Fall of Troy: The Legend and the Facts

Fall of Troy: The Legend and the Facts


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Mariacarmela Montesanto / The Conversation

The legendary ancient city of Troy is very much in the limelight this year: a big budget co-production between the BBC and Netflix: Troy, Fall of a City , recently launched, while Turkey designated 2018 the “ Year of Troy ” and plans a year of celebration, including the opening of a new museum on the presumed site.

So what do we know about the city, ruins of which have been painstakingly excavated over the past 150 years? The television series is set around 1300-1200BC, at the height of the Late Bronze Age. During this period Mycenaean city states based in modern-day Greece were competing with the larger Hittite empire (located in modern-day Turkey) to control the trade routes leading towards the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

Troy (in ancient Greek, Ἴλιος or Ilios), was located in western Turkey – not far from the modern city of Canakkale (better known as Gallipoli), at the mouth of the Dardarnelles strait. Its position was crucial in controlling the trade routes towards the Black Sea and, as the Trojan prince Paris mentions to the Spartan king Menelaus in Homer’s epic tale, the Iliad, the city controlled access to Indian silks and spices.

The probable location of the ancient city of Troy. Author provided

The Late Bronze Age was an era of powerful kingdoms and city states, centered around fortified walled palaces. Commerce was based on a complex gift exchange system between the different political states. The trade system was mainly controlled by the kings and evidence referring to private merchants is very rare. These kingdoms exchanged not only silks and spices, but also gold, silver, copper, grain, craftsmanship and slaves.

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Bronze Age politics

The Hittites were an ancient Anatolian people whose empire was centered in north and central Anatolia from around 1600-1200BC. The Hittite empire, at its high point, included modern Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. The city of Troy was part of a small independent confederation named Assuwa that tried to resist the Hittite expansion but which eventually yielded and became a sort of vassal state to the Hittite empire.

Archaeologists working in Greece and Turkey have discovered a great deal of evidence of this complex political system, of the kind that might have inspired Homer’s epic. Political treaties discovered in the Hittite capital city, Hattusha dating back to the Late Bronze Age confirm the existence of a very powerful city not far from the Dardanelles strait called Wilusa (Greek Ilios/Troy) ruled by a king called Alaksandu (maybe the Trojan prince Paris – whose birth name, according to Homer, was Alexander). And archaeologists working in Troy have discovered skeletons, arrowheads and traces of destruction which point to us a violent end for Troy Level VII – as the late Bronze Age city has been designated by archaeologists (so far levels I to IX have been excavated ).

At that stage, the political and economic system in the Mediterranean was disintegrating. A series of factors – states’ internal turmoil, mass refugee migrations, displacement of people, trade disruption and war – led to the collapse of the political system and to a new era. Because of new technology being adopted by the powers of the time, this has become known as the Iron Age.

The beginning of this new era witnessed destruction throughout the Mediterranean basin. Wealthy cities such as Troy as well as Mycenae and Tiryns in Greece were destroyed and abandoned. These events were so significant that the memory lasted for centuries. In Greek mythology, the tale of the fall of Troy was recorded in two epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, traditionally attributed to Homer and written about 400 years after these events.

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What history tells us

More than a century of archaeological and historical research in the eastern Mediterranean basin appears to confirm that there was a war on Troy when Homer says there was. His account centers around the affair between Paris and the Spartan queen Helen, that is said to have triggered the conflict.

Fatal attraction: Louis Hunter as Paris and Bella Dayne as Helen. Graham Bartholomew/BBC/Wild Mercury Productions

But contemporary sources from the Hittite archives in Hattusha tell a different story. Greek kingdoms conducted a number of military campaigns in western Turkey. Hittite records mention raids and mass kidnapping of people to be sold as slaves. There is a record of a peace treaty between Greeks and Hittites over the city of Troy . These records do not in themselves confirm the accuracy of Homer’s account – but they suggest that something important happened in the area at some point around 1200BC.

Outstanding value

The location of Troy, at the crossroad between the East and the West, is not only a center of challenge (embodied by the Troyan war), but also of dialogue. Troy, in the past, was a bridge between cultures and its importance to the world has been confirmed by UNESCO. The site of Troy was enlisted in the World Cultural Heritage List in 1998 and it is considered a site of “ Outstanding Universal Value ”.

How the ruins of Troy look today. (Image: CC BY 2.0 )

Excavations on the site of Troy started more than 150 years ago. The site was discovered in 1863 by Frank Calvert but it really became famous thanks to the excavations conducted by the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in 1870. The work of Schliemann made the story come true and resulted in renewed interest in Troy and its history. Some 24 excavations spread over 150 years have now revealed many levels of occupation of the site – from the Early Bronze Age (Troy Level I, about 3500BC) to the Roman era (Troy IX, about 500AD).

An award-winning project “ Troia Museum ” will open this year as part of Turkey’s 2018 year of Troy. Turkey’s culture ministry has invited some of the actors from the 2004 epic Hollywood movie Troy to lend the event some star power.

We’ll probably never know if Helen’s beauty really did launch a thousand ships, but in decades to come Troy will continue to yield up its fascinating and romantic history and millions of people will thrill to retellings of Homer’s epic fables of the long-passed Age of Heroes.


The Pleiades

The Pleiades
The short mythical story of the Pleiades is one of the famous legends that feature in the mythology of ancient civilizations. Discover the myths about the ancient gods, goddesses, demigods and heroes and the terrifying monsters and creatures they encountered on their perilous journeys and quests. The amazing story of the Pleiades really is easy reading for kids and children who are learning about the history, myths and legends of the ancient Roman and Greek gods. Additional facts and information about the mythology and legends of individual gods and goddesses of these ancient civilizations can be accessed via the following links:

The Pleiades
The Myth of the Pleiades

The mythical story of the Pleiades
by Lilian Stoughton Hyde

The Myth of the Pleiades
Among the nymphs of Diana's train were seven sisters, the daughters of Atlas. On moonlight nights these sisters used to dance in the forest glades and one night Orion, the hunter, saw them dimly through the trees. They looked like a flock of beautiful wild birds, and the sight made the hunter's heart beat loud and fast. Just as he had chased the deer so many times, he began now to chase these nymphs. Not that he meant to hurt them, but he wanted to go near enough to them to see them better. The nymphs were frightened and ran away swiftly through the trees. The faster they ran, the faster Orion followed.

At last the poor frightened sisters came out into an open place, where it was almost as light as day, and there Orion nearly overtook them. Seeing how near he was, the sisters called to Diana for help and then, when they were almost in the hunter's grasp, they suddenly disappeared, and seven white pigeons rose from the grass where they had been, and flew away - up, up, into the night sky.

When they reached the sky, the seven pigeons became seven bright stars. There the stars shone, in a little group, close together, for hundreds of years. They were called the Pleiades.

Picture of the Pleiades

Long after the time when the frightened nymphs were changed first into pigeons, and then into stars, one of the sisters left her place among the Pleiades, that she might not see the fall of Troy. While this city was burning, she rushed madly through space, her hair flying out behind her, and men called her a comet. She never returned to her place among the Pleiades.

At the end of his life on earth, Orion too was placed among the stars. He is there, in the sky, to this day, with his lion's skin, his club, and his jewelled belt. Some people say that the Pleiades still fly from before him.

The Myth of the Pleiades
The story of the Pleiades is featured in the book entitled Favorite Greek Myths by Lilian Stoughton Hyde, published in 1904 by D. C. Heath and Company.

Pleiades - A Myth with a Moral
Many of the ancient Myth Stories, like the legend of the Pleiades, incorporate tales with morals that provided the old story-tellers with short examples of exciting tales for kids and children of how to act and behave and reflected important life lessons. The characters of the heroes in this type of fable demonstrated the virtues of courage, love, loyalty, strength, perseverance, leadership and self reliance. Whereas the villains demonstrated all of the vices and were killed or punished by the gods. The old, famous myth story and fable, like Pleiades, were designed to entertain, thrill and inspire their young listeners.

The Myth of the Pleiades - the Magical World of Myth & Legend
The story of the Pleiades is one of the fantastic stories featured in ancient mythology and legends. Such stories serve as a doorway to enter the world of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The names of so many of the heroes and characters are known today through movies and games but the actual story about such characters are unknown. Reading a myth story such as Pleiades is the easy way to learn about the stories of the classics.

The Magical World of Myth and Legend

The Short Story and Myth of the Pleiades
The myth about Pleiades is featured in the book entitled The story of the Pleiades is featured in the book entitled Favorite Greek Myths by Lilian Stoughton Hyde, published in 1904 by D. C. Heath and Company. Learn about the exciting adventures and dangerous quests undertaken by the mythical characters that feature in the hero myths, fables and stories about the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece and Rome that are available on this website.


Top 10 Greatest Epic Poems

Modern poets tend to avoid the epic style poetry of the past &ndash but there can be no doubt that many of them were influenced greatly by these poems. This is a selection of the most well known epic poems from before the 20th century. While it is tempting to add the likes of Howl by Ginsberg and modernize the list, it would mean removing at least one of the great epics listed here &ndash so 20th century poetry will be left for another list.

The Aeneid is a Latin epic poem written by Virgil in the 1st century BC (between 29 and 19 BC) that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who traveled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans. It is written in dactylic hexameter (considered to be the Grand Style of classical poetry). The first six of the poem&rsquos twelve books tell the story of Aeneas&rsquo wanderings from Troy to Italy, and the poem&rsquos second half treats the Trojans&rsquo ultimately victorious war upon the Latins, under whose name Aeneas and his Trojan followers are destined to be subsumed.

This is a long, digressive satiric poem, based on the legend of Don Juan, which Byron reverses, portraying Juan not as a womaniser but someone easily seduced by women. It is a variation on the epic form. Unlike the more tortured early romantic works by Byron, exemplified by Childe Harold&rsquos Pilgrimage, Don Juan has a more humorous, satirical bent. Modern critics generally consider it to be Byron&rsquos masterpiece. The poem was not finished by his death in 1824. Byron managed to complete 16 cantos leaving an unfinished 17th canto before his death. Byron claims that he had no ideas in his mind as to what would happen in subsequent cantos as he wrote his work. When the first two cantos were published anonymously in 1819, the poem was criticised for its &ldquoimmoral content,&rdquo though it was also immensely popular.

This is an epic poem in blank verse by the 17th-century English poet John Milton. It was originally published in 1667 in ten books a second edition followed in 1674, redivided into twelve books (in the manner of the division of Virgil&rsquos Aeneid) with minor revisions throughout and a note on the versification. The poem concerns the Judeo-Christian story of the Fall of Man: the temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Milton&rsquos purpose, stated in Book I, is &ldquojustify the ways of God to men&rdquo (Milton 1674, 4:26) and elucidate the conflict between God&rsquos eternal foresight and free will. Milton incorporates Paganism, classical Greek references and Christianity within the story. The poem grapples with many difficult theological issues, including fate, predestination and the Trinity.

This is widely considered the central epic poem of Italian literature and is seen as one of the greatest works of world literature. The poem&rsquos imaginative and allegorical vision of the Christian afterlife is a culmination of the medieval world-view as it had developed in the Western Church. The poem is written in the first person, and tells of Dante&rsquos journey through the three realms of the dead, lasting during the Easter Triduum in the spring of 1300. The Roman poet Virgil guides him through Hell and Purgatory Beatrice, Dante&rsquos ideal woman, guides him through Heaven.

With more than 74,000 verses, long prose passages, and about 1.8 million words in total, the Mah?bh?rata is one of the longest epic poems in the world. Including the HarivaM&rsquosa the Mahabharata has a total length of more than 90,000 verses. It is of immense importance to the culture of the Indian subcontinent and is a major text of Hinduism. Its discussion of human goals (artha or purpose, kama or pleasure, dharma or duty and moksha or liberation) takes place in a long-standing tradition, attempting to explain the relationship of the individual to society and the world (the nature of the &lsquoSelf&rsquo) and the workings of karma.

This is an Old English language heroic epic poem of anonymous authorship, dating as recorded in the Nowell Codex manuscript from between the 8th to the 11th century and relates events described as having occurred in what is now Denmark and Sweden. Commonly cited as one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon Literature, Beowulf has been the subject of much scholarly study, theory, speculation, discourse and, at 3183 lines, it has been noted for its length. In the poem, Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, battles three antagonists: Grendel, who has been attacking the mead hall in Denmark called Heorot and its inhabitants Grendel&rsquos mother and, later in life after returning to Geatland (modern southern Sweden) and becoming a king, he fights an unnamed dragon. Beowulf is fatally wounded in the final battle, and after his death he is buried in a barrow in Geatland by his retainers.

This is a narrative poem in fifteen books that describes the creation and history of the world. Completed in 8 AD, it has remained one of the most popular works of mythology, being the classical work best known to medieval writers and thus having a great deal of influence on medieval poetry.

This is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. The poem was probably written near the end of the eighth century BC, somewhere along the Greek-controlled western Turkey seaside Ionia. The poem is, in part, a sequel to Homer&rsquos Iliad and mainly centers on the Greek hero Odysseus and his long journey home to Ithaca following the fall of Troy.
It takes Odysseus ten years to reach his kingdom of Ithica after the ten-year Trojan War. During this absence, his son Telemachus and wife Penelope must deal with a group of unruly suitors, called Proci, to compete for Penelope&rsquos hand in marriage, since most have assumed that Odysseus has died.

This is an epic poem from Ancient Mesopotamia and is among the earliest known works of literary fiction. Scholars surmise that a series of Sumerian legends and poems about the mythological hero-king Gilgamesh, who might have been a real ruler in the late Early Dynastic II period (ca. 27th century BCE), were gathered into a longer Akkadian poem long afterward, with the most complete version existing today preserved on twelve clay tablets in the library collection of the 7th century BC Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. The essential story revolves around the relationship between Gilgamesh, a king who has become distracted and disheartened by his rule, and a friend, Enkidu, who is half-wild and who undertakes dangerous quests with Gilgamesh. Much of the epic focuses on Gilgamesh&rsquos thoughts of loss following Enkidu&rsquos death. It is about their becoming human together, and has a high emphasis on immortality. A large portion of the book shows Gilgamesh&rsquos search for immortality after Enkidu&rsquos death. It is often credited by historians as being one of the first literary works. The epic is widely read in translation, and the hero, Gilgamesh, has become an icon of popular culture.

This, together with the Odyssey, is one of two ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. The poem is commonly dated to the late 9th or to the 8th century BC and many scholars believe it is the oldest extant work of literature in the ancient Greek language, making it the first work of European literature. The poem concerns events during the tenth and final year in the siege of the city of Ilion or Troy, by the Greeks.

This article is licensed under the GFDL because it contains quotations from Wikipedia.


Was the Trojan horse real?

The Trojan horse is a classic tale set during the Trojan war. In the story the Greeks build a large wooden horse and hide inside it, the Trojans accept the horse as a victory trophy and pull it into the city. When night falls the Greeks climbs out of the horse and open the gates of the city. The remaining Greek army pour in and destroy the city of Troy, ending the war.

But how much truth is in this tale? The main source for the story is from the Aeneid of Virgil, a Latin epic poem, and Homer’s Odyssey. As a result the entire Trojan War is full of myth, and it is difficult to ascertain how much of it actually happened. However, modern historians have speculated the origin of the Trojan horse myth. The horse may instead have been a battering ram which resembled a horse, or even a siege machine (which were often given animal names.) There is also a popular belief that the horse represents an earthquake which weakened the walls surrounding Troy. This is backed up by the fact that Poseidon was seen as the god of earthquakes, and also the god of horses. Finally, it’s also been argued that the gift was instead a boat carrying a peace envoy as the terms used to describe putting the men in the horse are similar to those used to describe men embarking on a ship. Ultimately it’s unlikely that the real truth behind the myth will ever truly be ascertained and it should be treated as a classic tale, rather than a historical event.

All About History is part of Future plc, an international media group and leading digital publisher. Visit our corporate site.

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On DVD

These movies and documentaries are formatted for North American audiences.

Troy. This 2004 movie stars Brad Pitt as Achilles, Orlando Bloom as Paris, Eric Bana as Hector, Peter O'Toole as Priam, and Sean Bean as Odysseus. Not a great movie, but a good spectacle -- or, as Amazon calls it, "a semi-guilty pleasure with a touch of ancient class."

In Search of the Trojan War. All six episodes of the BBC documentary series hosted by historian Michael Wood, who brings to life the romance of the Bronze Age as he explores whether there is any truth to the legends of Troy.

National Geographic - Beyond the Movie: Troy. Did Troy actually exist? This intriguing program, which features dramatic recreations, looks at the history underlying legends of the Trojan War. From National Geographic.

Treasure! The Ancient Gold of Troy. When Heinrich Schliemann uncovered the ruins of Troy, he unearthed stunning artifacts crafted from gold.

Treasure! Mystery Gold of the Black Sea Warriors. They were ruthless warriors who fought with the Trojans. Examine the treasures left behind by this long-vanished civilization, and learn what their society was like.

Helen of Troy. 2003 TV miniseries from the USA Network, starring Sienna Guillory as Helen. John Rhys-Davies plays King Priam.

Helen of Troy. This lavish 1956 epic movie stars Rossana Podestà.

Ulysses. This adaptation of The Odyssey stars Kirk Douglas as seafaring hero Ulysses.


Fall of Troy: The Legend and the Facts - History

Introducing an epic tale

The story of the ancient city of Troy, and of the great war that was fought over it, has been told for some 3,000 years. Spread by travelling storytellers, it was cast into powerful words by the Greek poet Homer as early as the eighth to seventh century BC – and into powerful images by ancient Greek and Roman artists. Just as it enraptured audiences in the past, it still speaks to us today and it’s easy to see why. It’s a story that has it all – love and loss, courage and passion, violence and vengeance, triumph and tragedy – on a truly epic scale.

Spanning several decades, the tale is set in Greece’s mythical past. At its heart is the powerful city of Troy on the western coast of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), besieged for 10 years by the Greeks, who sailed across the Aegean Sea to take revenge for a grave insult – the abduction of a woman. This ancient world war features a stellar cast of characters. Even the gods are involved.

But this isn’t a straightforward tale of right and wrong. Its heroes – and none more so than the great Achilles – are complex, with heroic strength but human weaknesses and in the end it is unclear who, if anyone, really wins.

Judgement of Paris

The story starts with a wedding. The sea-goddess Thetis is marrying a mortal man and all the gods and goddesses are invited except one – Eris, the goddess of discord. Angered, she throws a golden apple into the party, bearing the inscription ‘to the most beautiful’. Three goddesses all claim it for themselves, and the king of the gods, Zeus, not willing to get involved himself, picks the Trojan prince Paris as the judge. The goddess of love, Aphrodite, wins the competition as she has promised Paris possession of the most beautiful women on earth, Helen. There’s just one problem. Helen is already married to Menelaus, king of the Greek city of Sparta.

The face that launched a thousand ships

Paris, prince of Troy, comes to Sparta on a state visit but, outrageously, leaves with his host’s wife Helen, queen of Sparta. To bring Helen back and restore his honour, the deceived husband, King Menelaus, assembles a huge army of Greek heroes. Its leader is Menelaus’ brother Agamemnon, king of the powerful Greek city of Mycenae. The army sails to Troy, sets up camp and lays siege to the city. But Troy has strong walls and the Trojans defend the city bravely, throughout nine long years of fighting. The Greeks succeed, however, in raiding neighbouring Trojan cities, taking some inhabitants as prisoners. Among them is Briseis, a young woman who is given to Greek hero Achilles as a prize of honour.

The rage of Achilles

In the 10th year of the Trojan War, dramatic events unfold, as told in Homer’s Iliad. King Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek forces, seizes Briseis for himself. Furious, Achilles withdraws from battle, together with his troops. Achilles’ mother, the sea goddess Thetis, asks Zeus to favour the Trojans for a while, so that Agamemnon will regret dishonouring her son. In the fighting that follows, the Trojans gain ground and are able to set up camp on the plain, alarmingly close to the Greek ships. Desperate to drive them back, Achilles’ close friend and perhaps lover, Patroclus, disguises himself in the armour of Achilles and leads the Greeks into battle, hoping to raise Greek morale and intimidate the Trojans. At first the plan works, but Patroclus is killed by the Trojan prince Hector. In a state of grief-stricken rage, desperate for vengeance against Hector, Achilles sets aside his quarrel with Agamemnon.

The death of Hector

Achilles returns to battle, wearing new armour brought by his mother. Victory once more favours the Greeks – and Achilles succeeds in killing Hector.

Consumed by rage and grief, he does not allow Hector’s body to be reclaimed by the Trojans for the customary funeral. Instead he desecrates it by dragging it behind his chariot, as Hector’s horrified family watch from the walls of Troy. Over the coming days he repeatedly drags the body in the dust. But the gods take pity on Hector and his family, preserving Hector’s body from damage and decay. The messenger god, Hermes, helps Hector’s distraught father, Trojan King Priam, to enter the Greek camp secretly. He begs Achilles for the ransom of his son’s body. Achilles’ pitiless need for vengeance subsides and he agrees to Priam’s request. It is an extraordinary, moving encounter, which restores humanity to the hero and a sense of order to the world. The funeral of Hector can now take place. This point in the story is where the Iliad ends.

The death of Achilles

Hector is dead, but the war goes on. Troy has not yet fallen and more allies come to the city’s aid, some from far afield. With the help of Achilles, the Greeks defeat both the Amazons (female warriors led by their queen Penthesilea) and the Ethiopians under King Memnon. But Achilles knows that he is fated to die young, for his divine mother once foretold that he would have a short life if he stayed to fight at Troy. It is Paris, the Trojan prince whose abduction of Helen started the war, who kills Achilles. According to one version of the story, Achilles’ divine mother tried to make him invulnerable to injury as a baby, dipping him into the waters of the river Styx. But she held him by one heel – the famous Achilles’ heel – and this is the weak point where Paris hits him with an arrow, finally felling the great warrior.

The fall of Troy

The Greeks finally win the war by an ingenious piece of deception dreamed up by the hero and king of Ithaca, Odysseus – famous for his cunning. They build a huge wooden horse and leave it outside the gates of Troy, as an offering to the gods, while they pretend to give up battle and sail away. Secretly, though, they have assembled their best warriors inside. The Trojans fall for the trick, bring the horse into the city and celebrate their victory. But when night falls, the hidden Greeks creep out and open the gates to the rest of the army, which has sailed silently back to Troy. The city is sacked, the men and boys are brutally slain, including King Priam and Hector’s little son Astyanax, and the women are taken captive. Troy has fallen. But there is still hope for the Trojans’ survival – Aeneas, the son of King Priam’s cousin, escapes the city with his old father, his young son and a band of Trojan refugees. Aeneas’ story is told in Virgil’s Aeneid.

Returning home

After the fall of Troy, the surviving heroes and their troops have little chance to enjoy their victory. The gods are angry because many Greeks committed sacrilegious atrocities during the sacking of Troy. Few Greeks reach their homes easily, or live to enjoy their return. The most difficult, lengthy and action-packed journey is that of Odysseus as told in Homer’s Odyssey. He is forced to travel to the furthest reaches of the Mediterranean Sea, tormented by the sea god Poseidon. He is waylaid by storms, shipwreck and a colourful crowd of strange beings and treacherous people, from the one-eyed giant Cyclops to the Sirens with their mesmerising song. Odysseus finally reaches his homeland, only to find his house besieged by suitors for the hand of his wife who had thought he would not survive his voyage. Yet after 10 years at sea, Odysseus also overcomes this final challenge. He kills the suitors and is reunited with his faithful wife, Penelope.

With Odysseus home at last, the events of the Trojan War come to a close. Whether Greek or Trojan, victorious or defeated, the heroes and heroines of the story have enthralled audiences from antiquity to today.

The BP exhibition Troy: myth and reality ran from 21 November 2019 – 8 March 2020.


Exhibition highlights

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), 'The Judgement of Paris'. Oil on panel, 1530–35.

Ceramic amphora (storage jar) showing Achilles killing the Amazon queen Penthesilea, Athens, c. 530 BC.

Edward Poynter (1836–1919), 'Helen'. Watercolour and bodycolour on paper, 1887.

'Portrait' of Homer, Roman, AD 100–200, copy of an original dating from 200–100 BC

The Siren Vase, ceramic amphora (storage jar), attributed to The Siren Painter, Attica, c. 480–470 BC.

Filippo Albacini (1777–1858), 'The Wounded Achilles'. Marble, 1825.

Romare Bearden (1911–1988), 'The Sirens' Song'. Collage of various papers with paint and graphite on fibreboard, 1977.

Henry Gibbs, (1630/1–1713)​​​​​​​ 'Aeneas and his Family Fleeing Burning Troy'. Oil on canvas, 1654.

Eleanor Antin (b. 1935), 'Judgement of Paris', after Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640). Chromogenic print, edition 4/5, from 'Helen's Odyssey', 2007.

Sydney Hodges (1828–1900), 'Heinrich Schliemann'. Oil on canvas, 1877.


Archeological Evidence of Homer’s Trojan War Found : History: Researchers show that city was large enough to withstand the epic battle described in ‘The Iliad.’

Archeologists have uncovered strong evidence that the Trojan War described by the poet Homer in “The Iliad,” one of the first and most important books in Western literature, actually occurred.

The research also shows that Troy and its successors had a unique strategic importance in the ancient world because they dominated a major trade route through the Dardanelles strait and thereby obtained unprecedented wealth and power.

The findings indicate that ancient Troy was much larger than believed, and may have been the largest city of its era, which stretched from 1700 BC to about 1250 BC.

Troy’s power and strategic importance--and not the kidnaping of Helen, the wife of the king of Sparta, by Paris, the son of the king of Troy--were probably the cause of the epic war described by Homer, experts say.

The importance of the Dardanelles--which provide access to the Danube, Don and Dnieper river basins--has also been the cause of other major battles that have continued through modern times, culminating in the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915, in which 130,000 Allied and Turkish soldiers perished.

The new evidence, from the first excavations at the fabled city of Troy in nearly 50 years, is to be described this week at symposiums in Washington, New York and Troy, Ohio.

Researchers discovered remains of ancient fortifications and buildings outside the much smaller citadel, which was previously all that was known to be left of Troy. The new evidence suggests for the first time that the city was large enough to withstand the 10-year siege and to mount the types of battles described in the literary classic.

The new excavations have revealed 15 fortifications. “It (Troy) was always important and always had to be protected,” said archeologist Manfred Korfmann of the University of Tubingen in Germany. “We shouldn’t talk about The Trojan War, but about a whole series of Trojan wars.”

The research has also revealed new insights into the links between Troy, which was in what is now western Turkey, and Rome at the time of the emperor Augustus Caesar, who reigned from 31 BC to AD 14. Historians have long known that Augustus and his successors emphasized their patriarchal ties to the warrior Aeneas--the son of the goddess Aphrodite who escaped Troy after its fall--as a way of legitimizing their descent from the gods.

But the Romans did more than celebrate Troy, said archeologist C. Brian Rose of the University of Cincinnati. The new excavations reveal that the Romans rebuilt Troy as a cultural and religious shrine, a mecca for Romans celebrating their illustrious origins and a tourist trap for the affluent.

At Troy, Rose has discovered what he has identified as a Roman council house, temple, glass factory and a theater that may well have featured performances of the play “The Trojan Women” by the Greek dramatist Aeschylus. They have also discovered a religious sanctuary that dates from the 8th Century BC and might have been visited by Homer or one of his informants.

“We have really had no idea what the city was like during the period of classical antiquity that witnesses the foundation of Western civilization,” Rose said. “We’re trying to find out what kind of city it was and what happened to the site after it (‘The Iliad’) was written. These are questions that no one has really tried to answer before.”

The international team carrying out the excavation has produced some “very exciting information,” said archeologist Getzel Cohen of the University of Cincinnati, who helped organize the expedition but did not participate. What they are learning about the city is “really very gratifying,” he said.

Until the last century, most historians believed Troy to be entirely mythical. But in the 1870s, German merchant Heinrich Schliemann identified what he believed to be its site, a large mound on the Anatolian Peninsula about 15 miles from the modern city of Canakkale. The mound, about 600 feet long, 450 feet wide and more than 100 feet tall, is called Hisarlik (Place of Fortresses) and is accepted as the site of Troy.

Archeologists know that the mound contains nine principal layers representing successive cities dating from before 3000 BC to the 13th Century.

The level known as Troy VI, Homer’s Troy, was excavated by Cincinnati archeologist Carl Blegen in the 1930s. He unearthed a splendid walled city, tiered in concentric terraces and protected by stone walls 16 feet thick, 13 feet high and topped by brick ramparts--the “beetling towers” of Homer.

But archeologists from Blegen’s generation and later ones argued that the citadel was too small to be the Homeric Troy. “People believed there was a kernel of truth in the (Homeric) story, but the citadel was too small to be an important place,” Korfmann said.

“But this place has grown considerably as a result of our last two years of research,” he said.

The key finding by Korfmann’s international team, which includes more than 80 researchers, was the discovery of what appears to be a mud-brick wall, four to six yards thick. It encompasses an area nearly nine times as large as the citadel and dates from Troy VI. “This is an enormous area,” Rose said. Between the citadel and the wall is an organized network of streets and dwellings that suggests a wealthy and bustling city.

“Homer might have written down his story while viewing this ruins of this city,” Korfmann said. “The ruins available in this landscape could have been the stage for an epic.”

Korfmann’s team has literally only scratched the surface in excavating this extended city, but they have discovered extensive samples of Mycenaean pottery, dwellings and many other artifacts. They hope to piece together a comprehensive picture of what life might have been like in the city.

“The architecture is astonishingly identifiable,” said archeologist Machteld Mellink of Bryn Mawr University. “There are vast buildings with stone foundations, made of timber and mud brick. . . . This will really refine our knowledge of the nature of the citadel.”

Meanwhile, Rose and his colleagues have been excavating post-Bronze Age Troy in the era of the Roman emperors. Troy was destroyed by the Roman general Fimbria in 85 BC during the Mithridatic Wars, which consumed much of the Aegean region. Rose has found much evidence of that destruction, including the charred remains of a man who was burned alive when a flaming roof collapsed on him.

After Augustus consolidated his power in the region, he began a reconstruction of the city, Rose has found. Roof tiles from the new city are stamped Ilion, the Roman name for Troy. “The people living there clearly thought they were living at the site where the battle occurred,” Rose said.

There is ample evidence, he said, of Greek and Roman emperors visiting there because they thought it was the site of “The Iliad” as well as of Virgil’s “Aeneid,” which charted the wanderings of Aeneas before he founded the Latin people.

Among other things, Rose has excavated the stage and first four rows of seats of a Roman theater at the site. On the stage is a relief of Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome, “to remind everyone of the close connection to Rome,” he said.

The ongoing excavations could provide a completely new view of Troy, Mellink said.

“It was a prosperous area with good agriculture and animal husbandry,” she said. “They were very important traders, judging from the wealth they collected. This should tell us how that international (trade) network developed and how early.”

According to Homer, the Trojan War began when the Trojan prince Paris kidnaped Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta. Grecian armies under the command of Menelaus’ brother Agamemnon converged on Troy and laid siege for 10 years. With the war stalemated, the Greeks conceived the idea of pretending to withdraw, leaving behind a large wooden horse as a peace offering. The Trojans took the horse into their city.

The horse was filled with Greek soldiers. They emerged during the night, conquered the city, slew the men and took the women and children into slavery, thereby ending the reign of King Priam and Queen Hecuba.

Excavations at the site are scheduled to last for another 10 years. It is unlikely that they will find the horse because it was made of wood and would not have survived the centuries.

Korfmann also plans to restore the site and turn the largely undeveloped area into a major tourist attraction.


The Greeks leave the wooden horse outside the gates of Troy: the Trojans believe they have won the war.

The events of the Trojan War are written about in a number of works of Ancient Greek literature, including Homer’s epic poem The Iliad , which is at least 2,500 years old.

The cause of war is Helen’s elopement from the Spartan court with Paris, a Trojan prince. Helen is the wife of Menelaus - King of Sparta - and he musters an army led by his brother Agamemnon to sail to Troy to take Helen back. The war lasts for 10 long years, during which time the main events are concerned with the clashes between the leading characters, climaxing with the death of Hector at the hands of Achilles (as written about by Homer in The Iliad ) and continuing with the creation of the Trojan horse by Odysseus, the means by which Troy is vanquished and Helen returned to Menelaus.

Our version of the story is told from the point of view of the Old Soldier - looking back 40 years to the time when he was a bodyguard assigned to King Menelaus in the Spartan court. As the Old Soldier tells us: 'I was there at the beginning. And at the end.' He witnesses all the key events, which he relates in a manner that is both gritty and amusing.


Watch the video: The True Story of Troy: Ancient War - Full Documentary


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