Homer Essay: Connections between the events described in the Iliad and archaeological finds                                                                  367


 The Iliad was written down in something like its present form about 750- 700 BC. Until the middle of last century most people thought it fantasy - after all some rather improbable things happen (give examples), and one thing that always defeated would - be literalists was the absolute inability to identify Troy. With the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species in mid 19th C, a long-distant prehistory opened up. People no longer believed the world began in 4004 BC. Impetus to archaeology -the study of the past through existing remains. Heinrich Schliemann, enthusiastic amateur, very rich, took Homer literally. Started excavation at a site in Turkey, a low hill near a village called Hissarlik. Uncovered the remains of not one but nine major sites stretching from about 3000 BC to Roman times (lst century AD).

The Evidence

1. Troy

What should the site look like? - near the sea, two rivers, on a plain, high, windy, can be run round and driven round in a chariot hot and cold springs, sloping walls (give the evidence in each case).

What did Schliemann and his successors find? - a low hill rising out of a level plain, two rivers, a high and windy site, 9 major cities built one on top of the other, near the sea, and soil cores from the plain indicate that in 1250 BC there was a bay which brought the sea even closer, in what we now call Troy II a great entrance way with a ramp (which Schliemann thought was the Scaean Gate) and a tower with massive foundations (which S thought was the "great tower of Ilios" [p.138], the great treasure of gold and silver (mention especially the two diadems, larger of which consists of over 18,000 separate pieces; but there were literally thousands of items. Troy VIh (which is one the contenders for Priam's Troy) has sloping walls. A sprinkling of Mycenaean pottery can be found on the site, which points at least to a trading connection. S found not two but thirty something springs all at the same temperature

But Troy VIIa is perhaps the best contender. It is a rebuilding of Troy VI by the same people, possibly after an earthquake had destroyed the former city. But within a generation it too was destroyed, but this time almost certainly by warfare: layer of ash all over the site, masonry fallen from the walls, and dead bodies left unburied with marks of violent death on them - skulls crushed etc., the fine houses of VI were replaced with a network of small dwellings, and large storage jars were sunk in the floors -almost as if people were expecting to have to store foodstuffs for long periods (traces of food were found in some of the jars).

The site at Hissarlik is the only city of any size in the right area. It indicates a high level of civilisation, and fulfils most of the requirements for Homer's city. Taken all together the evidence is fairly convincing that Hissarlik is Troy. Taken in association with Mycenaean pottery finds and the evidence from Troy VIIa of destruction in war, the theory of a war with Mycenae is persuasive.

 2. Mycenae  

Unlike Troy the site was always known: later Greeks thought it had been built by giants - the Cyclopes. Schliemann's revolutionary step was to dig inside the  "Cyclopean Walls". Almost immediately he discovered a double circle of standing stones (now referred to as Grave Circle A), which contained 6 "shaft graves" - rectangular verticals shafts of great size. At the bottom of these shafts he found burials with grave goods in gold and bronze, and other items which seem to link with Homer's narrative:

(in each case you must refer precisely to what was found, and precisely to the appropriate reference in Iliad).

3. Other sites.

Wall paintings from e.g. Pylos show that the Mycenaean warriors were in fact long-haired, as Homer describes them. Homer has preserved a memory of the use of chariots in war, even though they were not used in his own day or for 400 years before. The written record from the now deciphered Linear B tablets (found in great abundance at Pylos) has many references to chariots. Homer almost always describes his warriors wearing bronze armour and using bronze: the archaeological record shows that both Troy and the Greek sites were dependent on bronze. The few references to iron (e.g. as the prize for discus throwing in the funeral games) may indicate what is now known, that the Bronze Age was coming to an end, bronze being replaced gradually with iron. Homer frequently refers to the Achaians as "well- greaved" e.g. p.87. Greaves (metal shin-guards) are depicted on wall paintings of Mycenaean warriors, and remains of greaves have been found on Mycenaean sites. But no representations of other races in the Eastern Mediterranean at the time show warriors wearing greaves; the best source is Egyptian tomb paintings: neither the Egyptians nor any of the other races they are fighting wear greaves. It seems as if Homer is preserving a very distinctive feature. Last but by no means least the Catalogue of Ships: 168 places are named in the Catalogue: so far just over half have been identified and have yielded remains of civilisation from the period, even though most were ruined in Homer's day and some were completely obliterated.


About 500 years separate the historical Troy of the Trojan War from Homer's narrative. During that time the story was handed down by word of mouth through the oral poets whom we usually call bards. As we know, if only from the childhood game of Chinese Whispers, this is a process which leads to distortions. Nevertheless it appears that a core of truth lies behind Homer's narrative. Schliemann, the world's first serious archaeologist, had many faults, and his work is seriously flawed. Many things which he destroyed at Troy and elsewhere can never now be recovered. Furthermore archaeology is history's fountain of perpetual youth, and more things are constantly coming to light. The recent discovery of a Bronze Age burial ground near Troy promises to yield exciting finds, and the revelation by the Russians of the long-lost golden treasures which Schliemann found at Troy may allow a reappraisal of his work. But even now the evidence points overwhelmingly to the view that there was a historical Troy, there was a War, and probably against the Mycenaean Greeks.