1. The Europe-to-Asia car ferryBlog 5 Troy
The trip is less than thirty minutes, leaving from each continent on the hour.
We left the Dardanelles on a car-and-bus ferry, leaving Europe from a small port named Kilitbahir, and landing in Asia about thirty minutes later at a Turkish provincial capital named Çanakkale. See photo 1.
The province of Çanakkale used to be called The Troad, because it was once ruled by Troy. I attach a map (photo 2) that shows the exact location of ancient Troy, and the two rivers, Scamander and Simoeis, that flanked it. The land at the top of the map is the Dardanelle peninsula, and the city of Çanakkale is just off the map to the northeast. The location of Troy was not at all obvious in modern times. As you see, it is not very close to the waters of the Dardanelles Its remoteness was one of the main reasons people doubted that it could be the actual historic city that Homer sang about. That city had clearly been very close to the water, since the Greeks pulled their ships up quite near to it.
Troy is landlocked today because of an interesting thing that happened to all the Greek harbor cities along this coast.
2. Location of Troy
The \"Plain of Troy\" was once an excellent harbor, today completely silted up by the two rivers. Ancient Troy was on a hill directly above the water.
Each one was built at the mouth of a river, and in every case, three or four thousand years of spring floods delivered enough sand, and silt and gravel, to completely transform the landscape, and indeed to bury many of the ancient sites and push the Aegean Sea back several miles. Troy was never buried because it was built on a hill, 115 feet high when Schliemann started digging in 1871. On the map, the light color is labelled "The Plain". Photo 3 shows what it looks like today. Before it silted up, the plain was a bay, and sure enough, there is Troy sitting on its commanding hill just beside the water, with a good protected harbor. No ship could slip through the Dardanelles and up into the Black Sea without being seen by the Trojans, and directed into the harbor for inspection and taxation. This fantastic location was why Troy became "rich in gold", as Homer tells us. Basically, the Trojans were a mafia who demanded their cut from all the commerce on this channel; no doubt sinkng any ship that resisted.
This bad behavior caused many attacks on Troy, because right from the beginning
3. Plain of Troy today
View of the former harbor, from the excavation site. It is a gravely plain today. Way in the distance you can just make out the shore of the Aegean Sea.
it had a defensive wall, with towers for spotting the enemy in the distance. This was very unusual, perhaps even unique, in the bronze age. None of the bronze age palaces in Greece had any major defensive walls.
Troy suffered repeated disasters; sometimes earthquake, sometimes fire, maybe sometimes destruction by an enemy. But every time it was destroyed, the Trojans did the same thing: They leveled the rubble very neatly, filling in the holes to make it all smooth and flat, rebuilding everything on the new level. It seems they rarely if ever reused old foundations. They were so neat about it that you can see the very distinct layers in all the archeological trenches. (See photo 4; I remember seeing the layering more clearly than this is several places).
Now let's go and visit the enemies of Troy, as we did on our Archaeological Tours trip in 2008 to bronze age Greece, under the expert guidance of Prof. Bob Stieglitz of Rutgers. We visited so many sites they all blend together in my foggy memory, but a few things do stand out. One of the best, and also one of the least famous,
4. Some of the layers of Troy
This is about what the excavation site looks like everywhere. Don't go to Turkey just to see this.
was the Palace of King Nestor at Pylos, on the Western little finger of the Pelopponesian "thumbless right hand" of Greece. It is not famous because it is not well restored; indeed, rather grubby looking with nothing more than a flimsy shed protecting these priceless excavations from the weather. You have to use your imagination to put it all back in place (as Stieglitz said, archaeology is a science of the imagination).
Photo 5 shows a model reconstruction of the Greek bronze age palace at Malia, on Crete. This model is the best reconstruction we saw whie traveling with Stieglitz, and here you get a good idea of the size and complexity of these institutions. The defining feature of a bronze age palace is its megaron, or throne room. Here we are (photo 6) standing around in the very room where King Nestor held court. The big circle on the floor is a fireplace. There were four columns holding up a roof that had a big hole it it for the smoke, their shape still visible in the earth. There are benches against the walls for visitors, and a little elevated platform for the throne.
5. Model of the palace at Malia, Crete
This is the best model we saw at any of the palaces we visited. It gives you an idea of the size and complexity of bronze age palaces.
Photo 7 shows the megaron at Knossos, on Crete, from the Minoan culture that just preceded the Greek palaces. Its walls retain some of their original decoration, and there is a modern restoration of the throne in wood (photo 8), based on fragments of the original. This is, as you might guess, by far and away the best preserved megaron that we know, even if it is not quite Greek. In Nestor's palace there was also a bathing room (photo 9), and the very bathtub is still there (photo 10). If Homer is right, this is where Nestor's daughters bathed and perfumed Odysseus' son Telemachus, when he came to ask Nestor for news of his father. (Nestor came home safely and promptly from the Trojan war.) I was staggered by this bathtub; I will never forget it.
The most famous bronze age palace is at Argos on the index finger of the Peloponesian hand. This is Mycenae, seat of King Agamemnon, who called up the "thousand ships" of the Greeks to sail to Troy; possibly to recover the most famous runaway wife in history, but no doubt also teach the Trojans a little humility about the
6. Nestor's throne room
The throne wqs agqinst the wall, facing the entrance. There were four columns around the fire pit, supporting a roof with a smoke hole.
way they treated traders on their way to the Black Sea. (And then there was all that gold, too.) Mycenae had a gate and a wall, but not a military defense. Wiki says the main defenses "have not yet been located"; Stieglitz says they never existed. I go with Stieglitz because these palaces were so completely and easily destroyed when the "Sea People" descended on them like Vikings in the century after the Trojan War, throwing Greece into its "dark age".
Stiegliz also took us to see a bronze age ship at Chania, on Crete. There is a good video of it at
which you should watch. This ship has sailed twice to Athens, so whether it is exactly a Minoan ship or not, it is seaworthy and plausible. Agamemnon gathered "a thousand ships" like this one at Aulis, a harbor 40 miles north of Athens, where the western edge of the Greek mainland nearly touches the long island of Euboea.
Aulis is a very unusual place. It is well protected against waves, but the channel between the mainland and the
7. Throne room at Knossos
Knossos is very much worth visiting. There are a number of restored rooms and stairwells that give you a feel for what the palace was like.
island is only 40 meters wide, and it has violent currents, with whirlpools, every time the tide goes in or out. The channel from Aulis to the Agean is long and thin, and ancient ships, which could not tack, would have a hard time getting out against an unfavorable wind. Thus the story that Agamemnon slaughtered his daughter Iphigenia here to propitiate the wind has some plausability. No sooner was the girl dead than the wind changed. A huge cheer went up from 50,000 voices of the 1000 ship's crews, and they sailed immediatey for Troy.
You may recall that Clytemnestra, his wife, did not forget this. Her revenge was ten years cold when she got it.
Back at Troy, what the visitor sees today is mainly an extremely worked-over excavation site. Twelve levels have been definitely identified. They all had walls and towers, and is believed today that that level VI was the scene of Homer's war, so that level is nicely pointed out in many of the signs. It looks about like the others. The major thing to see is a reconstructed ramp and gate of Troy VI (photo 11). it is
8. Throne at Knossos
Restored, obviously, from fragments of the original found in the palace.
not very large. It is hard to see how a giant wooden horse with 50 men inside could have been drawn up that ramp and through the modest gate at the top. (I hesitate to show you this, but if you want, look at photo 12.)
Schliemann dug right through Troy VI and on down to Troy II (now dated as very early bronze age) . He was looking for evidence of a burned city, and he ignored Troy VI because it does not have any charcoal in it. So there is plenty to think about here. Objectively speaking, there is not much in the archaeology that is a triumphal confirmation of Homer's story. This is definitely the site of a city that could have, and no doubt did, control traffic between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and became rich and famous. I personally do not doubt that the Greeks attacked it with a large fleet of warrior-sailors who had no idea how to go about besieging a walled city, with a lot of individual warrior battles outside the walls, which Homer may have gotten essentially right. But the picture of Troy VI in flames is
9. Bathing room, Nestor's Palace
There is little restoration here, but what you see it totally authentic. The whole excavation is poorly protected and could be lost by its exposure.
not borne out by the finds there.
Even in antiquity, there were questions about whether the Greeks exaggerated their exploits. A very scholarly story of the whole war, pieced together from six ancient source is at
I looked at it, but there was too much there for me to digest. There is extant a lengthy oration from about 100 AD by the sophist Dio Cassius
who denies that the Greeks ever conquered Troy. Some say this was merely an exercise in sophistry, but some of his arguments sound fairly convincing. But then, I have always been a sucker for sophistry.
Here is just a closing note on the time line. Nestor's Palace was constructed about 1300 BC. It had a lot of wood in it; you can see today that the masonry included heavy wooden framing, perhaps to strengthen it against earthquakes. However, it lasted only about a hundred years, burning to the ground about 1200 BC, never to be rebuilt or reoccupied. All the other Greek palaces suffered a similar fate within a few decades of each other. The Trojan war occurred about midway through the
10. Bathtub in Nestor's Palace
This is the very tub where Nestor's daughters bathed Odysseus's son Telemachus and rubbed him down with fragrant oils. Lucky guy.
life of Nestor's palace, around 1250 BC, according to Herodotus and Stieglitz. After the palaces were destroyed, linear B writing was lost. The years from 1200 to 800 were hard, with a greatly reduced population and little of no organized government, and they have been called the Dark Age of ancient Greece. More or less by definition, the dark age ends with the appearance of Greek alphabetic writing about 800 BC. Herodotus says that Homer lived 400 years before his own time, which dates him to about 850 BC. His songs were passed down through a large number of bards called "The Sons of Homer" for about 400 years. They were first written down at the direction of Hipparchus, Tyrant of Athens, in about 400 BC, as the Sons of Homer were beginning to die off, and nobody wanted to memorize all that old stuff any more.
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