Finding Troy – Decoding the Iliad

From his boyhood, Hienrich Schliemann, believed that the tales related by Homer in his Iliad were works of history rather than fiction.  As an adult, he dedicated his life to finding and excavating the places sung about in the epic poems related to the Trojan War.  Schliemann had little more than the poems themselves to use in formulating his plans for searching out these sites.  The location of Troy was one of the greatest mysteries, a mystery that Schliemann helped to solve when he joined Frank Clavert in his excavations at the site of Hissarlik in 1871.

Archaeologists often still have to employ some of the methods of examining primary documents that Schliemann enlisted in order to tease out details that can be used in a conversation with the archaeological remains they find in order to develop ideas about how ancient societies work.

How would you do about looking for Troy if you only had the information contained within the Iliad?  What details or elements of the poem would you use to narrow your search for the fabled city?  How would you proceed?

42 thoughts on “Finding Troy – Decoding the Iliad

  1. If given the opportunity to discover Troy only using the information found in the Iliad, I probably wouldn’t be as resourceful as Heinrich Schliemann. However, in the Iliad there are certain names of cities and regions that could be connected with a “real” place, and those should be taken into account first. For example, in the first book of the Illiad, Achilles prays to his mom to ask Zeus to induce his wrath on the Achaeans and aid the Trojans in their war for taking Achilles’ prize, Briseis. Achilles tells his mom to “trap them round the bay,” which refers to the Aegean Sea (91). Using this information, and knowing that Achilles and the army are from Phthia and have to sail across the Aegean Sea to reach Troy, that would mean that Troy would have to be on the eastern edge of the sea. Furthermore, in the second book of the Illiad the armies are beginning to prepare for the battle that Achilles had wished for. Homer mentions in a few lines that the armies were gathering from every direction, “circling Asian marshes round the Cayster outflow” (114).
    With a few of these clues mentioned in the passages we read for class, a general area of Troy could be assumed. Homer writes that Troy was near a city named Thebe by Mount Placos and was upon a giant hill, which would also be helpful. I would then do what many archaeologists are forced to do, and go to farmers and people of that region for information on the land, if they had found various artifacts, and to hear tales that could further improve my knowledge.

    • Another example that the Greeks have to go across a body of water to reach Troy is on page 103-104 in book two where Agamemnon states “Our ship timbers rot and the cables snap and fray and across the sea our wives and helpless children wait in the halls.” I agree with your analysis.

    • You are right that going out and speaking with people, getting your hands dirty, and searching is the best way to get solid evidence. The Iliad can only get us so far. Once we have decoded and extracted all that is possible from the Iliad we have to go out and put this knowledge to work. The Iliad serves as a set up, an outline, of what we hope to find. We won’t know if all the research will pay off or not until we actually go out and look for the city. Speaking with people and listening to their stories is one of the best ways because some information never gets written down, but only passed through oral accounts.

      • I agree with the fact that locating Troy using only the information given in the Iliad would be extremely difficult. There are many hints and clues as to where it can be found but in my opinion it may turn into a ‘witch hunt’ since there are no solid geographical locations revealed. Although indeed a general area of Troy can be assumed, this still creates challenges for researchers and archaeologists as they will have no choice but to visit different sites, viewing the land and architecture, as well as, questioning the people who now inhibit the land.

        • All of the posts are making one basic assumption: that the modern landscape looks like it did in 1200 BC. Is this necessarily the case? What aspects of the landscape are the most susceptible to change over time? How would you address this concern as an archaeologist?

          • I think the buildings are most susceptible to change overtime due to weather conditions, as heavy rains and winds, as well as, rising of sea levels, could have damaged the remnants of the walls of Troys. I also think the shape of the land may have changed as well, once again due to sea levels as Troy is believed to be on the coast.

          • I agree with Monique concerning the walls and basic infrastructure of Troy deteriorating first. Natural conditions have a major effect on the rate at which the infrastructure of Troy is deteriorating. But the amount of geographic change is far less than that of the walls. Although sea levels may change over time major land marks such as mountains are still discernible to gather a location of the city.

          • Because Troy is located near the coast the area surrounding Troy would be very susceptible to changes due to the climate. Because it is a coastal area erosion is one of the main issues. Also coastal areas tend to get more rain so this means more storms and therefore also wind. However, I feel that there is not enough know about Troy based on the Iliad to draw a good conclusion as to its location if we are only going by landscape.

          • I agree with all above me. Any and all structures built during the time period of Troy will eventually be susceptible to change. If we can’t find it by simply looking above the surface now, some digging must be involved. This then implies that dirt, land formations or even a current city lies upon what used to be Troy. Weather is also another huge unpredictability. It’s hard to tell every single natural disaster or storm that has passed over Troy. But it is safe to assume that some or most of the buildings will have some damage. So a concern would be the fragility of the ruins. It would just be harder to preserve the history.

  2. There are many “clues” throughout the Iliad about the location of the Trojan War and the city of Troy. One of the very first ones appears in Book 1 when Achilles rages on about how the Trojans never did him any harm as there are “endless miles that lie between us…mountain ranges, seas…”(82) This indicates that Troy is located across some sea from Greece. Descriptions of local geography also give hints towards the site of Troy. For example Odysseus sails to an island to return Chryseis. The island is not far off as the length of the trip indicates. Another clue towards the location of Troy is that the Greeks have put camp on a beach. Presumably this beach shouldn’t be too far from Troy. All of this indicates that Troy was a costal town. Book Two gives many details about where the kings of Greece came from and it also has some descriptions of what they had accomplished during the Trojan War. The details of the towns they have looted can be presumed to have been around Troy. Present day archeologist can look for ruins of such places or find a place geographically accurate to accommodate all of these places. Many other places near Troy such as this are described in the Iliad. Putting all of these descriptions together begins to paint a faint picture of the geography of Troy. By using these descriptions combined with legends from history of where Troy might have been an archeologist can be fairly accurate at locating the lost city.

    • So there seems to be a consensus that the use of geographic clues and the topography of the area around Troy would be helpful. What other strategies would be useful? How could the Iliad help once you had narrowed the location of Troy down to a couple of possibilities?

      • I think another strategy that could be used is looking into the applied culture of each location. Whenever we are down to a few final locations the next step is to look into the society and extract what makes them different and unique from each other. The Iliad can help with the accounts of each city and their people, especially their leaders. This will start to make the differences between our final possibilities more clear, which will help to pinpoint actual location.

        • Can archaeology identify individual personalities and historical events? If so, what types of things should
          Archaeology look for? If not, why not, and how else can
          Archaeology help us with the Troy problem?

          • Archeology can be used to identify individual personalities and historical events by using things such as pictures and frescos as well as weapons and other battle equipment to add to the complete picture of a society. The Iliad could help with finding individual personalities that apply to Troy because the civilization as described by Homer was extremely religion based so artifacts incorporating the same religious ideas and gods could give better clues and help solve the Troy problem.

          • The personalities and historical events cannot be taken literally from the Iliad because of the time discrepancy between the actual event and Homer’s writing of the document. Basic descriptions of everyday objects and historical tendencies have to be evaluated but taken with a grain of salt. Homer is forced to take stories by word of mouth to support the war’s details because of a lack of hard evidence during the event’s actual unfolding. Archeology can evaluate the location of Troy by taking major geographical indicators such as the Aegean Sea, and Mount Placos. These landmarks will not dissipate through time as quickly as wall segments or cultural artifacts may. After gathering a broad general location, a more in depth search can be conducted involving locals as a major time saving resource to gather period artifacts and begin reconstructing Trojan society.

          • Archaeology can identify individuals to a degree. By examining peoples houses, for example, we can get a general understanding of who they were (for instance if they had a large house they were likely wealthy). This allows us to get a better understanding of the people within these societies.

      • Although we must be careful in taking fact from The Iliad, since it is one of the few remaining sources on Troy, I believe that it can begin to provide more clues after geography has been taken into account. The Iliad may help us understand Troy’s city layout. According to the text, Troy had large fortification walls and “Athena’s shrine on the city crest” (205). Additionally, Homer’s mention of the “sumptuous halls” of Paris indicate that Troy had an elite class that manifested wealth through extravagant architecture. These clues could be useful to a degree when trying to identify Troy.

      • I think another strategy that could be useful would be to eliminate all the possible locations that could not be Troy. By using the Iliad as a reference point, we know it’s not Greece but somewhere else that lies along the Aegean Sea. It might be easier to take away where it is not as opposed to where it is. That could narrow down the locations significantly.

      • Similar to the way that the Minoan society was uncovered, we could look at foreign artifacts that have unfamiliar symbols on them. If we knew where each of those artifacts were discovered, we would know what locations could possibly be Troy. Using what we know about the Trojan culture and what was important to them, we could figure out which symbols and artifacts are most likely Trojan. The Iliad includes several values that were important to Trojans such as courage, and duty to one’s country and to one’s family. Therefore, it wouldn’t be surprising if weaponry or a depiction of family were significant parts of Trojan artifacts.

        • Where would you look for these artifacts? What other ancient culture is known well enough at Schliemann’s time period to allow for this process?

  3. Homer’s Iliad was full of unclear and endless clues. Being an archaeologist, like Heinrich Schliemann, I would have focused, but not taken for granted, on some certain clues found in Homer’s book, The Iliad. The fact that we know that the Achaeans are coming from Greece narrows there voyage directions. The Achaeans have to cross a bay to get to Troy, as Achilles states in book one. The closest bay to them is the Achaeans Sea, which is the bay surrounding Greece. In book one; Homer also states that the Trojans haven’t done anything to harm Achilles, why should he travel endless miles, mountains and seas between them, when it’s not his battle. This is another indication that Achaeans have to cross a body of water between them and pass by mountains in order to reach Troy. Meaning that Troy could have a city near shore , as the Homer states that the Achaeans camp in the beach, or maybe it could have been surrounded by mountains, which in all case, it was always told that Troy was composed of great walls, those walls could have been the mountains that Achilles talked about. At one point Achilles, the best warrior from Greece, states that he is from Phthia as when he argues with Agamemnon for Briseis, he states that he doesn’t mind leaving with his people, the Myrmidons, back to Phthia as Agamemnon humiliates him in front of his people for Briseis. Could that of mean the city he was from was the closest from all and he could do such thing? I most likely wouldn’t have had the same luck in discovering Troy as Schliemann did but the most important part is to have tried to pick out a rough idea of where the ancient city of Troy had been located and search for ancient reasoning and maybe even more clues leading to the finding of the lost Troy.

    • I agree that the best way as an archeologist to go about searching for Troy with only the lines in the Iliad would be to start with finding the major landmarks. Bodies of water and mountain ranges are great indicators to get a general idea of where the lost city would be. The dialogue between characters is important as well, as you showed. When a person indicates what state they are from it helps to build a map of the area in relationship to the leaders’ names. This can help to narrow down and find the location of a lost city like Troy.

  4. The Iliad by Homer, contains numerous clues and information on where the city of Troy could be located. The first details I noticed about the location of Troy was that it was surrounded by water. This is evident in a passage in book one where the Greeks keep referring to the sea that separates Troy. Another example of Troy’s location near the water is on page 103-104 in book two where Agamemnon states “Our ship timbers rot and the cables snap and fray and across the sea our wives and helpless children wait in the halls.” This quote clearly depicts Troy to be across the shore from the Greeks. Since we now know that Troy is on the other side of a sea from the Greeks, we can use this to locate it. There is also evidence in the books that Troy contains large walls. Since Troy was destroyed, the walls must be in ruins. If I were looking for Troy, I would look at a coastal area across a body of water from the Greeks and look for remains of the walls. Then I would test the soil content to see how old the residue is from.

    • Your analysis is very interesting as I did not think of searching for the ruins of the walls. This is a good location technique as it will be easier to find Troy this way instead of just visiting all sites across the water from the Greeks.

  5. I would agree with Jake in saying that after taking into account all the information from the Illiad more research needs to be done. My first approach after using the Illiad would be to talk to people in the area, do more research on the possible areas, and also by surveilling the areas to pinpoint the site. The Illiad gives us a good start to finding the site but I don’t think all the answers are hidden in it. I would guess the Illiad is only uses the half truth or is just loosely based on the actual city.
    The oral traditions of the people who lived there would be my next step to the city. By talking with the natives we could learn a lot about the land, culture, and history that can’t be found in text.
    Using the architecture and surrounding areas would help in finding similarities and remains of the lost cities culture. Also by digging into the history of the possible areas could result in new important information that leads to the site. By learning the past weather conditions, unexpected events (earthquakes, storms, and floods) we could get a better understanding where it would have been practical to build a city.
    After doing the proper amount of research and referring back to the Illiad for comparison I believe it would be possible to find Troy. Once narrowed down we can look for more specific thing the Illiad has given us. For example landmarks and hints of what was near by.

  6. Using information available from the Iliad it is possible to form a general idea of Troy. The Iliad was originally written in Ancient Greek which was mainly spoken in Asia Minor which is current day Turkey. Knowing Turkey is the region, the Iliad goes into brief detail of the land surrounding Troy, consistently mentioning the shore and the sea as well as Mount Olympus. Also the Ilaid’s emphasis on religion creates a specific culture to look for when focusing on the archeology of possible sites of Troy. Applying the details of gods and leaders to the artifacts found could piece together a vision of Troy that is more complete then simply looking at the landscape. Over thousands of years, many things about the Troy described in the Iliad would be gone. The landscape may be completely different due to erosion and natural phenomenas. Many artifacts could be lost or damaged and never to be found. If i was trying to find Troy I would use the cultural aspects of Troy as well as the physical aspects given by the Ilaid to attempt and find the lost city.

  7. I don’t feel that it would be possible to locate Troy with only the information given to us by Homer in the Iliad. I agree with several of the other post, in that after getting a few possible locations, we would have to go to those areas and investigate.
    However the Iliad does give some information that is very useful. Based on my understanding Troy would seem to be located near the coast but not actually on it. If Troy was a port city, for instance, the wall would be pointless as ships could attack from the water. Also the area of coast that Troy is near would have to be somewhat spacious. This is because the area around Troy serves as the battle ground, and the Iliad talks about the many ships that came carrying soldiers.

    • If it is impossible to locate Troy solely based on the Iliad, why? What specific factors of the poem (in the actual text and what we know about the text) would prohibit us from knowing the characteristics of Troy?

      • I don’t believe it is possible to find Troy just with the information from Homer, especially from only the books we have read to answer this. There aren’t specific details as to the exact geographical location, only hints as to it being across the seas from Greece and lying close to the coast lines. There is some mention of walls built surrounding the city so we can look for sites which have broken walls and remnants of such. But, this is still not sufficient to find Troy with one try.

  8. Although geography is a clear clue thats given to us in the text, what role do artifacts and architecture play? If we discovered artifacts at a supposed “Troy” site, what iconography (gods, heroes, etc) would we expect to see to help us determine it was Troy? Additionally, what structures (city walls, houses, palaces) would help us identify Troy?

    • If you were trying to identify structures, such as the city walls, you would have to look for walls that had clearly been attacked and breached by the Greek army.

    • If you were trying to identify structures, such as the city walls, you would have to look for walls that had clearly been attacked and breached by the Greek army.

    • As far as iconography goes, we could safely assume that we would find artifacts with Zeus as a major God. He was the king of the Gods and he plays a major role throughout the Iliad. Athena would also be found due to her involvement in battle and the interaction she has with the mortals. The walls of Troy could be a distinct identifier as far as structures go. They’re unique to this city in their formation. Also, the layers upon which Troy was built and rebuilt again is key. This is what would make Troy stand out and would be a key indicator.

    • There were many gods that played influential roles in the Trojan War, the main ones that played vital parts were Apollo, the goddess Athena, and the goddess Hera. Apollo was the entire reason why the Achaeans were unable to make any progress on Troy and get close to conquering the Trojans. Athena plays a part in the war as well by her loyalty lying with Greece and Athens so she obviously supports them and influences their outcomes in the war. Though Troy has not offended Athena in any way and still prays to her and gives sacrifices to her in hope that her favor will not solely be focused to the Greeks. Another goddess that was part of this ten-year war was Hera the queen of gods. She had the ear of Zeus and was easily jealous and annoyed with other gods and goddess trying to use their persuasion on her husband. Artifacts that I would believe to be at Troy would obviously be pottery and campfire remnants of where the Achaeans were set up and had al their men. In addition to those artifacts I would not be surprised if I uncovered numerous weapons, such as axes, arrows, swords, shields, helmets. Also I think many statues and religious figures would probably be scattered in or around the site of Troy. Since religion and the gods were such an influential part in life back then searching for items pertaining to religion should be all over the surrounding and inner area of Troy.

    • In addition to geographical clues in the Iliad we can extract information regarding the cultural and architectural aspects of the city. Book 6 in the Iliad mentions two noteworthy archeological sites: “Athena’s shrine on the city’s crest” and “Scaean Gates.” These could be decisive structures in determining the actual location of Troy, especially the Athena reference. It is evident that they revered Athena, so it is essential to be on the look out for artifacts marked by symbols of the goddess. Archeologists could also benefit from the information about King of Troy, Priam. Book 6 indicates Hector venturing to “Priam’s palace, that magnificent structure built wide with porches and colonnades of polished stone.” The poem goes into more detail about the infrastructure, such as the numerous sleeping chambers. Ultimately, these features presented by Homer can help decipher the location of Troy, even more so when found together.

  9. In order to find Troy you would need more background information than just the Iliad. The amount of clues given to us by the Iliad is not nearly enough to base a search for a possibly mythical lost city. If I were to go about looking for Troy I would definitely start in greece. In the Iliad they talk about retreating Troy by boat to go back to Greece. This shows us that Troy is most likely on an island. It is also possible that it is a small, one city island solely containing the lost city of Troy. This hypothetical island would have very large walls that would have clear damage from the years of batter from the Greek attacks on the city. I would also look for evidence of a harbor for importing and exporting goods that any thriving city would need to survive. One other thing you would have to look for is remnants on the shore from the Greek soldiers who were posted there to prepare to attack the city. The best way to go about finding this fabled island is by taking a boat and heading out to voyage the Mediterranean Sea. The chances of actually finding Troy are slim to none even with the sparse, discrete, and unguided clues in the Iliad.

  10. While I think it’d be extremely difficult to find Troy solely using the Iliad, it could be extremely helpful. As many pointed out above, hands on action is the only realistic strategy. If I were to go about looking for Troy and my only source of clues were from the Iliad, I’d use the context clues and the sites Homer mentions. One of the major starting points would be the Aegean Sea. It’s mentioned several times. Therefore, that would be my starting point. This gives generalities of the countries in which I would possibly find Troy. From prior knowledge I know that the Odyssey takes place in Ithaca, which is an island off of Greece. That eliminates that area because the stories are in two different vicinities. Throughout my search I’d narrow down similarities of current cities with the description mentioned by Homer. I think a really helpful aspect could be the people of the towns I plan on investigating. The inhabitants of current cities would know their culture best and asking around about possible legends or unusual findings would be crucial to discovering Troy.

  11. In order to find Troy you would need more background information than just the Iliad. The amount of clues given to us by the Iliad is not nearly enough to base a search for a possibly mythical lost city. If I were to go about looking for Troy I would definitely start in greece. In the Iliad they talk about retreating Troy by boat to go back to Greece. This shows us that Troy is most likely on an island. It is also possible that it is a small, one city island solely containing the lost city of Troy. This hypothetical island would have very large walls that would have clear damage from the years of batter from the Greek attacks on the city. I would also look for evidence of a harbor for importing and exporting goods that any thriving city would need to survive. One other thing you would have to look for is remnants on the shore from the Greek soldiers who were posted there to prepare to attack the city. The best way to go about finding this fabled island is by taking a boat and heading out to voyage the Mediterranean Sea. The chances of actually finding Troy are slim to none even with the sparse, discrete, and unguided clues in the Iliad.

  12. I think using the Iliad, as a primary source of information regarding the true location of Troy, is a little far-fetched. However, as people have noted there are some crucial indicators in the poem that do help with pin-pointing the general area, especially the references to the Aegean Sea and Mount Placos. These natural landmarks are the most permanent and reliable features in determining the location of Troy. Needless to say extracting the positional details in the Iliad isn’t enough evidence to discover Troy unless you’re willing to devote your life to this endeavor. I think by cross-referencing with the cultural knowledge of Troy would allow for more validity.

    • I agree. You would need more than one source. Cross-references as McKenzie mentioned would help tremendously. Cultural knowledge is a big part in finding past societies in today’s world.

      • Mckenzie brings up a fantastic point about cross-referencing to ensure the validity of Troy’s location. Both the Odyssey and the Iliad were written by Homer, therefore the geographical information should all be the same. However, Virgil’s Aeneid, though it was written many many years after the Iliad, also has a description of Troy. Instead of a Greek man trying to find his journey home, a Trojan man tries to found the city he was destined to. Virgil accounts for Aeneas’ departure from the fall of Troy, and how he sails away to escape. Using that epic tale, we could also pinpoint Troy.

  13. In determining the location of Troy using the information presented to us in Homer’s The Iliad, there are many hints to take into consideration. First and foremost is the constant reference to Troy being a coastal city. While this information is crucial in the search for Troy, it also presents an issue. Coastal regions are particularly prone to the wear and tear of erosion. With this in mind, the possibility of artifacts cluing to the whereabouts of Troy could have been lost or destroyed by nature throughout the years. Not only is it known that Troy was on the coast, but it is also specifically described as being on the Aegean coast. This information can be concluded based on quotes by different figures including Achilles. When Achilles and the Myrmidons have to sail across the Aegean to reach Troy from Phthia, it can be assumed that the two cities were not in close proximity. Also noted in The Iliad is the presence of a large beach between Troy’s walls and the sea. This narrows the possibilities even further. I believe that this information – as well as the stories from the local peoples – would provide a sufficient enough base to begin the search for Troy. While it’s a start, there is simply not enough solid evidence of the city’s true location to be hopeful of a discovery. It is safe to assume that if someone were relying on the information provided in The Iliad in his or her search for Troy, then the possibility of success would be largely based on luck.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *