Skip to comments.The Truth About An Epic Tale Of Love, War And Greed (Troy)
Posted on 03/25/2004 12:03:11 PM PST by blam
The truth about an epic tale of love, war and greed (Filed: 24/03/2004)
The legend of Troy has an enduring grip on the imagination. Aidan Laverty talks to the scientists who say they have proved that a siege really took place
It's one of the greatest stories ever; the tale of a war fought over the love of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world.
Now as Hollywood breathes fresh life into the myth, archaeologists have uncovered new evidence from the site of Troy that brings us closer than ever to the truth behind this ancient legend.
City scan: this is the Troy that Korfmann discovered
The story of the Trojan War is said to have been composed by the Greek poet Homer in the 8th century BC. But scholars believe the story is set hundreds of years earlier, towards the end of the Bronze Age, sometime between 1200 and 1300 BC.
In the legend Helen is married to Menelaus, the king of Sparta. But she is seduced by a Trojan prince, Paris, and taken away to the city of Troy.
Menelaus appeals to his brother, Agamemnon. In the myth he is a mighty king, able to assemble a coalition of Greeks from the mainland and the islands. They set sail for Troy in a fleet of a thousand ships.
The siege of Troy lasts 10 years. Agamemnon's army is unable to break the city's great walls, so they resort to trickery. The Greeks leave a wooden horse outside the city gates and the Trojans drag it in. Greek warriors jump out and open the gates for their army. Troy is then razed.
The reason the legend retains such a powerful grip on our imagination is clear to Dr Eric Cline of George Washington University, who has worked at Troy.
"The whole story of the Trojan War is a compelling one for the ages - it's love and war, it's greed, it's desire. You name it, it has elements that compel the human psyche, and have for millennia."
Dr Cline is interested in how archaeology can help us discover whether the legend is based on real historical events. "Is there a nugget, a kernel of truth at the base of this story around which everything else is wrapped?
"Is there some historical war which took place that Homer wrapped in layer after layer, so it became much more than just a single battle, a single conflict, much more than just a war? It became a story, an epic, a saga."
Manfred Korfmann: uncovered a city beyond the citadel walls
Archaeology's first efforts to answer these questions got off to an unsteady start. Heinrich Schliemann took up archaeology after making a fortune in business. He was in no doubt that the myth was true, and set off to find the city of Troy. He is a controversial figure, regarded as both brilliant and something of a scoundrel.
Following clues from the pages of Homer, Schliemann believed he'd located the site of Troy on what is now the Turkish coast, close to the Dardanelles, the waterway that separates Europe from Asia. In 1870 he began to excavate.
Over four seasons he cut his way down through an ancient mound, shifting hundreds of tons of rubble. At the bottom of the mound he uncovered the walls of a fortress. Soon afterwards he found a collection of golden treasure. He displayed his sensational finds to the world and declared he'd found Homer's Troy.
But Schliemann had been struggling to date his remains, and, as archaeology developed as a science, it became clear that his buildings and treasure were from the early Bronze Age, about 2,500 BC, more than 1,000 years before the traditional date of the legend. His fortress could never have been the scene of a great battle over Helen.
In 1893 an excavation led by Schliemann's former assistant, Wilhelm Dörpfeld, began to uncover a very different Troy. Dörpfeld excavated a citadel with massive walls, with high towers and great gates. This citadel was from the late Bronze Age, a time that fitted the legend.
The city had physical features that seemed to match the myth. For instance, Homer had described how the warrior Patroclus was able to scale the walls of Troy because they were built at an angle. Sections of the defensive walls that Dörpfeld uncovered were indeed sloping. Once again, some archaeologists declared that this was the city of legend.
But Dr Cline points out that there was one important feature of the city that didn't match the myth. Homer's Troy was big enough to withstand a siege that lasted 10 years. The city that archaeology had uncovered just wasn't that big: "It is a small place, it's just a citadel that they had found, and a couple of hundred people up there maybe at the most, and the critics said this is not Troy, Troy must be big, Troy must be huge if Homer was right."
The next excavation, led by Carl Blegen, an American, finished at Troy in 1938. For 50 years the site lay untouched, and the question of whether it really was the city of legend remained unresolved.
In 1988 work at Troy resumed under the leadership of Professor Manfred Korfmann of Tübingen University. He assembled a large, international team, drawing on a wide range of scientific disciplines.
Korfmann said he wasn't interested in the myth. He was drawn to Troy because it had been inhabited for more than 3,000 years and occupied an important strategic position between Asia and Europe. Its long archaeological record allows it to be used as a reference site, to date finds from elsewhere. But he has found evidence that offers a dramatic new insight into the legend.
When Korfmann arrived at Troy he was puzzled to discover that the city's great gateways appeared to have no means of being secured shut. "The gate is open, inviting everyone to come in. We walked up and down a hundred times and wondered how it was closed, how it was blocked. How could they defend themselves?"
He knew that if the gates couldn't be blocked, there must have been some other outer line of defences. His hunch was that there must have been more to Troy than had so far been uncovered.
He began to excavate outside the citadel walls and unearthed substantial buildings from the late Bronze Age, from between 1700 and 1200 bc. These were from the same time as the citadel that Dörpfeld had uncovered. Korfmann wondered if these buildings were the beginning of a lower city, a settlement that spread outside the citadel walls. But the area it might have covered was so vast that it would be impossible to excavate with shovels.
Korfmann asked his colleagues for a magnetic scan of the area: geophysics scans can detect changes in the Earth's magnetic field, revealing buried walls, streets and buildings.
In this case, the scans revealed a grid of wide streets and avenues beneath the fields outside the citadel walls. It was obvious that this belonged to a much later period than the late Bronze Age, to classical Greek and Roman times.
But there was no sign of a city from the late Bronze Age, from the time when the siege is said to have happened. Then Prof Korfmann noticed a faint line on the scan that traced a wavy path around the citadel. It was very different from the regular grid of Greek and Roman streets. It was time to dig.
He uncovered part of a wide ditch cut into the rock and has traced its path for 700 metres. It's from the late Bronze Age, the time of the legend. He believes it was designed to stop enemy chariots, and so marked the outer limit of the lower city.
He estimates the population of the city that lay behind the outer defences in the late Bronze Age as between 4,000 and 8,000. Troy was more than just a citadel of a few hundred people. "People who think there was a Homeric Troy - a city of substantial size and population - will be happy with this result," he says.
Dr Cline comments: "Korfmann may have just put the nail in the coffin of the doubters."
In the myth, Troy is razed by the army of Agamemnon. The early archaeologists believed the city might have been destroyed between 1200 and 1300 BC either by fighting or by an earthquake. Now, with access to the lost lower city, Prof Korfmann has discovered evidence that it suffered a catastrophe at around 1200 BC.
"There are skeletons. We found for example a girl, I think 16 years old, half buried. The feet were burnt by fire and half of the corpse was buried underground. This is strange, so rapid a burial within a public space within the city."
He also found arrowheads, which suggested close-quarter fighting. But a key clue to the fate of Troy came from collections of slingshots that he discovered. These were an important weapon of the time, used to keep enemy archers at bay. Korfmann believes that finding them in piles is significant. If the defenders had won the battle they would have taken the slingshots to be used elsewhere, for example by shepherds in the fields.
Hence, Korfmann believes, the Trojans must have lost the battle. "It was a city that was besieged. It was a city that defended itself. They lost the war and were obviously defeated."
In this way the archaeological record backs the claim of the legend that Troy was destroyed by an enemy army at the end of the Bronze Age. But was it a Greek army as the legend says?
"We do not know, because the attacker rarely leaves any remains if he's successful."
And what of the Trojan horse? In the 130 years that archaeologists have been working at Troy, no evidence has been uncovered for its existence. Perhaps that just shows that Homer was, above all, an amazing storyteller.
The "Treasure of Priam" disappeared for 50 years. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian officials admitted the treasure was in the basement of the Hermitage. But I don't know if they've actually returned it yet.
Much of this is not new news . . . Dorpfeld hypothesized a larger city outside the inner citadel walls, and Blegen was interviewed years ago for a book that we read in my Classical Archaeology seminar . . . this was back in the 70s. Blegen said they knew which city was the Troy of the Iliad, for one simple reason . . . "bodies in the streets. You don't have that unless there's a catastrophe." So the poor half-buried girl is one of many, she was just found more recently.
But I'm glad that they've reactivated the dig there. Schliemann's smash and grab methods destroyed a lot of stratification, but there is still plenty to learn.
(We have a official stamped Greek copy of that one (copper with a gold wash) hanging on the living room wall.)
Where was the picture taken?
It didn't say. I did a search on 'Schliemann's Gold' and that turned up. ...and it looks like it's gone now.
Most of the artifacts from the shaft graves at Mycenae are in the National Museum in Athens.
If you ever get the chance to go, don't miss the site. It is absolutely spectacular.
(famous Lion's Gate)
Just one slight point of correction - the gold shaft grave masks are from Schliemann's later excavations at Mycenae. The "Treasure of Priam" came from Troy, and consisted primarily of women's jewelry, most notably an elaborate gold headdress with numerous shoulder-length pendants and matching necklaces. This is the treasure that was in the Berlin Museum and was stolen by the Russians. Here is a photo of Schliemann's Greek wife, Sophie, wearing the headdress and necklaces.
What a concidence. You brought this thread back to life and I'm presently watching 'the making of the movie'Troy on the Discovery Channel
bttt with a few related GGG / FR topics:
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