Wilusa- The Mysterious City of Troy

The Ilium City, also known as Wilusa, is part of Troy’s famed Kingdom and is a key point in an archeological and historical mystery. In 347AD, a man named Jerome was born. He gained sainthood by being the Bible’s translator into Latin, an edition known as the Vulgate. He wrote extensively, and among his writings included a history of ancient Greece.

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In the year 380 AD, he endeavored to write a universal chronicle, a history of Mankind. The Chronicon (Chronicle) or Temporum liber (Book of Times), marked his first attempt. It is in the Chronicle that we find the first independent references to Wilusa. Jerome wrote the Chronicle while he was living in Constantinople.

Homer’s Iliad was written somewhere in the mysterious region in 780 BC, some thousand years before the Chronicle. There are, however, other independent mentions of Wilusa, The Ilium City, and the City of Troy that lend credence to the idea that Troy was a real place, even if the existence of gods, goddesses, and heroes of lore might be in question. Like most myths, the Iliad is a combination of true history and imagination. Scholars, even in the modern era, seek to discover where the imagination leaves off, and the City of Troy’s boundaries begin.

The Hittites identified Wilusa as part of the City of Troy in much more modern writings. It is fabled to be the Trojan War site and the focal point of the Iliad events. The Hittites were an Ancient Anatolian people whose kingdom existed from around 1600 to 1180 BC. The kingdom existed in what is now known as Turkey. They were a relatively advanced society that manufactured iron goods and created an organized system of government. 

The civilization thrived during the Bronze Age and became the pioneers of the Iron Age. Sometime around 1180 BC, a new people group moved into the area. Much like Odysseus, these were sea-faring warriors who entered and began to splinter the civilization through invasions. The Hittites scattered and splintered into several Neo-Hittite city-states. Little is known about Hittite culture and day to day life, as most of the writings preserved from that era focus on Kings and Kingdoms and their exploits. Very little is left of Hittite culture, as the area was overrun by other people groups who moved in and changed the landscape of history.

While Wilusa, the Ilium City, features prominently in the telling of tales such as Homer’s Iliad and later the Odyssey, it is uncertain even today if the city itself existed in the form presented in the Iliad, or if the war that is said to have taken place happened as it is written. While providing an excellent literary point of interest, the wooden Trojan horse may never have actually stood in the streets of Troy. We don’t know if hundreds of soldiers secreted inside came out to conquer Troy, nor if the famed beauty Helen is a real person in the world’s history or a fable imagined by the writer. 

Kingdom Of Troy

Of course, Troy’s Kingdom is the ancient city in which the events related to the Iliad are said to have taken place. But what is Troy? Did such a place exist? And if so, what was it like? Within the area now known as Turkey, the ancient City of Troy did indeed exist. In what form, size, and precise location are a matter of some controversy. 

What facts are undisputed include that there was indeed a residential city in the area historians believe was Troy? It was abandoned as a City in the years 950BC-750BC, from 450AD-1200AD and again in 1300AD. In the present day, the hill of Hisarlik and its immediate area, including the flat to the lower Scamander River to the strait, make up what we know as the City of Troy once stood.

Troy’s ancient site’s proximity to the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea would have made it an important area for trade and military activities. People groups from around the entire area would have moved through Troy to trade and during military campaigns. 

Another fact that is known is that the City was destroyed at the end of the Bronze Age. This destruction is generally believed to represent the Trojan War. In the following Dark Age, the City was abandoned. In time, a Greek-speaking population moved into the area, and the area became a part of the Persian Empire. The city of Anatolia overtook the ruins where Troy once stood.

Alexander the Great, a later conqueror, was an admirer of Achilles, one of the Heroes of the Trojan War. After the Roman conquests, the Hellenistic Greek-speaking City received yet another new name. It became the City of Ilium. Under Constantinople, it flourished and was placed under a Bishop’s leadership as the Catholic church’s influence became more prevalent in the area. 

It was not until 1822 that the first modern scholar pinpointed the location of Troy. The Scottish journalist, Charles Maclaren, identified Hisarlik as the likely location. During the mid-19th century, a wealthy family of English settlers purchased a working farm a few miles away. In time, they convinced a wealthy German archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, to take over the site. The site has been excavated over many years since then, and in 1998 it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage.

Residents Of Ancient Ilium 

Although there is extensive archeological evidence that Troy residents existed, clues to their culture and language are less easy to come by. Some passages in the Iliad suggest that the Trojan army represented a diverse group who spoke various languages. It was not until the mid-20th century that tablets with a script known as Linear B were translated. The script is an early dialect of Greek. The language was used earlier than the Greek that the Iliad was written in. Linear B tablets have been located in the major centers of Achaean holdings. None were found in Troy, so much of what we know of their lifestyle and culture is speculation. 

It is known that the tablets came from a post-Trojan war period. The palaces where they were found were burned. The tablets survived the fires, as they were made of clay, but historians can postulate their approximate age by the condition of the tablets. They would have been created during a time following the Trojan war and before the palaces were burned, during a time known as the Sea Peoples’ time. The Greeks had invaded and conquered Troy, and the tablets are the record of what came during the time they were in power.

The tablets that have been found thus far contain information on assets of the Mycenaean states. Inventories of things like food, ceramics, weapons and land are included and lists of labor assets. This includes both average workers and slaves. The civilizations of ancient Greece and the surrounding areas were built on the principles of slavery. The tablets detail the variations of servitude within the culture.

Servants were divided into three categories- Ordinary slaves who may or may not have been native to the region, who were coerced into servitude by circumstances or social construct. Temple servants who were relatively well off, as their “superior” was the god in question. They, therefore, may have received more respect and compensation than the average slave. Finally were the captives- prisoners of war who were forced to perform menial labor. 

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The records include divisions between male and female slaves. While male slaves tended to do more manual labor like bronzemaking and house and shipbuilding, most female slaves were textile workers.

What does all of this have to do with Troy?

The clues left behind by those who came after Troy can tell us quite a bit about the culture they overcame. Much of Trojan culture and history would have been absorbed into the day to day lives of the Sea People and would live on in their records. 

The slaves who were kept in Ancient Troy provide some of the strongest links back to the City from the tablets. Non-native Greek names began appearing among the slaves mentioned in the tablets, indicating that Troy’s slaves’ descendants continued after the war. Slaves are one population for whom life remains pretty much the same, no matter which people group is in charge. The consistency of their lives isn’t much disrupted. Their work is needed whether the masters are Greek or some other ancient people

The Trojans themselves may also have continued following the war as captive slaves of the Greeks. That would contribute to the number of non-native Greek names appearing in the tablets. Several more theories arose about who might have occupied Ancient Troy but were quickly debunked. It remains difficult to discern what languages might have been used and what the culture was like, without more direct evidence of the people who occupied the area.

Ancient City Of Troy 

It was not until 1995 that a new clue to the culture of the ancient City of Troy came to light. A Luwian biconvex seal was located at Troy. A historian from the University of Tubingen brought the argument that Troy’s king during the Trojan War, Priam, could have been derived from the word Priimuua, which translates to “exceptionally courageous.” The word is Luwian, providing a further clue that the language of ancient Troy might have been Luwian. 

There is a period in history known as the Greek Dark Ages, from Mycenaean civilization’s demise to the first appearance of the Greek alphabet in the 8th century. This gap in the historic record adds confusion and speculation to the entire attempt to piece together Troy’s history

Following the Trojan War, the City probably did not stand abandoned for long. Priam and his wife, and most of the residents of the City were probably enslaved or slaughtered. After some time hiding, perhaps among the Dardanians or further inland among the Hittites, the Trojans who survived the defeat would have begun to filter back. There is evidence of intense destruction and later rebuilding in the ruins that are said to be ancient Troy. This rebuilding would have represented a sort of revival of Troy and Trojan culture, though it was highly diluted, and in time even this brave attempt fell to further invasions and war.

Pottery known as “knobbed ware” began to appear during the time in which it is thought that the revival was occurring. It was simplistic ceramic pottery, indicative of a humbler people group, not the proud residents of original Troy. They were not able to stand against the invading peoples who followed. Troy was weakened too far by the Trojan War to continue. That defeat left its people too few and too defeated to continue. In time, the remaining culture of Troy was absorbed into the people who came after.

Homeric Troy

The Troy imagined by Homer in the Iliad was fictional, and therefore might not have been a strongly accurate reflection of the culture of the time. Certainly, the form of mythology does not lend itself to a historically accurate recording. Myths, however, are powerful in part because they contain a strong element of truth. Mythological legends contain representations of human behaviors and the consequences of actions. They often include important clues to history. Even though a myth may exaggerate and even fabricate certain aspects of history, they are often built on the foundations of reality and provide important insight into the culture of the day. 

Homeric Troy is presented as a city much like those we know existed from the historical record. A Kingdom, ruled by a King and his wife, containing a royal hierarchy. The common people would have been merchants, traders, peasants, and slaves. Much of what we know of the peoples who came after supplements our knowledge of Troy during the period covered by Homer’s Iliad.

We know for certain that ancient Troy was a strategic point in the Dardanellas, a narrow strait between the Agean and Black Seas. The geography of Troy made it an attractive trading hub as well as a strong target. It may be that the Greek attack on Troy had less to do with the love of a woman than the geographic and strategic location of the City and its impact on trade of the day. 

The excavations of a site known as Hisarlik from the late 1800s to the early 2000s have provided more generalized insight into Troy’s location and existence, but little more data about its culture, language, and people. The mound known as Hisarlik started at the height of about 105 feet. It contained distinguishable layers of debris. As it was excavated, the layers revealed nine periods in which the City was built, destroyed, and built again. The Trojan war was only one conflict suffered by the City.

We know that the City contained a fortified stronghold, much as is described in the Iliad. In the area around the stronghold lived farmers and other peasants. When the City was attacked, they would withdraw within the walls to take shelter. Although exaggerated in its grandeur, Homer’s description of the City seems to match the findings of archeologists. The large, sloping stone walls protected an acropolis upon which stood the King’s residence and other royal family residences. From this height, Priam would have been able to view the battlefield, as reported in the Iliad. 

Each of the time periods corresponding with the layers was given a name- Troy I, Troy II, etc. Each time the City was destroyed and rebuilt, a new layer formed. The war did not come until Troy VII, dated between 1260 and 1240 BC. This layer contained the structures that most closely match the Homeric saga and strong evidence of a siege and invasion. The formation of the structures within and the human remains found within suggest the residents prepared for and withstood the siege for a time before the final invasion and destruction of the City. 

Mythology is one of the best clues we have to the past. Though literature is often viewed as fictional, not all literature is solely the product of imagination. Like Homer’s Iliad, mythology is often based on tales of actual events and often provides a window into a past that can only be guessed at by other methods. Archeology depends upon discovering and understanding debris, pottery, tools, and other clues to the people who lived in an area and their activities.

Mythology and histories, passed down through written and oral tradition, provide context and further clues. By taking the evidence provided by archeology and comparing it to what is depicted by myths, we can piece together an accurate history. While mythology is not always accurate history, it is often a map that can guide us to seek out the ancient worlds’ history. Homer crafted an exciting tale of adventure and war and a map containing clues to a world that is out of reach of modern historians.

The Epic not only crosses cultural and literary boundaries. It gives us a pathway and bridge to an ancient world that we can otherwise only imagine. 

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2 Comments

  1. Excellent summary of Troy’s past. The story of the Hittites and the Sea Peoples as mentioned by the works of Michael Woods collaborates and seems to confirm Troy’s existence. Schliemann’s bulldozed methods and mentality somewhat brought back Troy into world stage again.
    The remains from the Roman settlement with marble dedications to the gods naming Illium leaves no doubt that Hisarlik and Troy are one and the same.

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