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Troy / Wilusa / Ilium


Steep Troy. Photo Jona Lendering.
Steep Troy
Ilion or Troy: town in northwestern Asia Minor, famous for the legendary Trojan War, in which a coalition of Mycenaean warriors captured the city of king Priam. Homer's Iliad deals with an episode from this war.
 
Surroundings Troy I-V Troy VI-VII Troy VIII-IX Trojan War
 

Excavation

Αἰπύ, as Homer calls the ancient city of Troy near the Hellespont, is almost certainly identical to the Wilusa that is called "steep" in the Hittite sources. The ancient town raises so steeply from the plain, because it is built on a rocky outcrop, while the plain is a younger alluvium. The main reason, however, is that Troy consists of nine levels of occupation on top of each other. Every time a town was destroyed, a new one was built on top of it. This makes the site extremely high, and complex. It is a classical tell
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One of the small towers that Schliemann left unexcavated. Photo Marco Prins.
One of Schliemann's pinnacles

It was one of the first tells that archaeologists were to investigate and Troy's famous main excavator, Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890), decided to leave several small "pinnacles" unexcavated, so that future generations would be able to control his interpretations. After all, archaeology still was a science in its infancy and Schliemann realized that, as all humans would inevitably do, he would make mistakes.

A two-handed cup from Troy I-V. Neues Museum, Berlin (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering.
A two-handed cup from Troy I-V (Neues Museum, Berlin)

And to be honest, he made many mistakes, even according to standards that were beginning to emerge in his own age. Accepting the classical tradition, he believed that he had to look for a city with strong walls that had been destroyed by fire. He was unprepared for more than one city, and ruthlessly removed everything that showed no traces of fire, until he found what he was looking for: the layer now known as Troy II, which he believed to be Homeric Troy. When he interpreted his finds, he often looked in the Iliad and Odyssey first, even when there was no real need to. For example, he considered the find of a two-handed cup as proof of the veracity of Homer's poems, because the poet once referred to a δέπας ἀμφκύπελλον, "two-handed cup" (Odyssey, 3.43).

Later, he concluded that he had been wrong, and decided to check whether Troy VI, where he had found the grey ceramics that he had also found in Mycene, could not be the city he had been looking for. He died before he could execute this plan.

Schliemann's first trench. Photo Jona Lendering.
Schliemann's first trench

It was left to his former assistant Wilhelm Dörpfeld (1853-1940) to check the site again, and he established that Troy VI had indeed been the city that existed in the Late Bronze Age, contemporaneously with Mycene. Unfortunately, it was later established that this city had been destroyed by an earthquake. Troy VIIa was looted and sacked, but this happened in an age in which Late Helladic IIIc ceramics were common, a type of pottery not found in the great Mycenaean palaces. In other words: Troy VI was a splendid city and existed at the right moment, but was destroyed by an earthquake; Troy VIIa was destroyed after a war, but in an age in which the Mycenaeans were no longer capable of organizing an expedition.

This simply means that Homer did not describe a historical event, and that is not surprising. Epics are not about historical facts, but about heroes. In the Nibelungenlied, stories about the downfall of the Burgundian dynasty have been combined with stories about a Frankish dragon slayer and a court intrigue among the Gepids; the author of the Chanson de Roland has managed to introduce the wrong enemy. Greek epics are no exception.

The southwest gate of Troy II. Photo Marco Prins.
The southwest gate of Troy II
Troy; section. Design Jona Lendering.
The wall of Troy I. Photo Marco Prins.
The wall of Troy I
Troy IX Roman Troy 20 BCE - c.500 CE
  (Unoccupied)  
Troy VIII Hellenistic Troy c.330-85 BCE
  Sanctuary c.700-c.330
  (Unoccupied)  
Troy VIIb3   c.1025-c.950 
Troy VIIb2 Balkan Troy c.1125-c.1025
Troy VIIb1   c.1200-c.1100
Troy VIIa   c.1300-c.1200
Troy VIh Late Bronze Troy c.1400-c.1300
Troy VI a-g   c.1700-c.1300
Troy V Anatolian Troy c.1900-c.1700
Troy IV (Middle Bronze Troy) c.2200-c.1900
Troy III   c.2250-c.2200
Troy II Maritime Troy c.2350-c.2250
Troy I   c.2950-c.2350

Maritime Troy

There is some confusion about the nomenclature of the earliest phases of Trojan history. Dörpfeld believed there were only three levels of occupation, and indeed, the dozens of strata that have been identified, can be divided neatly into these nine categories. How complex things really are, becomes clear when we look at Troy I and II. The American archaeologist Carl Blegen (1887-1971) established that there were 25 levels preceding Troy I and that Troy I and II together contained 18 levels. However, Manfred Korfmann, who is currently investigating the site, counts 22 levels within Troy I and II and has established that several strata that used to be categorized as Troy II are in fact closer to Troy I. (The potter's wheel was introduced in Troy II.)

Walls of Troy III, IV and V. Photo Marco Prins.
Walls of Troy III, IV and V

Because the chronology of the site has become so fragmented, a new way of organizing Troy's history has been introduced: instead of looking at the city itself, archaeologists look at the cultural context in which it existed.
  • The three first cities were part of an Early Bronze Age civilization of the northeastern Aegean Sea. They share the development of the isle of Lemnos, and the ceramics are identical to Lesbos, Smyrna, and Samos. 
  • Troy IV and V, on the other hand, were -from a cultural point of view- more oriented on the Anatolian Middle Bronze civilizations. 
  • The beginning of Troy VI marks a major break: we enter the Late Bronze Age, which continues into VIIa. Troy is trading partner of almost everyone - even the pharaoh appears to have had dealings with "Wily".
  • Troy VIIb, the first Iron Age culture, is open to influences from the Balkans. 
  • After this, the city was unoccupied for some time; Troy VIII is a normal Hellenistic city, and Troy IX was a typical town of the Roman Empire.

The western wall of Troy II. Photo Marco Prins.
The western wall of Troy II. Here, Schliemann found what he called the "Treasure of Priam".

Maritime Troy (Troy I-III) was contemporaneous with the Old Kingdom of Egypt. Although very small, this Early Bronze Age settlement was important: situated at the entrance of the Hellespont, it was the natural place for ships to pause, before the crew would start rowing to the northeast, against the current and the perennial northwestern wind. The village benefited from this trade and and was sufficiently wealthy to need the protection of a wall. There were remarkable, hall-like buildings in the village; they are commonly called megarons, and remained the dominant type of housing of Troy's citadel for several centuries to come.

Sophia Schliemann with the "treasure of Priam".Sophia Schliemann with the so-called "treasure of Priam"
As already indicated, Troy II witnessed the introduction of the potter's wheel. In other aspects, it was a continuation of the Early Bronze II culture of Troy I, albeit on a grand scale: Troy II had, for example, a splendid gateway in the southwest. But it was still a very small town, which measured just about 9,000 square meters and had a circumference of only 330 meters. (Compare the Sumerian city of Ur: 2800 meters in circumference.) Yet, the presence of objects of gold proves that this was the seat of a local ruler who had access to the great interregional trade networks. In the southwest, an important well house was built, which was to be in use for centuries; the citadel rose over a lower town, which was surrounded by wooden defenses. It comes as no surprise that Schliemann believed that this small but powerful settlement had been the town of Priam.

To the objects excavated in Troy II belongs the set of gold objects that Schliemann called the "treasure of Priam". In his newspaper publication, he invented a romantic story about the way his wife had discovered this treasure, and the photo of Sophia Schliemann wearing the photos has become one of the most famous images of the nineteenth century. Unfortunately, the story of the discovery is untrue, and this tall tale has often been used against Schliemann - as if modern archaeologists never overstate the importance of their finds in their press releases. It has even be argued that Schliemann had bought the objects in a local bazaar. Yet, the objects are real and can be dated to the Early Bronze II Age.

Replica of the so-called Treasure of Priam, from Troy II. Neues Museum, Berlin (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering.
Replica of the so-called Treasure of Priam, from Troy II (Neues Museum, Berlin)

Troy II was destroyed by fire on at least three occasions. Its successor, Troy III, was essentially a continuation of Troy II: it also belonged to the Early Bronze II culture, although it was considerably smaller. It was destroyed by fire in c.2200 BCE.

Anatolian Troy

Troy IV and V belong to the Early Bronze III and Middle Bronze I periods. The people were living in what had once been the citadel of Troy II, but it does not seem to have had an outer wall. Compared to what had happened before, this was a period of decline. Yet, the period is poorly understood, and perhaps we should postpone our judgment. Nevertheless, it is clear that the main cultural influences were from the mainland, from Anatolia.

Replica of the so-called Treasure of Priam, from Troy II. Neues Museum, Berlin (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering. Replica of the so-called Treasure of Priam, from Troy II. Neues Museum, Berlin (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering. Replica of the so-called Treasure of Priam, from Troy II. Neues Museum, Berlin (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering.
Replica of the so-called Treasure of Priam, from Troy II (Neues Museum, Berlin) Replica of the so-called Treasure of Priam, from Troy II (Neues Museum, Berlin) Replica of the so-called Treasure of Priam, from Troy II (Neues Museum, Berlin)
Model of the hill. Photo Jona Lendering. The southwest gate of Troy II. Photo Marco Prins. The southwest gate of Troy II. Photo Marco Prins.
A model of the hill. The outer walls are Troy VI and VIIa; the inner structure represents Troy II The southwest gate of Troy II The southwest gate of Troy II

Surroundings Troy I-V Troy VI-VII Troy VIII-IX Trojan War
© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2003
Revision: 13 July 2010
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