Archaeology and the Trojan War

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Archaeology and the Trojan War

“… he [Heinrich Schliemann] found layers of ruins … and two bore unmistakable signs of violent destruction. One of these layers, the seventh according to more recent excavators, was no doubt the city of Priam and Hector. The historicity of the Homeric tale had been demonstrated archaeologically.” - M.I. Finley, the World of Odysseus


The Trojan War and its characters are detailed in the writings of Homer, Vergil, Dante and many others. It is a fantastical tale of a decade-long siege of a powerful city by a massive pan-hellenic force. However, even though it has proved to be such a rich source of inspiration for writers, poets and artists throughout history, it is debated whether it actually took place. Heinrich Schliemann famously said “I have gazed on the face of Agamemnon.” on discovering tombs with the bodies of Mycenaean chieftains in Turkey. The German businessman-turned-archaeologist claimed to have discovered the city of Troy at the hill now called Hisarlik – about three miles from the Dardanelles. However, his claims are still disputed today. Before tackling the question of whether the Trojan War actually occurred, we must ask in what form. What exactly do we mean by “the Trojan War”? There is no definitive version of the events in the war, as our knowledge of it comes from a myriad different sources. Then we should consider Schliemann’s discoveries, and the other archaeological evidence for the Trojan War. Finally, after we have defined “Trojan War” in context of archaeology and historical fact, we must then draw conclusions about the extent to which archaeology proves its historical authenticity.

What do we mean by the “Trojan War”?

The first source that comes to mind is the writings of Homer – the Iliad and the Odyssey. The two epics are considered canon. However, Heroditus’ Histories briefly detail the major events of the war, and relays them as if they were historical fact. Heroditus’ account of the war differs slightly from Homer’s version, and he is well aware of this. After relating the tale of Alexander (Paris) carrying off Helen, Heroditus writes:

“Such was the tale told me by the priests concerning the arrival of Helen at the court of Proteus. It seems to me that Homer was acquainted with this story , and while disregarding it , because he thought it less adapted for heroic poe...

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..., or even “Did the version of events Heroditus describes have any foundation in truth?”. If the existence of Troy itself is uncertain, then the historicity of the war can only be more so.


Ancient Sources:

- Homer, the Aeneid, translated by Samuel Butler, taken from

- Homer, the Aeneid, translated by T.E. Lawrence (Wordsworth, 1995)

- Homer, the Odyssey, translated by T.E. Lawrence (Wordsworth, 1995)

- Heroditus, Histories, translated by George Rawlinson (Wordsworth, 1996)

Modern Sources:

- Boardman, Griffin and Murray, the Oxford History of the Classical World (Oxford University Press, 1986)

- Finley, M. I., the World of Odysseus, (New York: The Viking Press, 1978)

- Finley, M. I., Ancient History – Evidence and Models, (Penguin, 1985)

- Alan B. Lloyd (editor), Battle in Antiquity (Duckworth, 1996)

- Heinrich Schliemann’s Telegrams taken from

- Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier interview extract from Hershel Shanks, taken from

- Additional research taken from Ian Johnston’s web page, and also
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