The huge wooden horse is in bad shape. There is no longer any question of climbing inside this replica of the war machine that allowed the Achaean warriors to seize the ancient city of Troy. Pity. From the body of the animal, which was accessed by a staircase, one must have had a beautiful view of the archaeological site, and in the distance, on a clear day, the blue of the Aegean Sea.
Until the coronavirus complicated travel, Europeans came in large numbers to the Aegean coast. There they found everything they like to unwind in the sun: landscapes populated by olive trees, fig trees, pomegranate trees, small villages and typical hotels, grilled fish and vegetables, raki as an aperitif and transparent waters for swimming. With, as a bonus, in order not to sunbathe silly, countless archaeological sites left by the civilizations which succeeded one another on these now Turkish shores.
Evidenced by the ancient port city of Alexandria of Troad, founded in 310 BC. AD, the temple dedicated to Apollo to Didim, or the acropolis, the temple of Athena and the agora of ancient Assos, perched on a hill which gazes out beyond a thin arm of the sea, the Greek island of Lesbos where thousands of migrants are crowded. The Turks sometimes pretend to ignore this drama because, they say, “From home, neither the Greek villages, nor the migrant camps are visible: they are installed on the other side of Lesbos”.
An essential myth
Obviously, the most famous of these archaeological sites is Troy, immortalized forever by The Iliad and The Odyssey, the epic poems sung by Homer in the VIIIe century BC Since then, the capital of King Priam has occupied a central place in Greek mythology. For a long time, specialists wondered if the Trojan War was just a legend. Today, they are certain that Troy existed. It was located on the hill of Hisarlik, in the northwest of the Anatolian peninsula, in the province of Çanakkale, at the entrance to the Dardanelles strait, in other words the ancient Hellespont.
Found by Briton Frank Calvert around 1865, its location was confirmed, a little later, thanks to the excavations of a wealthy German businessman and amateur archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann. By leveling the top of the hill, carelessly digging large trenches, he was the first to uncover the existence of a series of towns stacked and entangled in each other – numbered I to IX according to their seniority.
Ten superimposed cities
After him, his compatriot Wilhelm Dörpfeld, the American Carl Blegen, the German Manfred Korfmann and finally the Turkish Rüstem Aslan succeeded each other to deepen, at the option of 24 excavation campaigns, the knowledge of the ancient city. “In fact, ten cities are superimposed on this site. The first human settlements date back 5,600 years ”, corrects Professor Rüstem Aslan, current director of excavations.
Thanks to its commercial and diplomatic contacts throughout the whole of Anatolia and the Aegean Sea, it was Troy VI that was the richest, largest and most populous of all the successive towns on the hill of ‘Hisarlik. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1250 BC. The city baptized Troy VII succeeded him. Because they found damaged skeletons, arrowheads and traces of fire, archaeologists are now certain that it is this city that was the victim of an episode of violence around 1180 BC. AD before being devastated, a little later, by a fire.
“These events stick with the date of the Trojan War, located in the 12the century BC AD by ancient authors ”, assures Rüstem Aslan. For him, “There is no doubt that the city was attacked from the outside”. Its inhabitants had prepared for it: the tunnels dug to capture the underground sources and warehouses full of jars to store provisions show it.
All the same, while walking on the wooden decking which, today, allows, alone, to approach the ruins of Troy, the visitor finds it difficult to navigate. Certainly, Mount Ida, from which the Greek gods were reputed to watch men kill each other, does indeed point on the horizon and, in the plain, flows the Scamander river. But, the sea is 5 km away while according to Homer, the Achaean ships dock at the foot of the walls of Troy. On the other hand, the citadel, endowed with thick ramparts, defensive bastions and a palace, would have been too small to shelter the thousands of inhabitants mentioned by Homer.
“Homer probably exaggerated the power of the walls of Troy, agrees Rüstem Aslan. However, thanks to new technologies, we now know with certainty that the alluvium carried by the Scamander river caused the sea to recede. And also, that to the south of the citadel, at the end of the Bronze Age, extended on thirty hectares a vast lower town protected by less thick walls and by anti-tank pits. “
The attackers would indeed have been Greeks, possibly those from the kingdom of Mycenae. And Troy? Rüstem Aslan assimilates him to Wilusa, an Anatolian city-state, first member of a coalition hostile to the Hittites installed in central Anatolia. But, in 1280 BC. J.-C, its king, Alaksandu, signed a peace treaty with the great Hittite emperor Muwatalli II. At the time, the Hittites were a superpower. They wanted to control southern and western Anatolia. And their ambitions aroused friction with “the peoples of the sea”, who came among others from the Greek islands.
It is in this context that the Trojan War would have taken place. Obviously, continues the professor, “The kidnapping of the beautiful Helena of Sparta is not the cause of the conflict”. “Already in the Bronze Age, globalization existed, as evidenced by the objects which, found in Troy, come from the Baltic, the Balkans, the Cyclades, Central Asia… The control of Troy, he concludes, was essential because of its strategic position between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, Europe and Asia. “ This also explains that after the two centuries of abandonment which followed the destruction of Troy VII, a Greek colony (Ilion) was founded there, then in the Ier century BC, a Roman city, Ilium.
Have the ruins of Troy revealed all their secrets? “Historically, archaeologists have wondered where the dead are buried”, says Rüstem Aslan. This 57-year-old man has already devoted thirty-three years of his life to the site. He still has “Ten years maximum” to bring to light the necropolises probably located in the plain or under the lower town. Ten years too “To find written evidence from the Bronze Age”.
According to him, the excavations will also sooner or later deliver new information on the relations of Troy with the Anatolian and Hittite cultures, as well as on its exact role in Western Anatolia. Despite reduced teams and resources since the pandemic, they are continuing, whilenew digital tools are being developed. Tomorrow, they will make it possible to “read” the remains in situ on their cell phone using a QR-code and to better understand the splendid objects (sarcophagi, statues, jewelry, pottery, etc.) exhibited in the museum inaugurated in 2018 near the ancient site. Will tourists be there? Pandemic forces, last summer, sellers of small wooden and plastic “Trojans” were in dire need of customers.
A ten year siege
According to Homer, Paris, son of Priam, king of Troy, starts the war by kidnapping “Belle Hélène”, wife of the king of Sparta, Ménélas. In retaliation, the scorned husband sets up with his brother Agamemnon an expedition bringing together most of the Greek kings. After a ten-year siege, these “Achaean” warriors won by trickery: at the initiative of Ulysses, king of Ithaca, an enormous wooden horse was offered to the Trojans who brought it into their city. At nightfall, the Greek warriors hidden inside the horse open the gates of the city. And Troy is destroyed.