The walls of the supposed city of Troy
Troy (Greek Τροιας) is a legendary city, the location of the Trojan War, as described in the Iliad, an epic poem in Ancient Greek. The poem was attributed by the Greeks to a blind poet called Homer, and was probably composed in the 8th or 9th centuries BC, although it contains older material. There are also references to Troy in the other work attributed to Homer, the Odyssey. The Homeric legend of Troy was elaborated by the Roman poet Virgil in his work the ''Aeneid.
The Greeks and Romans believed in the historicity of Troy, and believed it to have been located at a site in Asia Minor, now north-western Turkey, near the Dardanelles. This is shown by the fact that Alexander the Great and his companion Hephaestion visited the site in 334 BC and made sacrifices at the alleged tombs of the Homeric heroes Achilles and Patroclus.
With the rise of modern critical history, Troy and the Trojan War were consigned to the realms of legend. In 1870, however, the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann excavated a hill, called Hissarlik by the Turks, near the town of Chanak (Çanakkale) in north-western Anatolia. Here he discovered the ruins of a series of ancient cities, dating from the Bronze Age to the Roman period. Schliemann declared one of these cities to be the city of Troy, and this identification was widely accepted at that time.
Subsequent excavations have shown that were at least nine cities built one on top of other at this site. The first city was founded in the third millennium BC. During the Bronze Age, the site seems to have been a flourishing mercantile city, since its location allowed for complete control of the Dardanelles, through which every merchant ship from the Aegean Sea heading for the Black Sea had to pass.
The last city on this site, Ilium or Ilion, was founded by Romans during the reign of the emperor Augustus and was an important trading city until the establishment of Constantinople in the fourth century as the eastern capital of the Roman Empire. In Byzantine times the city declined gradually, and eventually disappeared.
Today there is a Turkish town called Truva in the vicinity of the archaeological site, but this town has grown up recently to service the tourist trade. The archaeological site is officially called Troy by the Turkish government and appears as such on many maps, and many history books confidently identify the site as the location of the Homeric city of Troy.
It is important to note, however, that no text or artefact has ever been found which clearly identifies this site as that of Troy, or indeed confirms that any such place as Troy ever existed. Some archaeologists and historians maintain that none of the events in Homer are historical. Others accept that there may be a foundation of historical events in the Homeric stories, but say that in the absence of independent evidence it is not possible to separate fact from myth in the stories.
Ancient Greeks historians placed the Trojan War variously in the 12th, 13th or 14th century BC. Eratosthenes said 1184 BC, Herodotus said about 1250 BC, Douris said 1334 BC. The archaeological layer known as Troy VII, which has been dated on the basis of pottery styles at 1275-1240 BC, is the most often cited candidate to have been the Troy of Homer. It appears to have been destroyed by a war, and there are traces of a fire. The problem is that Troy VII is a hilltop fort, not a city, and certainly not the city of the size described by Homer.
Even if there was a Bronze Age city on the site now called Troy, and even if that city was destroyed by fire and/or war at about the same time as the time postulated for the Trojan War, there is still no evidence that any of the events described by Homer ever took place. In particular, the name Troy does not appear in any of the Greek written records (admittedly not extensive) from the many Mycenean or Bronze Age sites excavated over the past century. If there was a major city called Troy anywhere in the Aegean area, no-one at Knossos or Mycenae or Pylos mentioned it.
In the 1920s the Swiss scholar Emil Forrester claimed that placenames found in Hittite texts - Wilusiya and Taruisa - should be identified with Ilium and Troia respectively. He further noted that a "Wilusian" king mentioned in one of the Hittite texts - Alaksandu - was quite similar to the name of prince Alexander or Paris of Troy.
These identifications were rejected by many scholars as being improbable or at least unprovable, but Trevor Bryce recently championed them in his book The Kingdom of the Hittites (1998), citing a recovered piece of the so-called Manapa-Tarhunda letter, which refers to the kingdom of Wilusa as beyond the land of the Seha (known in classical times as the Caicus) river, and near the land of Lazpa (better known as the Isle of Lesbos). This remains a speculative subject.
In recent years scholars have suggested that the Homeric stories represented a synthesis of many old Greek stories of various Bronze Age sieges and expeditions, fused together in the Greek memory during the "dark ages" which followed the fall of the Mycenean civilisation. In this view, no historical city of Troy existed anywhere: the name derives from a people called the Troies, who probably lived in central Greece. The identification of the hill at Hissarlik as Troy is, in this view, a late development, following the Greek colonisation of Asia Minor in the 8th century BC.
Today a large number of tourists visit the site, mostly coming from Istanbul by bus or by ferry via Çanakkale. The visitor sees a highly commercialised site, with a large wooden horse built as a playground for children, then shops and a museum. The archaeological site itself is, as a recent writer said, "a ruin of a ruin," because Schliemann's archaeological methods were very destructive and the site has been frequently excavated ever since. For many years also the site was unguarded and was thoroughly looted.