2 Troy and the Trojan War: Archaeology, History and the Epic Traditions

Archaeology, History and the Epic Traditions

The recent excavations at Troy (modern Hissarlik) by Korfmann’s team have reignited the controversy concerning the degree of historicity in the tale of the Trojan War, as related in the Iliad. There are, of course, two main questions involved. The first is whether there was an actual historical Trojan War. The second is whether the story in the Iliad was based on recollections (in ‘folk-memory’) of actual historical events.

THE SIZE OF TROY (in the Late Bronze Age)

It had previously been thought that the settlement at Troy (the later Ilion) in the Late Bronze Age was not sufficiently large to have been involved in a major war. The reality, it was suggested, was probably “a swift raid on a relatively unimportant town” (CSHI, 165 with n. 72). The inference had been that the portrayal of Troy in the Iliad was a poetic exaggeration. But Korfmann’s excavations have now shown that Troy in the Late Bronze Age (Troia VI and VII) comprised not only a citadel but also a substantial town, Korfmann’s  ‘Lower City’, estimated as “covering ca. 200,000 m2, and stretching c. 400 m southwards from the citadel” (Bryce 2005, 363, cf. Korfmann 1998b, 371). Troy has now been conclusively identified as the capital of the Kingdom of Wilusa named in the Hittite texts of the New Kingdom; it is categorized by Hawkins as “an at least middle ranking regional power of Anatolia” (Hawkins 2002, 94-101 with refs.). Bryce estimates that Troy was “roughly comparable to the city of Ugarit” (Bryce 2005, 363). The contemporary town at Tiryns in LH IIIB was of similar size (Zangger 1994, esp. 211-212 with figs. 8 and 12, cf. Maran 2006, esp. 126-127); and the settlement at Ano Englianos (Pylos) in LH IIIB has been estimated as c. 180,000 m2 in extent (Davis et al. 1997, 427-430). The town of Mycenae was even more extensive at this time, but the actual density of habitation there can not be determined, due in part to the later occupation, particularly in the Hellenistic period.

TROY, Levels VI and VII

The Late Bronze Age levels at Troy, Troia VI and VII, have been dated by the imported Mycenaean pottery and its local imitations, which, however, constitute a very small proportion, “less than one percent” (Korfmann 1998b, 373) of all the pottery found in these levels. The pottery sequences have been examined by Mountjoy (Mountjoy 1997, 1999a and 1999b). The resulting synchronisms, here tabulated in a provisional chronological table (after Mountjoy 1999b, 298), are as follows:

Troia VId LH IIA (ca. 1500-1460 B.C.)
Troia VIe and f LH IIB (ca. 1460-1400 B.C.)
Troia VIg LH IIIA1 (ca. 1400-1375 B.C.)
Troia VIh LH IIIA2 (ca. 1375-1300 B.C.)
Troia VIIa LH IIIB (ca. 1300-1210 B.C.)


(ca. 1210-1130 B.C.)


+ Late

(ca. 1130-1050 B.C.)


(Troia VIIa spans the whole LH IIIB period, LH IIIB1 and LH IIIB2. Mountjoy allows also that Troia VIIb1 may have continued into LH IIIC Middle. She classifies some of the very few Mycenaean sherds found in Troia VIIb2 as LH IIIC Middle and some as possibly LH IIIC Late).

In the last phase of Troia VI, i.e. in Troia VIh, the lower town was defended by a palisade and a ditch. Also, either in Troia VIh or in Troia VIIa, a second ditch was dug further to the south (Easton 2002, 83-94, with refs. to Studia Troica and Korfmann et al. 2001; Jablonka 1994, 1995 and 1996, and cf. the summary descriptions in Latacz 2004, 25-35). There may also have been a defensive wall around the lower town (Easton 2002, 91-93 with refs.) although the evidence for this is not conclusive.

It is now generally agreed that the large buildings of Troy VI within the citadel were destroyed by an earthquake at the end of Troia VIh, as Blegen had concluded (Blegen et al. 1953, 329-332, Mountjoy 1999a, 253-256, cf. Rapp 1982, 43-58). According to Mountjoy’s analysis of the pottery, this destruction took place at the end of the LH IIIA2 period, or c. 1300 B.C. (Mountjoy 1999a, 258, 288). Rebuilding began soon after the earthquake, and in the citadel the new and much smaller buildings of Troia VIIa were constructed on the ruins of the Troia VI houses. Small, one or two room, structures were built in the former street between the Troia VI houses and the citadel wall, parts of which were repaired; and storage pithoi were sunk to their rims in some of the floors of the new buildings. Troia VIIa was sacked and burned (Blegen et al. 1958, 12, cf. Mountjoy 1999b, esp. 295-297). Apparently this hostile action was sudden, since human bones lay unburied in the streets just inside the South Gate and also in two of the houses (Blegen 1962, 379). Korfmann also noted evidence of burning, some skeletons and heaps of slingstones (Korfmann 2001a, cf. Wiener 2007, 8). According to Mountjoy’s analyses, this destruction occurred at the end of the LH IIIB2 period, most probably in the Transitional LH IIIB2 to IIIC Early period, c. 1210-1190 B.C. (Mountjoy 1999b, esp. 297-301).

Blegen had assumed that Troia VIIa was of a relatively short duration. But Mountjoy has shown that this was actually a long phase, with two floor levels in Houses VII gamma and House 371, three floor levels in House 722 and two levels in Street 710; and several houses were rebuilt in the extensive lower town (Mountjoy 1999b, esp. 296-297).

After the destruction of Troia VIIa, rebuilding seems to have begun almost immediately, in Troia VIIb1 (Mountjoy 1999b, 321). Very little Mycenaean pottery was found in Troia VIIb1, and even less in Troia VIIb2, although both these levels were of fairly long duration. Troia VIIb2 ended, apparently at some time within the LH IIIC Late period, with a destruction, probably the result of an earthquake, and possibly accompanied by some burning (Blegen 1958, 147, 1963, 172, cf. Mountjoy 1999b, 333-334).


In the last thirty years our knowledge of the political geography of southern and western Anatolia in the Late Bronze Age has been transformed by some major new discoveries. Chief among these are two inscriptions from the reign of Tudhaliya IV (ca. 1237-1209 B.C.), the Boğazköy Bronze Tablet and the YALBURT inscription (Hawkins 2002, 94-101 with refs.), together with Hawkins’ revelation that the Karabel inscription was the work of a king of Mira (Hawkins 1998). In particular, the locations of Millawanda (as Miletos) and Apasa (as Ephesos) are now reaffirmed, and further documented by archaeological finds (for Miletos, Niemeier 1997 and 1999; for Ephesos, Büyükolanci 2000, 37-41 and Gates 1996, 319). At many sites on the west coast of Anatolia, from Izmir to Bodrum, there is now substantial evidence of Mycenaean influence. This is shown mainly by imported Mycenaean pottery and its local imitations, but also in particular by the settlement at Miletos, which was distinctly Mycenaean in character, as was the chamber tomb cemetery at Müsgebi, near Bodrum (Mountjoy 1998, cf. Hawkins 2002, 96 with refs.).

From the Hittite documents we now possess it has been established that the homeland of Ahhiyawa was not in Anatolia but somewhere overseas from there, i.e. within the Mycenaean mainland and/or the Aegean islands (Hawkins 1998); and Troy is now even more securely identified as the capital of the Wilusa of the Hittite texts (Hawkins 2002, with fig. 11, map of Anatolia). The name Wilusa (or Wilusiya) appears in only a few of the Hittite texts, ranging from the reign of Tudhaliya I/II (ca. 1400-1350 B.C.) to that of Tudhaliya IV (ca. 1237-1209 B.C.), as outlined by Hawkins and Bryce (Hawkins 2002; Bryce 2006, esp. 107-112, 182-186, cf. Bryce 2005, passim).


(after Bryce 2005, p. xv. Dates approximate)

Tudhaliya I/II

Arnuwanda I

Hattusili II?

Tudhaliya III

Suppiluliuma I 1350-1322
Arnuwanda II 1322-1321
Mursili II 1321-1295
Muwatalli II 1295-1272
Urhi-Teshub 1272-1267
Hattusili III 1267-1237
Tudhaliya IV 1237-1228
Kurunta 1228-1227
Tudhaliya IV 1227-1209
Arnuwanda III 1209-1207
Suppiluliuma II 1207-?



Throughout the New Kingdom period (c. 1400-1200 B.C.) the Hittite Kings were continuously striving to maintain their control over the vast extent of their empire, which comprised most of the territory of modern Turkey and part of the Levant. The Hittite modus operandi for dealing with their subjects and with foreign neighbours is well described by Beckman (Beckman 1999, 1-6). More powerful and/or more distant foreign rulers, such as the pharaohs of Egypt were “drawn into alliance as equals” by means of “parity treaties”. Lesser and nearer territories, considered as belonging to the Hittite empire, were systematically annexed as vassal Kingdoms (cf. Bryce 2005, 48-51). Their rulers would be compelled, under the strict terms of vassal treaties, to promise loyalty to the Hittite King. The treaties were enforced by “binding and oaths” (to the Gods) and by the threat of both divine and Hittite retribution, if the vassal broke the terms of the treaty. In return, if the vassal abided by the oaths, the Hittite King promised his blessings and protection. Peaceful submission was preferred and rewarded; but if military means were required to prevent or to crush sedition, a Hittite force would be sent to intimidate or, if necessary, to ‘smite’ the rebels (Beckman 1999 index s.v. ‘loyalty’ and ‘sedition’). This military assistance would be provided both by the Hittite forces and by other troops recruited (under the terms of the vassal treaties) from other vassal states. On at least two occasions, a Hittite garrison was installed in a vassal territory (Beckman 1999, index s.v. ‘garrison’ and ‘military assistance’).

As Bryce reminds us, the Hittite New Kingdom rulers were more concerned with controlling the regions to north, east and southeast of their homeland, and “confined their involvement in western Anatolia to occasional military operations in the region ….. only in response to perceived military threats to Hittite territory” (Bryce 2005, 136-138). Control of western Anatolia, known to the Hittites as ‘the Arzawa lands’ (Hawkins 2002, 94, cf. Bryce 2005, 47) proved especially difficult for the Hittites. It was far distant from their capital of Hattusas (Boğazköy), and separated from it by mountainous terrain. Conversely, the Arzawa lands were easily accessible by sea, both from neighbouring territories along the coast to the south and from the islands of the Aegean. In western Anatolia the Hittites often had to cope with unreliable vassal kings (especially Madduwatta and Manapatarhunta) and other local troublemakers, such as Pijamaradu. At times also they encountered interference from outside adventurers, most notably Attarissyas, the ‘man of Ahhiya’ (Güterbock 1983, 133-134; Hawkins 1998, 25, 30; Bryce 2005, 129-138) and from Ahhiyawan kings and princes, especially Tawagalawa, the brother of an Ahhiyawan king (Hawkins 1998, 17, 25-28; Bryce 2005, 290-293, 361, 366). The relevant episodes are discussed below.


From Hawkins’ summary of our present knowledge of western Anatolia in the Late Bronze Age, Wilusa is seen to have been, for the Hittites, a remote territory, not easy to control (Hawkins 2002, 98-100). It was protected on the south and southeast by the Ida mountains. The least difficult access was from the south. “The evidence of the treaties and of the Manapatarhunta letter suggests that Wilusa was more remote than the other Arzawan states and specifically reached through the Seha River land with which it may have shared a frontier” (Hawkins 2002, 23 with map, fig. 11). The ‘Land of Wilusija” appears beside the ‘Land of T(a)ruisa’ among the kingdoms defeated by Tudhaliya I/II (ca. 1390-1370 B.C.) in his campaign against the Assuwa confederacy, following his subjugation of Arzawa (Hawkins 2002, 29 with refs.). But it is not clear whether Wilusa played an active part in this confederacy. After his dissolution of Assuwa, Wilusa was presumably categorized as an Arzawa land, as it certainly was in the reign of Muwatalli II (ca. 1295-1272 B.C.); since, in the treaty of Muwatalli with its vassal king Alaksandu (discussed below), Wilusa is listed as the fourth Arzawa kingdom (Hawkins 2002, 99, cf. Hawkins 1998, 14-16).

In the third year of his reign (i.e. ca. 1318 B.C.) Mursili II reduced Arzawa and raided Millawanda (Miletos) (Hawkins 1998, 10 n. 25, 14-16; Hawkins 2002, 97-98 with refs.; Hope Simpson 2003, 217-218; Bryce 2005, 192-197). In the following spring, after taking Puranda, Mursili turned his attention to the Seha River land and its ‘unreliable’ king Manapatarhunta, who was then forced to surrender, but was subsequently reinstated as a vassal. Later, in the reign of Muwatalli II (ca. 1295-1272 B.C.), Manapatarhunta is seen to be trying, without success, to drive the troublemaker Pijamaradu out of the region (Bryce 2005, 225-226). The events are recounted in the Manapatarhunta Letter, in which is recorded the ‘smiting’ of the land of Lazpa (Lesbos) by Atpa, at the instigation of Pijamaradu, with a force including men of Manapatarhunta and of the Hittite King, all of whom are said to have come ‘across the sea’ (Hawkins 1998, 23 with n. 138, cf. Houwink ten Cate 1983-1984). The letter also reveals that a Hittite army, sent out under Gassu, went via the Seha River land ‘to smite the land Wilusa’ (Hawkins 2002, 99). The reason for this action is not explained. As Hawkins says (ibid.), this is one of the very few passages which suggest that a Hittite army might actually have reached Wilusa (In the earlier Assuwa campaign of Tudhaliya I/II the Hittite army may not have gone any further than Assuwa). Muwatalli then appointed Alaksandu as the vassal king of Wilusa, under the stringent terms of a vassal treaty. The “long but damaged” historical introduction in this treaty gives a survey of the previous Hatti-Wilusa relations (Beckman 1999 no. 13, with bibliography on pp. 188-189, cf. Latacz 2004, 76-78 and 105-112, incorporating the translation into English by Starke). This historical introduction testifies to the continuous loyalty of Wilusa to the Hittite Kings, even at the time of the campaign of Tudhaliya I/II against Arzawa.

We have no record of any further trouble with Wilusa until the time of Tudhaliya IV (ca. 1237-1209 B.C.). In the ‘Milawata Letter’ Tudhaliya is concerned with restoring Walmu, the ousted vassal king of Wilusa, to his vassal throne. As a first step in this restoration, the Hittite King is asking the recipient of the letter (identified by Hawkins as Tarkasnawa, king of Mira) to deliver Walmu to him (Hawkins 2002, 99, cf. Hawkins 1998, 17; Bryce 2005, 306-308, Bryce 2006, 111-112).


The earliest datable record of Ahhiyawan involvement in western Anatolia comes from the Hittite text known as the Indictment of Madduwatta (Beckman 1999, no. 27; Bryce 2005, 129-136, cf. Hope Simpson 2003, 216-217 with nn. 64-68). This letter, whose author was Arnuwanda I, outlines the ‘career’ of Madduwatta, an insubordinate and duplicitous vassal king, in the reigns of Tudhaliya I/II and his son Arnuwanda I (from ca. 1390 to c. 1350 B.C., or LH IIIA1 to early LH IIIA2 in Mycenaean terms). In the course of the events recounted in the text, Madduwatta was driven out of his vassal kingdom by a rival “similar in equipment and ambition” (Mellink 1983, 139) named Attarissya, described as a ‘man of Ahhiya’. This adventurer was apparently not a king of Ahhiyawa but “an individual Ahhiyan who had established a base in western Anatolia” (Bryce 2005, 129-130, cf. Bryce 2006, 101-112). “He may have come with his 100 chariots from one of the Mycenaean settlements in the southwest” (Güterbock 1983, 138). Tudhaliya showed remarkable forbearance in his dealings with Madduwatta, preferring to enlist him as a vassal, despite his obvious territorial ambitions. Madduwatta was indeed rescued, and restored to his vassal throne, after Attarissya’s troops, including 100 chariots, “probably of Anatolian origin” (Bryce 2005, 130), were repulsed by a Hittite force of infantry and chariots under the general Kisnapili. The story continues with the various treacherous machinations of Madduwatta, (including his ambush and slaughter of Kisnapili, his former saviour. Despite all these violations of allegiance, there was no retaliation by the Hittite King. Madduwatta was allowed to gain control of much of western Anatolia, and later raided ‘the land of Alasiya’ (Cyprus), and apparently now in collaboration with Attarissiya and ‘the man of Piggaya’. The Hittite King (Arnuwanda I) was obviously enraged by this attack on one of his own lands, but responded only with a rebuke. It seems that, like his father Tudhaliya, he opted for peace and stability in western Anatolia, even if this could only be ensured by allowing Madduwatta to enjoy his evilly gained conquests.

Ahhiyawan intervention in western Anatolia is next evidenced by two badly mutilated fragments from the annals of Mursili II (ca. 1321-1295 B.C.), concerning the events of year three of his reign (ca. 1318 B.C.), and preceding his conquest of Arzawa (briefly mentioned above). As Hawkins says, “The account opens with an unfortunately fragmentary passage concerning the king of Arzawa, the city of Millawanda and the king of Ahhiyawa, and what was apparently a raid on the city conducted by Hittite generals” (Hawkins 1998, 14). The story continues with Mursili’s conquest and partitioning of Arzawa, following the seizure of its capital Apasa (Ephesos) and the flight of its king Uhhaziti and his sons from Apasa ‘across the sea to the islands’ (Hawkins 1998, 14 n. 44, 22, 30; Bryce 2005, 194 with n. 15. For the interpretation of gursauwananza as ‘islands’ see Starke 1981). All the indications point towards an identification of ‘The Islands’ as the Dodecanese, with probably Samos as the point of their first arrival (cf. Hope Simpson 2003, 217). The degree of Ahhiyawan involvement at this time with Uhhaziti and with the city of Millawanda, can not be determined; but evidently a son of Uhhaziti subsequently left the island of his first refuge and went ‘to the king of Ahhiyawa”, before being brought back (i.e. extradited). As Güterbock comments, the king of Ahhiyawa “apparently is somewhere across the water, since a ship is needed to bring the prince back” (Güterbock 1983, 134-135, cf. Hawkins 1998, 30 and Bryce 2005, 192-195).

For Ahhiyawan involvement in western Anatolia the most important Hittite document is the ‘Tawagalawa Letter’, from Hattusili III (ca. 1267-1237, i.e. within the LH IIIB period) to the king of Ahhiyawa. Hattusili is here negotiating with his ‘Brother’ (the king of Ahhiyawa) for the extradition (from Millawanda) of Pijamaradu, “a refractory Arzawan prince” (Hawkins 1998, 17), who had been making trouble in western Anatolia, and very probably with the connivance of Ahhiyawa (Hawkins 1998, 17, 25-28, cf. Güterbock 1983, 135-139, Bryce 2005, 290-293, Hope Simpson 2003, 219). Pijamaradu fled by boat from Millawanda and later turned up in the territory of Ahhiyawa, where, as Hattusili says in the Letter, it was rumoured that he was given protection (Hawkins 1998, 30). In a later section of the Letter, Hattusili is urging the king of Ahhiyawa to convey to Pijamaradu a specific list of instructions, promises and warnings. At the end of the list, he (the king of Ahhiyawa) is to add the following: ‘The King of Hatti and I, in that matter of Wilusa over which we were at enmity, he has converted me and we have made friends. A war would not be right for us’ (Garstang and Gurney 1959, 113). The inference here surely must be that no actual hostilities had yet occurred as a result of the dispute concerning Wilusa.

The Hittite records, although far from a complete account, certainly reveal some aggressive interference in western Anatolia by prominent Mycenaeans. But the Hittite Kings obviously tried to avoid actual conflict with Ahhiyawa. And their relations were not always adversarial. A letter of Hattusili III to an unknown king mentions a gift from the king of Ahhiyawa, presumably one sent to Hattusili himself (KBo II 11, rev. 11-12; Cline 1994, 124, C 14); a king of Ahhiyawa gives help to Urhi-Teshub (KBo XVI 22, 3; Cline 1994, 124, C 11); and the deities of Lazpa and Ahhiyawa are named among the aids sought to heal Mursili II, who had lost the power of speech (KUB V 6, II 57, 60; Cline 1994, 124, C 8). The Tawagalawa Letter provides a clear instance of amicable relationships between Hittites and Ahhiyawans of high rank. The same charioteer, Dabalaturhunda, a relative of the Hittite King, had ridden both with the King and with Tawagalawa, brother of the king of Ahhiyawa. (Tawagalawa Letter II 58 – III 6; Garstang and Gurney 1959, 112-118; Hawkins 1998, 17 n. 21 and Hawkins 2002, 100, citing Singer 1983, 3-25, esp. 9, for Hittite use of charioteers as confidential agents). Dabalaturhunda had married into the family of the famous Hittite queen Puduhepa (Bryce 2005, 286-289, cf. 250-251, 282-283 and 297-299).


The references in the Hittite documents to Wilusa and to Ahhiyawa begin at the time of Tudhaliya I/II and end with the time of Tudhaliya IV, i.e. spanning the Mycenaean periods from LH IIIA1 to LH IIIB2 (inclusive). This was the time of maximum Mycenaean prosperity and expansion, both on the Greek mainland and in the Aegean islands (Chapter 1). It was also the period of the maximum diffusion of Mycenaean pottery in the Near East. The Mycenaeans would naturally have been interested in Troy. Its chief asset was its position, at the mouth of the Dardanelles, the key to the riches of the Black Sea region and to the north in general (Sherratt and Sherratt 2002, 101-106. The harbour of Troy would certainly have been of use to the Mycenaeans, especially in their search for metals (tin and bronze), which could here have been acquired in exchange for Mycenaean olive oil (surely evidenced by the imported Mycenaean stirrup jars, Mommsen et al. 2001; Sherratt and Sherratt 2002, 105), and possibly also for wine. Troy itself may have produced some commodities for export, textiles in particular (Barber 1991, 54; Sherratt and Sherratt 2002, 103-104). Textile dyeing is evidenced by the over ten kilograms of Murex shells found in a level of Troia VI, and traces of metal working from an early level of Troia VI were discovered at the edge of the Lower City (Korfmann 1998a, 9, 52). The large amount of horse bones found in Troia VI levels suggest a market for horses, which would be needed for chariots (Korfmann 1998b, 382, cf. Latacz 2004, 43, citing Starke 1995 for Hittite manuals on training chariot horses). Troy (Ilion) is described in Il. 5. 551 as ‘eupolos’ (‘with fine foals’), and the Trojans are frequently called ‘hippodamoi’ (‘horse tamers’) in the Iliad (cf. Page 1959, 251-252 with nn. 109-113). Troy was far from the main centres of maritime trade in the Near East (Sherratt and Sherratt 2002, 105 “by comparison with some of its Bronze Age contemporaries, it was not metropolitan”); but it was of substantial importance as ‘a hub of trade’ in this northern region (Korfmann 2001b, cf. Korfmann 1995, 181-182). Troy also benefited from the increased commercial activity at this time to the south, from Egypt and Syria and northwards along the southern and western shores of Anatolia. The cargo of the ship sunk in c. 1300 B.C. off Uluburun, at the southwest tip of Anatolia, illustrates the scale and variety of the goods transported by sea (Bass 1986, Pulak 1988, Bass 1989, Pulak 1998). Besides the many ingots of copper, and the tin, ivory, textiles and terebinth resin, other items included “a characteristic bronze axe of Lozovo/Pobit Kamyk type otherwise known only from the lower Danube area and implying transmission via the Sea of Marmara and thus most probably through Troy itself” (Sherratt and Sherratt 2002, 105, citing Buchholz 1999).


Mycenaean pottery and pottery of Mycenaean style is said to have comprised less than one percent of the pottery found in the Troia VI and Troia VII levels (as discussed above). But in the Besik Tepe cemetery, on the west coast opposite, the Mycenaean and Mycenacan influenced pottery, mainly LH IIIB, constitutes nearly one third of the fine wares found in the tombs by Korfmann’s team (Korfmann 1985, 1986 and 1988). The burial gifts were of fine quality, including weapons and other bronze artefacts. And the tomb themselves, and the burial rites observed, also appear to have emulated Mycenaean practices (Basedow 2002, 472-473, cited by Wiener 2007, 14, cf. Basedow 2000 and 2007, 55). By this time (LH IIIB), the alluvium brought down by the Scamander river and other streams had filled up much of the Troia bay, so that Troy was no longer on the coast (Kraft et al. 2003). A harbour at Besika bay would perhaps now have become necessary for the continuing of the coastal trade. The evidence certainly suggests a Mycenaean presence at Besik Tepe, and Sperling supposes a group of adventurers here “engaged in trade and maritime activities connected with Mycenaean expansion at its height” (Sperling 1991, 156). But there is no evidence to support his suggestion of hostilities between these adventurers and the local inhabitants.


The Mycenaeans were certainly involved in Anatolian politics, and were at times in confrontation with the Hittites and with other Anatolian powers. But there is no evidence that a Mycenaean king ever set foot in Anatolia, not even in the ‘Sins of the Seha River Land’ episode, where the rebel Tarhunaradu is said to be “relying on” a king of Ahhiyawa (Hawkins 1998, 20, 30 n. 206 and Hope Simpson 2003, 221, n. 119). Nevertheless it is evident that the Mycenaeans held a naval supremacy in the Aegean at this time (ca. 1400 to ca. 1200 B.C.). For his raid on Alasiya (Cyprus), Attarissya must have had a considerable fleet; and Tawagalawa, for all his wide-ranging activities in western Anatolia, would also have needed a fleet (Hope Simpson 2003, 220-222).

As Bryce reminds us, there is no actual historical evidence for an attack on Troy by Mycenaean forces, let alone a siege of ten years duration (Bryce 2006, 182-186). Analyses of the Mycenaean pottery at Troy have established a date of LH IIIB2/LH IIIC Early (ca. 1200 B.C.) for the destruction of Troia VIIa and a date of LH IIIC Late (c. 1070) for the destruction of Troia VIIb2 (Mountjoy 1999b, see discussion above). The Troia VIIa destruction is the only one which can be definitely attributed to hostile action (as was observed long ago by Desborough 1964, 163-165). It seems unlikely that this destruction was the work of a Mycenaean coalition at this time, since the Mycenaeans palatial system was then in a state of collapse (Chapter 1). But a raid on Troy by a group of Mycenaeans (exiles?) and/or other marauders is a distinct possibility. The suggestion that the Hittites may have been responsible for the destruction is unsupported. There is no indication that the restoration, by Tudhaliya IV, of Walmu to his vassal throne of Wilusa was effected by any Hittite military action; and there is no record of any (supposed) Hittite retribution against Troy at this time (Basedow 2007, 56-57 contra). Besides, the Hittite empire itself was now on the verge of collapse, threatened both by powerful enemies and internal strife (Bryce 2005, 327-356). Egypt was also at this time under attack from the Libyans and their allies, who are named in the inscription of Merneptah (ca. 1213-1204 B.C.) on the eastern wall of the temple at Karnak. And these attacks continued in the early years of the reign of Ramesses III (ca. 1185-1154), Merneptah’s successor, as recorded on the walls of the Medinet Habu temple (Bryce 2005, 335-340). These invaders are there described as ‘peoples from across the sea”. It has naturally been suggested that some of these ‘Sea Peoples’ may have taken part in the destruction of Troia VIIa. “The final major destruction of Troy came at the time of the wars and raids known as the era of the Sea Peoples. This was clearly the danger that the provisions of Troy VIIa were trying to defend against” (Mellink 1986, 100). This would certainly provide a reason for the construction in Troia VIIa of the small rooms built against the citadel wall, and the storage pithoi within them sunk to their rims in the floors.

The exact origins of the various groups of these ‘Sea Peoples’ named in the Egyptian inscriptions have not been definitively established. Bryce maintains that “it is quite possible that all groups listed in the Egyptian records originated in Anatolia, particularly western Anatolia” (Bryce 2005, 338). But the only probable identification is that of the Luka as the Lukka Lands (of the Hittite texts) in southern Anatolia. And the Luka are mentioned only in the Mernaptah inscription and not in the Ramesses III records. The Ekwesh have often been conjecturally equated with the Achaeans of Greek tradition; but this identification is questionable since, as Niemeier points out, they are said to have practiced circumcision, a custom alien to the Aegean (Niemeier 1998, 46, with refs.). He observes that “in western Anatolia settlement of an unmistakably Aegean/Mycenaean character is restricted to the coastal strip of southern Ionia and Caria, an area too small to be the homeland of the Philistines and other Sea Peoples.” The Sea Peoples who settled in the Levant included three ethnic groups, the Sherden, the Tjekker and the Peleset (Philistines). The locations of their respective territories in the Levant are well attested. Niemeier here summarizes the archaeological evidence from the Philistine sites at Ashdod, Ekron and Ashkelon, where all the new pottery types from their first phase of settlement, both the fine decorated and the plain domestic ware, originated in the Mycenaean world (Niemeier 1998, 47-49, with refs.). He therefore concludes that “all archaeological evidence indicates an origin of the Sea Peoples (at least for those settling between Akko in the north and Gaza in the south) from the Mycenaeanized Aegean (probably via Cyprus).” At this time (from the end of the 13th century to the last part of the 12th century B.C.), there were indeed close connections between the Levant and the newly developed urban sites in Cyprus (Sherratt 1998, cf. Hankey 1993), including the fortified sites of Maa-Palaiokastro and Pyla-Kokkinokremnos (Wiener 2007, 20-21, with nn. 134-135; but see also the reconsiderations in Dickinson 2006, 62-63). Their populations had probably been increased by refugees from the Greek mainland, where the palatial systems were breaking down. The destruction of Troy at the end of Troia VIIa could be seen as another instance of the turmoil in the Aegean and the Near East at this time. With the Hittite empire in a state of collapse, minor kingdoms, such as Ugarit, and maritime towns, such as Troy, would have been more vulnerable to raids (for Ugarit, cf. Bryce 2005, 333-334, for translations of parts of the relevant inscriptions, which vividly portray the desperate situation faced by Ammurapi, the last king of Ugarit).


The historical records summarized above certainly show that Wilusa (Troy) played a considerable part in the politics of the Hittite New Kingdom period; and the excavations reveal that Troy suffered at least one major destruction by hostile forces, i.e. at the end of Troia VIIa. But these records do not themselves provide a sufficient explanation for the origin of a Greek legend of a major Greek expedition against such a distant foreign city. And Homer’s Iliad, our main source for this legend, is itself only a secondary source for the story of a siege and sack of Troy by a Greek confederacy (Latacz 2004, 154-212, esp. 204-205). The Iliad itself gives only a small part of the Trojan War saga. The main plot of the Iliad covers only 51 days in the tenth year of the siege, and ends before the final sack of Troy. But the frequent allusions in the Iliad to other episodes in the saga presuppose that the audience will already be familiar with the whole story. And from the number and variety of these allusions it can be deduced that this story would have been of very great length.

As many commentators have reminded us, there is no mention in the Iliad of the Hittites. Nor is there any indication that the Poet of the Iliad was aware of the Mycenaean achievements in civil engineering, such as the Tiryns dam and the Lake Kopais canals (Chapter 1). But references to such works are not to be expected in an epic concerned with warfare and violence. And there is a gap of about 400 years between the (supposed) time of the Trojan War and the time of the composition of the Iliad (discussed in Chapter 3 below). During the period of this gap the only vehicle available for the transmission of the story would have been oral poetry.

There are no clear indications as to when or why the story began. Those who do not believe that there was ever an actual attack on Troy (Wilusa) by Mycenaean Greeks have sought alternative explanations for the origin of the story. Blegen apparently had assumed that, after the demise of Troia VIIb2, Troy had remained unoccupied for about three centuries, i.e. from ca. 1050 to ca. 750 B.C. But the excavations by Korfmann’s team (as summarized in Basedow 2007, esp. 49-53) have now revealed (in Area D9) “exceptionally well-sealed Bronze Age – Iron Age transitional deposits providing a complete, un-interrupted stratigraphic sequence” (Basedow 2007, 50, citing Korfmann 2001a, 22-27 and Aslan 2002). She concludes, “It seems that there had been an earlier Sanctuary on the site from at least the Late 9th/Early 8th century onward, with a significant Middle Protogeometric deposit, one of the largest in all of the northeast Aegean, as its predecessor (Basedow 2007, 51, citing R. Catling 1998, 162). There is therefore now evidence that Troy was still inhabited in the Protogeometric and Early Geometric periods, even if with a much reduced population.

Sarah P. Morris argues that the ruins of Troy themselves may have given rise to the story of a siege. She points out that the upper stone socle of the walls of Troia VI would have been visible from the Troia VIII West Sanctuary and would have been “a major attraction for pilgrims and poets”. But, as she says, “The first installations in this locale date to the first half of the seventh century B.C., just when early visitors and settlers in the Troad re-invented Troy as Ilion, a site for pilgrimage and homage to its epic past” (S.P. Morris 2007, 62). It is, however, more likely that such an attraction would have been due to a previous dissemination of the Iliad itself. The circulation of Homeric epic is also the best explanation of the hero cults on the Greek mainland, which begin in the late 8th century B.C. These are evidenced by the Late Geometric and Archaic offerings placed in many Mycenaean tombs, especially in the Argolid, Messenia and Attica and hero cults at the Agamemnoneion in Mycenae and at the Menelaion (Coldstream 1976 with refs., and Coldstream 1977, 341-356, and for the Menelaion see now H.W. Catling 1976-77, 1982, and 1983; R.W.V. Catling 1985-86, 1986, and 1992). “There can be no doubt that the diffusion of epic poetry of the Homeric type was responsible for this new consciousness of the past” (West 1988, 151).

The ‘pilgrims’ who may have visited Troy in ca. 700 B.C. may have been able to see part of the Troia VI walls. But they could not have seen the defensive works of the Troia VI and Troia VIIa ‘Lower City’, discovered by Korfmann’s team, namely the wooden palisade and gateway, and the ditches (both ca. 3.0 m wide at the bottom). These constructions which also could not have been seen either by Homer or by his contemporaries, naturally recall the defensive wall, and the ditch and palisade outside it, of the camp of the Achaeans in the Iliad, opposite Troy. This ditch is described as both deep and broad, with steep sides, and surmounted by a palisade of thick stakes, closely set together, an obstacle to horses and men (Il. 7. 433-441, with 7. 336-343 and 12. 49-79, cf. 8. 212-215, 8. 343-344, 15. 1-2 and 15. 343-345). Homer’s description of the ditch and palisade prepares his audience for the sequence of events in the ensuing battle. When the Trojans, led by Hector, begin their assault on the Greek camp and ships, their chariots are at first stopped short by the ditch. The Trojans, after dismounting, at first achieve a partial success, reaching the Greek ships; but when they are later forced to retreat back across the ditch, many of their teams of horses snap their poles at the heads of their shafts and leave both charioteers and chariots behind (Il. 16. 364-376). The ditch thus indeed proves its worth as an effective obstacle to chariots.


The terrain of Troy and of its geography have been investigated many times by scholars and antiquarians from a variety of disciplines, and most recently by experts in geomorphology. A systematic programme of drilling has been carried out in the region since 1977, directed by I. Kayan, in order to determine the landscape changes throughout the Holocene period (Kayan 1991, 1995, 1996 and 1997). The results are summarized in a publication entitled “Harbor areas at ancient Troy: Sedimentology Geomorphology complement Homer’s Iliad ” (Kraft et al. 2003). This paleogeographic study not only provides valuable primary scientific data but also throws new light on the degree of accuracy of some of Homer’s descriptions. The authors conclude: “….. the paleoenvironments we have mapped have allowed us to test phrases in the Iliad and to specify areas that could have been served as harbors for ancient Troy and, indeed, for the Greek camp and other landforms of the Iliad. Nothing that our research has discovered negates descriptions in the Iliad” (Kraft et al. 2003, 163). Also tested by this study is the commentary by Strabo the Geographer (end of 1st century B.C.). His commentary (Strabo 13. 1. 31-42) was partly derived from two local antiquarians, Demetrios of Scepsis (cited several times by Strabo) and Hestiaea of Alexandria Troias (cited by Demetrios of Scepsis at Strabo 13. 1. 36), who is lauded by Kraft et al. (op. cit. 165) for her acute observation that “the plain now visible in front of the city” (i.e. in front of the Ilion of her time) was a later deposit of the rivers, i.e. of the Scamander etc. Strabo certainly knew this later city of Ilion (Troia VIII), which had been built over the Troia hill and its slopes in the Hellenistic period. He assumed, correctly, that this was also the site of Homer’s Troy, but says that “no trace of this survives” (Strabo 13. 1. 37-38). He provides no details of the Ilion of his day. Like many other ancient writers, Strabo was more concerned with Homer, and with the Iliad in particular. Accordingly, he gives a good account of the condition of the Scamander plain (or Trojan plain) at the time, and of the main rivers, the Scamander and the Simoeis, which flow through it: “After the Simoeis and the Scamander meet in the plain, they carry great quantities of alluvium, fill the coast with silt, and create a blind mouth and lagoons and marshes” (Strabo 13.1.31). “The Scamander and Simoeis rivers ….. meet a little in front of the present Ilion, and then issue towards Sigeion and form Stomolimne (literally ‘lagoon at the mouth,’ Strabo 13.1.34). Strabo next tells us that the mouth of the Scamander river, i.e. of the now combined Scamander and Simoeis rivers, was in his time 20 stades (ca. 2 km) to west of Ilion and that the Greek ship station in the Iliad was close to Sigeion and near the mouth of the Scamander. The supposed site of the Greek ship station was identified by Kayan as on the north side of the ‘Kesic cut’, on the coast to south of Sigeion (Kayan 1995). The situation in Strabo’s time has been reconstructed in a map compiled by Kraft et al. (op. cit. fig. 4). At the (alleged) time of the Trojan War the mouth of the Scamander would have been further to the east and nearer to Troy; and the part of the Trojan plain to west of the Scamander would have been correspondingly larger (Kraft et at. 2003 fig. 5, partly following Luce 1998). In the battle at the Scamander, the Trojans are “on the swelling of the plain”, opposite the Greek ship station (Il. 20 1-3), before Achilles drives them back to the Scamander (Il. 21. 1-16), where they are forced to fall into its deep-flowing stream, with its strong currents and steep banks (Il. 21. 25-26).

The Iliad’s depiction of the topography of Troy has been shown to be essentially correct, although the detailed descriptions, especially the vivid picture of the river Scamander, are selective, since their purpose is to illustrate the scene of the battle. It is not likely that the poet himself actually saw Troy or the Troad (according to some traditions, he was blind). But the descriptions are sufficiently accurate in the main to suggest that they were derived by eye-witness, either that of informants contemporary with Homer or as preserved in an earlier poem (or poems). Also presumably derived from an eye-witness account is the view (Poseidon’s) of Mt. Ida and the Troad “from the highest peak of wooded Samothrace” (Il. 13. 10-16; and for Mt. Ida cf. Il. 11. 181-184), although only a God could have actually discerned Troy, “the city of Priam”, and “the ships of the Achaeans” from such a distance.


The Hittite documents attest the involvement of both Wilusa and Ahhiyawa in the politics of the Hittite New Kingdom, from ca. 1400 to ca. 1200 B.C. And we have archaeological evidence for the destruction of Troia VIIa at the end of this period. The Hittite empire was then in the process of dissolution, the Sea Peoples had attacked Egypt and several former Near Eastern kingdoms, such as Amurru and Ugarit, were subjected to piratical raids or factional strife. This is exactly the time when a similar raid on Troy would be expected; and Mycenaean involvement is more than likely. It is apparent that the Sea Peoples included Mycenaeans, some of whom settled in Cyprus and Palestine (Niemeier 1998). And the previous aggressive Mycenaean activity in western Anatolia is a further indication. The exceptionally strong fortifications of some major Mycenaean sites, the quantities of weapons in Mycenaean graves, and the defensive provisions documented by the Pylos Linear B tablets, all show that the Mycenaeans were well used to warfare. Indeed it is difficult to imagine that the Mycenaean states would have been at peace with each other throughout the Palatial Period (LH IIIA to LH IIIB) or that there were no hostilities at the end of this period, when many sites were destroyed and/or abandoned and the palace bureaucracies vanished.

It is not difficult to understand how a raid on Troy (by a band of displaced Mycenaeans?) could have been expanded to a ten year siege in an epic devoted to the deeds of heroic warriors. The story of a previous sack of Troy by Herakles, with only six ships (Il. 5. 638-642) suggests just this kind of raid (cf. Bryce 2006, 187; Wiener 2007, 7-8). Many of the episodes in the Iliad are, of course, the products of poetic imagination and exaggeration. But perhaps we should not too easily dismiss the possibility of an expedition undertaken for the purpose of recovering an abducted queen (Bryce 2006, 186-189; Wiener 2007, 32). Powerful Hittite queens include Danuhepa, wife of Mursili II (Bryce 2005, esp. 207-210) and Puduhepa, wife of Hattusili III (Bryce 2005, esp. 250-251 and 286-287). And marriages between royal families of Near Eastern kingdoms were frequent (Bryce 2005 index s.v. “marriage alliances”). Tawananna, the wife of Suppiluliuma I, was the daughter of Burnaburiash, King of Babylon (Bryce 2005, esp. 207-210). One very important marriage was between Ramesses II and a daughter of Hattusili III, in the 33rd year of Ramesses’ reign (autumn of 1246 B.C., Bryce 2005, 282-283). During the reign of Tudhaliya IV (1227-1209 B.C.) a marriage between a princess of Amurru and Ammistamru, the young King of Ugarit, ended in a divorce. “The princess had apparently committed a serious offence against her husband, perhaps adultery” (Bryce 2005, 301-302). Ammistamru was preparing to use military force to ensure that the princess would be extradited back to Ugarit. As Bryce points out, “A gross insult to a Kingdom’s honour might well provoke retaliation on a massive scale” (Bryce 2006, 187-188).


In a joint article by Korfmann, Latacz and Hawkins (Archaeology May/June 2004, 36-41) the Late Manfred Korfmann asks “Why should scholars who won’t rule out a possible degree of historicity in the basic events in the Iliad have to defend their position?” He argues that, in the light of the recent archaeological and historical findings, “Everything currently suggests that Homer should be taken seriously, that his story of a military conflict between Greeks and the inhabitants of Troy is based on a memory of historical events, whatever these may have been” (op. cit. 41). Hawkins (op. cit. 40) also concludes that “There is every likelihood that the Iliad and the traditions of the Trojan War, however immortalized in the epic narrative, do indeed preserve a memory of actual events of the Late Bronze Age”.


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Mycenaean Greece and Homeric Tradition Copyright © by Richard Hope Simpson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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