Was Troy Real? History & Legend of Ancient Troia

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History & Legend of Ancient Troia

Giovanni Domenico Tipeolo, 1773 Trojan Horse
Giovanni Domenico Tipeolo, 1773 Trojan Horse

Gallipoli WWl & Troia

Before talking about Troia let me tell you that a tremendous amount of world commerce travels by sea. Since commerce mean wealth and wealth means power, the people who control the sea have enormous commercial not to mention military power. The best place for a small group of people to control an awful lot of sea is at a strait.

Where is Gallipoli and Troy

The story of the Çanakkale Bogazi, or Dardanelles, is one of people battling each other for control of this narrow passage which unites the Mediterranean and Aegean seas with the Marmara and Black seas. In ancient times, it was the Achaeans attacking the Trojans; in modern times, the Anzacs faced Atatürk at Gallipoli (WWl). The name Dardanelles comes from The Dardanus, ruler of a very early city-state at Canakkale, who controlled the straits. But the story of the Dardanelles is not all war and commerce; romance, too, has been central to its mythical associations. Legends say that the goddess Helle fell from a golden-winged ram into the water here, giving the straits the name Hellespont.

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And the lovesick Leander, separated from his beloved Hero, swam to her through the fierce currents each night, until one night he didn’t make it. ‘Swimming the Hellespont is a challenge for amateur and professional swimmers to this day. The height of romance is the story of two ancient peoples battling over the love and honour of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. Historians now tell us that Helen was just a pawn in the fierce commercial and military rivalries between Achaea and Troy. Still, no one says she wasn’t beautiful, or that the Trojan horse didn’t actually fool the Trojans and lead to their defeat by the Achaeans.

Troia Ancient City & Excavation Adventure

Troia Sanctuary Area // photo:troyexcavations.com // photo:troyexcavations.com
Troia Sanctuary Area // photo:troyexcavations.com // photo:troyexcavations.com

The approach to Troy is across the low, rolling countryside of grain fields, with here and there a small village. This is the Troad of ancient times, all but lost to legend until a German-born California businessman and amateur archaeologist(he absolutely wasn’t an archaeologist but an ambitious gravedigger)  named Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890) rediscovered it in 1871. 

The poetry of Homer was assumed, at that time, to be based on legend, not history. But Schliemann got permission from the Ottoman government to excavate here at his own expense. He covered four superimposed ancient towns, and went on to make notable excavations at other Homeric sites.

Troia Sanctuary Area // photo:troyexcavations.com // photo:troyexcavations.com
Trojan horse replica // photo:troyexcavations.com

Today in Troy you’ll find a parking area, a few souvenir and snack stands, a replica of the wooden Trojan horse (you can climb up inside and peer out the windows), a big Troy museum  museum close to the excavation area, and Troy itself. The excavations by Schliemann and others have revealed nine ancient cities, one on top of another, going back to 3000 BC. Though there are few thrilling sights here, Troy is exciting because of the Troad’s beauty, because of its great antiquity, and because of its semi-legendary character. The first people to live here were of the Early Bronze Age; the last were Turkish soldiers and their families, subjects of the Emir of Karasi in the 1300s. After them, the town disappeared.

Layers of Troia :

Every layer is different Troia City

troia_diferent-layers-troy-cities
Troia different layers, diferent troai cities // photo:troyexcavations.com

The cities called Troy I to Troy V (3000-1800 BC) were of similar culture, but with Troy VI (1800-1275 BC) the town took on a new character, with a new population of Indo-European stock related to the Mycenaeans. The town doubled in size, and carried on a prosperous trade with Mycenae. It also held the key, as defender of the straits, to the prosperous trade with Greek colonies on the Black Sea. Troy VI is probably the city of Priam, the city which engaged in the Trojan War. A bad earthquake brought down the walls in 1275, and hastened the Achaean victory. The heroic Troy was followed by Troy VII (1275-1100 BC).

 The Achaeans may have burned the city in 1240; an invading Balkan people moved in around 1190 BC, and Troy sank into torpor for four centuries. It was revived as a Greek city (Troy VIll, 700-300 BC), and then as a Roman one (T roy lX, 300 BC 300 AD). At one point, Constantine the Great thought of building his new eastern Roman capital here, but he chose Byzantium instead. As a Byzantine town, Troy didn’t amount to much.

Homer, Trojan War : Illiad & Odyssey

Now for Troy’s history according to Homer in the Iliad, this is the town of Ilium. The battle took place in the 1200s BC, with Agamemnon, Achilles, Odysseus(Ulysses), Patroclus and Nestor on the Achaean (Greek) side, and Priam with his sons Hector and Paris on the Trojan side. Homer alludes to no commercial rivalries as cause for the war. Rather, he says that Paris kidnapped the beautiful Helen from her husband Menelaus, King of Sparta, and the king asked the Achaeans to help him get her back.

The war went on for a decade, in which time Hector killed Patroclus, and Achilles killed Hector. When the time came for Paris to kill Achilles, he was up to the task. Paris knew that Achilles’ mother had dipped her son in the River Styx, holding him by his heel, and had thus protected Achilles from wounds anywhere that the water had touched. So Paris shot Achilles in the heel.

Homer, Trojan War : Trajan Horse

Even this carnage didn’t end the war, so Odysseus came up with the idea of the wooden horse filled with soldiers.

Trojan horse BC 560 Korint Type Aryballos Vase found in Cerveteri
Trojan horse BC 560 Korint Type Aryballos Vase found in Cerveteri // photo:troyexcavations.com

One theory has it that the earthquake of 1275 BC brought down Troy’s formidable walls and allowed the Achaeans to battle their way into the city. In gratitude to Poseidon, The Earth-Shaker, they built a monumental wooden statue of Poseidon’s horse. Thus there may well have been a real Trojan horse, even though Homer’s account is less than fully historical.

The identifiable structures at Troy are well marked. Notice especially the walls from various periods, the Bouleuterion. or Council Chamber, built about when Homer was alive 700s EBC), and the Temple of Athena, from Troy Vlll, but rebuilt by the Romans. Also, don’t miss the beautiful views of the Troad, particularly over toward the straits. On a clear day you can see the Gallipoli  war memorials on the far shore, and ships passing through the Dardanelles. And you can almost imagine the Achaean Fleet beached on the Troad’s shores, ready to begin a battle that would be remembered over 3000 years later. 

Holy Troia

Many important emperors and generals visited Troy throughout history. 

Some examples:  

  • 480 BC Persian Emperor Xerxes
  • 334 BC Alexander the Great
  • Roman Emperor Hadrian
  • Roman Emperor Augustus
  • 1462 Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II (the conqueror)

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