In Search of the Trojan War

Michael Wood begins his account with a thorough survey of the fascination that Troy has held for generations of poets, geographers, travelers, and conquerors. This examination extends beyond Heinrich Schliemann’s discovery of the site near Hisarlik, Turkey, to continued work by William Dorpfeld and Carl Blegen. Arthur Evans’ related work at Knossos, Crete (Palace of Minos), and excavations at Mycenae, Agamemnon’s city near Argos, give further dimension to the city’s continuing story.

Contrary to mythic and literary conception, Troy was never large. Priam’s city, described in Homer’s ILIAD, was in effect a royal citadel. It sheltered at most a few hundred people with about a thousand in its environs. Its soil was never particularly fertile, and its circuit walls unimpressive. Trojan warriors, like their Mycenaean counterparts, amassed wealth by plunder and maritime commerce.

What Troy did have was an important location: on the Dardanelles at the entrance to the Aegean. The war itself probably arose from Trojan interference with Mycenaean commercial interests. Likewise, though Helen, wife of Menelaos, probably existed, she can be seen as but one of many women taken in overseas raids. Her abduction by Alexandros (Paris) becomes, correspondingly, a symbol of the stolen wealth which gave rise to the cities of the Mycenaean period.

Archaeology has revealed that Troy had nine major phases of development. The first dates from 3500 B.C., the last to A.D. 300. This proves that Troy did not cease to exist after the sack which the myths describe. By the early twelfth century B.C., however, its fortunes had suffered irreversible decline.