Iliad and Historical Troy

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Homeric Greece
The “Iliad” is the oldest surviving European poem. Not a "true story," but based on major events that may have happened, it describes the Trojan War between the Trojans and the Myceneans, which the Trojans lost even though they fought like "ravening lions." Consisting of 24 books written in dactylic hexameter, the “Iliad” addresses timeless themes like honor, morality, friendship. the horror of war, mortality and death.

The “Iliad” is a book about power and force with brave heroes who are driven by violence and guided by a warrior’s code and use their power and strength to take matters into their own hands. Although the “Iliad” is mainly an action-adventure story with long descriptions of battles and competitive games it has a fair amount of depth. It features, for example, main characters with both virtuous and despicable characteristics wo ponder ideas and issues we still think about today. People who read the book today often find the battle scenes excruciatingly long and speeches by the gods as undecipherable as they are dull. . The “Iliad” wasn't written down until 500 years after the events it described take place. Yet it rich Bronze details — helmets covered with boar’s tusks, man-size tower shields and 30 Mycenaean kingdoms — that no one in Homer’s time would have known about. Before Homer’s time the story was a poem sung by story tellers who passed it down orally from generation to generation, no doubt with changes made in the story to keep audiences on the edges of their seats. It later provided a model for epic works by Virgil, Dante, and Milton. However the way it was patched together with information from different historical period makes it difficult to use as an accurate historical source for clearly delineated historical periods.

Websites on Ancient Greece: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks; Canadian Museum of History; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; ;; British Museum; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ;; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Ancient City of Athens; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Ancient Greek Sites on the Web from Medea ; Greek History Course from Reed; Classics FAQ MIT; 11th Brittanica: History of Ancient Greece ;Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy;Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Books: The translation of the “Iliad “ by Alexander Pope was a great influence on Keats and others. The 1997 translation by Stanley Lombardo is regarded as the most accessible translations. The Penguin Classic version translated by Robert Fagles is also supposed to be good. Also recommended is “Homer: poet of the Iliad” by Mark W. Edwards (John Hopkins University Press).


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model of the walls of Troy
The “Iliad” takes place mostly in Troy. Ilium (Troy) was a royal city in what is now northwest Turkey, in the river valley of the Skamander River, about five kilometers from the Hellespont — the Dardanelles near the modern town of Hissarlik — a strait where Europe and Asia are separated by only a 1.2 kilometers of water. The archaeological site of Ilium was excavated by Heinrich Schliemann in the 1870s. Hellespont literally means “Sea of Helen.”[Source: John Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), “Classics 315: Greek and Roman Mythology class ++]

According to UNESCO: “The Archaeological Site of Troy has 4,000 years of history. Its extensive remains are the most significant and substantial evidence of the first contact between the civilizations of Anatolia and the burgeoning Mediterranean world. Excavations started more than a century ago have established a chronology that is fundamental to the understanding of this seminal period of the Old World and its cultural development. Moreover, the siege of Troy by Mycenaean warriors from Greece in the 13th century B.C., immortalized by Homer in The Iliad, has inspired great artists throughout the world ever since. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website =]

“Troy is located on the mound of Hisarlık, which overlooks the plain along the Turkish Aegean coast, 4.8 km from the southern entrance to the Dardanelles. The famous archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann undertook the first excavations at the site in 1870, and those excavations could be considered the starting point of modern archaeology and its public recognition. Research and excavations conducted in the Troia and Troas region reveal that the region has been inhabited for 8,000 years. Throughout the centuries, Troy has acted as a cultural bridge between the Troas region and the Balkans, Anatolia, the Aegean and Black Sea regions through migration, occupation, trade and the transmission of knowledge. =

“Twenty-four excavation campaigns, spread over the past 140 years, have revealed many features from all the periods of occupation in the citadel and the lower town. These include 23 sections of the defensive walls around the citadel, eleven gates, a paved stone ramp, and the lower portions of five defensive bastions. Those archaeological remains date for the most part from Troy II and VI; however, a section of the earliest wall (Troy I) survives near the south gate of the first defences. In the last 15 years, it has become clear that a Lower City existed south of the mound in all prehistoric periods and extended to about 30 ha in the Late Bronze Age. Several monuments, including the temple of Athena and the recently excavated sanctuary, are part of the Greek and Roman city of Ilion, at the site of Troy. The Roman urban organization is reflected by two major public buildings on the edge of the agora (central market place), the odeion (concert hall) and the nearby bouleuterion (council house). =

“The surrounding landscape contains many important archaeological and historical sites, including prehistoric settlements and cemeteries, Hellenistic burial mounds, monumental tumuli, Greek and Roman settlements, Roman and Ottoman bridges and numerous monuments of the Battle of Gallipoli. =

Trojan Wars

The “Iliad” is set during the Trojan Wars. It is not clear if these wars really took places and if they did it is not clear how accurate the “Iliad” ‘s account of them are. Based on layers of soot found at the archaeological site of Troy, indicating that city had been burned, it seems that ancient Trojans were involved in wars. But the details of these wars is unknown and the soot layers don’t match up exactly with the time the wars described in “he Iliad” are said to gave taken place (around 1200 B.C.). There are also inconsistencies between the time the wars are said to gave taken place (around 1200 B.C.) and the weapons and military tactics used (which date to 1150-750 B.C.) It is also clear the some of events in the book did not happened unless the Greek gods really existed and influenced the war.

Trojan Wars

According to the “Iliad” , the Trojan wars were fought around Troy, in present-day northwestern Turkey between the Troy-based Trojans and the Mycenaeans, who lived in southern Greece. The Mycenaeans predate the Greeks of classical Greece and they are sometimes called the Greeks.

Book: “The Trojan Wars” by Diane Thompson, a study of Troy literature; “The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer’s Iliad and the Trojan War” by Caroline Alexander.

Main Greek Characters in the Iliad

Achilles called Pelides, was the son of Peleus (king of Phthia and Hellas in Thessaly) and Thetis. He was the leader of the Myrmidons beginning at 15. [Source: John Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), “Classics 315: Greek and Roman Mythology class ++]

Patroklos was Achilles best friend, guardian, and lover. He was Achilles squire at Troy and the son of Menoitios (a friend of Heracles from Opis; another son was Abderus, Heracles' lover). One passage of the Iliad reads: "Achilles was also accompanied by Patroklos, son of Menoetios and Sthenele daughter of Akastos (or the mother of Patroklos was Periopis daughter of Pheres, or, as Philocrates says, she was Polymele daughter of Peleus). At Opus, in a quarrel over a game of dice, Patroklos killed the boy Klitonymos son of Amphidamas, and flying with his father he dwelt at the house of Peleus and became the lover [eromenos] of Achilles." [Source: Apollodoros Library of Greek Mythology III. 13.8]

Agamemnon was the son of Atreus, grandson of Pelops, great-grandson of Tantalus and king of Mycenae. He was commander-in- chief (wanax) of the Greek expedition that went to Troy to free Helen . He was married to Clytamnestra, half-sister of Helen of Sparta.

Menelaus, brother of Agamemnon, was married to Helen. He was successor of Helen's father Tyndareus as King of Sparta, also called Atreides. Agamemnon and Menelaus are dubbed "the Atreides" or, sons of Atreus.

Helen was daughter of Zeus and Leda. She was the wife of Tyndareus and mistress of Paris the Trojan.

Ajax, son of Telamon, was the king of the Island of Salamis in the Saronic Gulf. He brought 12 ships and 400 men, including Athenians. The Achaean hero fought duels with Hector in the Trojan War. A great asset to King Agamemnon's army, Ajax has a reputation for strength and courage. At one point he fought off the Trojan warriors almost single-handed, in stark contrast to his cousin Achilles, who could not be induced to fight.

abduction of Helen

1) Nestor was son of Neleus, grandson of Poseidon and king of Pylos. He brought 90 ships to Troy with 4500 men. 2) Odysseus son of Laertes and Antikleia, was king of Ithaca (possibly Zakynthos. He came with 12 ships and 600 men. 3) Diomedes, son of Tydeus one of the Epigonoi in the Theban Saga, was king of Argos. He brought 80 ships and 4000 men from Argos, Tiryns, Troezen and Epidauros.


Tros, the king of Troy, was the son of an Erechthonius ('born of the earth') and of the daughter of the River Simois, Astioche. Ilos was the son of Tros and Callirhoe ('beautifully flowing'). She was a daughter of the river god Skamandros. Other siblings were: Ganymede, Assaracus, Cleopatra. Ilos married Eurydice, and had the children: Laomedon and Themiste (She married Capys, son of Assaracus, who was her first-cousin). ++

Laomedon, for whom Poseidon and Apollo built the walls of Troy, had nine children including Priam (his successor as King of Troy) and Hesione (Heracles story). Priam married: 1) Arisbe (They had a son, Aesacus) and 2) Hecuba, whose children were: Helenus (the seer) Troilus Deiphobus, Alexandros (Paris) Polydoros Hector, Cassandra Polyxena and others. ++

Priam was the king of Troy during the Trojan War and youngest son of Laomedon. Priam had many wives; his first was Arisbe, who had given birth to his son Aesacus, who met his death before the Trojan War. Priam later divorced her in favor of Hecuba (or Hecebe), daughter of the Phrygian king Dymas. By his various wives and concubines Priam was the father of fifty sons and many daughters. Hector was Priam's eldest son by Hecuba, and heir to the Trojan throne. Paris (also known as Alexander), another son, was the cause of the Trojan War. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Paris, also known as Alexander, was the son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. He appears in a number of Greek legends but is best known was his elopement with Helen, queen of Sparta, the cause of the Trojan War. Later in the war, he fatally wounds Achilles in the heel with an arrow, an act foretold by Achilles’s mother, Thetis. The name Paris is probably of Luwian origin. The Luwians were contemporaries of the Hittites. +

Hector was a Trojan prince and the greatest fighter for Troy in the Trojan War. As the first-born son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba, who was a descendant of Dardanus and Tros, the founder of Troy, and the heir apparent to his father's throne. He acted as leader of the Trojans and their allies in the defence of Troy, "killing 31,000 Greek fighters". Homer’s Hector is peace-loving, thoughtful as well as bold. He is a good son, husband and father, and without darker motives. +

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Heroes of Iliad by Tischbein

Gods in the Illiad

1) Gods who favored the Greeks included: Hera, Athena, and Thetis. 2) Gods who supported the Trojans were: Aphrodite, Apollo, Poseidon, and (for a while) Athena. 3) Gods who were uncommitted were: Zeus, Hades, Hermes, Iris, Persephone and Demeter. [Source: John Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), “Classics 315: Greek and Roman Mythology class ++]

Some gods who were "uncommitted" ended up supporting "The Will of Zeus" and therefore the Greeks. Athena, who had a temple in Troy, decided to support Odysseus and supplied him and Epeus with the plans for the Wooden Horse; she also had her statue (the Palladion) removed from Troy by Aeneas. Poseidon and Apollo, who built the walls of Troy, both killed thousands of Greeks, either at Troy during the war, or on the sea on the way home.

The the involvement of the gods in the war goes back to a feast attended by the gods and goddesses. Eris, the goddess of discord, wasn't invited but shows up anyway with a golden apple inscribed — for the fairest." Hera, the wife of Zeus, Athena and Aphrodite all claim it and Paris is called in as a judge. He ends up giving the apple to Aphrodite because she promises him the hand of the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen. She protects Paris and makes Helen fall in love with him. In the meantime, Hera and Athena are furious they didn't get the golden apple and decide to take out their anger on the Trojans.

Helen of Troy and Paris

The “Iliad” begins with Paris, a Trojan prince and son of King Priam of Troy, being invited to Sparta by Agamemnon, the brother of Menaleus. Paris immediately falls head-over-heels in love with Meneleus's wife, Helen, and, urged on by meddlesome gods, abducts her and takes her back to Troy.

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Abduction of Helen
Obviously outraged, Menelaus swears vengeance and convinces his brother King Agamemnon to assemble an army of warriors from all over Greece, including Achilles, Ajax, Nestor, Diomedes, and Odysseus, and sends them to Troy (Ilium) to rescue Helen, a legendary beauty with a "face that launched a thousand ships." A war ensues, with Agamemnon in command and the Greeks rallying around the demigod Achilles.

The the involvement of the gods in the war goes back to a feast attended by the gods and goddesses. Eris, the goddess of discord, wasn’t invited but shows up anyway with a golden apple inscribed — for the fairest.” Hera, the wife of Zeus, Athena and Aphrodite all claim it and Paris is called in as a judge. He ends up giving the apple to Aphrodite because she promises him the hand of the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen. She protects Paris and makes Helen fall in love with him. In the meantime, Hera and Athena are furious they didn’t get the golden apple and decide to take out their anger on the Trojans.

Fighting in the Trojan War

Most of the Iliad takes place almost a decade after Helen is taken away by Paris. The Trojans are seriously outnumbered by the Greeks. Both sides are lead not by the troublemakers who created the conflict but by the brothers. Paris is not a fighter and asks his brother Hector to defend him and Troy against the Greeks.

After two years of preparations, the Greeks move on Troy with 1,000 ships and an army with 100,000 men. After setting off the fleet was slowed by calm winds because, an oracle reveals, Agamemnon earlier had killed a stag sacred to the goddess Artemis. The winds pick up after Agamemnon gives his daughter to Artemis. When the Greeks arrive in Asia Minor they lay siege to Troy, which is protected by high walls and the heros Hector (Priam’s son), Aeneas, and Sarpedon.

Ajax suicide
The siege of Troy lasted for 10 years. The Greek hero Ajax carried a "wall-like" shield that covered his entire body. Ajax wins praise for fighting without the gods acting on his behalf and once single-handedly holding off an entire army will Achilles sulks in his tent because of a lost slave girl. King Priam called Ajax “that great and goodly warrior whose head and broad shoulders tower above the rest.” Odysseus wore a helmet with "the shining teeth of a white-tusked after another" and bronze shin-guards called greaves. Depictions of these objects have been found in artwork dating back to the Trojan war period. Describing the fighting, Homer wrote: "the screaming and the shouts of triumph rose up together of men killing men and men killed, and the ground ran blood." Agamemnon was rather inept as a commander of the Greeks but a fierce fighter. In one clash:
” But Agamemnon stabbed him, as he pressed forward.
straight in the face, with his sharp spear.
Nor did the helmet, bronze heavy, contain it;
But straight through it and the body the spear passed.
And all his brains inside spattered...
So Iphidamas falling there went into the brazen slumber.
pitiable one who helped his own people, left his new bride.”


Wrath of Achilles
The focus of the “Iliad” is Achilles, a great warrior given special protection because his mother, the sea nymph Thetis, dipped him in the River Styx. In the “Iliad “ he returns to Troy to pursue an everlasting fame that he can attain only if he dies on the battlefield. Even though he is described as "swift-footed and brilliant Achilles" and is considered the greatest of all Greek heroes he comes across as a vengeful hot head while his rival Hector is depicted as a loving husband and good citizen. Stories surrounding Achilles are based partly on the “Iliad” but also on other Greek and Roman sources.

The “Iliad” opens with the lines:
“Wrath? sing, goddess, the accursed wrath of Achilles,
son of Peleus
Which placed countless suffering on the Achaeans.
And hurled so many strong souls of heroes to Hades,
but made their bodies the spoil of dogs
And all the birds; and so the plan of Zeus was

In some tellings of the Achilles story the hero not only came close to being a god but also came close to dethroning Zeus to the rule the heavens, almost overthrowing Zeus the same way he overthrew his own father, the titan Kronos. Zeus was very interested in Achilles’s mother Thetis until her learned that she had been fated to bear a son stronger than her father and averted a challenge to his dominance by marrying her against her will to the mortal Peleus, Achilles father.

Achilles also has to choose between a life that is short but glorious and one that is long but forgotten. He spent most of his in his Greek homeland of Phthuam which means something like “Waste-Away Kabd” in Greek. And even though Apollo played his lyre at Achilles wedding he is the hero’s nemesis and fated killer.

Battle Between Hector and Achilles

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Hector brought back to Troy
After fighting for nine years, Achilles gets into an argument with Agamemnon and withdraws from the battle in a burst of anger, with disastrous results for the Greeks, only to re-enter after his best friend Patroclus is killed by Hector and he seeks vengeance.

Achilles got his revenge against Hector. "Hector made his swoop, swinging his sharp sword, and Achilles charged," wielding a "bronze barbed ash spear." Achilles killed Hector outside the gates of Troy and dragged his body behind his war chariot with Hector's "dark hair falling about him." After killing Hector, Achilles is killed by Paris with a poison arrow that struck Achilles in one of his heels, the only part of his body that that is unprotected because his mother held him there when he was dipped in the River Styx. Achilles heel has come to mean a point of vulnerability. The “ Iliad” ends with Hector's funeral. On the plains of Troy are more than 40 burial mounds that are said to belong to heros from the Trojan War. Among them is a tumulus that reportedly belongs to Ajax.

Trojan Horse

Trojan Horse on Mykonos vase
After a ten year stalemate the Greeks realize that their siege tactics had not worked and they needed to try something new. Odysseus came up with idea of the wooden horse, aided by Athena. There are a number of different descriptions the Trojan horse incident. It is mentioned in the “ Odyssey” and described in detail in Virgil's Aeneid” .

After feigning retreat, the Greeks left an enormous wooden horse on the beach as a gift to Athena and sailed away and hid their ships behind Tenedos, an island five miles offshore. The jubilant Trojans pulled the horse into the citadel of Troy, thinking it was a tribute of a defeated army. Some Trojans were suspicious. One of them, Laocoon, and his two sons were snatched by two serpents that emerged from the sea and crushed to death.

During the night the Greek ships returned and Greek warriors hidden in the horse opened the gates of Troy. Thousands of Greeks poured in. They set the city ablaze, slew all the men and enslaved the women and children. "You could see the flames," the Trojan hero. Aeneas said in the “ Aeneid” . "All over the town you saw heart rendering agony, panic, and every shade of death." Priam’s headless body was found on the beach and Helen was taken home. The event gave birth to the expression: "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts."

Historical Troy

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Trojan Horse for tourists
Troy was also known as or Ilios or Illium, source of the name Iliad. Archeologists say, in all, nine cities were built on the site of Troy. The oldest strata is from a 5500-year-old Bronze Age settlement. The most recent is from a Byzantine city abandoned in A.D. 1350. Historical Troy is thought to be Troy 6 (sixth from the bottom layer) or Troy 7A. Troy in Homer’s time, around 850 B.C., was largely a ruin.

Historical Troy has been dated between 1,700 to 1,250 B.C., a period of history when Egyptian civilization was at its height and Moses led the Jews to the Promised Land and the Mediterranean world was breaking up into a mosaic of regional states. Artifacts unearthed from the different layers showed that Troy was a major Hittite trading center and later became popular with ancient Greek and Roman tourists.

Ancient Troy was known as a "pirate fortress" and it was strategically located at the mouth of the Dardanelles, a critical link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. Trojan rulers demanded a toll from ships passing from the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. It is believed that Trojan wars took place, on average, once every twenty years for possession of the strategic citadel and the tax revenues that went along with it.

According to legend, Poseidon sent a sea monster to destroy Homer’s Troy. More likely the city was brought down by earthquakes. Some even think that the Trojan horse story may have it roots in an earthquake story. Perhaps an earthquakes brought down the walls, letting the Greeks in and they in turn erected a horse to thank Poseidon, the god of earthquakes, whose symbol is a horse.

Alexander the Great stopped in Troy and traded for Agamemnon's shield before he attacked Persia. Ottoman sultan Mehmet II arrived here in 1453 to "avenge the sacking of the city by the Greeks," as if he was somehow a distant relative of the Trojans. The reaction of most tourists who show up today is disappointment.

Due to the effects of tides and terrestrial changes, the ruins of Troy lie three miles inland from the sea across a marsh and alluvial plain. As of 2004, more than 350 scholars, scientists and archaeologists were working at Troy as part of the Troy project. The project leader, Manfred Korfman, said that the purpose of the project was not to get a better understanding about the Troy Homer’s “ Iliad” but to get to know more about the myth and make more findings with that knowledge.

Importance of Troy

According to UNESCO: “The archaeological site of Troy is of immense significance in the understanding of the development of European civilization at a critical stage in its early development. It documents an uninterrupted settlement sequence over more than 3,000 years and bears witness to the succession of civilisations. The role of Troy is of particular importance in documenting the relations between Anatolia, the Aegean, and the Balkans, given its location at a point where the three cultures met. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website =]

“The Archaeological Site of Troy bears witness to various civilizations that occupied the area for over 4,000 years. Troy II and Troy VI provide characteristic examples of an ancient oriental city in an Aegean context, with a majestic fortified citadel enclosing palaces and administrative buildings, surrounded by an extensive fortified lower town. Several other monuments and remains reflect the characteristics of Roman and Greek settlements, and other distinct attributes bear witness to the Ottoman settlements. =

“The Archaeological Site of Troy is of exceptional cultural importance because of the profound influence it had on significant literary works such as Homer’s Illiad and Virgil’s Aeneid, and on the arts in general, over more than two millennia. =

Plan of Troy-Hisarlik

Historical Troy at the Time of the Trojan Wars

The “ Iliad” takes place during the late Greek Bronze Age and the Mycenean Age, between 1,600 and 1,100 B.C. Early archaeological work seemed to indicate that at that time Troy was not a very impressive city. It had a wall and a gate but few buildings were higher tree meters and most had stone foundations, timber roofs and were made of mud bricks.

As a ruin today Troy consists of walls marking off an area 200 meters across and a few foundations fo buildings. It is far cry from the city that Homer described as having “lofty gates” and “fine towers” and a palace used by Priam with a grand throne room and 50 marble chambers. Some archaeologists and historians have argued the site’s small size means that it is unlikely it was the site of conflict the magnitude of the Trojan Wars. Frank Kolb, from the University of Tubingen in Germany, has described it as “a miserable little settlement.”

It is believed the Trojans at the time of the war were Luvians, an Anatolian people who became vassals of the Hittites. The people grew barley and raided sheep, cattle, pigs and horses. There is evidence of tin from Afghanistan and horses from the central Asia steppes.

Historical Trojan Wars

At the time of the Trojan Wars Mycenae was a powerful state and Mycenae and Troy were located across the Aegean Sea from one another, about 250 miles apart. Ancient Troy was known as a "pirate fortress" (See Above) and it was strategically located on a bay at the entrance of the Dardanelles straight (the Hellespont), a key link to the Black Sea and central Asia. The prevailing winds were from the northeast and ships often had difficultly sailing into the wind, which meant that eastward-traveling ships most likely had to beach before entered the strait, and were candidates for Trojan taxes.

Historian sbelieve that the Trojan War was more likely fought over trade and tax revenues than a beautiful woman. Herodotus wrote that the defeat of Troy prompted the Persian invasion of Greece 760 years later. Alexander the Great stopped in Troy and traded for Agamemnon's shield before he attacked Persia.

Hittite texts describe a small kingdom called Wilussa in northwest Turkey (the pronunciation of Wilussa is not all that different from Ilious). The Hittites courted good relations with Wilussa — thought to be Troy — because it was a regional power and it controlled important shipping lanes. One Hittite king wrote: “Even if the land of Wilussa has seceded from the land of the Hattusa (the Hittite kingdom). Close ties of friendship were maintained....with the kings of the land.” The same text record the Hittites clashing with a state called Ahhiyawa — though to be Mycenae.

Discovery of Troy by Schliemann, See Archaeology

Recent Discoveries at Historical Troy

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ruins of Troy
Recent excavations have revealed a Troy at the time of the Trojan War is much larger than previously thought, with buildings extending far outside the citadel walls. The leading archaeologists at the site, Manfred Korfmann of the University of Tubingen, says that Troy is now believed to be 15 times large than previously thought. The whole site covers 75 acres. Korfmann estimated that Troy was home to perhaps 10,000 people at the time of the events in the “Ilaid”, which doesn’t sound like much but was a significant size at that time and large enough to field a formidable army. Artifacts and pottery reveals that city was quite wealthy. [Source: Manfred Korfmann, Archaeology magazine; May/ June 2004; Caroline Alexander, National Geographic, December 1999]

In the 1990s, archaeologists under Manfred Korfman discovered wooden palisades and an extensive-ten-foot-wide trench around the lower town. The trench may have been used as a trap to stop incoming chariots. Excavations of Troy VI and VII are dated at 1250 to 1150 B.C., when the Trojan War my have taken place revealed filled piles of sling pellets, skeleton, scorch marks and other "evidence of a lost war.” Piles of sling stones suggest the city was overrun by its enemy (if the city was victorious the stones would have been stored and reused). Archaeologists have also found images of Trojan-War-era Mycenaean ships that match descriptions of them in the “ Iliad” .

There is also evidence that an earthquake not war destroyed Troy VI in 1250 B.C. Many archaeologists and historians say the evidence still does not support the Homer story. Troy 6 was large enough to historical Troy but it appears to have been destroyed by an earthquake not a siege. Troy 7A was the layer in which most of the evidence of warfare was found but that city was not nearly as large as Troy 6. Historians say that it is likely a number of battles were fought in the area over a long period of time and that the “Iliad” perhaps records battles that took place over a century and are condensed into ten years.

Other Archaeological Discoveries Related to the Iliad

ruins at Troy
In March 2006, Greek archaeologist Yannas Lolos said that he had discovered a large palace on the island of Salamus, west of Athens, that he said could very well he the palace of the Ajax, the king and warrior who appears in the “Iliad” and Sophocles tragedy “Ajax”. The palace covers 750 square meters and was believed to be four stories high. The claim is based on the fact the ruins have been linked to the Aicid dynasty, an ally of Mycenae, and Ajax (also known as Aias). Some classicists have heralded the find as proof that the “Iliad” was based in fact. Other scholars are more skeptical.

Pylos is an ancient Mycenaean site, discovered in 1939, that is said to have been where King Nestor of the “Iliad” was from. It is also where the Linear B tablets were found. When these tablets were translated they revealed that the Greek language evolved out of the Mycenaean language. The small Archeological museum there houses Mycenaean pottery, lovely Hellenistic glass vases; and two small bronze figures of youths.

The Palace of Nestor was originally a sprawling two-story compound that covered a 164-by-104-foot area. Situated on a strategic ridge with views of Navarino Bay and the heart of the kingdom to the north, it was destroyed by a fire in 1200 B.C., heralding the collapse of the Mycenaean culture. The fire also baked and preserved some clay tablets with writing that led to the decipherment of Linear B.

Archeologist at the site have also found jars of herb-scented olive oil, kraters with honeyed wine and 2,853 wine cups in a single room, which has led scholars to believe that the Mycenaeans were pretty hard core partiers or they smashed these cups after each toast. In another room archeologist found the bones of 10 cattle, which have provided enough meat for 6,000 people, far more than lived around the citadel. The presence of outdoor banqueting courtyards and storerooms and pantries filled with a variety of foodstuffs and gear such as ladles, mixing bowls, wine storage jars appears to indicate that place was a huge banqueting hall that could accommodate thousands of people form all over the kingdom at one time. Status could have beeen determined by where people sat — based in the kinds of foodstuffs found in each place — with low status people sitting n courtyards and the elite sitting with the king in a special room called the megaron.

Literature and Troy

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painting of
Helen Brought to Paris
The Trojan wars and the Iliad inspired and was the source for a number of works of literature that followed, including Euripides “Trojan Women” , which focus on the suffering of the captives after Troy’s fall; Virgil’s The “Aeneid” , which among other things linked the Trojans with the founding of Rome; Chaucer’s “Troilus and Crisdeyde” , which follows a Trojan prince as he falls in love in life and question early attachments in heaven after being killed by Achilles; and Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida” , in which the love of the prince for his beloved is so strong he regards his early attachments as stronger as better than those in heaven.

The 17th century English dramatist Christopher Marlowe was the one who wrote that Helen had a "face that launched a thousand ships." “Les Troyens” by Berloiz is famous piece of classical music inspired by the Trojan wars.

Drawn from Homer's “ Iliad” , the “ Aeneid” attributes the origin of the Roman people to Aeneas, a hero of the Trojan War. Although it is set in the distant past it has many features of A.D. first century Rome. Homeric themes are presented in a Roman way and battles are fought like Roman battles. Some key facts are different. Virgil records the events of the “ Odyssey” as occurring before those in the “ Iliad” (the contrary is true in Homer’s books). Many of the details from events in the “ Iliad” , particularly the Trojan horse story, come to us from the “ Aeneid” not the “ Iliad”

In the “ Aeneid” the Trojans have been kicked out of the their homeland because of the war and the end up in Italy, which is caste as a kind of Promised land. There, Aeneas marries an Italian princess and their descendants founded Rome. The Roman emperors embraced the story and used the links to the Trojans to legitimize their rule.

Virgil selected Aeneas, a grandson of Aphrodite and a member of the Trojan royal family, because he seemed to be the only Trojan in the “Iliad” who had a future. He kept Aeneas true to his character in the “ Iliad” and made him one of the founders of the Roman race by incorporating an existing Roman tale about him.

See The Aeneid, Romans

Hollywood and Troy

20120222-Iliad Slays_Hector.jpg
painting of the Slaying of Hector
Holly woods takes on Troy include “The Trojan Women” with Katherine Hepburn and Vanessa Redgrave; “The Trojan Horse” with the muscle-bound Steve Reeve as Aeneas. There is a also a “Battle for Troy” video game.

The film “ Troy” , directed by Wolfgang Peterson and starring Brad Pitt as Achilles, Erica Bana as Hector, Orlando Bloom as Paris, newcomer Diane Kruger as Helen and Peter O’Toole as Priam, was released in May 2004. It cost at least $175 million to make (some say almost $250 million) and was generally panned by the critics.

“ Troy” was shot in Malta and Mexico. The original plan called for it be shot in Morocco but the location was changed because of worries of anti-American feeling stirred up by the war in Iraq. The Troy in the film has no basis in history (the real Troy was not considered impressive enough). A 40-foot-high, 500-foot-long wall was made from 200 tons of plaster.

The production was halte by hurricanes and war and the death of stuntman after an accident. Pitt injured his Achilles tendon and was caught by Paparazzi clad in his costume talking on a cell phone. More than 1,500 military-trained extras, including 250 weightlifters from a Bulgarian sports academy, were used in some of the fight scenes.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks ; Canadian Museum of History ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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