blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Different perspectives, different reconstructions

Troy remains an “enigma”. Nobody can be 100% sure that the ancient city existed at a spot some 30 km southwest of modern day Çanakkale (Turkey) or that the Trojan War ever took place, as described in Homer’s Iliad of the 8th century BC. However, having studied the site in question, experts these days are more than 90% convinced. The site has had UNESCO World Heritage status since 1998 and a new museum, adjacent to it, will open this summer, after 30 years of planning, exhibiting the last 30 years of finds at the excavation site. The museum building is in layers, like the site itself. Extensive digs are still on-going, uncovering history that dates back 7000 years.

Dagmar and I learned all this from Dr. Rüstem Aslan, who gave a Canadian Institute for Mediterranean Studies (our mutual friend Louise is the CIMS Ottawa Chapter’s competent President) lecture at the Centrepointe theatre in Ottawa last weekend, with slides and video-clips for illustration. He has worked at the site since 1988, originally as a student of the previous, German, Director, Professor Korfmann, and now as the current Director of Excavations. Most of his predecessors were German, the most famous being Heinrich Schliemann; then came Schliemann’s friend Dörpfeld, then the American, Blegen, then Prof. Korfmann, who was granted Turkish citizenship shortly before he died.

The Trojan horse displayed in downtown Çanakkale to attract the tourists is a 20th century imitation donated by the Americans; many Hollywood films have been made about the Trojans, such as the 2004 one, in which Brad Pitt plays Achilles. The newer-looking wooden horse that towers over visitors to the excavation site, is also a replica, of course. The horse represents the “brutal” victory (as Dr. Aslan put it) of the Greeks over the Trojans after a 10 year siege and there is no historical evidence for the dramatic Trojan horse story. It is feasible that the idea came from the wooden machines used to attack the walls of Troy at the end of the siege. The horse legend doesn’t appear in the Iliad, but rather in the Odyssey, created 2 years later, and in Virgil’s Aeneid. Aeneas, of course, is supposed to have founded Rome.

A stone artifact recently discovered, with carvings in the Hittite language, mentions a middle-eastern settlement that had two names; the Alaksandu Treaty of 1300 BC contains a mention of a similar legend to the one Homer told, horse and all. Homer was from Smyrna, or Izmir, as it is now named, so we ought to refer to him as an Ancient Turk, not an Ancient Greek.

Troy, or Ilium---the city with two names---lay on the Biga Peninsula in the Aegean. The exact whereabouts of Troy puzzled scholars for centuries. Mehmet II’s library at his Istanbul palace contained the first written copy of The Iliad. 17th century explorers from Europe pinpointed Troy’s location as Pınarbaşı, as witnessed by Lechevalier’s map of 1791, and that guess was believed valid for 200 years, although the identified site is at Hisarlik near Mt. Kazdağı, closer to the sea. But the region is an earthquake zone, and repeated quakes buried one ancient settlement after another. The archaeologists have discovered nine “complicated” layers of remnants, at this location, which they number in chronological order of existence: Troy 1, Troy 2, Troy 3, etc. In the late Bronze Age, around 1300 BC, Troy (i.e. “Troy 6”) is thought to have been the major city of Anatolia, with a population of some 6000 people. Metal seals unearthed in 1995 apparently confirm that the Hittite language was spoken in Troy. In 1118 BC something catastrophic occurred at this place, but no written evidence has been found to determine whether it was it an earthquake or the legendary climax of the Trojan War!

Subsequent cities here were also ruined, probably by major earthquakes, in 85 BC and 25 AD. “Troy 9” (i.e. Ilium, now belonging to Rome) had a population of 9000 and was visited both by Hadrian and by Alexander the Great, the Romans boasting that by having conquered the Greeks, they had avenged the Trojans.

Frau Schliemann wearing the treasure
In 1882, Schliemann found what was nicknamed “Priam’s Treasure” (Priam being the King of Troy in the legend) in a cache in the ruined stone walls. Schliemann’s wife Sophia was notoriously photographed wearing the golden headdress and necklace they had unearthed, but mistakes were made in dating the jewellery. They carried most of it back to Germany. After the 2nd World War the treasure (plunder, rather) was transferred to St. Petersburg and thence to Moscow, where some of it still remains. Today, in fact, 9 museums and 7 cities around the world today share the hoard. As long ago as 1874, the Ottomans protested at the sale and dispersal of these treasures, to no avail, although vain promises were made to return it, even then.

After the presentation the Turkish Embassy laid on a reception with plates of baclava and other treats. Three lucky raffle ticket holders went home with booklets about Troy and bottles of Turkish wine.

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