, and the Trojans, he was also laying the foundations of European literature. From that time on he and the legend he created were to be a central element in the history of European thought and culture. European peoples and aristocratic families attributed their origins to Troy and its heroes. Rome traced its foundation to Aeneas the Trojan, and chivalric romances of the 12th and 13th centuries considered the Britons, Franks, and Normans to be of Trojan ancestry. For a time the Turks (Turci), too, were regarded as descendants of another Trojan, Turcus or Turkoy, who had fled from the city. 

Since Greek and Roman times the myth of Troy has fired people’s imaginations, and kings and rulers, including Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Augustus, Hadrian and even the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II were drawn here by that dream. In 1462 Sultan Mehmed travelled to Çanakkale to find the ancient Ilios, since he believed that by his conquest of Istanbul he had avenged the Trojans. But the story does not end there. Throughout the middle ages and the modern period many travellers, historians and adventurers came in search of this lost land, so keeping the dream of Troy constantly alive in people’s minds. Eventually, the first official excavation at Hisarlik was launched by Heinrich Schliemann in 1871, and finally the legend became fact when he discovered what was certainly the remains of Troy.
The latest excavations at Troy began in 1988 by a team of archaeologists from Germany’s Tübingen University under Professor Dr Manfred Korfmann. These have opened a new window onto Troy and its legend.
The journey of exploration through legend and fact to uncover the secrets of Troy is still not at an end, but it is now being documented by a remarkable exhibition at the Archaologisches Landesmuseum in Stuttgart entitled Troy, Legend and Fact. The most extraordinary finding revealed by the sections of the exhibition devoted to archaeological excavations at Troy is that this was an Anatolian culture. For thousands of years Troy has been seen as belonging to Greek Mycenaean culture, and as the origin of today’s European cultures. Yet Korfmann and his team now have evidence that Troy was the city of Wilusa or (W)ilios mentioned in Hittite official correspondence as a city of the Luwians, an Anatolian people. Regarded as one of the foremost archaeological discoveries of the 20th century, this evidence is a bronze seal bearing a Luwian hieroglyphic inscription, which is regarded as a find of the utmost importance in throwing light on relations between Anatolia and Troy.

The theory that the Trojans might have been Anatolian gained weight with the discovery of a lower city dating from the 17th-13th centuries BC and defined as High Trojan Culture. This town, divided into levels VI and VIIa, corresponded to Homer’s Troy, and is characterised by finds such as the anthropomorphic vessels and drinking cups known as depas unique to Anatolian cultures. Further confirmation has been the fact that the architecture of buildings and walls differs significantly from that of the Aegean region and Greece.

Other evidence supporting the theory that Troy lay within an area dominated by Luwian or Hittite-Luwian language and culture include a bronze figurine thought to represent a god of Anatolian and eastern origin; cremation burials in urns in accordance with Anatolian tradition; pillars and steles which were a frequent feature of the Hittite and subsequent periods; and a sacred building known as a megaron.

Striking resemblances between descriptions of Troy in the Iliad and the findings of excavations have undermined the view that Homer’s account was fictional. In particular, layers revealing destruction by fire at the end of levels VI and VIIa is evidence of a war lost by the inhabitants, and these layers correspond exactly to the late 13th century BC, when the Trojan War described by Homer is thought to have taken place. Further evidence that the war was lost is provided by skeletons abandoned without burial or only hastily buried at the scene of destruction; and abandoned catapults and sticks thrown down by people unable to defend their city.

Schliemann, who first commenced excavations here in 1871, removed his finds to Europe between 1873 and 1890, some with permission and some smuggled (the A and L treasure troves). Today these objects are scattered throughout the world in over 45 museums, institutes and private collections.Professor Korfmann, who is one of the scientific advisers to the exhibition and took part in its planning, now has a new dream: to return the finds from Troy, a site belonging to the universal cultural heritage, to the land from which they came. But his first priority is to establish the planned museum at the site.

*Nermin Bayçin is an archaeologist.


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