Day Two: Troy
Our merry tour group was driven by bus for about four hours south of Istanbul to tour the ruins of the ancient city of Troy. The story of the fall of the city of Troy was immortalized by the legendary prophet Homer in the Iliad. Homer told the tale of a ten-year siege of the city of Troy by the Greeks, a war caused by the jealousy of the Greek goddesses competing with each other to be the most beautiful. In order to avenge the kidnapping of Helen, a mere mortal who was seen by the gods to be the world’s most beautiful woman, the warrior Achilles killed Troy’s famous warrior Hector. But Achilles was killed soon thereafter when he was wounded in his only weak spot, his heel. That was because his mother had dipped the baby Achilles into the river Stixx, making him invulnerable, except for where his mother had held on to him by his heel.
Finally, after ten long years of a stalemated war, the Greeks withdrew their forces, leaving behind a large elaborately carved wooden horse as an “offering to the gods. “ The army of Troy was so relieved that the war was seemingly over, that they brought the wooden horse into their fort in order to not offend the gods, after which they celebrated for hours before collapsing in a drunken stupor. They didn’t realize that a few Greek soldiers were hiding inside the wooden horse. Once the armies of Troy were asleep, the Greek soldiers were able to open the city’s gates, enabling the Greek army to rush in and massacre the poor drunken soldiers, and then destroy the city of Troy. This is a brief retelling of Homer’s famous story, which is an artful blend of Greek mythology and actual events that took place around the ancient city of Troy. Troy was visited by Alexander the Great, as well as other famous rulers during its heyday as a trading center from approximately 200-700B.C.
The location of the city of Troy had been lost to history for many centuries after having been destroyed by the Greeks. Its rediscovery was the accomplishment in the mid 1800’s of an eccentric German-born businessman, Heinrich Schliemann, who was not a formally trained archeologist. But Schliemann had carefully read Homer’s story and used detailed clues from the story to locate the actual city ruins. Without Schliemann’s discovery, the city of Troy might have been considered a fanciful tale, unconnected to reality. Excavations continue to this day. The most amazing thing about these ruins is that there is not a single city, but rather nine different city ruins in a stack, in which the older ruins were covered up by the newer cities replacing them. These ruins on the Troy archeological site date back to four thousand years BCE (Before Common Era, aka BC, Before Christ), making Troy one of the oldest cities in the world.
Because Schliemann was not a trained archeologist, he carelessly dug a wide trench through the site of the ruins, in the process destroying some artifacts and mixing up the time lines of the different layers. Current archeological thought is that the city ruins most likely to have been those of Homer’s Troy are found in level 6A, of the nine separate levels of different city ruins lying on top of each other. Another factor complicating research is that the newer cities used building materials dug up from the earlier ruins. Thus there is a mixture of different ages of artifacts and building materials in the “newer” ruins.
At the time Schliemann discovered Troy’s ruins, there was a small primitive village located on the mound that covered the nine levels of ruins. One major factor in the destruction of Troy and many other ancient cities is the occurrence of major earthquakes in this seismically active region. Another factor is that three thousand years ago, Troy was located directly on the Mediterranean coast. However, over the centuries, the rivers filled the river channels and coastal areas with sediment, causing the ocean to retreat several miles distant from Troy’s formerly coastal location. The former coastline is now in effect a delta, having been filled in over many years with deposited sediment.
Just as current day Christians, Moslems, Hindus, etc. believe in the stories told by their religious texts, even magical acts that have no explanation in modern scientific terms, the Greeks worshipped their pantheon of gods, who embodied all the best and worst characteristics exhibited by humans. Human and animal sacrifices were regularly made to appease these gods. As Alexander the Great made his conquering thrust through Turkey, pushing back the Persians, he visited Troy and sacrificed hundreds of animals to bring the favor of the gods to his efforts.