Calamos Supports Greece
GreekReporter.comAncient GreeceDid the Trojan War Really Happen?

Did the Trojan War Really Happen?

Bronze Age walls of Troy VI
Bronze Age walls of Troy VI. Credit: Wikipedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 3.0

To the Greeks, the Trojan War is one of the most famous events in their history, and it is also one of the most well-known stories in Greek mythology. However, the question about whether or not the Trojan War truly happened remains. The discovery of Troy in the eighteenth century seemed to vindicate Homer’s account, but the reality is much more complicated than that.

Does the city of Troy prove the Trojan War really happened?

For many people, the discovery of the city of Troy proves that the Trojan War really happened. According to this train of thought, such a discovery shows that Homer was writing about the actual world rather than baseless fantasies. However, this logic requires a closer look.

Contrary to what many people believed, it is not the case that Troy ceased to exist long before Homer’s time. His writing about it did not preserve some ancient tradition. On the contrary, the city of Troy continued to exist up until Homer’s time and long after. Alexander the Great even visited it.

Therefore, Homer could simply have been using a place that really existed in his time as the setting for his story. It would be no different to someone today using London or New York as the setting of a fantasy or sci-fi movie.

Hittite letters

Nonetheless, archaeologists eventually discovered ancient Hittite documents which spoke about conflicts in the region of Troy. These documents referred to the Ahhiyawa ( the Achaeans of Homer), almost certainly the Mycenaean Greeks, engaging in war in western Anatolia. They even mention a city named Wilusa, which most scholars understand to be Troy (also called Ilios).

Does this evidence actually prove that the Trojan War happened? Despite many researchers attempting to make this argument, more recent research shows that this does not stand up to scrutiny. The Hittite records merely speak of a conflict concerning Wilusa rather than a war. This conflict ended peacefully, and the city was not destroyed as a result.

While it is true that there is evidence of a destruction layer at Troy dating to circa 1180 BCE, the Phrygians appear to have been responsible for that. Their material culture appears in Troy immediately above the destruction layer.

Lack of evidence for the Trojan War from Homer’s writings

A further issue is the fact that Homer wrote about the Trojan War many centuries after it supposedly occurred, according to the traditional chronology. For this reason, many scholars dismiss the idea that the Iliad could preserve historical facts.

On the other hand, other scholars have argued that the Iliad clearly displays accurate information regarding Bronze Age Greece. The weapons and armor, according to some, are right out of that era. Hence, this supposedly proves that the Iliad preserves authentic information from the era of the Trojan War.

Nevertheless, more modern research from scholars such as Hans van Wees, Jonas Grethlein, and Irene de Jong among others indicates that these earlier conclusions were based more on wishful thinking than anything else. Rather, Irene de Jong explains that the world of the Iliad appears to be “in almost all respects a reflection of [the] poet’s own world,” that is, the eighth or seventh century BCE.

Plan of the various layers of Troy
Plan showing the Troy of Homer’s day (and after) in blue. Credit: Wikipedia Commons, public domain.

Did the Trojan War take place around Homer’s time?

Despite the clear lack of evidence for the Iliad preserving traditions of a historical Trojan War from the Bronze Age, this does not mean that it is necessarily fictional. It could well be that the Trojan War happened but later on in history. What basis is there for suggesting this?

In short, there is explicit evidence that various other events which allegedly occurred around the time of the Trojan War actually happened not long before Homer’s time. For example, the Greeks allegedly settled in the area of Rome about half a century before the Trojan War. Archaeology has uncovered evidence of a possible Greek colony in Rome dating to the eighth century BCE.

Greek legend has it that the Greeks generally settled in southern Italy in the immediate aftermath of the Trojan War. When was this historically? While there was a trickle of colonization from the mid-eighth century BCE, there was much more widespread colonization beginning around 700 BCE.

The adoption of the Phoenician alphabet by the Greeks supposedly happened long before the Trojan War, yet archaeology shows that this happened after 900 BCE. Furthermore, King Midas allegedly lived just before the time of the Trojan War. Nevertheless, historical records show that he actually lived at the end of the eighth century BCE.

Theseus was a figure from Greek legend who also lived just before the Trojan War, yet some scholars argue that he may have lived in the eighth century BCE as well.

The real Trojan War in the Iron Age

Based on these examples and many others, it would not be surprising in the slightest if the Trojan War turned out to have really happened in the Iron Age. This would not be long before Homer’s time. After all, most ancient Greek historians placed Homer just fifty to a hundred and fifty years after the war, yet we know that Homer lived in the seventh century BCE.

In fact, an analysis of the evidence from one of the very earliest records pertaining to the time frame of the Trojan War relative to other events indicates it could very well have happened in the eighth century BCE.

One of the most important figures of the Trojan War was Agamemnon, the king who led the Greeks. Interestingly, there is a historical record of a king named Agamemnon who was active in western Anatolia not far from Troy in the late eighth century BCE.

Is there any record of the Greeks engaging in war in this area at this time? Well, one of the allies of the Trojans according to the Iliad was the Lydians. Historically, we know that the Greeks were waging war against the Lydians during the turn of the seventh century BCE.

The Assyrians, likewise, were supposedly allies of the Trojans. We see this as early Ctesias in circa 400 BCE. Interestingly, there are Assyrian records of military conflicts with the Greeks at this time. Therefore, the evidence is clear that the Greeks were engaging in war against at least some of the Trojans’ allies from the legends of the Trojan War.

The city of Troy

Does the evidence from Troy itself, however, support the conclusion that the Trojan War really happened in the eighth century BCE? Despite common misconceptions, Troy not only still existed, but it thrived at this time. It appears to have been the center of a small trading empire that encompassed various nearby islands.

The grand stone walls of Troy that had been built in the Bronze Age were not only still standing at this time but were still in use and had had work done on them in the eighth century BCE. Moreover, the general description of the Trojans in the Iliad fits the reality of that era. They were, in fact, Greek descendants and had a temple of Athena.

At some point shortly after the turn of the seventh century BCE, the city of Troy was destroyed. Was this the destruction at the end of the Trojan War? Admittedly, we cannot confirm that the Greeks were responsible for this layer in Troy VIII. Some scholars argue it was caused by an earthquake. Yet others believe it was caused by an attack. In any case, we do know that the Greeks were attempting to expand around the time of this destruction layer.

See all the latest news from Greece and the world at Contact our newsroom to report an update or send your story, photos and videos. Follow GR on Google News and subscribe here to our daily email!

Related Posts