"Arte Six": May 2004: SCI/TECH: "Troy": Reel Life

“Troy”: Reel Life

Well, here it comes – yet another epic about men with swords. The women do a lot of...not too much. Wear spiffy-looking sandals. Get kidnapped.

On the plus side, the big build-up of the film has brought out some interesting people whose work might otherwise be left to moulder in some dusty museum corner...

[The following text courtesy Mary Reilly and Brian Rose]

Diane Kruger (Helen), Orlando Bloom (Paris), Eric Bana (Hector) and Brad Pitt (Achilles) head the cast for the May 14 release of “Troy,” Hollywood’s answer to the classical Homeric epic, "The Iliad".

The ancient tale tells of a queen’s kidnapping, a bloody siege of the Troy citadel and acrid rivalries amongst wartime allies – all climaxing in a long-awaited victory by means of duplicitous craft.

So,what’s the real story -- did any of this really happen?

To dig up the real dirt on Troy, archaeologist Brian Rose of the University of Cincinnati easily serves as the national authority.

He headed UC’s Greek and Roman expeditions at Troy for 15 years, making finds of ancient gold jewelry, buried sculptures of imperial figures and many other works with historical significance.

Rose’s archaeological odyssey – and that of international colleagues like Manfred Korfmann of the University of Tuebingen in Germany (director of the Troy excavation) and Donna Strahan (chief conservator, Troy excavation) has helped to reveal the real nature of the wars that raged at Troy throughout antiquity.

Their quest was to uncover the truth about the Trojan War and the face so beautiful it launched a thousand ships. With the help of Homer's epic poetry, these are stories that still captivate us, even after more than 3,000 years.

"Although we've excavated a great deal on the mound of Troy itself," Rose says, "I think the Troy project will be remembered most for our work in the Lower City, which extends for about 1,200 feet south of the mound, and especially for what we've learned about the defensive system of the citadel during the phases around 2500 B.C., the second millennium B.C. and the third century B.C."

The team uncovered evidence of a wooden palisade for the second settlement, which existed in 2500 B.C. They also found a ditch cut out of the bedrock for the settlement that is most frequently associated with the Trojan War stories told in the Homeric epics (1800-1250 B.C.). The trench may have been a defense against chariots.

Another defensive structure -- a sizeable limestone fortification wall - protected the city in the classical period and has now been dated to the third century B.C.

Their work also suggests that that Troy, called Ilion by the Greeks and Ilium by the Romans, flourished from about 3200 B.C. until 1350 A.D. -- much longer than previously thought.

"What I'm especially proud of is that we have been able to reconstruct, for the first time, what life in the city was like during a period of roughly two thousand years, circa 1,000 B.C. to 1300 A.D.," Rose says.

Most of Rose's work at Troy has focused on the Greek and Roman periods. Romans believed that the stories of the Trojan War were true and reconstructed the city of Ilium where they believed the original Troy once sat.

The new excavations have shown that the Roman city was laid out on a grid of streets, with houses, water systems, a temple dedicated to Athena for religious feasts and sacrifices, a theater that provided a setting for Trojan tales and other plays to be performed, plus a council house for civic meetings.

The team worked in isolation and lack of luxury, complete with spare cabins, outdoor showers and temperatures reaching up to 120 degrees.

Rose earned a reputation as one of Troy's most dedicated workers, getting to the dig house between 5 and 5:50 a.m. and working until 7:30 or 8 at night.

The crucial find would be the Late Bronze Age cemetery in which the soldiers had been buried, Rose suggests. "Surely someday it will be found. The only question is will it be tomorrow or a hundred years from now." The Korfmann-Rose partnership has already helped to make that search more focused by finding ditches that helped to clarify the Bronze Age settlement's limits.

On to the big screen --

The Troy legend, in brief, holds that in about 1200 B.C., a prince of Troy kidnapped the queen of a Greek kingdom.

The Greeks then laid siege to Troy, but were only able to subdue it, after ten years of warfare, via trickery.

They built a large, hollow, wooden horse as a supposed gift to Athena, goddess of war, and then hid inside the horse.

The Trojans dragged the horse into their own city so that they themselves might possess this gift to Athena and thus accrue any benefits it might bring.

Later, at night, the Greeks snuck out of the horse’s belly and sacked the citadel.

The reality of Troy is a bit different, says Rose. Below is a roundup of some of the fact vs. fiction that we know about Troy, based on archeological evidence:

• Magnificent myth or historic happening?
There is no archaeological evidence that specifically buttresses Homer’s 8th-century B.C. version of a ten-year, Bronze Age conflict pitting Mycennaean Greeks against the Trojans (Troy is located in what is today northwestern Turkey) and ending in the fiery destruction of Troy.

Troy was often destroyed and rebuilt, subject as it was to raids and wars, due to its important – and accessible – coastal position controlling the straits between the Aegean and the Black seas, which probably allowed it to grow very rich from trade.

So, though we speak of one Trojan War, there were actually many.

And though we speak of Troy as a single entity, there were actually several settlements, each superimposed atop another over a span of time stretching to about 4,500 years.

Troy 1 was the smaller, simpler settlement from the early Bronze Age.

A later city built on the same site, Troy 6, is the one most frequently associated with what we refer to as The Trojan War.

Ironically enough, it’s likely that Homer did exactly what Hollywood is doing now; he took a fairly long and complex historical tradition of conflict, and he condensed it, made it simpler to understand and spiced it up with romance and rivalries.

• Man or myth: was Homer a real person?
Homer is believed to have been a blind Ionian poet, perhaps from Smyrna or the Island of Chios, who composed the story of the Iliad in about 730 B.C. and the Odyssey later, around 700 B.C., about six centuries after the events had supposedly occurred.

• Did Homer really compose the 24 books of "The Iliad" and later work, "The Odyssey", by himself?
He likely collected stories that had been recited by traveling bards for more than 500 years.

He’s actually part of an oral tradition of many poets reciting from memory; however, Homer probably repackaged, condensed and unified the stories of others.

• Was all the hullabaloo really caused by the abduction of Helen of Troy?
There is no archaeological evidence for this. Any Trojan War of the period might just as likely have been due to a rivalry between the Greeks and the Hittite empire in central Turkey for control of this strategically important location.

• Could the Greeks really have launched more than a thousand ships in an effort to conquer Troy?
No. The settlements of Greece during the late Bronze Age could not have mustered that kind of sea power.

• Would any siege really have lasted 10 years?
Possibly. During the Bronze Age (about 3000 to 1000 B.C.), Troy would have been well fortified, with large towers, heavily protected gates and limestone walls.

Because of the sophisticated fortifications that would have been found there – including defensive ditches – it would have been an extraordinarily difficult site to conquer.

So it seems likely that any ancient war there
-- including that described in the Iliad –- would have taken a long time.

• Did the war really end with a horse?
No. There’s no archaeological evidence for this, and its (the hollow horse) existence was doubted even by the ancient Greeks.

• Did the fall of Troy really lead to the founding of Rome?
No. Even though Virgil’s "Aeneid" states that Rome was founded by Aeneas, one of the few Trojan nobles to supposedly survive the 12th century B.C. fall of Troy, that’s impossible.

Rome was not founded until 400 years after the fall of Troy that is recounted by Homer. The Romans believed that the Trojan hero, Aeneas, and other refugees from that war settled in central Italy.

They further believed that it was two descendents of Aeneas –- Romulus and Remus –- who purportedly founded the city in 753 B.C.
Still, the connection with Troy was strong enough that the Romans turned Troy into something of an ancient world “tourist trap.”

Troy today – or rather the Turkish residents living near the site – have been taking advantage of tourist possibilities.

It's typically received hundreds of thousands of visitors annually over the last decade and now includes a walking
path through the site, a tourist information center and –-
what else? -- a 60-foot-high Trojan Horse.

Read more sci/tech news in the May 2004 issue of "Arte Six".