Troy: Yes, It Existed (But as for the Rest of Homer's Story ... )

Roundup: Talking About History

Rodney Chester, in the Courier Mail (Queensland, Australia) (April 17, 2004):

Homer may have used poetic licence when he wrote his tale of the Trojan horse, and the war that razed an ancient city. Rodney Chester reports

IT HAS love, betrayal, great warriors, brilliant cunning. It is the story of the Trojan Wars and as Troy expert Dr Eric Cline, of George Washington University in the United States says, there is a reason the story continues to fascinate us.

"It's a combination of a chick-flick and a buddy movie," Cline says. "There's something for everybody."

Also, after centuries of frequently bitter academic debate, it is a story that could be true.

Archaeological evidence is pointing to the fact that Troy was, in fact, a great city -- and not one of myth -- destroyed in a brutal battle.

Such evidence also is most timely, with a BBC documentary last month revealing evidence uncovered by German professor Manfred Korfmann, who claims finally to have found the city described in the famous tale.

And while historians will debate the details, movie-goers will soon get to see the big picture played out before them in Wolfgang Petersen's much-awaited film Troy that has Eric Bana and Brad Pitt going to war for the face who launched a thousand ships.

Homer composed the story of the Trojan Wars in the eighth century BC, but it's believed he was referring to events that took place about 1300BC to 1200BC.

The way Homer tells the tale, the beautiful Helen is lured away from her husband Menelaus, the King of Sparta, by Paris, a Trojan prince. Menelaus calls on his brother, Agamemnon, a powerful king, who launches a thousand ships to attack Troy in a 10-year siege.

Unable to break through Troy's defences, the Greeks leave a wooden horse outside the city gates. After the Trojans take it into the heart of the city, warriors leap from inside the wooden and leather structure and open the gates to let their army in. The city is then razed.

For Cline, it's a story that has fascinated him since he was seven, when his mother gave him the book The Walls of Windy Troy.

The archaeologist, who has worked on items recovered from the Troy site, says the appeal of the story is universal.

"It has themes that just resonate down through the ages, it doesn't matter what age you're living in or what culture you're living in," he says.

"It has these universal elements to it: it's love, it's war, it's greed, it's ambition, it's trickery, it's treachery, it's the agony of defeat. It's all the cliches.

"The hero loses the girl, the hero goes back to get the girl, the hero eventually gets the girl with the help of his best friend who happens to be his brother."

The book that changed Cline's life was a biography of Heinrich Schliemann, a businessman-turned-archaeologist now considered equal parts scoundrel and scientist, who first claimed to have discovered the city of Troy.

Schliemann made and lost several fortunes in his life and retired, after a particularly financially healthy period as a banker during the Californian gold rush, to find the legendary city that reputable scholars at the time doubted ever to have existed. He started excavating in 1870 and within three years claimed he had found the real Troy.

What he had found was some gold treasures, which he smuggled home to Germany, a fortress, which later proved to be about 1000 years too old to be the part of the famous Trojan war, and nine cities built one on top of another over 4000 years.

Two decades later, Schliemann's former assistant Wilhelm Dorpfeld, who took over uncovering the site, uncovered a citadel with huge walls that had the physical features described in the legend and could be dated to the right time.

But while Dorpfeld felt he had uncovered the real Troy, the problem was this was a city that was not big enough to survive a decade-long siege and there was evidence that this city, known as Troy 6, was destroyed by an earthquake, not by a battle.

American archaeologist Carl Blegen continued digging on the site before World War II, and he uncovered Troy 7A, which seemed to have been destroyed by humans, but otherwise didn't match Homer's description.

For the next few decades, experts debated the facts. Some said Homer merged two cities from different eras into the one tale.

Others said the story of the Trojan Horse related to Troy 6 with the wooden horse a metaphor for an earthquake because Poseidon was the god of earthquakes and the animal associated with him was the horse.

The debate took a new twist when Professor Manfred Korfmann, of Tubingen University in Germany, began his excavations in 1988.

He says in the BBC documentary that it was the science, and not the romance of the myth, that lured him to Troy. One of the things that puzzled him about Troy 6 was that it had great towers but no obvious way of closing off the path between the towers.

Korfmann's team began excavating outside the walls, which revealed clues indicating people living in the area during the late Bronze Age, which ties in with the time of the legendary war.

He then used magnetic imaging to study the area, and revealed a city hidden beneath the fields that had a grid of wide streets and long avenues.

The magnetic imaging also revealed a line that turned out to be a deep ditch that kept invaders out of the city limits.

The breakthrough revealed in the BBC documentary is evidence of large fires and skeletons half-buried, as if they died in battle, along with arrowheads and sling pellets stored in heaps that were prepared for a fight by defenders who didn't have time to use them.

"It was a city which was besieged. It was a city which was defended, which protected itself.

"They lost the war and, obviously, they were defeated," Korfmann says in the documentary.

Cline says Korfmann's latest finds seems proof that Troy did exist, but proving the city's existence is one thing. Proving that the rest of the story is true is another. Cline doubts that the beauty and love of one woman is a big enough catalyst to launch a decade of bloody conflict....

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