Wooden Horse of Troy

The fall of Troy is arguably the earliest 'myth' we can state as fact and give an accurate date. The date is 1183 BC (give or take 10 years). There are still those who dispute whether Hisarlik is the site of ancient Troy, just as there are those who doubt Thera is the ancient site of Atlantis. The site had been settled as early as the 8th Millennium BC. It is situated at the edge of a cape projecting into the Aegean between the Dardanelles and the Gulf of Edremit. In ancient times the region was known as Troas or The Troad.

Troy VII is a mound in Hisarlik that chronicles the fate of the city from 1300 BC to 950 BC. Troy VIIa was built on the site of Troy VIh which was destroyed around 1300 BC, probably by an earthquake. The interesting thing about Troy VIIa is the evidence suggesting it was destroyed by war. The destruction layer dated to 1190 BC showed signs of fire damage, skeletons with cracked skulls, and bronze arrowheads. The site spreads over 50 acres and would home anywhere between 5,000-10,000 people.

Looking at two of the main protagonists, Menelaus and Agamemnon, we are told their father was Atreus, eponymous progenitor of the Atreid Dynasty. The Atreid Dynasty came into being when Eurystheus, the fourth and last leader of the Perseid Dynasty, was killed whilst persecuting the descendants of Heracles. The story goes that Thyestes was picked to rule but the sun appeared to set in the east and was seen as an omen. The decision was reversed and Atreus became king.

The point of interest here is the 'sun setting in the east' as we know there was an eclipse of the sun on March 5th 1223 BC. Could this be what was described, it would seem logical. The date of Atreus taking control is just 30 years before Troy VIIa and everything pieces together nicely. Athenian orator Isocrates (436-338 BC) places Perseus as four generations before Heracles, and Atreus was a generation later. This puts Perseus around 125 years earlier than Atreus giving a date of 1350 BC. It would also put 100 years between Perseus and Heracles who were both supposed offspring of Zeus.

As Minos, another son of Zeus, is placed well before the last Santorini eruption (1450 BC) and as many as another six generations before Perseus, we have to eye direct descendants of Zeus with some suspicion. There is of course the idea Zeus might indeed be a God, or an E.T. making use of the anomalies of high speed travel. Whilst not totally dismissive of the latter, I find motive for such behaviour elusive. In my opinion, many offspring of Zeus were deemed such figuratively, due to them standing out from the crowd (or an illicit pregnancy).

Perseus is commonly stated as the founder of Mycenae but archaeological evidence gives an earlier date between 1800-1700 BC. This seems more likely yet the 1350 BC date is when the Mycenaeans were at their most influential, shortly after the demise of the Minoans. In 1876 archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, found a gold death mask at Mycenae (see Mask of Agamemnon) which dates to around 1550 BC.

There is much literature about the Trojan War, most notably from Homeric sources the Iliad and the Odyssey. When assessing the validity of a supposed myth it is important to recognise poetic licence, exaggeration, and metaphor. Other sources come from Egypt and the Hittites. The Hittites are interesting in the dates the empire began (1600 BC), peaked (1350 BC), and disappeared (1178 BC). Sound familiar? It is likely from details of the war, the Hittites were in fact allied to the Trojans. The fall of the Hittites just 5 years after the sacking of Troy is a possible clue. One source seemingly backing this theory states:-

Blood ran in torrents, drenched was all the earth,

As Trojans and their alien helpers died.

Here were men lying quelled by bitter death

All up and down the city in their blood.

The war raged for 10 years and according to legend began due to the Gods quarrelling. The Gods were naturally accredited with good and bad fortune, as indeed they are in most religious beliefs. For that reason I put very little faith in the purported mood swings of deities. The catalyst is by all accounts Helen eloping with Paris. It is worth noting most sources refer to Paris as Alexander.

Looking at the genealogy of Paris we find he is the son of Priam and ergo grandson of Laomedon. From there we find Ilus the father of Laomedon. Ilus was the brother of Ganymede and son of Tros. The grandfather of Tros was Dardanus. There is a logical progression in the lineage which equates to the naming of cities and regions.

Excavations of Troy

Cities are mostly built on the sites of previous settlements and Troy is no exception. Excavation shows settlement at Hisarlik dates to at least 3000 BC (another familiar date). The first five cities date from 3000-1700 BC and it is noted there was a culture change towards the end. The different layers have been found at different times. This is the summary of how the site is categorised.

Troy I 3000–2600 BC

Troy II 2600–2250 BC

Troy III 2250–2100 BC

Troy IV 2100–1950 BC

Troy V: 20th–18th centuries BC

Troy VI: 17th–15th centuries BC

Troy VIh: 14th century BC

Troy VIIa: c. 1300–1190 BC

Troy II was initially thought to be the Homeric Troy as it was the only discovered one at the time that was destroyed by fire. The dates were far too early though and when Troy VIIa was found, it fit perfectly. In c.1250* BC Troy was partially destroyed by earthquake but quickly rebuilt. The features found on excavation matched those of Homer's Troy (the weakness in part of the wall, the presence of a tower, etc.). The partial destruction in c.1250 BC is another significant date as it is probably during the reign of Laomedon.

*It may have been a decade or two earlier

The myth states Zeus was angry with Poseidon and Apollo, so sent them to serve King Laomedon. Laomedon had them build huge walls around the city with the mortal Aeacus, promising to reward them well. He then refused to fulfil his promise so before the Trojan War, Poseidon sent a sea monster to attack Troy and Apollo sent a pestilence. These were most likely natural events that occurred and led to the story. Poseidon was the 'earth-shaker' as well as God of the sea, possibly due to a tsunami being preceded by an earthquake. The pestilence followed and brought Apollo into the equation.

Laomedon planned on sacrificing his daughter Hesione to Poseidon, in the hope of appeasing him. Heracles rescued Hesione, killing the monster in the process. Laomedon had promised magic horses* as a reward but again broke his word. Heracles and his allies put Troy under siege, killing Laomedon and his sons. Only Podarces survived, reportedly saving his own life by giving Heracles a golden veil Hesione had made. [afterwards Podarces was called Priam, from priamai 'to buy' as he 'bought' his freedom] 

*the 'magic horses' were in the line from the horses Laomedon's grandfather Tros, was given by Zeus in return for the services of Ganymede

We can now positively place Heracles to c.1250 BC. This will be useful in tracing other characters but for now we will stick with Troy. Homer described Priam as an old man at the time of the Trojan War. There is no indication of the age of his father Laomedon, it is possible he constructed Troy VIh around 1300 BC. His father Ilus founded the city of Ilios (Lat. Ilium) and grandfather Tros, was the eponymous progenitor of the Trojans. Perhaps we could stretch the boundaries a little and date Tros between 1400-1350 BC but that now gives us the Ganymede / Zeus / Minos problem. It is then we have to look at the tangled web of genealogy on offer and make some adjustments.

There is again the issue of eldest boys being named after the grandfathers, plus the fact the ancients blamed / thanked the Gods for everything else, why not childbirth. It would be easier to cite a miracle birth than own up to having a fling. Ilus wasn't the first Ilus, another was the son of Dardanus. I have to assume at this point the current genealogies are flawed, not unreasonable when you consider all the contradictions.

All accounts pretty much confirm the Trojan War to be dated around 1190 BC. From this Herodotus puts the Return of the Heracleidae some 80 years after the fall of Troy. With the Trojan War purportedly lasting 10 years that falls at around another familiar date, 1100 BC.

The Wooden Horse story is somewhat less credible and many theories have been suggested. Odysseus supposedly thought of building a large wooden horse (the horse being the emblem of Troy), and hiding warriors inside. The Trojans took the horse inside the city as a trophy of war. It was inscribed with "For their return home, the Greeks dedicate this offering to Athena". They then burned their tents and left to Tenedos during the night. Sinon volunteered to remain and convince the Trojans the Horse is an offering to Athena to ensure a safe journey home for the Greek fleet.

A Trojan priest Laocoön suspected the plot and warned the Trojans ("I fear Greeks, even those bearing gifts") but was ignored. In the Odyssey, Helen of Troy also suspects a trick and even Priam's daughter Cassandra, soothsayer of Troy, says the horse will be the downfall of the city. She too is ignored.

There is speculation the Trojan Horse may have been a battering ram or other sort of siege engine resembling a horse. Assyrians used siege machines with animal names, covered with dampened horse hides to protect against flaming arrows; it is possible that the Trojan Horse was such.

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