Troy: site discovery and myth of the Trojan War

Troy: site discovery and myth of the Trojan War


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In the 8th century BC. J.C., Homer tells the story of the Trojan War, which, according to various ancient authors, takes place between 1344 and 1150 BC. J.C. Is the Trojan War a simple story, transmitted orally for several centuries, or does it have a historical basis? Since 1998, the archaeological site of Hissarlik is recognized by UNESCO as being that of Troy. It is located on the Aegean coast, in the northwest of Turkey, on the tel of Hissarlik. According to archaeologists, the city was destroyed by fire at the beginning of the 12th century BC. J.-C, possibly as a result of a conflict with the Greeks.

The myth of the Trojan war

According to Greek mythology, after the episode of the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, Venus promises Paris, son of Priam, the king of Troy, the love of the most beautiful of women, Helena. Later, in Sparta, Paris was invited to stay with King Mélénas, husband of the beautiful Helena of Troy. He falls in love with the latter, kidnaps her (or she follows him of her own accord depending on the version), and brings her back to his home in Troy. Ménélas then organizes an expedition to bring back his wife, but also to avenge his honor, because Paris has flouted the rules of hospitality. He forms an army, headed by his brother Agamemnon, king of Argos.

The Greek warriors besiege the city of Troy for ten years, at the end of which they end up defeating it, entering hidden inside the famous Trojan horse, which the Trojans take for an offering intended for the goddess Athena. The city is then set on fire and destroyed.

In the Homeric account, the Iliad, opens with the account of the wrath of Achilles, Greek hero (son of a mortal and of a goddess). The Trojan War began almost nine years ago, and Agamemnon has just captured a captive, Briseis, whom Achilles coveted. The latter, furious, retires to his tent and refuses to resume the fight. It was not until the death of Patroclus, his dearest friend, killed by the Trojan Hector, that he took up arms again to avenge him. The Iliad thus ends with the death of Hector and the grandiose funeral celebrated for Patroclus by his friend. The story is organized in a series of paintings describing scenes of war. It is only in the Odyssey, the story of the long and difficult return of Odysseus, king of Ithaca, to his homeland, that we know a little more about the first nine years of the war, and especially on the end of the conflict and the famous episode of the Trojan horse.

The Greek historians of the fifth century BC (Herodotus, author of the Histories, and Thucydides, to whom we owe the Peloponnesian War) bring historical and political explanations to the Homeric tradition. for the first, the Trojans represent the eternal enemies of Greece: the Persians. According to the "father of history", the Trojan War was therefore a first Persian war. Thucydides's analysis is more political. For him the conflict described by Homer symbolizes the first attempt to unite the Greeks for a conquest, a first form of Hellenic imperialism in a way. The veracity of the poems is therefore not questioned by the ancients: the events they describe have in their eyes a historical reality.

Heinrich Schliemann: the discoverer of the archaeological site of Troy

Passionate about the Iliad since childhood, in his forties, this wealthy merchant abandons his wife and children, and dedicates the rest of his life to finding the site of Troy. First considered as a sweet dreamer in the eyes of the scientific community, his stubbornness ended up bearing fruit. The apprentice archaeologist is based on a method which is surprising to say the least: relying on his perfect knowledge of Homer's text, Heinrich Schliemann sets out to find the site which would resemble these descriptions in every way.

His meeting with Frank Calvet, who bought part of the hill of Hissarlik, will be decisive in his location of Troy. The topographical features of the site correspond to Homer's descriptions. The place is already suspected to be that of Troy, and scholars have already taken an interest in it: Charles Mac Laren, Gustav von Eckenbrecher, and Calvet himself began excavations there, which were aborted for lack of financial means. The real excavations will be carried out by Schliemann in 1870.

They begin with the digging of a gigantic trench to observe the stratigraphy. At the time archeology was not yet a rigorous science, and this discipline was still largely marked by amateurism, especially since Schliemann had only recently graduated from archeology. He does not raise the levels which seem to him after the Homeric Troy site, and some information is lost forever. However, with regard to the level that Schliemann thinks to be that of the mythical city (Troy II, penultimate oldest level), gradually appears the establishment of a protocol: study of stratigraphy, systematic photography, holding of 'a journal ... And the progress of the excavations is presented to a panel of experts, with the aim of advancing research, an innovative method in archeology.

Schliemann discovers traces of fire, and a citadel he believes to be that of King Priam. He also makes a spectacular discovery, hastily called "Priam's treasure": a set of precious gold and silver jewels, concealed in a silver vase, comprising two diadems, a headband, six bracelets and two goblets, all in gold, around sixty gold earrings as well, and more than 8 thousand rings, prisms and buttons. He photographs Sophia, his young Greek wife, adorned with jewels. The treasure also contains gold, silver, and bronze vases, bowls, and cauldrons, as well as spear points and copper axes.

The scientific community is skeptical about the authenticity of the site, because several elements do not agree with what we know about Troy. First of all, the size of the city, in fact Troy is described as a large capital, but the site could only identify a population of 300 inhabitants, who could hardly have faced a siege of 10 years. In addition, the city is located 7 km from the sea, so the Greeks could not dock in the immediate vicinity as Homer tells. Finally, if a few arrowheads were found, they are quite sporadic, and there are no traces of destruction or skeletons of warriors.

The discoveries of Manfred Korfmann

Other archaeologists follow one another on the site: Wilhelm Dörpfeld (collaborator of Schliemann) Carl Blegen, John Manuel Cook. Emil Forrer, a specialist in the ancient Middle East, is already pointing out a possible connection with the Hittites.

In 1988, Manfred Korfmann began his research, his interest was purely scientific, he did not believe in the existence of the Homeric Troy, and was interested in the more recent Greek and Roman periods. According to him, the importance of the site is not its possible assimilation to Troy, but its location at the entrance to the Dardanelles Strait, which connects the Mediterranean to the Sea of ​​Marmara and the Black Sea, a situation which probably made it an important hub of trade between Asia Minor and south-eastern Europe.

The various excavation campaigns highlight 9 levels of occupation, over a period of approximately 5,000 years. The first occupation of the city dates back to the Bronze Age (4000 BC), and the site was occupied until the end of the Roman period (4th century). On the level of Roman occupation, Korfmann discovers traces of a pilgrimage: the city is already recognized as being that of Troy at the time. This is what prompts the archaeologist to research Troy.

At the very beginning of the 2000s, he studied level Troy VII (v. 1300-1190 BC). By examining the door of the "enclosure", he realizes that it has no defensive function, so it is not the city wall. Magnetic resonance surveys have revealed a lower town, and the influence of the agglomeration is in fact 15 times larger. The site of Troy discovered by Schliemann is only the tip of the iceberg, a sort of fortified acropolis dominating the city. Surrounding the lower town, a real enclosure is discovered, made up of a so-called “cyclopean” wall.

Regarding the location of the sea, which does not agree with Homer's Troy, Korfmann then had the idea of ​​carrying out soundings on the outskirts of the city, and shallow marine sediments appear, dated to around 3000 BC. J.C .. The sea was then, at the time, at the gates of the city.

In the 2000s, traces of a fire were identified, which could correspond to the destruction of Troy by the Greeks described by Homer. Finally, Korfmann's latest research highlights skeletons and slingshot bullets. With the new dating of the different strata, the level excavated by Schliemman cannot correspond to the level of Homeric Troy, since it is more than 1000 years prior to its presumed existence, and the treasure discovered cannot be that of Priam.

Myth or reality ?

However, Korfmann tries to find an explanation other than that of the myth of Troy. This site therefore presents a large town with traces of battle around 1250 BC. J.C., the possible era of the Trojan War. But it is also the time of the new Hittite empire, whose exchanges with Anatolia are known. Evidenced by the biconvex metal seal, discovered on the site, engraved with Louvite hieroglyphs, a language assimilated to the Hittites. Following the discovery of the seal, Korfmann comes into contact with David Hawkins, a specialist in the dead languages ​​of Asia Minor, who is studying a Hittite tablet.

The latter is translated as a peace and trade treaty between the Hittites and an important city in northwestern Turkey. Is it about Troy? Other Hittite tablets mention the city of Wilusa (Wilios in Greek, which would correspond to Ilios, another name for Troy), a vassal city of the Hittites, and by cross-checking the various information on Wilusa, it can be located in Hissarlik. A conflict, or several (because other traces of fire and battle can be located in other strata), may have taken place between the Hittites and the Mycenaeans on the site, competing for the strategic position it represented .

Continuity of Ernst Pernicka

Since Korfmann's death in 2005, Ernst Pernicka has taken over, focusing on the anthropological aspect. At level VIIa, he unearthed many human remains, and skeletons of riders buried with their horses. The remains showed traces of violent death, further supporting the idea that a deadly conflict took place at the site during the time of Troy described by Homer. In addition, his analyzes highlight a fire, and much larger than the one discovered by Korfmann. A carbon-14 carbon analysis dates the fire to around 1225.

The geographical location of Hissarlik corresponds to that of Troy in Homer's story, and a great conflict is attested on the site in the 13th century BC. J.C., that is to say in the period when the ancient authors situate the Trojan War. This site was very probably a strategic point at that time, since it controlled a passage between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, between East and West, profitable to trade, to trade, and its domination probably gave rise to conflicts. The hypothesis of a great war between the Hittites and Mycenaeans for control of Troy is possible, and this event could have inspired the legend of the Trojan War.

Bibliography

- The Gold of Troy or Le Rêve de Schliemann, by Hervé Duchêne. Gallimard, 1995.

- The fabulous discovery of the ruins of Troy: First trip to Troy (1871) followed by Antiquités Troyennes (1871-1873), by Heinrich Schliemann. Text, 2011.

For further

- The reality of Troy (BNF website)

- Archaeological site of Troy (Unesco)


Video: Truth of Troy: Proof of The Trojan War