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The City of Troy: The Reliability of Archaeological Evidence

Updated on May 14, 2017

Wilhelm Manfred, an archaeologist who worked on the site of Troy once stated, “...it is now more likely than not that there were several conflicts in and around Troy,” a statement that can be supported by archaeological and written sources excavated within the nine layers of Troy. Broken skeletal remains and broken walls in the seventh layer, the Hittite Diplomat and the Homer’s Iliad are examples of this. Sources such as this have been assessed to help provide insight in confirming the legitimacy of The Myth of Troy. Evidence such as this could help historians such as Wilhelm Manfred to retain an argument to whether conflicts may have taken place within the vicinity of Troy. Despite the evidence that has been uncovered about Troy most of this evidence is questionable.

According to archaeological and historical findings….it is now more likely than not that there were several conflicts in and around Troy at the end of the Late Bronze Age.

— Manfred Korfmann ‘Was there a Trojan War?’, Archaeology, Vol. 57, No. 3, May/June 2004.
From the movie 'Troy'
From the movie 'Troy' | Source

The Usefulness of Skeletal Remains

Archaeological evidence has played a significant role in providing evidence to whether the Trojan War existed. This could be presented through the evidence of bones excavated at the 7th layer A at the front of the gates of Troy where a twisted skeleton and crushed skull was found. The variables towards the skeleton’s mode of death make it possible that it was due to a battle. For instance, the Iliad states;

“There is nothing alive more agonised than a man of all that breath and crawl across the earth”

— Homer's Iliad, Book XVII

This quote refers specifically to the grief that Achilles felt at the word of Patroclus’s death that consequently lead to a battle between Paris and Hector. The Iliad states that Hector died outside of the walls of Troy. This makes it plausible to state that the twisted skeleton and crushed skull excavated at the gates of Troy could have belonged to Hector.

This makes the source useful through the way it compliments aligns with the Iliad. The part of the Iliad this aligns with is the temporary stalemate between the Greeks and Trojan inhabitants (The Iliad, Book VII.) However, without written evidence such as a name written on a tombstone buried next to the skeleton this leaves this possibility as a theory.

Therefore, the bones found in front of Troy could be considered useful due to the fact it compliments the Iliad. Nonetheless, without consistent information on the bones, the bones remain unuseful for providing sustainable evidence to whether or not there was a battle within Troy or not.

Possibly Homeric era skeletons found buried in Troy
Possibly Homeric era skeletons found buried in Troy | Source

The Reliability of Skeletal Remains

The skeletal remains alone do not provide enough evidence to conclude whether or not there were battles in Troy or not. It is arguable that the remains found proved that the Trojan War was not a legend through the possibility that the bones could have belonged to Hector. However, there is controversy to which layer of Troy is the one described in Homer’s Iliad.

Without an affirmed layer or name to the bones, this makes the bones reliability questionable. Furthermore, the modes of death are left open to interpretation as there are no written sources to declare the identity of the bones or the mode of death. For all archaeologists could know, the mode of death could be due to a fall from a horse.

Damage to the skeleton could be the cause of the inability to conclude who the skeletal remains belonged to. This could be due to Archeologist Heinrich Schliemann’s reckless excavation. However, environmental issues such as alleged earthquakes after Troy’s abandonment can be at fault. Therefore, the bones are a weak source of evidence in providing evidence to Wilhelm Manfred’s belief of there being more than one battle in Troy.

computer modelled reconstruction of Troy 6
computer modelled reconstruction of Troy 6 | Source

Usefulness of Uncovered Walls

The damaged walls found in layer 7B correspond with a stalemate between the Greeks and Trojans. The broken parts of the walls could be the aftermath of the Ancient Greeks penetrating the walls of Troy during The Trojan War. Or this could be interpreted as the result of the destruction left by the Greeks when they conquered the Trojans.

The walls were tall and larger in comparison to the other cities in the other layers of Troy. This symbolises advancement, and the reasons for this could be purely for a defence. This could mean that the Trojans could have developed enemies. Hence this provides evidence towards the Iliad’s claim to there being battles between the Trojans and Greek forces. This makes the source useful due to the fact it could be used to support the Iliad's claim that The Trojan War was a historic battle. However, this is not enough evidence to make the source exceedingly useful.

Temple of Athena Fortification Walls of Troy II/III

Source

The Reliability of Walls

The broken walls aren’t enough to sustain Manfred’s theory of there being more than one battle in Troy. This is due to the way as all artefacts are dug, they are mute and need history to distinguish and give light to what the context of the artefact is about and written sources such as the Hittite Diplomat does not do this. Therefore, the source is reliable in suggesting human advancement, but due to the factors of earthquakes, this could be regarded as unreliable in providing evidence to Manfred’s statement.

The Hittite Diplomat

Written evidence could be utilised to state that indeed there were several conflicts within the Troy within the late Bronze age. This could be interpreted from the Hittite Diplomat to a certain extent. This is due to the fact that it corresponds with Homer’s Iliad, unveiled the location of Troy, mentions the aggression towards Troy. the sacking of Troy and unveils facts such as the existence of the Trojan Prince, Alaksandu.

The prince mentioned within the diplomat bears a tight relation to Paris who is featured within the Iliad. This not only implies that The Trojan War did come to pass but that the Hittite people and Paris. This alliance was also implied within Homer’s Iliad.

The diplomat also refers to the sacking of Troy. This suggests that there was indeed a war as inhabitants were taken into slavery, which within history, slavery over a defeated country is normally taken as compensation for winning a war.

The Hittites were a Bronze Age Indo-European speaking people of Anatolia.
The Hittites were a Bronze Age Indo-European speaking people of Anatolia. | Source

This source could be viewed as not useful due to the facts that it doesn’t extensively deliver facts over the war itself such as the existence of the Trojan horse. The source is useful for the reasons that it had referred to Troy, supported the existence of Paris and the Iliad, unveiled the location of Troy and the treatment of the Trojan inhabitants during the sacking of Troy but is not useful in referring to and providing a clear insight into what happened in context the Trojan war such as mentioning the Trojan horse. Therefore, this makes the usefulness of Homer’s Iliad questionable in regards to whether or not there were multiple battles within the Bronze Age Troy.

The Hittites Complex Subterranean World

The Reliability of The Hittite Diplomat

In the context of reliability, it is clear that the Hittite Diplomat archives are questionable in proving evidence towards proving that there were battles in Troy. This is due to the way in, the entire war wasn’t mentioned in extensive detail, the creators of the archives were not recorded and the fact that it was based on tentative translations into Greek.

Consistent amount of information was not shown to support most of the events that are mentioned in the Iliad such as Theatus and Peleus’ wedding, the inclusion of gods and goddesses such as Apollo, significant characters such as Hector, Achilles and Casandra, the kidnapping of Helen, the stalemate between the Greeks and the Trojan inhabitants and the event of the Trojan horse which play critical roles within the Iliad.

Classics Summarized: The Iliad

Furthermore, the source could be regarded as questionable since it was possible that Prince Alaksandu had lived at least half a century before the generally agreed date of the Trojan war. However, it was reliable in providing the location of Troy since this was proven in archaeological excavations carried out by Schliemann.

Furthermore, the source could be regarded as questionable since it was possible that Prince Alaksandu had lived at least half a century before the generally agreed date of the Trojan war. However, it was reliable in providing the location of Troy since this was proven in archaeological excavations carried out by Schliemann.

Therefore, the Hittite diplomat was reliable in regards to showing the location of Troy due to archaeological evidence. Otherwise, there isn’t a sufficient amount of evidence to prove that there were battles within Troy.

Source

Usefulness of The Iliad

The Iliad is useful due to the way it extensively describes the battles between both the Trojan and Greek forces. In Book III, there was a battle in between both Paris and Menelaus over Helen which Aphrodite intervened in. This highlights one of the battles that allegedly taken place within Troy and why a truce was rejected. This presents insight to the myth of Troy, the beliefs that the Greeks held and an in-depth description of the battles that the Iliad had claimed to have happened.

The Iliad could be regarded as useless since the Epic Poetry features emphasised descriptions of the Trojan War instead of concise facts. Furthermore, there is no evidence to the existence of Greek gods, contradicting the Iliad. Therefore, it is useful is due to the way the Iliad highlights the way in which gods influenced Greek civilisations and provides the Greek belief to how the Trojan empire collapsed but, the reliability of the Iliad is questionable.

Giovanni Domenico Tipeolo, Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy. 1773.

Reliability of The Iliad

It is evident the Iliad claims that The Trojan War was a real battle. However, there was no dates or specific information about the Trojan war, the battles themselves or the author himself, making the Iliad unreliable. This was specifically due to the fact that the Iliad was orally told by Homer whose background; date of birth and death has been left unknown. For instance, Homer was blind and there was no evidence to suggest that he was within Troy during the period of the war.

His teachings were told orally making it possible that over a period of time the Iliad could have altered when it was written. Furthermore, the way the Iliad composition was older than Homer himself. This, as a result, makes the content of the Iliad unreliable due to the open possibilities of the author’s intention when he told the story of the Trojan War such as if it was purely for entertainment.

Depiction  of emotions at the parting--Andromache stressing her total dependence on her husband but advising him as an equal; Hector
Depiction of emotions at the parting--Andromache stressing her total dependence on her husband but advising him as an equal; Hector

However, the Iliad doesn’t demonise the Trojans even though it was written from a Greek perspective. There was there were no clear villains represented within the Epic Poem to indicate bias. For instance Ares states in book 5 after being wounded by Diomedes;

“We everlasting gods . . . Ah what chilling blows

we suffer—thanks to our own conflicting wills—

whenever we show these mortal men some kindness”

— The Iliad, book 5

This, as a result, shows that humans within the Iliad were subjected to the will and bias of the gods as the fault of death and would save those in which they favour. This makes it seem as though that the humans were seen as toys through the perspective of Homeric gods making all human characters appear as puppets for their amusement, instead of representing either the Greeks or Trojan forces as villains.

For this reason, this makes the Iliad reliable through the way it accurately represents views found within Archaic Greek Culture, however, this is only one reliable aspect of the Iliad. Therefore the Iliad could be regarded as more useful than reliable in indicating whether or not battles have taken place within Troy as too many aspects of the Iliad to this date remains questionable.

Abduction of Helen, Giovanni Francesco Romanelli

Conclusion

Through archaeological and written sources excavated within the nine layers of Troy this statement could be supported to a certain extent. Broken skeleton and broken walls in the seventh layer along with the Hittite Diplomat and the Homer’s Iliad are an example of this. Sources such as this have been assessed to help provide insight towards the possibility of there being conflicts in Troy. Evidence such as this could help historians such as Manfred to retain an argument to whether conflict may have taken place within the vicinity of Troy, the legitimacy of the Battle of Troy is still questionable.

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