Restored Plan of Troy’s citadel adapted from W. Dorpfeld’s excavations. The successive archaeological and urban levels are noted. Note also the outer and inner walls of Troy VI.
By Periklis Deligiannis
My initial intention was to give an outline of the military architecture of Troy but the detailed studies of W. Dorpfeld, M. Wood, H. Schliemann, R. Neumann, C.W. Blegen, J.L. Caskey, M.Rawson, M. Korfmann, D. Easton and others, most of which are free on the internet, does not leave any room to add something new to the subject beyond the usual data. Therefore, in this article I will deal with the essential result of that architecture, namely the difficulty of conquering the mighty fortress which Troy VI had been.
Which of the archaeological urban levels of the city discovered and excavated by H. Schliemann at the hill of modern Hissarlik was the city of Homer’s epic? This is one of the main problems concerning the Homeric Epic Cycle. It is considered certain that the Homeric Troy corresponds to one of the levels VI (about 1900-1250 BC) and VIIa (about 1250-1180 BC). Wilhelm Dörpfeld who in 1893-94 continued Schliemann’s excavations in Troy, indicated level VI as the Homeric city. Dörpfeld found that the last phase of that level (VIh) was hit by an earthquake and concluded that after the blow, the city was captured by enemies who according to his view they were the Homeric Achaeans. The German archaeologist found that the earthquake caused damage to the city but the destruction was the work of man, a view based on the discovery of extensive fire traces in the VIh destruction level and on archaeological evidence, mainly traces of military activity.
This theory of Dörpfeld and those who agree with him today (e.g. M. Wood and others) is the most believable in my opinion, that is why in this article I will base my analysis on the assumption that Homer’s Troy was the archaeological level VI (phase VIh). In a future article I will deal with the arguments of those who argue that Homer’s city was the level VI and the ones of those who argue that that city was level VII (less likely).
A rare and detailed representation of the total city of Troy (urban area and citadel). Most of the modern representations use to deal just with the architectural and engineering status of the citadel. Most of the defensive features mentioned in the text are noted, but please observe notably the scalar urban distribution of the buildings of the lower city and the citadel, essentially being the fourth defensive line of Troy (Copyright: National Geographic Magazine. Art by William Cook. Source on Troy: Troy project).
Troy VI was a city with robust fortifications, and architecturally sophisticated palace complex and common houses; obviously the capital of an extensive and prosperous state which controlled the Straits of Hellespont (modern Dardanelles) and the regions of the Thracian Peninsula and Troas (and a few more districts and islands). In general Troy VI fully meets the descriptions of the Homeric epics and other epics of the Trojan Cycle considering the richness and power of Troy. Troy VI survived for six centuries of prosperity and security behind her sturdy walls. The towers of the citadel walls were built around 1300 BC, several decades before her destruction, possibly due to increased danger because of Hittite, Achaean, Thracian, Phrygian and other aggressors.
Until 1992, all the archaeologists who had carried out excavations at Hissarlik hill (Schliemann, Dörpfeld, Blegen, Korfmann) could not explain why the excavated town covered such a small area. It was actually a simple citadel with a palace, which could not have a significant population. This heavily fortified but small settlement could not have been the Homeric Troy. Thus there was some doubt by then about whether Homer’s city was indeed in Hissarlik hill. In 1992 the German archaeologists who had continued the excavations at Hissarlik, decided to excavate the area around the foot of the hill. The result was enlightening: a trench of significant depth was discovered, and on its ‘shore’ towards the hill they have discovered the remains of a wall surrounding the actual city, the urban area of Troy. The obvious defensive trench prevented the approach of the enemy chariots and siege machines. Furthermore the German archaeologists discovered ruins of that “lower city” of Troy VI below the Greco-Roman city (levels VIII and IX) which lies in this area. Then it became clear that the settlement at Hissarlik was just the citadel of Homeric Troy, which was indeed a large city considering its time. As mentioned, the lower city contemporary of level VI was protected by a wall which ran parallel to the ditch and apparently had six gates. It seems that each gate was protected by a wooden palisade in front of it and at a distance. I insist on describing the ‘down town’ (the asty in ancient Greek) because most readers are familiar with the architectural and engineering status of the citadel but not with the one of the former.
The population of that ‘extended’ Troy VI is calculated from 6,000 to 10,000 according to different opinions, but I consider most probable the figure of 6,000. Some archaeologists still doubt the existence of that lower city, however it is becoming increasingly evident that they are wrong.
In conclusion, today only a few scholars dispute the identification of Troy to the Bronze Age city at Hissarlik. The analysis which follows refers to the architectural status and urban planning of the city just before its destruction, around the middle of the 13th century BC.
Although some archeologists continue to doubt about the identity of the city’s destroyers, most of those who argue that that phase VIh was the city of Homer (if not all of them) believe that the destroyers were the Achaean Mycenaean invaders.
As the excavations have demonstrated, the army who was going to attack the city would have a very difficult task to complete in order to capture the palace in the citadel, which would give them the final victory. Essentially it had to rupture and exceed six defense lines of the Trojans:
First, they had to defeat the Trojan army at the coastal plain, which was proved a very difficult task as shown in Iliad’s narrative, and then they had to backfill or bridge the defensive trench, which was also defended by Trojan troops (Second line of defense). Then they had to conquer the wall of the lower city (Third line of defense). As indicated by the episode of the Trojan Horse and tends to become more widely accepted, this conquest was achieved by using one or more siege engines which are represented by the Trojan Horse in the traditional legend. It is possible that the name of the siege engine itself was “the Horse” because of its structure and appearance. The Horse probably induced a breach on the wall from where the Achaean warriors entered the lower city proceeding to the next phase of their war effort. Probably the same siege engines caused a breach on both walls of the citadel (external and internal).
The houses of Troy VIh were constructed forming gradually higher urban levels, looking like “climbing” on the slopes of the hill to reach its top. Thus, anyone who was following the uphill road which led to the citadel, was observing that every house was in a higher position than the previous one. Because of this scalar urban distribution of the buildings of the lower city and the citadel, each Trojan house or generic building was at the same time a small fort manned by Trojan warriors, which the attackers would have to conquer. It was a difficult operational task, because the next house was always on a higher position and thereby its roof offered an ideal base for the Trojan archers, slingers and javeliners while the ground floor would be protected by cuirassed and other heavy troops. Apparently the women and children would have the mission to put out the fires that the attackers would cause using flaming arrows and javelins (attempting to burn the houses), using leather, fabric or water. Anyone can imagine the bloodshed that this urban warfare would had brought on both sides, particularly among Trojan civilians. The narratives of Homer and Virgil rather make it clear that a mass slaughter of civilians took place during the capture of Troy by the Achaeans: perhaps this slaughter is explained not only by the attackers’ fury, but also by the ferocious resistance of the Trojans in that Fourth line of defense.
The nine urban levels of the citadel on the hill of Hissarlik in an detailed depiction by Lloyd K. Townsend. On the left, a representation of Troy VIh, being probably Homer’s Troy. Note the palace (anaktoron or megaron) on the top of the hill, protected by the inner defensive wall and the outer and most powerful one.
Another restored Plan of Troy’s citadel adapted from W. Dorpfeld’s work.
The invaders, having had to conquer one by one the houses of Troy, would then have to occupy the first (outer) wall of the citadel, being the Fifth line of defense which was perhaps the most difficult task because of the strength of that wall. Its sophisticated architectural design and its location on the slopes of the hill would have caused awe to every aggressor army. Then the attackers would have to conquer the second (inner) wall of the citadel and thus destroy the Sixth line of defense in order to take over the palace.
All this had to be achieved by fighting the Trojan army, one of the strongest in the Aegean world according to tradition, which was additionally strengthened by military forces of the Confederacy of Assuwa and its allies in Thrace, in the Arzawan Confederation and in the Anatolian hinterland, coming from such remote areas such as the Axios Valley, Lycia-Pamphylia and the mouth of the River Alys on the north coasts of Asia Minor. Additionally among the allies of Troy there were elite forces, such as the Lycians (Luqqa) and maybe the Gasga (Kaska) coming from the mountainous area of Northern Asia Minor. It is therefore understandable why Troy had the reputation of an unassailable city even millennia after her destruction, and why the Achaeans acted with such ferocity when they conquered her. Considering the above mentioned lines of defense, it is apparent that the Achaeans suffered heavy losses.
Troy with her strategic position and wealth, had suffered nine proper sieges during the six centuries of her existence, according to archaeological evidence (without taking into account some other attacks which certainly suffered but left no archaeological tracks). The inhabitants of the approximately fifty successive archaeological sub-levels and the nine successive cities which were developed at Hissarlik, watched many times the hostile armies gathering beneath their walls and then launching their onslaught.
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