Archaeologists find strong evidence that Trojan War actually occurred

February 22, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

Archaeologists have uncovered strong evidence that the Trojan War described by the poet Homer in the "Iliad," one of the first and most important books in Western literature, actually occurred.

The research also shows that Troy and its successors had a unique strategic importance in the ancient world because they dominated a major trade route through the Dardanelles and thereby obtained unprecedented wealth and power.

The findings indicate that ancient Troy was much larger than previously believed and may have been the largest city of its era, which stretched from 1700 B.C. to about 1250 B.C.

The new evidence, from the first excavations at the fabled city of Troy in nearly 50 years, is to be described this week at separate symposiums in Washington, New York and Troy, Ohio.

The researchers discovered remains of ancient fortifications and buildings outside the much smaller citadel, which was previously all that was known to be left of Troy. The new evidence suggests for the first time that the city was large enough to withstand the 10-year siege and to mount the types of battles described in the literary classic.

Troy's power and strategic importance -- and not the kidnapping of Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, by the Trojan Prince Paris -- probably were the ultimate cause of the epic war described by Homer, experts say. The importance of the Dardanelles -- which provide access to the Danube, Don, and Dnieper river basins -- has also been the cause of a series of other major battles that have continued through the current era, culminating in the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915, in which 130,000 allied and Turkish soldiers perished.

The new excavations have, in fact, revealed 15 separate fortifications. "It [Troy] was always important and always had to be protected," said archaeologist Manfred Korfmann of the University of Tubingen in Germany. "We shouldn't talk about 'The Trojan War,' but about a whole series of Trojan wars."

The research also has revealed new insights into the links between Troy, which was in what is now western Turkey, and Rome at the time of the emperor Augustus Caesar, who reigned from 31 B.C. to A.D. 14. Historians have long known that Augustus and his successors emphasized their patriarchal ties to the warrior Aeneas, the son of Aphrodite who escaped Troy after its fall, as a way of legitimizing their own descent from the gods.

But the Romans did more than celebrate Troy, said archaeologist C. Brian Rose of the University of Cincinnati. The new excavations show that the Romans rebuilt Troy as a cultural and religious shrine, a mecca for Romans celebrating their illustrious origins and a tourist trap for the affluent.

At Troy, Mr. Rose already has discovered what he has identified as a Roman council house, temple, glass factory and a theater that may well have featured performances of Aeschylus' "The Trojan Women." They also have discovered a religious sanctuary that dates from the eighth century B.C. and might thus have been visited by Homer or one of his informants.

"We have really had no idea what the city was like during the period of classical antiquity that witnesses the foundation of Western civilization," Mr. Rose said. "We're trying to find out what kind of city it was and what happened to the site after it [the 'Iliad'] was written. These are questions that no one has really tried to answer before."

The international team that is carrying out the excavation has produced some "very exciting information," said archaeologist Getzel Cohen of the University of Cincinnati, who helped organize the expedition, but did not participate. What they are learning about the city is "really very gratifying," he said.

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