Lesson 27: Narrative

Troy VII and the Historicity of the Trojan War

  1. Troy VIIa
  2. Troy VIIb1
  3. Troy VIIb2
  4. The Location of Troy
  5. Final Note

Troy VIIa

This settlement, dated ca. 1275-1240 B.C. by Blegen, may in fact have begun as early as ca. 1300/1280 B.C. (early in the LH IIIB period, to judge from the latest Mycenaean imports in the ruins of Troy VIh) and lasted as long as ca. 1180 B.C. (early in the LH IIIC period, on the basis of the latest Mycenaean sherds in its ruins), despite the fact that it has traditionally been argued to have been a short-lived settlement on the grounds that no sub-phases have been detected within it. The date of its destruction has been a hotly debated subject. Blegen began by arguing for a date of ca. 1240 B.C. but later raised this to ca. 1270. Nylander has argued for a date as low as 1200-1190 B.C. on the basis of the latest Mycenaean imports, which both he and more recently Mee feel include LH IIIC types. Podzuweit has advocated an even lower date. If we agree with Blegen, Dörpfeld, Schliemann, and many others that Hisarlik is the site of Homeric Troy (but see below for Carpenter’s arguments against this possibility) and if we consider the Trojan War of Greek myth to have been an historical event, then Troy VIIa is perhaps the most likely candidate for the city of Priam, although a vocal minority have always expressed a preference for the preceding Troy VIh (see Wood 1985 for a balanced appraisal of the competing claims of these two chief candidates). Later Greeks dated the Trojan War as follows: 1184 B.C. (Eratosthenes), 1209/8 B.C. (the Parian Marble), ca. 1250 B.C. (Herodotus), and 1334/3 B.C. (Douris). Troy VIIa perished in a general conflagration which destroyed both the buildings within the citadel and those outside.


The collapsed fortifications of Troy VI were reconstructed. In the area of the east gate (VI S) between Sections 2 and 3, a southern extension added to Section 2 made the approach to this gate more difficult for attackers. The masonry of this addition, much less regular than that characteristic of the fortifications of Troy VI, utilized many of the fallen blocks from the walls of Troy VI. Repair of the main south gate (VI T) involved paving the entrance passage here and installing a drain under the paving. Extensive repairs to the south and southeast portion of the wall (Sections 3-4) were also undertaken. All these repairs notwithstanding, the fact is that no new program of fortification building was launched during Troy VIIa. That is, the practice of more or less constantly constructing new defensive works that seems to have characterized Troy from its foundation early in the third millennium B.C. until the end of Troy VI some seventeen centuries later came to a definitive halt with the completion of the repairs to the Troy VI system made during Troy VIIa.

Domestic Architecture

As was the case for Troy VI, the only architecture within the walls to have escaped destruction by later building operations was found on the two lowest of the concentric terraces which characterize the Middle and Late Bronze Age citadel of Troy. Some of the large mansions of Troy VI were reconstructed and re-used, but many had been too badly damaged by the earthquake which demolished Troy VIh and were simply built over. The houses of Troy VIIa are far more densely packed within the citadel than were the mansions of Troy VI. They tend to be one- to three-room structures which share party walls and are irregular in plan. The houses on the lowest terrace are built up against the interior face of the fortification wall, thus violating a defensive principle maintained during Troy VI. The houses of Troy VIIa are quite sturdy and are by no means to be considered “flimsy shacks”, although not surprisingly they make extensvie reuse of building material from the collapsed structures of Troy VIh. The floors of many of Troy VIIa’s houses are honeycombed by pits dug for the emplacement of large storage pithoi below ground level. These pithoi were sealed at the top by stone slabs, but the presence of the pits occasionally so weakened the floor that in one case the floor appears actually to have collapsed as a direct result. The new floor occasioned by this collapse is located in the only house of Troy VIIa which has preserved evidence of three distinct floor levels, a fact which, together with the relative rarity of buildings with even two separate floor levels, has been considered an argument in favor of a short lifetime for the settlement as a whole. In marked contrast to the larger mansions of Troy VI, these houses of Troy VIIa stood only one storey high. As a result, the living quarters of these buildings were on the ground floor and storage had to be accommodated elsewhere. This is the reason for the subterranean placement of the numerous pithoi of Troy VIIa: they are not evidence for siege so much as they are testimony to the dramatic decrease in floorspace of the average Trojan dwelling from Troy VIh to Troy VIIa.

Water supplies within the area enclosed by the walls consist of a well in a paved, seemingly public court just east of the overbuilt foundations of House VIF and of the large cistern or well in Tower VI g, refurbished after the earthquake which destroyed Troy VIh. Remains of several houses outside the walls (Houses 740-741 south of the east gate and House 749 at the southeast) indicate that a lower city extended beyond the walls of the citadel in Troy VIIa as it had in Troy VI. It is not yet clear, however, whether the total area covered by Troy VIIa was significantly less than for Troy VI and hence if Troy VIIa’s population was appreciably smaller.

Skeletal Remains

Fragments of a human skull found within House 700 just inside the south gate (VI T) may belong to the same individual as more human bones discovered outside the same house. A lower jawbone, probably from an adult male, was found in destruction debris overlying the floor of House 741 outside the citadel to the east. A complete skeleton, although clearly not a burial, was discovered on top of a stratum containing pottery of Troy VIh and VIIa types outside the fortifications to the west. These human bones, although not representative of a large number of individuals, presumably belong to casualties of the destruction of Troy VIIa. They are noteworthy in that human skeletal remains are absent from the destruction debris of earlier destruction levels at Troy (especially those of Troy IIg and Troy VIh) and are indicative of the failure of the survivors of the final catastrophe which befell Troy VIIa to recover and bury all its victims.

Pottery and Miscellaneous Finds

The pottery of Troy VIIa is hardly distinguishable from that of Troy VIh. The few new features include the presence of a dark-slipped Tan Ware, a new vase shape (A 52) in Minyan and Tan Wares, and a significantly smaller amount of imported Mycenaean pottery, such imports also being somewhat later in date than those found in Troy VIh. The miscellaneous finds from Troy VIIa are altogether indistinguishable from those of Troy VIh.


The material culture of Troy VIIa is essentially identical to that of the preceding settlement, and the residents of Troy VIIa were therefore presumably the survivors of the earthquake which levelled Troy VIh and their immediate descendants.

The chief difference between the citadels of Troy VIh and Troy VIIa lies in the use of space within the fortifications. The excavators have argued that a greatly increased population sought protection inside the walls during Troy VIIa, presumably as a result of some external threat. The preoccupation of this population with storage space as attested by the subterranean pithoi has been further interpreted to reflect a state of siege at the end of Troy VIIa. The violent destruction of Troy VIIa has been interpreted as evidence of the failure of Troy’s inhabitants to withstand the siege against which they had apparently prepared themselves. The destruction itself has therefore invariably been interpreted as the product of human agency. The architectural differences between the Trojan citadels of phases VIh and VIIa can, however, be interpreted in other ways. Thus, for example, Troy VIh can be viewed as a citadel within which only the ruler and his/her principal retainers resided, the latter being the occupants of the large mansions on the lower terraces. The mass of the citizenry would have lived outside of the walls in the recently discovered lower town of this period and/or in small agricultural villages dotted around the Trojan plain. In Troy VIIa, a good deal of this citizenry had apparently moved within the walls, but this change need not reflect a period of siege and could simply represent a major change in the order of Trojan society. Perhaps Troy VIIa was no longer ruled by a monarch, while the aristocratic class which had occupied the mansions of Troy VIh had likewise been eliminated. After all, evidence for similar social changes may be cited from the Greek Mainland where palaces disappear as functioning entities at the end of the LH IIIB period.

The decline in the quantity of imported Mycenaean pottery in Troy VIIa has been viewed as confirming a preconceived notion of the attackers’ identity. That is, if the attackers had been Mycenaean, it would hardly be surprising that the quantity of Mycenaean pottery imported into Troy should have declined (or so the argument would run). However, it is a fact that the quantity of Mycenaean pottery imported from the Greek Mainland during the later LH IIIB period declines in other areas (e.g. Cyprus, the Levant) as well as at Troy. It can therefore be argued that Mycenaean overseas trade was in a general slump during this period and that this slump is as likely as a hypothetical siege of Troy by Mycenaeans as an explanation for the dearth of Mycenaean ceramic imports into Troy VIIa. It is also true that pottery identifiable on stylistic grounds as “Mycenaean” was produced over a large area of the Aegean during the period in question, not just throughout the southern Greek Mainland but also on numerous central and eastern Aegean islands and at sites on the western Anatolian coast such as Miletus. It remains to be established how much of the “imported Mycenaean” pottery from Troy VIIa comes from the Peloponnese, how much from Aegean islands, and how much from Mycenaean sites on the coast of Asia Minor itself.

The date of Troy VIIa’s destruction probably lies within the half-century ca. 1230-1180 B.C., although Blegen ultimately placed it a generation or so earlier and Podzuweit has recently suggested that it should be set a good deal later.

On the basis of the Iliad and Odyssey specifically and of Greek tradition in general, the destroyers of Troy VIIa have traditionally been identified as Mycenaean Greeks from the central and southern Greek Mainland. However, there is nothing in the archaeological evidence to identify precisely who the attackers were. Indeed, there is at least some archaeological evidence which suggests that the attackers were not Mycenaeans. For example, are the Mainland Greeks likely to have destroyed Troy at more or less the same time as their own centers in the Peloponnese were being destroyed? It is possible to answer this question in the affirmative if the Peloponnesian destructions were due to natural disasters (e.g. earthquakes, as most recently argued in the cases of Tiryns and Mycenae) or if they were a direct result of the absence of large numbers of potential defenders who were away besieging Troy, although both scenarios do seem to stretch coincidence to its limits. Perhaps more significant is the fact that the “Coarse Ware” of Troy VIIb1, a class of pottery which makes its first appearance at Troy immediately after the destruction of Troy VIIa, is very closely related to the handmade and burnished pottery which appears in more or less contemporary contexts of the early LH IIIC period at a number of sites on the Greek Mainland as well as in Cyprus, southern Italy, and Sicily. In none of these areas does this pottery have local antecedents, and it has been argued by Deger-Jalkotzy that such pottery is to be derived ultimately from ceramic traditions at home in the Middle Danube area of central Europe. The “Coarse Ware” of Troy VIIb1 may be interpreted as identifying the sackers of Troy VIIa, a population group who crossed the Hellespont at the end of their journey from the Middle Danube through Rumania to Turkish Thrace. Similar groups may have been involved with the sacking of numerous major Mycenaean sites in the Peloponnese at the end of the LH IIIB period. One of several weaknesses of such a reconstruction of events, it must be confessed, is the fact that the quantities of “Coarse Ware” in Troy VIIb1, like those of the related handmade and burnished pottery at Mainland Greek Mycenaean sites in the early LH IIIC period, are relatively small. Did the makers of such pottery indeed play as important a role in the political and military history of the end of the Aegean Bronze Age as some authorities impute to them?


Troy VIIb1 (ca. 1230/1180-1150 B.C.)

The rebuilt houses of Troy VIIb1 tend to be founded on walls of Troy VIIa and thus to have plans similar to those of the immediately preceding phase. The fortifications are said to have been “evidently….repaired” since the houses of Troy VIIb1 abut against them. The east gate (VI S) of the fortress may have been closed at this time, but the main gate at the south (VI T) was renovated, the road leading up through it being repaved at a higher level than during Troy VIIa. Although the differences in material culture between Troy VIIa and VIIb1 are claimed by the excavators of the Cincinnati expedition to have been non-existent, the fact is that the “Coarse Ware” of Troy VIIb1 is a novelty at this time. It is nevertheless true that the remainder of Trojan culture appears to have continued without any perceptible changes, the imported Mycenaean pottery now being of somewhat later LH IIIC types. The cause of the “end” of Troy VIIb1 is called “an unsolved mystery”: there is no sign of any general destruction preceding levels of the ensuing phase known as Troy VIIb2. The duration of Troy VIIb1 is usually estimated at about half-a-century, once again largely on the basis of the Mycenaean imports.

The excavations initiated at Troy by Korfmann in the 1990’s have resulted in some extremely interesting new finds in levels assignable to Troy VIIb1. The most important is a lentoid bronze seal inscribed on both sides in the Hieroglyphic Hittite script with the name of a male scribe on one side and with the name of a female, presumably his wife, on the other. The first securely identifiable example of writing yet to have been unearthed in a prehistoric level at Troy, this find raises interesting questions concerning the nature of Troy’s relationships with the Hittite Empire to the east. Other recent finds from Troy VIIB1 contexts include a violin bow fibula in bronze, a piece of sheet-gold jewelry, and a handsome Mycenaean seal in hard stone, presumably an heirloom since such seals had ceased to be produced in the Aegean after the destruction of ca. 1375 B.C. at Knossos.


Troy VIIb2 (ca. 1150-1050 B.C. or later)

The houses of Troy VIIb1 were modified by the addition of extensions or by the piercing of doorways through party walls, seemingly in order to increase the size of the individual dwelling units. Domestic architecture during this phase is distinguished by the frequent use of an orthostate course at ground level. The east gate by this time had definitely gone out of use, while the south gate still constituted the major entryway through the fortifications, the roadway through it now being repaved at a still higher level. Houses were as common built up against the outside of the citadel walls as against the inside, so that one wonders if these walls were any longer truly functional as fortifications at this point.

Some of the pottery, a handmade and generally dark-surfaced class distinctively decorated with knobs and grooves (so-called “Knobbed Ware”), is new in this phase and has traditionally been taken to represent a new population element in residence at the site. Most of the pottery nevertheless consists of the Late Bronze Age Trojan wares familiar from earlier phases, both Minyan and Tan Wares, so that much of the population of Troy VIIb2 is usually considered to have consisted of descendants of the Trojans of Troy VI, VIIa, and VIIb1. Some scholars have suggested that a gap in occupation may exist between Troy VIIb1 and VIIb2. If so, it is likely to have been a short one, one to two generations at most, in view of the re-use during Troy VIIb2 of much of the architecture of VIIb1.

A number of bronze implements found by Schliemann, although their context of discovery is not certain, have been attributed to Troy VIIb2 and have their best parallels in Hungary. The “Knobbed Ware”, too, has parallels across the Hellespont which suggest that its makers may have migrated into the Troad from Thrace, to which in turn they may have moved from further west. A crude and ugly terracotta female figurine is an unusual find in Troy VIIb2.

This settlement was probably destroyed by fire after a century or less of occupation. After this, the site of Hisarlik may have been deserted for as much as three centuries before Aeolic Greeks reoccupied it in the late 8th century B.C. at about the time when the Homeric epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, were being written down for the first time. If the Trojan War was indeed an historical event of the late 13th century B.C. and if the site of Hisarlik was the site at which this war took place, the Greeks who heard the epic lays sung about it between ca. 1050 and 750 B.C. would have found no more than a rather unimpressive heap of rubble and decomposed mudbrick at the spot, certainly nothing as imposing as the Cyclopean walls of Tiryns or the Lion Gate and the Treasury of Atreus at Mycenae, at both of which sites occupation was continuous from Mycenaean down into Classical times.


The Location of Troy

The Iliad and the Odyssey are only two of the epics which immortalized the Trojan War in Greek saga and legend. Another epic, the Kypria, dealt with the events leading up to the arrival of the Greek forces at Troy at the beginning of the ten-year siege. The full text of this epic no longer survives, but a capsule summary of its contents is preserved. The original epic was written down after the Iliad sometime in the 7th century B.C. A peculiar feature of the Kypria is that it appears to preserve the memory of two slightly different expeditions, as follows:

Expedition #1

(a) The Greek leaders and their forces rendezvous at Aulis preparatory to leaving Greece enroute to Asia Minor.

(b) As they conduct sacrifices, they are confronted with the omen of the serpent and the sparrow: a snake appears in the midst of the sacrifice, climbs a tree, and eats eight baby sparrows from a nest at the top of the tree before swallowing their mother. Calchas, the chief seer of the army, interprets this omen to indicate that the siege of Troy will last nine years before being successful in the tenth.

(c) The Greeks put to sea and arrive at Teuthrania in Mysia, well south of Troy. They sack the city of Teuthrania, mistaking it for Ilion.

(d) The local Mysian hero Telephos, a son of Heracles, comes to the aid of the Teuthranians and kills Thersander, son of Polyneices, one of the Greeks.

(e) Telephos himself is wounded by Achilles.

(f) The Greeks put to sea again, but a storm comes up and scatters the fleet before it can reach Ilion.

(g) Achilles is driven to the island of Skyros, where he marries Deidameia, the daughter of the local king Lycomedes.

(h) Achilles heals Telephos, who has been led by an oracle to go to Argos so that he can guide the Greek fleet to Ilion, the proper “Troy”.

[The figure of Telephos here is comparable in a number of respects to the Greek hero Philoctetes in the “standard version” of the Trojan War epic.]

Some further details are added to the story of Expedition #1 by later authors. These additions are likely to be contaminated, at least to some extent, by the story line of the “standard version” of the Trojan War as told in the Iliad:

(i) When the Greeks first land at Teuthrania, they are driven back to their ships by their enemies until Patroklos comes to the rescue and repels the enemy.

(j) Patroklos is wounded and so Achilles intervenes, pursuing and wounding the local champion, Telephos. [Compare the death of Patroklos, and the subsequent death of the local champion Hector at the hands of Achilles, in the Iliad.]

(k) Achilles, though “swift-footed”, is unable to catch Telephos until Dionysos grows a magic vine which trips Telephos in his flight. [Compare Athena’s apearance as Deiphobos in the Iliad to fool Hector into stopping in his flight from Achilles and into turning and facing his pursuer, with disastrous consequences.]

Expedition #2

(a) The Greek leaders finally reassemble at Aulis.

(b) Agamemnon kills a stag sacred to Artemis, and as a result Artemis sends unfavorable winds against the Greeks which prevent them from sailing for Troy. Calchas prophesies that Iphigeneia, Agamemnon’s daughter, must be sacrificed to appease Artemis.

(c) The Greeks, on the pretext that Iphigeneia is to marry Achilles, send to Mycenae for the girl and plan to sacrifice her. But Artemis saves Iphigeneia at the last moment by snatching her away and substituting for her a stag.

(d) The Greeks set sail for Ilion. They stop first at the island of Tenedos, where Philoctetes is bitten by a snake. Philoctetes is marooned on the nearby island of Lemnos because of the stench from his wound and his incessant cries of pain.

(e) The Greeks try to land at Ilion, but the Trojans at first prevent them from landing and Hector kills Protesilaus, the first of the Greek champions to fall in the war. Achilles kills Kyknos, a son of Poseidon, then drives the Trojans back and the Greeks disembark to begin their long siege.

Carpenter (1946) has argued that these two expeditions are doublets of one and the same event. He concludes that there seems to have been some doubt in the minds of the Greeks as to where exactly Troy was located. In the Iliad, the word most commonly used for the city of the Trojans is not “Troy” but “Ilion”. It is possible that Troy was not the name of a town at all, but rather the name of an area or district inhabited by the Trojans. The Greeks clearly had a legend about a war against the Trojans, but may have disagreed about where these people lived. At least one group of Greeks put them at a place called Teuthrania in the area known as Mysia, or at least so the doublet of the Troy story in the Kypria seems to indicate.

Further evidence suggesting that such an alternate version of the Trojan War story, along the lines of the Teuthrania episode in the Kypria, did in fact exist can be cited. For example, there is an early variant of the story of Telephos according to which he was born in Troy. “Pergamon” is sometimes given as the name of the inner citadel at Troy. The only other major occurrence in Greek literature and history of the place-name “Pergamon” is as the name of a major city in Mysia, the area where Teuthrania is located. In the works of the Hellenistic mythographer Apollodorus, Pergamon is the name given to the fortress built by Apollo and Poseidon for Laomedon, king of Troy. Finally, in the Iliad Achilles is reported to have sacked a number of minor cities during the ten years of the Trojan siege. Most of these cities are located on the southern slopes of Mt. Ida at the head of the Adramyttian Gulf, that is, in the general vicinity of Teuthrania rather than of Troy.

The stories of Teuthrania’s destruction and of the sacking of minor cities in its vicinity are likely to be connected with the Aeolic Greek occupation of the Anatolian Mainland opposite Lesbos, a process which in fact included the resettlement of the site of Hisarlik as well. This “Aeolic migration” is a post-Mycenaean phenomenon, many details of which appear to have become attached to the story of the Trojan War, an event which is supposed to have taken place toward the end of the Mycenaean period. The story of the siege and sack of Troy is the focus of the Homeric Iliad, a product of Ionia rather than Aeolis. Carpenter suggests that the real “Troy” is located in neither the Troad nor Aeolis but rather that the memory of a pan-Achaean expedition elsewhere was located at two different points in Asia Minor by later poetic traditions: at Ilion by the Ionic poets, because they found in this area a local folk tradition about a strong citadel sacked near the end of the Bronze Age (Hisarlik); and at Teuthrania by the Aeolic poets, to correspond with Aeolic traditions connected with their own occupation of this area. Where, then, was the original “Troy”?

If one is willing to accept Carpenter’s line of argument this far, one can place “Troy” virtually anywhere in the eastern Mediterranean where bands of Mycenaean Greeks may have undertaken joint piratic raids. Carpenter goes so far as to place “Troy” in Egypt and to connect the story of the Trojan War with the raids of the Sea Peoples mentioned in Egyptian sources at the end of the 13th and beginning of the 12th centuries B.C.

More recently, Meyer (1975) has gone well beyond Carpenter in dissociating a historical Troy from the mound at Hisarlik. In Meyer’s view, no historical city of Troy existed anywhere. First of all, there never was a city called Troy: the Homeric Troie is an adjectival formation derived from the name of a people, the Troes. The conjunction of Troie and Ilion to refer to one and the same place, a city, is a late development. Both the Troes and the settlement of Ilion are to be located in Greece, not in northwestern Asia Minor. The names were transferred to Hisarlik in the process of the Aeolic occupation of Asia Minor in the 8th century B.C. The original homeland of the Troes, the antagonists of the Achaeans who themselves can only be located in Achaia-Phthiotis near Mt. Othrys, is in fact the upper Spercheios River valley, the southern border between central Greece and Thessaly.

Another fact that should be taken into consideration in the debate over the historicity of the Trojan War and its location at Hisarlik is the increasing evidence for the popularity in Aegean art from ca. 1800 B.C. onward of scenes illustrating the siege of a town or city in which the attackers normally employ a fleet as part of their assaulting force. Examples include the Town Mosaic from MM II Knossos, the Silver Siege rhyton from Circle A at Mycenae, the painting on the north wall of Room 5 in the West House at Akrotiri, fragments of a steatite rhyton from Epidauros [illustrated by Warren, JHS 99(1979) fig.5], a fragment of another steatite rhyton from Knossos [illustrated in Palace of Minos III 100 fig.56], and possibly a fragment of yet one more steatite rhyton from Knossos [illustrated by Warren, JHS 99(1979) fig.4]. These works of art suggest that the siege of a town may have been a popular theme in Aegean pictorial art and raise the possibility that an equivalent theme may have existed in contemporary literary (presumably epic) art; this latter possibility has been explored in some detail by S. Morris (1989) in connection with the miniature frieze from Room 5 of the West House at Akrotiri. In neither case need this siege have been a specific, and hence an historical, one. However, if it was, such a siege clearly preceded the Trojan War as conventionally dated by many centuries.


Final Note

In any consideration of the historicity of the Trojan War, the fundamental questions to be addressed are:

(1) Where did it take place? Necessarily at Hisarlik or possibly elsewhere?

(2) When did it take place? Is there a time within the range of dates established by later Greek tradition for the war (1334-1184 B.C.) when the Mycenaeans could have undertaken the sort of joint military venture described by Homer, of which the Catalogue of Ships in Book 2 of the Iliad may be a genuine Bronze Age roster?

(3) If a destruction level caused by human agency at a likely site at a date within the timespan assigned by Greek tradition to the Trojan War can be identified, was the destruction in question the product of Mycenaean attackers?

In terms of all three of these basic considerations, the now standard candidates for Priam’s Troy, Hisarlik VI or Hisarlik VIIa, are vulnerable. Yet it cannot be proven that Mycenaean Greeks did not participate in the sack of Hisarlik VI or VIIa sometime between 1325 and 1200 B.C. Consequently, belief or disbelief in the historicity of the Trojan War becomes in the end an act of faith, whichever position one adopts.


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