For centuries it has been argued whether the city of Troy does indeed actually exist. The Trojan War itself has been said to be factual, due to archaeological excavations and artefacts that have been discovered.
In the workings of ‘The Iliad’ by Homer, events that occurred at Troy would seem absolutely ridiculous. “Minerva came down from heaven (for Juno had sent her in the love she bore to them both), and seized the son of Peleus by his yellow hair, visible to him alone.” (The Iliad, Homer, Book 1) Obviously, this would be impossible as, scientifically speaking: Gods do not exist. But did they exist in some way. Not as gods, but actual living people who were written as metaphorical gods who came to help in a time of crisis. Was the ‘Trojan Horse’ used to bring down Troy’s walls, as it is said in Homer’s work, or did the Greeks use another method to defeat the Trojans?
In this essay I shall be evaluating and analysing the evidence to discover whether the city of Troy is a work of fiction or an historical fact and whether the ‘Trojan Horse’ was used to gain victory during the ten year battle at the city. I shall use for and against arguments to support my ideas and explain the theories which suggest that Troy was definitely a factual city.
The legend of Troy is well known around the world. Books, movies and science have all explored the possibility that the city itself could be more than legend. It is said that the city was attacked over a ten year period and conquered by Greek King Agamemnon. In ‘The Iliad’ it is mentioned that the war is over King Agamemnon’s brother’s wife, Helen, who had drifted over seas by boat with Prince Paris of Troy. Enraged by the act the Greeks followed wanting vengeance and more power. It is said that Troy’s walls were so strong they could not be brought down, so the Greeks concocted a plan to get inside the city walls. They made a Greek horse, knowing how much of a lover of the gods the city’s King, Priam, was. As expected the King took in the gift. The Greeks emerged from their hiding place and slaughtered them all, even women and children. Any surviving women were taken as slaves and babies, and small children, were thrown from the city walls.
Achilles, a fierce warrior, was an important part of Homer’s story. The warrior had wanted his name to be remembered for all eternity and with promises of the battle with Troy being remembered for all of time he was more than willing to join the Greeks in battle. Throughout the story Homer mentions certain gods who came down from Olympus to help; Apollo, Minerva. These gods assisted Achilles with his task and eventually, at the end of the story once the Greeks had destroyed the Trojan’s defences and taken the city as their own Achilles is killed. Achilles was said to be the son of the Nereid Thetis and Peleus, King of the Myrmidons. Zeus and Poseidon had fought over this beauty until one day, Prometheus, a seer, foretold that Thetis would have a son who was greater than his father. Both gods decided to end the feud and allowed Thetis to marry Peleus. Once born Thetis wanted to make Achilles immortal by cleansing him in the River Styx. But, with one weakness, where she had held her baby as she dipped him into the river: his ankle. Achilles, during battle, took an arrow to the ankle which Homer described as fatal. ‘Achilles Heel’ is now a well-known phrase used to describe a weakness of someone, or something.
The location of Troy has been disputed for years. In 1868 Heinrich Schliemann, who had an obsession with the ‘Trojan War’ since he was child after his father told him the stories while he sat happily on his knee, began taking archaeology classes and soon began searching for the city of Troy. He became good friends with Frank Calvert who was a British Archaeologist. They began sharing ideas and soon came up with three locations for the city. In 1870 he began excavating in Hisarlik, Turkey. Scientists in the twenty first century finally discovered the city of Troy, using the directions in Homer’s work. He writes that Troy sat on the Aegean Sea so that the gods could watch the battle from the Mountains of Ida. He also spoke of supplies being brought over by the Greeks from the Dardanelles.
Using a map the scientists connected the dots to a point in the corner of Turkey and success, they had found what they had been looking for. They discovered a wall at first but then as they excavated they found a city beneath. A trench surrounded the city as if to protect it from harm, or to at least slow down an army. “This would definitely slow you down, two metres deep and three to four metres wide. Arrows flying down, as well as the bronze armour, it’d be hard work.” (M, Schwartz, 2015)
Another trench surrounded the citadel keeping what would have been the palace from harm. Their digs uncovered armour, weapons and pottery which looked as though it was in the right period for the city to be Troy.
Now that they had found the city of Troy they wanted to know what else about Homer’s work was factual. Did they use the ‘Trojan Horse’ to defeat the Trojans or was that just a part of his story. Scientists thought of ways the Greeks would have been able to get through Troy’s gates, thinking about resources they would have had and tools they would have used. Their theory was that there was no horse, but something which represented the horse in Homer’s story. They discussed natural disasters, particularly earthquakes which around 1300BC were common at Troy. Marks in the stone walls and floors of the city gave them cause to seek whether the city had been brought down by something of this nature. Homer mentions in his work that the earth shook and came to the conclusion that it was the wrath of the gods. Perhaps what was really happening was an earthquake.
Professor Nurcan Mezral Ozel, Department of Geophysics explained that Troy sat on a hot zone for earthquakes. But, once they had looked further they decided it wouldn’t be viable. As there was evidence of Troy being rebuilt and food being stored underground as though they were preparing for an attack. A secret spring resided under the city holding a thousand millilitres of water, which would allow the citizens of Troy to survive through any attack which may have occurred. With the Trojan War lasting ten years, and the city having an underground spring, the amount of time it took for the Greeks to gain access to the city would validate the timeline.
If an earthquake had crumbled the city the people had quickly built their walls back up again and they were stronger than before. The Trojans built taller and stronger walls, adding towers so they would be able to see their enemies coming from all directions. In the city the excavators had found charcoal and arrowheads a metre underground, suggesting that the city had been burned down and not rebuilt again. At the end of Homers poem he explains that the city went down in fire. Agamemnon had the city burned down until there was nothing left, taking the women as slaves, slaughtering the men and throwing small children from the walls. Which explains the amount of coal, weapons and arrowheads that were found at the site.
Outside of the city walls excavators found a fifteen year old girl’s skeleton. Barry Strauss, the author of The Trojan War: A New Evidence, tell us that this would not have happened under normal circumstances. He explains that they “must have been under great stress to have buried her outside of the city walls.” Normally, they would have put two coins over the girl’s eyes for the ferry man, Charon, and cremated the body to release her spirit. If they hadn’t had time to complete the ritual then something grave must have unfolded for them to leave so quickly leaving their dead in the sand.
There are two theories which would make more sense than Homer’s mythological horse. Theory one includes a battering ram. A large, and long, piece of wood thicker than a tree trunk with a carved out head of a ram. The Greeks would have crowded around it and pushed their full body weight forward slamming the gates of Troy. The gates of the city would have been wooden, therefore, the easiest target. They would have been able to break through after a few hours.
But, Mark Schwartz suggests that the idea is unreliable as the ram would need to be held by a certain amount of men who would have to stand there while being showered by arrows while using the ram to destroy the gate, which would take too long. So, they put this theory to one side and began to focus on another theory. A theory which would take all obstacles into consideration, such as; amount of men available, resources available to make the object and the archers upon the walls of the city. They began looking into the likeliness of the ‘Trojan Horse’ being used as a metaphor, used by Homer, to represent a Siege Tower. “We believe that the ‘Trojan Horse’ was a metaphor for some kind of siege tower.” (Dr Eric H Cline, Professor of Classics, 2015)
Five stories tall and holding over one hundred men, with a draw bridge so the Greeks would be able to gain access to the top of the walls. This seems to be the most likely theory between the two, but, Mark Schwartz is not convinced. He believes that this theory is flawed. The siege tower would not be able to reach the walls of Troy as the angle would not allow the draw bridge to meet, stopping any rivals gaining access. Also, they would have to push the tower towards the wall, which would be a long and slow process. In this time the men could be wiped out by archers on the walls above. Their heavy armour and weapons would not have been a great help as the weight would have slowed them down, allowing the Trojans to extinguish them as they desperately try to gain access to the city.
The third, and final theory, is that the ‘Trojan Horse’ did actually exist. Mark Schwartz agrees that it would be the only explanation why Troy had fallen, “Over the nine years that the Greeks had tried to destroy Troy. The only way they had been able to gain access to the city was by using deception.” (M, Schwartz, 2015) The Greeks were Sea Farer’s, and using this skill they created a large magnificent horse to use as a deceptive plot to get through the gates of the city. Troy was known for their wealth and the breeding of their horses. Every horse was bred for excellence and this is why the Greeks had used a horse as a deceptive tool. The Greeks knew they would see it was an offering to them, or the gods, and take it in with open arms. Unknowingly allowing access to the army on the other side. “What a thing was this, too, which that mighty man wrought and endured in the carven horse, wherein all we chiefs of the Argives were sitting, bearing to the Trojans death and fate!” (Translation by A.T. Murray through Perseus Digital Library.)
Mark Schwartz suggests that they would have concealed nine men inside the wooden horse, making the horse large enough but small enough to be unthreatening. Using technology historians made a digital recreation of the wooden horse and soon came to the conclusion that the Greeks using this technique was not as ridiculous as they had first thought. “This cannot be true, it’s too simple minded, and yet sometimes simple minded things can be true.” (B, Strauss, 2015) Archaeologist’s soon turned their minds to this unbelievable theory and decided that this would most likely be the best conclusion.
The Greeks would have probably used resources which were freely available to them, such as wood tools which they might have used to seal any holes within their ships during travel or make any improvements with. The ‘Trojan Horse’ was probably made out of their own ships, carved beautifully to attract the unsuspecting Trojans into taking the wooden horse into their home. The men of these ships would have been shared out among the other ships which hadn’t been used. Some of them would have probably died in battle later on which would have stopped weight problems later as they sailed home.
The excavation site of Troy is one of the most important discoveries of our time. Allowing historians to understand how European civilisation has evolved during the course of Troy’s era. Homer’s work has had an enormous impact on literature and the finding of the city of Troy has been considered an excellent breakthrough for modern archaeology.
How Homer describes the city is seen at the excavation site. Historians discovered that the first defensive wall around Troy was built in 3000 BC. After the earthquake Troy was built in a particular order which benefited every day trade. The city was extended, allowing for more trading opportunities. Historians at the UNESCO World Heritage Centre believe that the part of Homer’s work which suggests that Helen was the cause of the Trojan War was incorrect. That the evidence was unreliable and that it was more likely that the Mycenaean’s wanted control of Troy’s trade and wanted the Darnadelles for themselves. The Trojan’s had begun to trade their goods in Greece and Mycenae which strongly showed their enemies that they were an individual nation and a very wealthy one. “The collection of weapons, gold, silver, electrum, copper and bronze vessels, gold jewellery, including thousands of gold rings, and a range of other objects made of precious materials apparently came to light close to the outer wall of the city wall near the building which Schliemann designated as the royal palace,” writes University of Queensland researcher Trevor Bryce in his book “The Trojans and their Neighbours”. During 1873, Wilhelm Dorpfeld, an assisted to Heinrich Schliemann discovered a gold hoard, which was later named ‘King Priam’s Treasure’ near the citadel. Further on, during excavations over the last century historians uncovered twenty-three sections of the defensive walls around the citadel, eleven gates, a paved stone ramp and the lower portions of five defensive bastions. Homer’s Troy did indeed exist. The archaeological findings are too specific in relation to the poem to not be the same city.
The Director of Excavations at the University of Tubingen has been excavating Troy for over sixteen years. His findings of thousands of arrows, weapons and objects which shouldn’t have been where he had discovered them on the sight suggests that the city was drawn into battle on a regular basis and he concludes that Homer’s work should be taken seriously because the events which he had written about did in fact take place, as the evidence (artefacts) that he had found suggests. The weapons, armour and skeletons that were found all point to conflicts between other nations. There were that many artefacts found that there appeared to be more than just the one war. Troy seemed to have battles with other kingdoms on a regular basis.
However, he explained that he wasn’t sure whether the Trojan War did take place at his excavation site, but that he was open minded to the idea. “If someone came up to me at the excavation one day and expressed his or her belief that the Trojan War did indeed happen here, my response as an archaeologist working at Troy would be: why not?”
Some early historians did not think the same way. In the beginning of the modern era, scholars did not believe that the workings of Homer could be anything else but fiction, with the poems strong heroes, powerful gods and gruesome battle scenes. Blaise Pascal wrote in his work “Homer did not think of making a history, but sorely a book to amuse; he is the only writer of his time; the beauty of the work has made it last.”
The British Museum says that they can’t be sure whether the city of Troy that has been found can actually be the city itself because it has no signs or labels of any kind, which would able historians to identify it. But why would a city, in this era, have signs directing enemies to its gates. It would be like guiding a vicious beast to its meal. They say that Hisarlick, in Turkey, is the name of the excavation site, but without a sign or any other evidence to find the name of the site archaeologists cannot determine the original name of the excavation site. Without this they say they will never know whether the site is the city of Troy or not. They have also concluded that Homer was “a blind poet who lived at least five centuries after the Trojan War was said to have happened.” (R, Buzby, 2006.) Which means that Homer couldn’t have possibly known what had happened specifically during the Trojan War, which creates a conflicting opinion on the topic as a whole. If he wasn’t there to witness the event itself was Homer’s work filled with fictional ideas, was it a story to simply arouse speculation and to entertain.
The details in Homers work contradict this theory. Bringing the existence of the Trojan War back into fruition. The specific details of the poem suggests that Schwartz’s theory is more accurate, but the naming of Troy leaves question marks as well as the fact that Homer lived years after the event took place. When you look over all the evidence is the name important when you see and the read the evidence. The amount of damage to the city and the artefacts found suggests that the site was indeed Troy. The treasure discovered, in the eighteen-hundreds, when the site was first found gave the archaeologists an enormous clue to which site they had uncovered. There is more evidence to confirm the excavation sites name than to oppose it.
Both the fore and against arguments have valid points which are useful in determining the truth about the legend of Troy. What we see is the ruined city, with its underground spring, the armour and other artefacts found by archaeologists. We can read Homer’s account of the events at Troy and his knowledge of the Trojan War. But, what we cannot see is the event itself. Without being there to witness the Trojan War and being able to step back in time when the city of Troy was once a vibrant and flourishing city we are unable to conclude whether the Trojan War did happen. Homer lived years after the war happened, but, that doesn’t mean that someone else couldn’t have told him what had happened at Troy. Homer could have had the story told to him by a family member, or a friend, who did witness the war and survived. This person could have been a Trojan who had escaped and befriended him and decided to tell his, or her, story. Homer, inspired by the tale, decided to write it down and tell it in his own way.
Archaeologists believe that the city is real, you can see the ruins and the objects that have been found. You can see the amount of earthquakes that occur at the site of Troy as they are as common as the common cold. But, we cannot see the gods which Homer speaks of or the people involved in the war itself. We cannot meet these people at the local café for an interview. The only way we would be able to determine whether the characters in the legend, and Homer’s work, were real people would be if archaeologists stumbled upon the remains of the famous hero Achilles or other characters from the poem. These are the weaknesses of The Iliad. We were not there to witness the war ourselves, this would have made true evidence which would allow archaeologists to decide whether the war was a factual event. It would have given historians an open window into their world and how the people of Troy thrived, traded, dressed, fought and communicated on a daily basis.
Archaeologists know that there was indeed a war at Troy, and they occurred quite frequently, but whether one of them was the Trojan War we cannot verify just yet. But, University professors, and archaeologists, have confirmed that the site at Hisarlik is the location of Troy. After reading all the evidence and seeing photographs of the site itself they believe that this is to be true. The specifics in Homer’s work and the findings at the excavation site intertwine to create strong evidentiary support. The Iliad is filled with men, heroes, romance, blood, wealth, deceit and battles. Creating a masterpiece which has influenced, not just writers and historians, but filmmakers, architects and enthusiasts all over the world. Troy has been found and the artefacts suggests that there were definitely at least one war, but, whether it was the Trojan War is still up for debate.