Since 2006 I have been working on and off to update Chapters 1 through 4 of my Middle Eastern history series, to include new discoveries and theories that have come along since I first composed those papers, in 1991. Here is a section I just completed for Chapter 3, on the archaeological history of Troy.
TROY, THE CITY WITH NINE LIVES
We noted previously that the Hittites reported several cities and states to the west of their empire. The ones we have already met were Assuwa (Phrygia), Arzawa-Luwia (Lydia and possibly Caria) and Ahhiyawa (Mycenaean Greece). A fourth one, located in northwestern Anatolia, was called Wilusa by the Hittites. In the 1920s, a Swiss scholar, Emil Forrer, proposed that the Hittite Wilusa came from the same Indo-European root word as Ilion, another name for Troy, and that another name in the Hittite texts, Taruisa, stood for Troy itself.
According to Hittite records, Muwatallis II once had to come to the rescue with the Hittite army, when a client king, one Manapa-Tarhunta, failed to defend Wilusa from an enemy named Piyama-Radu. We also have a treaty signed between Muwatallis and the king of Wilusa, Alaksandu, which is interesting because one of the three gods mentioned as a witness in the treaty was Apaliunas, an Anatolian forerunner to the Greek God Apollo. A letter from Hattusilis III to the “king of Ahhiyawa” (the “Tawagalawas Letter”), requested the extradition of Piyama-Radu to the Hittites, and mentioned a former conflict between the Hittites and Ahhiyawans over Wilusa, which was resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Then in the “Milawata Letter,” Tudkhaliyas IV informed an unidentified king that he has conquered Milawata (classical-era Miletus), and he wants a former king of Wilusa named Walmu sent to him so he can be restored on his former throne. Finally, another letter from Tudkhaliyas IV mentions a king named Pariyamuwa in Wilusa, and he lasted through the short reigns of Arnuwandas III and Suppiluliumas II. If you accept the Wilusa-Ilion connection, then Walmu was probably Laomedon, and Pariyamuwa was Laomedon’s son Priam, the aged king of Troy at the time of the Trojan War.
In Chapter 2 of this work, we noted that the iron age began in the Middle East in the tenth century B.C. Previously, there were smiths who knew how to work with iron, but it was of poor quality, and not used as much as copper and bronze. Thus, we count the iron age as beginning when iron tools and weapons became common enough to replace bronze ones.
You may be surprised to learn that the first years of the iron age were also a time of poverty. Archaeologists looking at sites dating to the bronze age-iron age transition have noted that pottery and other artifacts from the late bronze age were more numerous and of better quality than similar artifacts from the early iron age, leading us to believe that people were richer and life was easier before the bronze age ended. Now we know why; a major climate change took place around the same time, making the weather cooler (and often drier) in the early part of the first millennium B.C. Remember that most people at this time were farmers, and before the invention of money, you were considered rich if you had enough grain, produce or livestock to barter for whatever else you wanted. Now with shorter growing seasons, some crops could no longer be grown, and the chance of crop failure from an out-of-season killing frost increased, so harvests generally were smaller. Consequently times became more difficult for everyone, though the civilizations which did a lot of fishing and trading (e.g., the Greeks, Phoenicians, Aramaeans and Arabs) did not suffer as much as those which were totally dependent on agriculture.
This brings us to the Trojan War, an event that is sometimes regarded as the birth of Western Civilization, because the first great work of Western literature, the Iliad, was composed around it. The Trojan War was already covered in Chapter 1 of the European history series on this site, but the city of Troy itself was located in modern-day Turkey, so it is really part of the Middle East. Therefore it is worth a digression to look at how Troy affected Middle Eastern history.
The epics poems of Homer motivated nineteenth-century scholars to excavate in Greece and western Turkey, just as the Bible was the incentive for the first archaeologists in the Fertile Crescent. In any book on the history of archaeology, Heinrich Schliemann (1822-90) gets the credit for finding Troy. A self-taught German who made a fortune buying and selling gold during the California gold rush, Schliemann was obsessed with finding proof that the Iliad was a true story. Modern skeptics have suggested that the Trojan War never happened, its heroes never lived, and that its “author” may have been several bards rather than one; even classical-era Greeks and Romans thought the Trojan War may have been exaggerated, and had doubts about Homer’s existence. Schliemann wanted more than anything else to prove them all wrong. In 1868 he went to a Turkish mound named Hissarlik, conducted the first of what would be seven excavations there, and convinced everybody that the artifacts he found came from Troy.
We noted in Chapter 1 that when most ancient cities of the Middle East were rebuilt, the older rubble was not cleared out completely, so the result is several cities stacked one on top of the other, in layer cake fashion. Thus, if a site is inhabited for more than a few centuries, the city ends up being on top of a hill. Then when the final city is abandoned, the whole site is covered with dirt, forming one of the tells and tepes that dot the landscape. In the case of Hissarlik, nine cities were found, with the city on the bottom three thousand years older than the one on the top. The layers are now numbered according to age, so the lowest layer is called Troy I, and the uppermost is Troy IX.
Alas, Schliemann was a treasure hunter, not a true archaeologist. Today’s archaeologists carefully document the exact location where each artifact is found, often photgraphing it in situ. Accordingly, Frank Calvert, the British colleague who directed Schliemann to Hissarlik, advised him to work slowly with small excavations, but instead Schliemann dug a huge trench through the mound, 131 feet long and 33 feet wide, removed hundreds of tons of dirt and stones, and simply dumped them down the slope, with no concern at what evidence he might have destroyed. At the second level from the bottom, he found a treasure trove of gold jewelry, decided this was Homer’s Troy, and eventually smuggled the gold to Germany, after getting his wife to pose for a picture wearing some of it. Unfortunately for Schliemann’s theories, this city was built and destroyed in the early bronze age, more than a millennium before the Iliad took place; Schliemann didn’t realize this because he only had an incomplete understanding of the mound’s chronology. Later on he brought in Wilhelm Dörpfeld, an architect who had helped excavate Olympia in Greece, to help him. Dörpfeld worked cautiously in the chaos that Schliemann had left, and in 1890 the two of them found Mycenaean-style pottery (the style of late bronze age Greece) in the sixth level. For Dörpfeld this was evidence that Troy VI, and not Troy II, was the city they were looking for; Schliemann went to his tent, stayed in there alone for four days, and then finally said, “I think you are right.” He made plans to come back for more digging, but died in the following winter. In the century since then, Dörpfeld and more recent archaeologists like Carl Blegen and Manfred Korfmann completed Hissarlik’s excavation.
Troy’s best asset can be described with one word: location. There are two narrow straits connecting the Black Sea with the Mediterranean, the Bosporus and the Dardanelles (called the Hellespont in ancient times). Whoever controls either of those straits controls shipping between the seas, and Troy’s location on the eastern shore of the Dardanelles put it on a valuable control point, especially after the Greeks discovered that the lands ringing the Black Sea were a better place for growing grain than Greece itself. Moreover, the ships of those times could not sail against the wind, so if the winds were blowing the wrong way, merchants might have to wait for months until the weather changed, and Troy had the best harbor in the neighborhood. The presence of a mariner’s cemetery at the site shows how important commercial shipping was to the local economy–and how long some sailors had to wait for a favorable wind. Consequently Troy was settled for a very long time, perhaps even by the first people to reach the Dardanelles.
The oldest city of the site, Troy I, had residents in it as early as 3000 B.C. The architecture was cruder than what we see later on–mud brick houses and a wall built from rubble lying around. In the 24th century B.C., Troy II was built on top of Troy I, and it shows signs of trade with Sumer and other parts of Anatolia. For example, the jewelry Schliemann found at Troy II looks a lot like what was buried in the royal tombs of Ur. Troy II was destroyed by fire, which reinforced Schliemann’s belief that this was Homer’s Troy, and so was the next city, which unlike the first two, had mostly stone houses (Troy III, 21st to 19th century B.C.). The fourth city’s main feature was a citadel that covered four acres and was surrounded by mud brick houses; this was destroyed in the 18th century B.C., causes unknown, after standing for less than a century.
Troy V had larger houses and more sophisticated pottery than its predecessors, because it existed during the first part of the Hittite era (18th-17th centuries B.C.), meaning that there were now several other city-states in Anatolia for it to trade with. Then, at some point between 1500 and 1200 B.C., Troy VI was founded. This city lasted through the rest of the middle and late bronze age, and as noted above, we now believe this is the most likely candidate for Homer’s Troy. According to Greek tradition, Troy’s founder was one Teucer, the chief of the Teucri tribe. Presumably these were Luwians, or some other group already established in western Anatolia. Teucer’s daughter, Batea, was married to Dardanus, so the Dardanian tribe, previously a vassal to he north, inherited Troy in the next generation; from them the Dardanelles got their present-day name.
Dardanus had two sons, Ilus I and Erichthonius. Ilus was older, but died childless, so the inheritance went to Erichthonius by default. Erichthonius had one son named Tros, who became the fourth king of Troy listed by the Greeks. Tros in turn had three sons: Ilus II, Assaracus and Ganymede. The Greek myths assert that Ganymede was the most attractive mortal in the world, so that when the god Zeus saw him, he fell in love with the youth instantly. Then either Zeus sent a great eagle, or turned himself into an eagle, depending on who you’re reading, to snatch Ganymede and bring him back to Mt. Olympus. At Olympus, Ganymede became both a cupbearer to the gods and a companion to Zeus. Naturally Tros was upset at losing his son, until another god, Hermes, told him that Ganymede was now immortal because he held a very honorable job; then Zeus gave Tros an excellent team of horses as payment. Eventually Tros bequeathed his kingdom to Ilus II, and Ilus liked Troy so much that he gave the rest of Dardania to his brother Assaracus, while keeping Troy for himself. From Ilus, Troy got its other name of Ilion/Wilusa. Ilus may have been the king named Alaksandu in the previously mentioned treaty with the Hittites.
The sixth recorded king of Troy was the son of Ilus, Laomedon. For details on him, again we have to turn to the Greek myths; these assert he was untrustworthy. The first occurrence came when two of the gods, Poseidon and Apollo, offended Zeus and he sent them to serve King Laomedon. Laomedon put them to work building a great wall around Troy, promising to reward them richly for their efforts, but then refused to pay after the project was finished. Poseidon retaliated by sending a sea monster to attack Troy.
Laomedon thought he could appease Poseidon and the sea monster by sacrificing his daughter, Hesione. He did not have to carry out this grisly deed, though, because Heracles (Hercules in Latin) arrived in the nick of time with the kings of two Greek city-states, Oicles and Telamon. In the battle that followed, Oicles was killed but the other two heroes killed the monster. Laomedon had promised them the divine horses of Zeus as a reward, only to break his word again after the heroes saved the day. Consequently Heracles and Telamon took the monster’s place, by leading an army that put Troy under siege. When they broke into the city, they killed Laomedon and all but one of his sons. This son, Podarces, saved his life by giving Heracles a golden veil that Hesione had made; because of this ransom, he became the next king of Troy, and his name was changed to Priam (from the Greek priamai, meaning ‘to buy’). As for Telamon, he married Hesione and they had a son named Teucer. The siege of Troy by Heracles may be a Greek account of the war between Hittites and Ahhiyawa; if so, the Greeks confused the outcome, because as we saw above, the Hittite annals reported that Walmu/Laomedon got his throne back.
Of course, the Trojan War was the main event of Priam’s reign. The Greeks considered this to be either the last great event of the mythical age before their own. or the first event of historical times. This makes sense, if it happened near the end of the Mycenaean age/bronze age, as we now believe. However, Greek writers gave no less than ten dates for the war, ranging from 1346 to 1127 B.C. All they were in agreement on was that it happened a long time before the classical era began (around 600 B.C.). Today’s historians will also add that the war must have happened after the Hittite Empire fell, because Homer’s list of participants in the Iliad does not include the Hittites, or anyone who resembles them, and a war which brought more than a thousand ships across the Aegean would have surely gotten the Hittites’ attention. Because conventional chronologies put the end of the Hittite Empire around 1200 B.C., the date Eratosthenes gave for the fall of Troy, 1184 B.C., has become the most popular.(8)
An early date for the Trojan War is also popular because conventional chronology puts a 600-year “dark age” in Greek history, between the Mycenaeans and classical Greece. While you will still see this in most history texts, the dark age theory is now on shaky ground. First of all, it has been more than a century since a dark age was proposed, but aside from Mycenaean ruins, only a few artifacts have been found in Greece that can be dated older than the classical era, mostly pottery decorated with geometric patterns and statues in a style that has been called “archaic.” This has caused some scholars to suggest that Greece suffered a major drop in its population, because fewer people would leave fewer artifacts, but to believe this, you have to accept the idea that for a time period as long as that between the Renaissance and the present, Greece was nearly deserted. However, they have to allow a dark age because the pre-classical (Minoan & Mycenaean) civilizations of Greece were contemporary with New Kingdom Egypt and the Hittite Empire, and the dates of those civilizations have been pushed back in time, for reasons covered in an essay on this site, Problems With Egyptian Chronology. Thus, we sometimes hear calls for a shortening of the dark age, but if those making the calls stick to the conventional chronology elsewhere, they cannot find a way to do it.(9)
However, the history papers on this site use the “New Chronology” proposed by scholars like John Bimson and David Rohl, so there is no need to prop up the Greek chronology with extra years when they have been removed from the chronologies of other civilizations. In the previous section, we gave a new date of 875 B.C. for the end of the Hittite Empire, and David Rohl suggests that this very collapse triggered the Greek attack on Troy, because Agamemnon, Menelaus and their allies would have risked massive retaliation from the Hittite chariots if they had tried it earlier. Thus, his dates for the ten-year siege of Troy are 874-864 B.C.
Indeed, it now looks like an attack on Troy was attempted, while the Hittite Empire was in one piece. According to the ancient authors Pindar and Strabo, in the second year after Helen of Troy’s abduction, the hero Achilles led his own fleet to Troy, but instead made landfall more than sixty miles to the south, on the coast near the Kaikos valley (the site for the future city of Pergamun). This region was part of the kingdom of Arzawa, and ruled by Telephanes, the father of Eurypylus (see footnote #8). In the battle that followed, Telephanes was wounded, but succeeded in driving the invaders back to their ships. So he wouldn’t return to Greece emptyhanded, Achilles sailed to the nearby island of Lesbos and sacked the community there, Thermi. Excavations of Thermi show evidence of destruction right at the end of the bronze age, suggesting that this story is true. Eight years later, Agamemnon launched his more famous invasion, so if we follow the date in the previous paragraph, the unsuccessful invasion of Achilles took place in 882 B.C., while Arnuwandas III was king of the Hittites.
After the destruction of Troy, the highest ranked survivor, Aeneas, tried rebuilding the city for himself and his followers, but it was not a successful venture, and a few years later they left to find a new home. Presumably this is where Roman authors like Vergil got the idea that Aeneas wandered west, visiting Carthage and eventually settling in Italy. The archaeological evidence here is in agreement with the literature; Troy VII was inhabited at least twice, and was a much poorer city than Troy VI. Some believe that Troy VII was the city of Homer, rather than Troy VI, because it fits better with the dates in conventional chronology, but if the Trojan War had an economic motivation, as we now believe (see the next section) the Greeks would have been far less willing to attack a city that was scarcely better than a shantytown.
To finish the description of Troy’s layer cake, Troy VII was destroyed by fire twice, rebuilt, and then abandoned some time before 700 B.C. At least one of those fires was man-made, caused by the Dorian invasion of Greece. The eighth Troy was not inhabited for long. Though the Greeks knew where it was, and put a temple on the site, which Alexander the Great later visited (see Chapter 6), for most of the classical era the main settlement on the Dardanelles was Abydos, about twenty-five miles north of Troy. Finally around 20 B.C., the Romans built Troy IX and called it Novo Illum (New Ilion); the New Testament called it Troas. It lost its importance in the early fourth century A.D., when Constantine converted the Bosporus town of Byzantium into the Roman Empire’s eastern capital, Constantinople. After that the city declined gradually, with the last inhabitants disappearing around 500 A.D.
Note 8: The allies Homer listed as fighting on the side of the Trojans came from Dardania, the Halizones, the Hyrtacidae, Karkissa, Kolonae, Larissa, Lycia, Lyrnessos, Maeonia, Mysia, Paphlagonia, Percote, Phrygia, Thrace, and Zeleia. Most of these places have been identified in western Turkey; the main exception is Thrace, which was in modern-day Bulgaria. Another epic poem, the Aethiopis (written by Arctinus of Miletus), talks about Achilles defeating a “king of Ethiopia” named Memnon, which would suggest that Egypt sent a unit of soldiers to defend Troy.
The only mention of the Hittites comes from the Odyssey, Book XI. There Homer tells us that a group of warriors called the Keteioi (Keteians) arrived in Troy at the last minute, after the death of Hector, because Priam had bribed the mother of their commander, Eurypylus. They were all killed in the destruction of Troy, when the Greeks pulled their trick with the wooden horse. Richard F. Burton, the explorer, linguist and expert fencer, proposed in The Book of the Sword (1884) that the Keteioi of Homer were the same people as the Biblical Hittites, and scholars since that time have agreed.
Note 9: Here is one example. “Recently it has been argued that dates currently assigned to the end of the Mycenaean period (c. 1200) should be lowered to the middle of the tenth century. This proposition (based on the re-evaluation of Egyptian and western Asiatic archaeology) has proved highly controversial and is not widely accepted, but it would go a long way towards explaining the continuities from Mycenaean palace centres to the city-states.” From Robert Morkot, The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Greece, London, Penguin Books, 1996, pg. 38.