Trojan War

legendary war in Greek mythology

The Trojan War was one of the most important wars in the history of Ancient Greece. It happened between the Trojans and the Greeks. It is mostly known through the Iliad, an epic poem written by the Ancient Greek poet Homer.

Hector and Achilles
Ajax carrying the dead Achilles, protected by Hermes (on the left) and Athena (on the right). Side 1 from an Attic black-figure neck-amphora, ~520-510 BC. The Louvre, Paris

In the middle 19th century scholars thought Troy and the war were mythical; that they never existed. However, Heinrich Schliemann discovered the site of ancient Troy, across the Aegean Sea on Asia Minor. The war may have taken place in the 12th century BC.[1]

Bronze Age and Troy change

Trojan Civilization Remains - Hisarlik Turkey

The Bronze Age was the first era known for humans to create tools and weapons made out of metal. Previously they had used stone tools.[2] Beginning in about 3,300 B.C throughout the Middle East and parts of Asia, humans made many technical advances. Bronze Age civilizations interconnected through trade, war, migration, and innovation. However, the age ended quickly in the Bronze Age collapse after 1200 B.C., when many civilizations fell at once.[3]

One of the most well known ancient civilizations to fall was the city of Troy. Branching off of the Mycenaean civilization and located in Histarlik, the northeast coast of Turkey, this ancient city dates back to over 2,700 years ago. Believed to be inhabited for almost 4,000 years beginning in 3,000 B.C., this civilization developed grand palaces by building on top of one city after another was destroyed.[3] This formed into a human-made mound called a “tell”. Gert Jan van Wingaarden, in his book “Troy: City, Homer and Turkey,” writes, “ There is no one single Troy, there are at least 10, lying in layers on top of each other.[3]” He says that the city of Troy contains many layers which is why archeological excavators have yet to reach the remains of the first settlement. Along with enhancing their city the Trojans developed their own writing system and occupied the Dardanelles, a narrow water channel connecting the Aegean Sea to the Black Sea.[2] The writing system and water channel advanced the city of Troy into a powerful civilization which allowed for many allies to be made but also an arising rivalry. 

According to Homer’s story, Iliad, the civilization was doomed to fall as long as the Trojan King’s son, Alexander, remained alive due to a curse placed upon him at birth by Zeus. The story of the Trojan war  concludes to why such an advanced and powerful civilization like Troy was able to be completely destroyed.

Map of Homeric Greece

Mythic origin of the war change

The origins of the war (in the Iliad) started at the wedding of King Peleus and the nereid (sea-nymph) Thetis. They had invited almost all the gods to their wedding. But they did not invite Eris, goddess of strife. She was angry and she threw a golden apple among the guests on which was written "To the Fairest". The goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite caught the apple at the same time and fought over who was the most beautiful. Because they could not end the fight by themselves, they went to Zeus, the king of the gods. Zeus chose Paris to decide, and give the apple to who he wanted. Each of the three goddesses offered Paris gifts so he would choose her. Hera offered Paris all of Asia. Athena offered wisdom.

Then Aphrodite offered him the love of the most beautiful woman. Paris gave the apple to Aphrodite. Of course, Aphrodite had not thought about the fact that the most beautiful woman, Helen, Queen of Sparta, already had a husband (King Menelaus of Sparta). But Aphrodite had her son, Eros, shoot Helen with a golden arrow so she fell in love with Paris. They left for Troy. Menelaus, Helen's husband, declared war on Troy to retrieve his queen, now called Helen of Troy. This began the Trojan war.

Homer's Greek Gods change

Greek gods play a large role in the myth of how the Trojan War was started. The reason gods were introduced to the Greek culture was to serve as an answer to the origin of man, as well as to offer authority figures that could be summoned when the Greek needed help. The Greek gods were believed to have a divine presence and were worshipped by many.[4] They were an important aspect of Greek culture that flowed over into literature, art, and other topics. Many of Homer’s works include the involvement of Greek gods and goddesses. The gods that are seen throughout Homer’s works are immortal and they hold a lot of power.[5] They have the power to know just about everything and are the highest in authority without any other power above them. The greatest of the gods is the family in which Zeus is the father. Throughout the majority of Homer’s writings, Zeus is so supreme that he is used to represent the collective power of gods and Zeus is so commonly mentioned. This is why in the origin of the Trojan War, the gods go to Zeus for resolutions of conflict. Unlike some works of writing and some cultures, the gods throughout Homer’s work have no relation to religion but are rather their own separate thing.

The Trojan horse change

The war went on for ten years swinging to one side and then the other. Some of the leading fighters were Achilles, Paris, and Hector. The Greeks won by building a big wooden horse, which we now call the Trojan Horse. Greek soldiers hid inside the horse, and others put the horse on the shore and left in their boats. The Trojans saw the horse and thought that the Greeks had given up and left. They thought the horse was a gift in their honour. They dragged the horse into Troy and celebrated their victory. When night fell, the Greeks hiding inside the horse opened the city gates and set fire to the houses. The Greeks who had left in their boats had just pretended to leave, to trick the Trojans. They returned and won the war. The trick was thought up by Odysseus, King of the small island of Ithaca.

Allusions of the Trojan War change

The Greek Poet Homer - writer of the Iliad and the Odyssey

There are many versions to the story of the Trojan War. Two of the most famous of these stories are Homer’s poetry about this war in his books, the Iliad and the Odyssey.[6] Full of exaggerations, distortions, contradictions, and pure fictions, these two books do not give a clear indication whether or not the Trojan war actually occurred.[7] Homer wrote these stories based on the oral tradition of storytelling. Oral tradition has a tendency to not contain precise memories and can morph into different claims based on different cultural influences and intentions. For example, the Iliad is shown to have many similar aspects to characters and wars originating from stories throughout the Hellenic world, like the duel between Lycian Sapedon and Rhodian.[2] These similarities in stories are not originally connected with Troy. This creates fundamental distortion which contains three principles. First, a heroic tradition may be constructed to seem as an event that holds more significance than it truly does.[7] In Herodotus’s version of the Trojan War, he says “his narrative is presented as belonging to the realm of ‘what is said’ rather than ‘what is known.” He tries to present a credible source of the story by eliminating the gods by making Helen be the daughter of a human, Tyndareus, rather than the daughter of a god. He also makes Alexander (Paris) not judge on the beauty of the three goddesses and become convinced by Aphrodite’s promise to marry Helen. Instead, he steals Helen. He does this because humans decide on their own what is and is not credible about ancient civilizations. He knew the popular opinion would be that people do not see supernatural as credible but instead as fiction.[8] Secondly, tradition may be picked up by regions and people who have no relation to the event.[7] For example, different civilizations would use the information as “propagandistic purposes” to make their civilization look heroic or enemy civilizations remain monstrous.[8] The process of passing down stories through word of mouth as the only source leads to inevitable change to the truth in the story through the different cultural influences of those telling the story. For example, if the Spartans were telling their perspective of the Trojan war compared to the Trojans, then the two stories will most likely be very different. Thirdly, the traditions may become distorted in time including the original main idea so that it is not recognizable from the rest of the evidence.[7] This means that there most likely was a Trojan war. However, the war was not the same as what Homer states. The story is known to be part of spatium histoicum which is the clear belonging of a deep past in which accurate knowledge is difficult to obtain.[8] For example, there is also no written evidence to validate the Trojan war and archeologists can not yet provide evidence of who attacked Troy.[7] This makes the storyline much easier to change and is why many researchers believe the Trojan war stories are about war with enemies created as a result of a copper shortage in Greece. At the time, the Trojans were the only ones that would have access to the copper supply in the Back Sea.[2] Overall, these variations in the story of the Trojan war are not reliable sources to aid figuring out whether the Trojan war happened or not; however, they help give an understanding of the cultural background and intentions of the people during this era.

What really happened? change

The Hittite empire, about 1300 BC is in light red. The city called Wilusa is probably Troy

There is no evidence proving the Trojan War did occur. If the Trojan War did occur, Hisarlik was most likely the site. Hisarlik consists of an ordinary low lying mound with some bits of broken pavement, building foundations, and walls. Visitors who visit Hisarlik can see a large wooden horse, built in more recent years, that serves as an aid in convincing individuals Hisarlik is the true site of Homer’s Troy.[9] The origin of how the Trojan War was started lies in Homer’s poem, the Iliad.

Hiller, the author of Two Trojan Wars? On the destructions of Troy VI and VII reminds us that our trust in a historical Trojan War is rooted in Homer. Homer is not a historian but, rather, a poet. Hiller also said that because Homer is a poet, part of his role in creating content is exaggerating for better effect, and therefore evidence in support of a Trojan War needs to be independent of Homer’s epic. It was extremely unlikely that a civilization would declare war and gather a fleet of hundreds of ships over a dispute of a woman, the original belief of the spark of conflict[10] However, Bronze Age kings occasionally were willing to go to war over the abduction of one of their subjects, and even more so when that subject was a family member. Excavations were done.[11] The first step in establishing the physical location of the war is to find a clearly identifiable location for the war. This has not been done, although, currently Hisarlik is seen as the most identifiable. Even so, Heinrich Schliemann favored other locations as the official site of Troy before settling on Hisarlik. Schliemann, perhaps the archaeologist most involved with the search of Troy, began excavations in Hisarlik in 1871. Because Troy is made of several settlements, another challenge was finding which of the layers were the most likely to match up with the war. Schliemann believed one of the earliest layers would have to be the site of Troy. Without much prior knowledge on excavation, Schliemann had his crew dig a trench through the site, which resulted in the destruction of several of the upper layers.

The dwellings and what could be found on that level of the mound did not add up with Homer’s description with Troy, which then required excavation into the later layers. However, because Schliemann had destroyed most of the newer layers, there was only a little bit of the sixth settlement that survived, which does not provide for a large representation of the settlement. However, it was the sixth settlement that provided the best evidence of Troy’s existence. Pottery found on the site of Hisarlik showed that Troy VI most likely ended around the first ​34 of the thirteenth century. This sets the date for the war around 1250 BC, if the war and Troy were to coincide. The date of 1250 is in very close proximity to the date given by Herodotus, a Greek historian and as well as given by other Classical Greek sources.[12] This level also represented a peak period of the layers, once again supporting the idea that it truly was the site of the Trojan War. However, even with these pieces of evidence, the similar accounts between Homer’s Troy and Hisarlik are still generally slight and do not show any significant evidence. Another indication that the Trojan War may have occurred is that the excavation of Troy VI provided evidence that signified violent destruction. However, yet again there is no way to be certain whether the destruction was caused by humans or the environment, or both.

Trojan War in Pop Culture change

Over the years, the story of the Trojan War has become an icon as an action-packed TV show like Troy: Fall of a City as well as a binge worthy fictional novel like Daughter of Troy by Dave Duncan. In order for creators to make these films and books portray as authentic, they add archeological information to aid the culture, history, clothing and supplies used to relate to the ancient civilization. Some examples include bronze blades and weapons which were artifacts introduced within the Bronze Age, a walled city to portray the structure of the ancient cities within Greece, and the incorporation of the references to the Greek gods and goddesses watching every action they make to show their cultural beliefs.[6] The incorporation of archeological information within pop culture is very relevant and an important aspect to making any type of film, image or novel a success.

Stories, books, movies change

These are stories, books, movies, etc., that are about the Trojan War, or tell parts of its story:

  • the Iliad by Homer, does not tell the story of the Trojan War from the beginning, but only a part of the last year of the siege of Troy. Other parts of the war were told in a cycle of epic poems, which has only survived in fragments. Episodes from the war provided material for Greek tragedy and other works of Greek literature, and for Roman poets like Virgil and Ovid.
  • in the Odyssey by Homer, the main character Odysseus tells of the ten-year journey home after the Trojan War.
  • the Aeneid, by Virgil, tells the story of Aeneas, who fled from Troy at the end of the war.
  • Troy, is a movie about the Trojan War. The story was greatly changed in parts. It starred Brad Pitt, Eric Bana,and Orlando Bloom.

Further reading change

  • "Syrian artist carved heroes and events of Trojan War on sarcophagus 1900 years ago". Hybah Sleman, Hazem Sabbagh. Syrian Arab News Agency. 4 July 2020.
  • "Why was the Trojan War important to Greek history?". Knowledge Bombs. R4DN. 13 September 2021.[permanent dead link]
  • "The Trojan War in Greek Historical Sources". 6 September 2011.

References change

  1. Strauss, Barry. 2006. The Trojan War: a new history. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-6441-X.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Raaflaub, Kurt A. (1998). "Homer, the Trojan War, and History". The Classical World. 91 (5): 386–403. doi:10.2307/4352106. JSTOR 4352106.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Michael., Wood (1998). In search of the Trojan War. Univ. of California Press. ISBN 0-520-21599-0. OCLC 611232208.
  4. Lancaster, Clay (1953). "Greek and Hindu Gods". College Art Journal. 12 (4): 335–342. doi:10.2307/773634. ISSN 1543-6322. JSTOR 773634. S2CID 193565817.
  5. Grube, G. M. A. (1951). "The Gods of Homer". Phoenix. 5 (3/4): 62–78. doi:10.2307/1086075. ISSN 0031-8299. JSTOR 1086075.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Easton, Donald F. (2003). Schliemann, (Johann Ludwig) Heinrich. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.t076605.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Finley, M. I.; Caskey, J. L.; Kirk, G. S.; Page, D. L. (November 1964). "The Trojan War". The Journal of Hellenic Studies. 84: 1–20. doi:10.2307/627688. ISSN 0075-4269. JSTOR 627688. S2CID 161439943.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Said, Suzanne (2012-08-30). Myth, Truth, and Narrative in Herodotus. Oxford University Press. pp. 87–106. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199693979.003.0003. ISBN 978-0-19-969397-9.
  9. Easton, D. F. (2001). "When treasures come to light: Heinrich Schliemann, Archaeologist and Photographer". Aperture (163): 20–25. ISSN 0003-6420. JSTOR 24472827.
  10. "Helen's Autopsy: a forensic approach to myth in Herodotus' histories" (PDF). Julie Felix Reed College June 2015.
  11. Bloedow, Edmund F. (1999). "Heinrich Schliemann and relative chronology: the earliest phase". L'Antiquité Classique. 68: 315–325. doi:10.3406/antiq.1999.1351. ISSN 0770-2817. JSTOR 41634356.
  12. Bryce, Trevor R. (2002). "The Trojan War: is there truth behind the legend?". Near Eastern Archaeology. 65 (3): 182–195. doi:10.2307/3210883. ISSN 1094-2076. JSTOR 3210883. S2CID 161112517.