Historical events become legends and myths as time marches on. They are full of events and characters that are unrealistic. Was there really a Robin Hood? Though history is not concrete about this one, who's to say there was not a man who became the basis for this larger-than-life figure? The same can be said about the Trojan War. The Trojan stories seem unbelievable. Do we dismiss the Trojan War as fiction because of Homer's creative work, or do we accept it as fact based on cooperating evidence?
The story of the Trojan War was not composed until the Dark Age was ending and the Archaic age was on the horizon. Around 500 years after Troy vanished, Homer wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey, which are without question fictional books. Many, in the classical Greek period, believed that Homer's fictional books had considerable historical value and that Troy did exist. The stories were taught in schools and revered as crucial parts of education in history. Tradition has it that Alexander the Great carried a copy of Homer’s works with him as he conquered much of the known world. As the years went by, Homer began to be dismissed as just a good story writer. In the ancient world, Homer was revered as a man who passed on a piece of history that otherwise might forever have been forgotten.
Scholars over the centuries have said that Homer's works were just stories that were great tales and not a basis for history. To think otherwise would be absurd as no ruins were discovered that proved to be Troy and no other written records mentioned the great city. Where was the crucial evidence of Troy’s existence as you cannot create fact based on a single source? There had to be further support. As there were no written records prior to the Homeric Period, there was no way to trace the actual occurrence of the Trojan War. Scholars summarily dismissed the idea of the Trojan War as just another part of mythology. Homer did not even use eyewitness accounts or written records to create his epics. He wrote them so long after the event, that the historical reliability of these stories is considered very weak. Scholars firmly believe that the Iliad and the Odyssey cannot be relied upon historically.
Scholars might dismiss the Trojan War, but that did not stop others from believing in their hearts that it was a real event. Why were these people so adamant that Troy existed? They contended that just because Homer wrote a great story did not mean history cannot be found there. Through Homer, we get glimpses of society during those time periods and into Homer's world. Government, family relations, and battle methods are revealed. Heinrich Schliemann was one person who firmly believed in the existence of Troy.
In 1871, Schliemann and his wife rolled up their sleeves and literally began digging for Troy. Schliemann studied the Iliad and used that as a guide to lead him where he believed Troy to be. Many historians scoffed at the idea that this amateur archaeologist had figured anything out. As he dug down, he discovered ruins built upon ruins along with gold, artifacts, and evidence of a mighty fortress. He went further and began excavating what he hoped was the home of King Agamemnon and Mycenae. These excavations were completed by Sir Arthur Evans who discovered a magnificent palace. Though the names of Troy and Agamemnon were not found at these sites, Homer led them directly to outstanding archaeological finds.
Since then, further excavations have been conducted giving scholars a much better idea of the history. Excavations have shown that there were multiple cultures occupying the space of Troy throughout the centuries. Focusing upon these ruins, archaeologist can now say with confidence that there had been a fortress located at that site and that it had been destroyed. Take into account supporting evidence of the existence of the Mycenae civilization and records that have recently been discovered from the Hittite archaeological finds, scholars are feeling more confident to say that the Trojan War did happen.
Did Paris kidnap Helen? Did Achilles help bring down the walls of Troy? Did a Trojan horse trick the Trojans? Did Zeus and Athena influence the outcome of the war? The answer to these questions may never have a concrete answer. Archaeology has given us the ruins of the city from the Trojan War at the very location that Homer gave, the existence of the Mycenae civilization just as Homer proclaimed, and the fact that truth can be found even out of fictional literature. The Trojan War is probably a real event. There is enough supporting evidence now that the work of Homer did not pull this out of the air or twist oral traditions.
- “Horizon: The Truth of Troy.” YouTube. Last modified June 21, 2008. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1co2MfmSn4&feature=related.
- Morkot, Robert. The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Greece. New York: Penguin Group, 1996.
- Pomeroy, Sarah B., Stanley M. Burstein, Walter Donlan, and Jennifer Tolbert - Roberts. Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.