A History of Ancient Greece, TROY
The Glory That Was Greece
Author: Jewsbury, Lewis
Greek TROIA, also called ILIOS, OR ILION,
Latin TROIA, TROJA, OR ILIUM, was an ancient city in northwestern Anatolia that
holds an enduring place in both literature and archaeology. The legend of the
Trojan War is the most notable theme from ancient Greek literature and forms the
basis of Homer's Iliad. Though its present-day ruins are not of vast extent,
Troy is a key archaeological site whose many layers illustrate the gradual
development of civilization in northwestern Asia Minor.
Ancient Troy commanded a strategic point at
the southern entrance to the Dardanelles (Hellespont), a narrow strait linking
the Black Sea with the Aegean Sea via the Sea of Marmara. The city also
commanded a land route that ran north along the west Anatolian coast and crossed
the narrowest point of the Dardanelles to the European shore. Troy probably used
its site astride these two lines of communication to exact tolls from trading
vessels and other travelers using them. This practice probably accounted for the
wealth of ancient Troy; it may also have been the Greeks' actual motive in
waging war against the city, which chronically interfered with their trade
through the Dardanelles.
The Troad (Greek Troias; "Land of Troy") is the district formed by the northwestern projection of Asia Minor into the Aegean Sea. The present-day ruins of Troy itself occupy the western end of a low descending ridge in the extreme northwest corner of the Troad. Less than 4 miles (6 km) to the west, across the plain of the Scamander River, is the Aegean Sea, and toward the north are the narrows of the Dardanelles.
The approximate location of Troy was well
known from references in works by ancient Greek and Latin authors. But the exact
site of the city remained unidentified until modern times. A large mound, called
Hisarlik (or Hissarlik) by the Turks, had long been known to hold the ruins of a
city named Ilion that had flourished in Hellenistic and Roman times. In 1822
Charles McLaren suggested that this was the site of Homeric Troy, but for the
next 50 years his suggestion received little attention from classical scholars,
most of whom regarded the Trojan legend as a mere fictional creation based on
myth, not history. The German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann deserves full
credit for adopting McLaren's identification and demonstrating to the world that
it was correct. In seven major and two minor campaigns between 1870 and 1890,
Schliemann conducted excavations on a large scale mainly in the central area of
the Hisarlik mound, where he exposed most of the remains of the Early Bronze
Age. After Schliemann's death in 1890, the excavations were continued (1893-94)
by his colleague Wilhelm Dörpfeld and later (1932-38) by an expedition from the
University of Cincinnati headed by Carl W. Blegen.
Before excavations began, the mound rose to
a height of 105 feet (32 m) above the plain. It contained a vast accumulation of
debris that was made up of many clearly distinguishable layers. Schliemann and
Dörpfeld identified a sequence of nine principal strata, representing nine
periods during which houses were built, occupied, and ultimately destroyed. At
the end of each period when a settlement was destroyed (usually by fire, or
earthquake, or both), the survivors, rather than clear the wreckage down to the
floors, merely leveled it out and then built new houses upon it.
The nine major periods of ancient Troy are
labeled I to IX, starting from the bottom with the oldest settlement, Troy I. In
periods I to VII Troy was a fortified stronghold that served as the capital of
the Troad and the residence of a king, his family, officials, advisers, retinue,
and slaves. Most of the local population, however, were farmers who lived in
unfortified villages nearby and took refuge in the citadel in times of danger.
Troy I to V corresponds roughly to the Early Bronze Age (c. 3000 to 1900 BC).
The citadel of Troy I was small, not more than 300 feet (90 m) in diameter. It
was enclosed by a massive wall with gateways and flanking towers and contained
perhaps 20 rectangular houses. Troy II was twice as large and had higher,
sloping stone walls protecting an acropolis on which stood the king's palace and
other princely residences, which were built of brick in a megaron plan. This
city came to an end through fire, and Schliemann mistakenly identified it with
Homer's Troy. In the "burnt layer's" debris were found a trove of gold jewelry
and ornaments and gold, silver, copper, bronze, and ceramic vessels that
Schliemann named "Priam's treasure." The burning of Troy II seems to have been
followed by an economic decline; each of the citadels of Troy III, IV, and V was
fortified and somewhat larger than its predecessor, but the houses inside the
walls were much smaller and more closely packed than in Troy II.Troy VI and VII
may be assigned to the Middle and Late Bronze Ages (c. 1900 to 1100 BC). Troy at
this time had new and vigorous settlers who introduced domesticated horses to
the Aegean area. They further enlarged the city and erected a magnificent
circuit of cut limestone walls that were 15 feet (4.5 m) thick at the base, rose
to a height of more than 17 feet (5 m), and had brick ramparts and watchtowers.
Inside the citadel, which was now about 650 feet (200 m) long and 450 feet (140
m) wide, great houses were laid out on ascending, concentric terraces. Troy VI
was destroyed by a violent earthquake a little after 1300 BC. Dörpfeld had
identified this stage as Homeric Troy, but its apparent destruction by an
earthquake does not agree with the realistic account of the sack of Troy in
Greek tradition. Moreover, the city's date, as indicated by imported Mycenaean
pottery found in the earthquake debris, is too early for the Trojan War.
The survivors of the earthquake quickly
rebuilt the town, thus inaugurating the short-lived Troy VIIa. The ruins were
leveled and covered over by new buildings, which were set close together and
filled all available space inside the fortress. Almost every house was provided
with one or several huge storage jars that were sunk deep into the ground, with
only their mouths above the level of the floor. Troy VIIa probably lasted little
more than a generation. The crowding together of houses and the special measures
to store up food supplies suggest that preparations had been made to withstand a
siege. The town was destroyed in a devastating fire, and remnants of human bones
found in some houses and streets strengthen the impression that the town was
captured, looted, and burnt by enemies. Based on the evidence of imported
Mycenaean pottery, the end of Troy VIIa can be dated to between 1260 and 1240
BC. The Cincinnati expedition under Blegen concluded that Troy VIIa was very
likely the capital of King Priam described in Homer's Iliad, which was destroyed
by the Greek armies of Agamemnon. The partly rebuilt Troy VIIb shows evidence of
new settlers with a lower level of material culture, which vanished altogether
by 1100 BC. For about the next four centuries the site was virtually abandoned.
About 700 BC Greek settlers began to occupy the Troad. Troy was reoccupied and
given the Hellenized name of Ilion; this Greek settlement is known as Troy VIII.
The Romans sacked Ilion in 85 BC, but it was partially restored by the Roman
general Sulla that same year. This Romanized town, known as Troy IX, received
fine public buildings from the emperor Augustus and his immediate successors,
who traced their ancestry back to the Trojan Aeneas. After the founding of
Constantinople (ad 324), Ilion faded into obscurity.
The Trojan War.
The classical legends of the Trojan War
developed continuously throughout Greek and Latin literature. In Homer's Iliad
and Odyssey, the earliest literary evidence available, the chief stories have
already taken shape, and individual themes were elaborated later, especially in
Greek drama. The story of the Trojan origin, through Aeneas, of Rome helped to
inspire Roman interest; book ii of Virgil's Aeneid contains the best-known
account of the sack of Troy. Finally there are the pseudo-chronicles that go
under the names of Dictys Cretensis and Dares Phrygius.
The Trojan War fought between the Greeks and
Troy originated in the following manner. King Priam of Troy was wealthy and
powerful; by his wife Hecuba and by concubines he had 50 sons and 12 daughters.
But his son Paris was invited to judge which of the goddesses Aphrodite, Hera,
and Athena was entitled to receive the golden apple marked by the goddess Eris
(Discord) "for the most beautiful." Aphrodite promised Paris the most beautiful
woman in the world: he therefore awarded her the apple and went to Greece, where
he won the love of, and eloped with, Helen, wife of Menelaus, the king of
To recover Helen, the Greeks launched a
great expedition under the overall command of Menelaus' brother, Agamemnon, king
of Argos or Mycenae. The Trojans refused to return Helen. The Greeks sacked
small towns in or near the Troad, but Troy, assisted by allies from Asia Minor
and Thrace, withstood a Greek siege for 10 years. The gods also took sides,
notably Hera, Athena, and Poseidon for the Greeks, and Aphrodite (who had a son,
Aeneas, by the Trojan Anchises, grandson of Assaracus), Apollo, and Ares for the
Trojans. The Iliad, which is set in the 10th year of the war, tells of the
quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles, who was the finest Greek warrior, and
the consequent deaths in battle of (among others) Achilles' friend Patroclus and
Priam's eldest son, Hector.
After Hector's death the Trojans were joined
by two exotic allies, Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons, and Memnon, king of the
Ethiopians and son of the dawn-goddess Eos. Achilles killed both of these, but
Paris then managed to kill Achilles with an arrow. Before they could take Troy,
the Greeks had to steal from the citadel the wooden image of Pallas Athena (the
Palladium) and fetch the arrows of Heracles and the sick archer Philoctetes from
Lemnos and Achilles' son Neoptolemus (Pyrrhus) from Skyros; Odysseus and
Diomedes achieved all these. Finally, with Athena's help, Epeius built a huge
wooden horse. Several Greek warriors hid inside it; the rest of the Greek army
sailed away to Tenedos, a nearby island, pretending to abandon the siege.
Despite the warnings of Priam's daughter Cassandra, the Trojans were persuaded
by Sinon, a Greek who feigned desertion, to take the horse inside the walls of
Troy as an offering to Athena; the priest Laocoon, who tried to have the horse
destroyed, was killed by sea serpents. At night the Greek fleet returned, and
the Greeks from the horse opened the gates of Troy. In the total sack that
followed, Priam and his remaining sons were slaughtered; the Trojan women passed
into slavery in various cities of Greece. The adventurous homeward voyages of
the Greek leaders were told in two epics, the Returns (Nostoi; lost) and Homer's
The few Trojan survivors included Aeneas, whose descendants continued to rule the Trojans; later tradition took Aeneas' Trojans to Italy as the ancestors of the Romans.