The City of Troy and the Trojan War

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Podcast Transcript

Sometime about 3,200 years ago, one of the most famous wars in ancient history took place. 

Maybe.

It has been the subject of some of the greatest works of western literature, and it has given us some of the most enduring cultural references. 

It was also the subject of one of the greatest archeological finds of the 19th century.

Learn more about the city of Troy and the Trojan War on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.


The story of the Trojan War is one of the oldest stories in the world. It is the subject of the Illiad and the Odyssey by the Greek poet Homer as well as the Aeneid by the Roman poet Virgil. 

The Trojan War was also depicted in Greek and Roman art and songs and was one of the definitive events of the Bronze Age. 

Maybe.

That maybe has to do with the fact that for centuries, most historians assumed that the Trojan War was fictional.  Assuming it did happen, the epic poems which made it famous weren’t written until 400 years after the fact. 

So, imagine something that took place in the early 17th century being handed down via oral traditions and then being written about for the first time now. 

At the time when the Trojan War took place, the entire area around the Agean Sea was culturally Greek. 

Troy was believed to have been located somewhere around the Dardanelles on the Anatolian Peninsula, in what is the modern-day country of Turkey

The story of the Trojan War is pretty involved, and you could easily spend hours of podcasting time going over it. For the purposes of this episode, I’ll give a brief overview of the events leading up to the war and how it was resolved.

Even if you know nothing about the Trojan War, you actually probably do know something because there are so many cultural references that refer to the war, which are still with us today.

The cause of the war was not one of territory, resources, or money. It was entirely personal. 

It started with the Queen of Sparta, the wife of King Menelaus, or, as she is known to history, Helen of Troy. 

According to legend, Helen was the most beautiful woman in the world and was the daughter of Zeus.

What sparked the war was Helen was abducted or eloped, depending on your version of the story, with the Prince of Troy, Paris

Again, according to legend, Helen was promised to Paris by the goddess Aphrodite who offered him the love of the most beautiful woman in the world in exchange for a golden apple. She was in a contest between her, Hera, and Athena.

This was known as the Judgement of Paris, from which the famous 1976 wine tasting that I covered in a previous episode got its name.

As you can probably guess, this greatly angered Menelaus, who got his brother, King Agamemnon of Mycenae, to join him in a war to bring Helen back.

The entire Greek world assembled an army and an armada of 1,000 ships. The soldiers in this army were some of the greatest names of the ancient world: Achilles, Odysseus, Nestor, and Ajax.

The men and the ships headed across the Agean to lay siege to Troy until they could get Helen back. 

This did not turn out to be a quick operation. The siege lasted ten years. There were a series of skirmishes over that period, but the Greek army could not make Troy concede and give up Helen. 

To be fair, the siege was never a complete siege. The Greek forces couldn’t afford to sustain a full siege for a decade, so it was only a partial force for most of the time. 

Finally, in a desperate gambit, Odysseus came up with a plan. They would trick the Trojans into thinking that the Greeks had left. They would burn their camp and leave behind a wooden horse. 

The horse was inscribed with the following; “The Greeks dedicate this thank-offering to Athena for their return home”

The Trojans were excited, having survived the siege and the besiegers being sent home. With this victory trophy, they dragged it into the city and debated what to do with it. Some suggested they burn it, some thought they should throw it off a cliff, and others thought they should dedicated it to the goddess Athena for their victory. 

However, others, including the Trojan princess Cassandra, didn’t think it should be brought into the city. According to legend, Cassandra was cursed by the god Apollo to have the gift of Prophecy, but would never be believed. 

The horse, of course, had Greek soldiers hidden inside. At night they snuck out, opened the gates of the city, and the Greeks who were hidden flooded in and sacked Troy. 

Helen returned to Sparta and lived the rest of her days with King Menelaus.

So that is a very compact version of the Trojan War with a whole lot of detail left out. 

But even if you have never heard the story before, you probably recognized a bunch of references.

Achilles and his famous heel is something that is still regularly mentioned today. 

A beautiful woman may still be compared to Helen of Troy. 

A metaphor for subverting something from the inside is known as a trojan horse.

A Cassandra is the opposite of an optimist who predicts bad news. 

Just for the record, the city of Paris was not named after Paris of Troy, rather, it was named after a local tribe called the Parisi. 

The story of the Trojan War slipped into history and legend. The Odyssey, the Illiad, and many other epics kept the story of the Trojan War alive.

According to the Romans, the Trojan prince Aeneas took the survivors of Tory and sailed around the Mediterranean until eventually arriving on the shores of Italy, where they became the ancestors of the Romans. Julius Caesar claimed ancestry from Aeneas.

So, you can see that this was a foundational story for the entire Greek and Roman world. You could argue that the Trojan War was perhaps the most important legend from this region from this period. 

This, however, is just the first half of this story. 

As I mentioned before, for the longest time, historians assumed that the entire story of the Trojan was a fable. There wasn’t any basis for anything in the story. 

Cities like Athens and Sparta were known. People still lived there, and there were ruins that could be explored. 

No one lived in Troy. There were no ruins of Troy that anyone knew of, which was very odd for a city that was supposed to be so prominent. 

That is on top of all of the stuff about Greek gods and goddesses being involved. 

However, the Romans and Greeks had no doubt that Troy was real, and the site was visited by the likes of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar.

Fast forward the story about 3,000 years.

While most historians assumed that Troy was fictional, not everyone did. Some believed that Tory was real, and it was just a matter of finding it.

The ancient texts gave descriptions of where Troy was generally located, and some people went looking for it.

As early as the 16th and 17th centuries, some explorers had come close to finding Troy’s location. 

One early site, which was identified as Troy, was the city of Alexandria Troas, which are Greek ruins just south of the modern Turkish site known as Hisarlik.

There were several other attempts at pinpointing the location of Troy in the early 19th century, but it was a Scottish writer by the name of Charles Maclaren who first identified the spot, which is currently recognized as Troy, in 1822. It was the Turkish site known as Hisarlik, not far from previously identified sites. 

However, there still wasn’t any proof that this location was, in fact, Troy. 

The first excavations at Hisarlik began in 1865 by Frank Calvert, a local Turkish man of English descent who owned a nearby farm. 

His excavations weren’t that extensive, but they did capture the attention of the man who is usually credited with the discovery of Troy, the German businessman and amateur archeologist Heinrich Schliemann.

Schliemann went through the proper channels and secured permission to do a larger excavation at Hisarlik. 

Hisarlik was what was known as a tell. A tell is basically an artificial mound that was built up over centuries of human habitation. Generation after generation would build upon the ruins of the structures which existed beforehand. 

The result over hundreds or thousands of years is similar to a layer cake. 

There are many tells which can be found all over the Mediterranean and the Levant. 

In 1870, Schliemann created a trench that cuts through the Hisarlik Tell, which is like cutting a slice from a layer cake. Once exposed, you can see all of the layers. 

What Schliemann discovered is widely considered to be the historical city of Troy which was mentioned in the Homeric epics.

Schliemann was quite wealthy and funded excavations at Troy until his death in 1890. 

However, that wasn’t the end of archeological research at Troy. Excavations have been conducted at the site almost continuously since the Schliemann excavations. 

What they found was a city that was established about 5,500 years and had some level of occupation until the year 500. There are 46 different layers of strata divided across ten different major layers. 

In addition to the buildings, there was also a trove of objects which were found which have been called King Priam’s Treasures, although there is no proof that they were associated with the Trojan King.

Later archeologists have not been kind to Schliemann. For starters, he didn’t discover the site, so giving him credit for the discovery is pretty inaccurate. 

Second, his archeological techniques were extremely destructive. Jill Rubalcaba and Eric Cline wrote in their book Digging for Troy: From Homer to Hisarlik, “He plowed through layers of soil and everything in them without proper record keeping—no mapping of finds, few descriptions of discoveries.”

Archeologists are still trying to fix the problems he created in his dig sites to this day.

So, if Troy was a real city, then next question, and perhaps the big question, is did the Trojan war really happen?

The answer is we don’t know. There really isn’t any way to prove the events that might have taken place in Troy. However, the fact that Troy was found to be real does lend credibility to the general story of the Trojan War. 

Sure, the Helen being the daughter of Zeus stuff is an embellishment, but the idea of a major war being fought over an abducted queen seems, at least to me, like the sort of thing which would be remembered for a long time and would probably be written down. 

Regardless, the tale of the Trojan War shows the lasting power of history and stories. 

That is why the tale of a war over a beautiful queen, which was resolved by the subterfuge of a wooden horse, has stuck with us for 3,000 years.


The Executive Producer of Everything Everywhere Daily is Charles Daniel.

The associate producers are Thor Thomsen and Peter Bennett.

Today’s review comes from listener Happlo over at Podcast Addict. They write:

One-Star

Arrogant douche, who the f*** reads reviews about themselves? Pure Narcisism.

Thanks, Happlo! As a former successful academic debate coach, I can say this was a highly cogent argument with nuanced points. 

Also, after two and a half years, this is my first real one-star review, and with that, you have finally made my podcast legitimate. 

I’d also like to give a bit of advice to make your listening to this podcast more enjoyable. 

Perhaps you have heard this sound before. 

You might recognize it and similar sounds from previous episodes, such as everyone I’ve ever done, or from 40 seconds ago. 

When you hear that sound, you don’t have to keep listening. You could, if you want to, just stop. In addition, to stop, you can also have pause, fast forwards, or even skip ahead to the end. 

It is totally optional and if you listen to this part of the show, it is your choice. 

Sincerely yours, the arrogant douche narcissist.