The plaque at the entrance to the Troy Archeological Site says “The Winds Brought Wealth to Troy.” What brought me was sexy pictures.
Ancient mariners didn’t know how to sail against the wind so they had to wait for the weather to provide them with a direction-friendly breeze. The prevailing wind in this part of Turkey is from the north so it was easy for folks from the Black Sea to get launched into the Mediterranean. On the flip side, a fairly predictable switch to a southerly gust provided the means for a return trip. Troy was positioned at a pinch-point on this sea route so merchant ships made this port and waited here for the right wind. Troy became an influential and rich trade center.
I became interested in Troy, like many, from the lively legends spun by Homer about the Trojan war. Well kind of, because if I must confess, what kick-started my interest was less scholarly and more..well…lusty. As a young boy, my first copies of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey were “young adult” versions I checked out from the local library. In these books each chapter was illustrated with images from ancient Greek pottery and the pictures were often of naked people. So it was from a few slipped togas that I got hooked on the stories, which are actually quite good too.
Homer knew how to write a lead and definitely used sex to sell his stories. His headline wasn’t about seizing Troy’s potential plunder, but more like, “Helen, Greek Beauty Kidnapped by Trojans!” The books are full of action, battles, monsters, heroes and love. (I probably would have read them even without the nudie pottery pics.)
So the big question; was the Trojan War more than a myth and if so where did it happen? Alexander the Great believed he was an incarnation of the Illiad’s hero, Achilles, and had a temple built in Turkey at a place currently called Troy, Troia, Tevfikiye and Ilios by the locals. In more recent times (1870s) Heinrich Schliemann, a wealthy German business man, wanted to find the historic city and figured he had enough evidence to start digging in the area. He found a treasure and declared he had found Homer’s Troy. For the most part the world believed him and to some degree he was right but there were complications.
You see Troy was always a good building site and quite popular for a very long time. For thousands of years successions of civilizations built there but not in a neat layer cake fashion, one on top of another. Rather it was more like a multi-layer salad, loosely stratified but also mixed up. Sometimes new structure was built upon old structure but just as often walls and buildings were repurposed, blended and merged. The result was anything but a clear archeological picture and to the average visitor it looks like a jumble of rocks and walls.
Disciplined, scientific archeologists now recognize nine distinct periods or civilizations built on the spot we call Troy. Schliemann found a bunch of gold and smuggled it out of Turkey but as it turns out it was from Troy II. Troy II is carbon dated to 2,200 BCE. No way this could this be Homer’s Troy… 1,000 years too early!
Troy VII is probably it. Here is evidence of a regal city but with hastily built war towers. The main gate to Troy VII has a pile of rocks crammed in to block passage. There is evidence of fire, arrowheads stuck in walls, and a skeleton whose owner had broken bones. And it dates to around 1,190 BCE, the end of the Bronze Age and a good fit for Homer.
So is it really Troy? There are still plenty of arguments, probably more pro than con. How does it look to the average pedestrian? Well it doesn’t make for good pictures. As a photographer I can say that; the image of the past is not in focus and the scene requires scholarly edification. But then there is Homer and the tale he told that has lodged itself firmly in the foundation of the Western canon. Have the digs at Tevfikiye added some needed cred to the tale? I don’t know…probably but what they certainly have done is brought me to Troy to touch some old stones, walk down some old paths and ponder some old stories…for whatever the reason.