Greeks vs. Hittites
Why Troy is Troy and the Trojan War is real
All Germany is transfixed by the debate over the significance of Hisarlik/Troy (see “The New Trojan Wars”). Seeking safe passage through the maze of accusations, arguments and counter-arguments, we turned to one of the world’s most eminent archaeologists, Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier—who also serves on Archaeology Odyssey’s Editorial Advisory Board. Formerly a professor of archaeology at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, Niemeier has been the head of the German Archaeological Institute in Athens since last fall. He is also director of excavations at Miletus, on the Aegean coast of southern Turkey. Perhaps equally important, for our purposes at least, he attended the February 2002 Tübingen conference, where the heroes of the New Trojan Wars came face to face.
Hershel Shanks: Let me start, Wolf, by asking you for your take on the Tübingen conference on Troy.
Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier: It was organized by the rector of the University of Tübingen because of the controversy between Professor [Manfred] Korfmann and Professor [Frank] Kolb last summer, which was reported in newspapers and on television all over Germany.
It all started with a museum exhibit organized by Korfmann on his excavations at Troy (modern Hisarlik, in Turkey). This exhibit was a tremendous success. It was inaugurated in Stuttgart in March 2001; then it went on to Braunschweig and Bonn, where it has just concluded. Over a million visitors saw it.
The exhibit included a wooden model of Troy VI [a stratum that includes Late Bronze Age Troy—14th and 13th centuries B.C.—the period most often associated with Homer’s Troy], with the citadel at the top and the lower city below. The lower city has only been partly excavated. Unfortunately, this Late Bronze Age stratum was largely destroyed by later Hellenistic and Roman building activities. But Korfmann was able to define the outer border of the lower city by tracing a defensive moat that runs around it. Near the northeastern part of the citadel, outside the moat, Korfmann found a section of the wall that enclosed the lower city. Within the area of the lower city were remnants of houses, along with domestic and decorated pottery of the period [Late Bronze Age]. So it’s very clear that this area had been settled then.
Last summer, while Korfmann was excavating at Troy, Professor Kolb started attacking him in the newspapers—not in scholarly journals, but in newspaper interviews. He said that Korfmann’s lower city is pure fantasy; there is no evidence for it at all. Kolb claimed the defensive moat around the lower city was in fact a water channel. (But if that were so, the water must have run uphill!) He went on and on, saying it was all fake, a fantasy of Korfmann’s, and that Korfmann is the Erich von Däniken of German archaeology. Von Däniken is a strange Swiss writer, very well known in Germany, whose best-selling books claim that the pyramids were constructed by people from outer space and things like that.
Finally the rector of Tübingen University decided to organize a conference [February 15–16, 2002]. Kolb is not only Korfmann’s colleague at the University of Tübingen but the two men are even in the same faculty. The accusations were not good for the reputation of the university, and the Troy excavation is very important to the university.
The Tübingen colloquium was public, held in the largest hall of Tübingen University. About 800 to 1,000 people came both days, many of them having to stand because there were not enough seats. On Saturday [February 16] there was a general discussion for three hours, which was carried live on radio in much of Germany. There were about 60 journalists from newspapers, television and radio at the conference. There were speakers on both sides, but, as expected, no one side convinced the other.
HS: You believe that Korfmann has the better argument?
WDN: Yes, though Korfmann has exaggerated some points. The exhibit catalogue sometimes simplifies too much. But Korfmann also produces a serious publication, Studia Troica, which comes out every year with excavation reports. This is very scholarly and there you find all the evidence.
I think he is right. Troy VI had a citadel and a lower city, and it was an important city. It was not as big as Ugarit [on the Mediterannean coast of Syria] or Hattusa [the Hittite capital in Anatolia], great cities of the Orient. It was, let us say, a secondary center. If Wilusa [a Hittite name corresponding to Greek Ilios; more on this later] is Troy, which is very probable, Troy was a vassal state of the Hittites. You wouldn’t expect the capital of a vassal state to be as big as that of the main power, the Hittites. However, in comparison to contemporaneous Aegean and Mycenaean [Greek] centers like Mycenae or Pylos, Troy/Ilios was a big settlement.
There is also an issue as to whether Troy was involved in international trade in the Late Bronze Age. Korfmann argues that Troy sat on a very strategic point, the entrance to the Dardanelles and the Black Sea. Anyone who wanted to sail into the Black Sea—and the wind conditions there were (and are) very difficult—had to pass by Troy. Korfmann believes that in the Late Bronze Age Troy had trade relations with Black Sea sites. Kolb says no. He argues that before Miletus [on the southern part of Anatolia’s Aegean coast] founded its colonies around the Black Sea in the mid-seventh century B.C., there was no trade between the Aegean and the Black Sea. This, of course, is completely wrong; we have much evidence for Mycenaean trade with the Black Sea area in the earlier period. For example, we have found copper ingots of the Aegean and Mediterranean type [the so-called ox-hide ingot, which resembles the stretched-out hide of an ox] at Black Sea sites. We have Mycenaean swords in modern Georgia, and on and on. There must have been trade relations between the Black Sea and the Aegean in the Late Bronze Age; and, of course, Troy must have played an important role because the trade route passes right by it.
HS: On the other hand, you said that Korfmann exaggerated some points in his exhibit catalogue. What were they?
WDN: Yes. He sometimes makes Troy a little too important. For instance, he says Troy is a “turn table” of international trade, which seems exaggerated. I would say Troy was integrated into the trading network of the Mediterranean Late Bronze Age. But it was not a “turn table.” It was important for the connection with the Black Sea, but it was not as important a trading city as Ugarit, for instance. However, if you compare it to the Aegean, it was an important city, and we have evidence that it was integrated into the trade network.
The Uluburun shipwreck [late 14th century B.C.] off the coast of southern Turkey demonstrates that the main trade items in the Late Bronze Age were metals.a The Uluburun wreck had ten tons of copper and one ton of tin, which is exactly the proper mixture to produce eleven tons of bronze. This was its main cargo. But there were also Canaanite amphoras [large shipping jars] filled with resin, Cypriot pottery, some ostrich eggs. Now, in Troy VI, too, you have metal objects (we don’t know where the metal came from), fragments of Canaanite jars, Cypriot pottery and some ostrich eggs. They can only have reached Troy by means of international trade.
HS: What’s the significance of the ostrich eggs?
WDN: Ostrich eggs are exotic luxury items. Ancient people made drinking vessels and cult vessels out of them—especially in the Minoan/Mycenaean world [c. 1700–1200 B.C.].
HS: You say that Troy occupied a critical position on the waterway from the Aegean to the Black Sea.
WDN: Yes. It’s not directly on the coast, but very near. It’s about 3 miles or so from the Dardanelles. But it probably had a harbor, Besik Bay, nearby on the Aegean coast. A cemetery has been found that Korfmann thinks may be the cemetery of seamen who waited to pass into the Dardanelles. It’s very difficult to sail into the Dardanelles. Sometimes you have to wait for weeks or even a month to go into the strait. So one idea is that seafarers who died while waiting to sail into the Dardanelles were buried there. The excavators have found Mycenaean pottery and seals in this cemetery, so it has a little international flair.
HS: Is it strange that the city itself is so far from the sea?
WDN: It’s in the plain. But it had harbors. Many important Bronze Age settlements are not directly on the coast. For instance, Knossos in Crete, which is about 4 miles inland, has two harbors. This is not unusual. The famous city of Ugarit is not a harbor city, but lies several miles inland. Its harbor city is Minet el-Beida on the coast.
HS: We have found the harbor city of Minet el-Beida. We haven’t yet found the harbor city of Troy.
WDN: That’s correct. But from Troy you can see the Dardanelles and from the citadel you can see the ships coming in. I’ve seen it myself.
HS: Kolb claims that the site of Hisarlik, which is generally called Troy, was 029hundreds of miles from any trade routes. Is that inaccurate?
WDN: That’s inaccurate. He ignores new evidence from other sites on the west coast of Anatolia. For instance, at Miletus, where I excavate, we have found Cypriot pottery. On Rhodes there are finds from the Near East. There was a sea route along the west coast of Anatolia passing Troy and continuing through the Dardanelles. There’s no doubt.
HS: Kolb said that in the Late Bronze Age—in Mycenaean times—the Black Sea was a terrifying, largely unknown, distant region. Only rare expeditions would venture there.
WDN: That is his argument. But we have more and more evidence for connections between the Black Sea and the Aegean in the Late Bronze Age. There are plenty of Mediterranean and Aegean finds from the Black Sea area—copper ox-hide ingots, Mycenaean swords in Georgia, Mycenaean-type spearheads in different places around the Black Sea. This was in the 14th-13th centuries B.C., 600 or 500 years before Miletus founded its colonies around the Black Sea. And of course we have the story of Jason and the Argonauts, which I think goes back to the Bronze Age. Jason goes to Colchis, which is today’s Georgia, and brings back the golden fleece, so this means trade in gold. And in Georgia there are more and more finds showing connections with Mycenaean Greece in the Late Bronze Age.
HS: Did Korfmann exaggerate the size of the lower city?
WDN: No, not at all.
HS: Do you think it had 12,000 inhabitants?
WDN: The number of inhabitants is of course a question. How can you estimate inhabitants? The problem is, we don’t know how densely settled the lower city was; not much has been excavated as yet and much was destroyed by later building activities. At the conference in Tübingen, Korfmann said Troy may have had 4,000 to 10,000 inhabitants.
HS: So this would be another exaggeration.
WDN: Perhaps. But even with 4,000 031inhabitants it would have been a rather large city. Not in comparison to cities of the ancient Near East, like Ugarit. But if you compare it to Aegean-size settlements like Mycenae and Pylos, then Troy is rather large.
At [Late Bronze Age] Miletus, for example, we don’t have the imposing fortifications of the citadel of Troy—a huge stone wall protecting the citadel. I don’t know why Kolb doesn’t find Troy’s architecture impressive.
HS: What protected the Late Bronze Age city of Miletus?
WDN: We have evidence of a fortification wall, but it is not well preserved. It was probably constructed of mudbrick. But we have no citadel like Troy’s, and the architecture of Miletus is not as impressive as in Troy.
HS: Kolb claims that Korfmann cannot point to any houses or shops where the thousands of inhabitants lived and worked, supposedly in the lower city.
WDN: That’s not at all true. Korfmann has excavated in the northeastern part of the lower city, where there were some houses. And they are impressive houses, with working areas and storerooms.
HS: Then these people not only lived there but worked there?
WDN: Yes, they probably worked there also.
HS: What about the fact that there are very meager finds from Troy?
WDN: That’s not entirely true. Kolb argues that there are meager finds, but it’s always a question of preservation. The lower city was largely destroyed by later building activities, so all that remains are remnants of houses and some pottery. Perhaps the city was plundered when it was destroyed around 1200 B.C. If it’s true that Mycenaeans conquered Troy, they—or whoever—would certainly have plundered the city.
The main problem is that we don’t yet have the rich tombs of Troy—the tombs of the elite. The cemetery has not yet been found. Imagine Mycenae without the shaft graves; it would seem a poor site. There you have architecture, much as you have in Troy VI, but you don’t have many finds from Mycenae itself, which was plundered when it was destroyed. Most of the finds come from the shaft graves and some other rich tombs.
In addition, the top of the Troy VI citadel was cut away in the fourth century B.C. for the construction of a sanctuary of Athena. In this part of the citadel, we would have expected to find the palace of Troy’s royalty or rulers, with rich finds and writings, possibly even an archive of clay tablets. But it’s all gone—all cleared away during the Hellenistic construction of the fourth century B.C.
HS: Was it actually taken away in the fourth century, or was the sanctuary just built on top of the earlier levels?
WDN: No, no. It was taken away, to make a platform for the sanctuary. It was really taken away. It would be worthwhile to find out where they put it!
HS: What were your finds at Miletus?
WDN: I would be very happy if Miletus had such impressive finds and 032architecture as Troy. We do have evidence at Miletus for international trade connections in the Late Bronze Age—a route running along the west coast of Anatolia. And we have very good finds from the Minoan period, when Miletus was a Minoan colony—perhaps of Knossos, but certainly of Crete. In the Minoan period [first half of the second millennium B.C.], we have fragments of fresco paintings, lots of pottery, some Linear A tablets (which is the Minoan script) and Minoan seals. But the Minoans did not make much contact with Troy.
HS: What are the most impressive finds at Late Bronze Age Miletus (the Mycenaean Greek period)?
WDN: We found five potter’s kilns. We have pottery. We have terracotta figurines, but no luxury items. No metal.
We do have rich finds from the tombs. They were excavated at the beginning of the 20th century. The finds came to Berlin, what became East Berlin. At first people thought they were lost during World War II, but after the reunification of Germany we learned that they were all in the storerooms of the Pergamon Museum [in East Berlin], and now my wife, Barbara, and I are publishing this material. We hope to finish the book in the course of this year and to deliver it to the publisher. In the Miletus tombs were gold jewelry, bronze weapons and faience jewelry. But in the Late Bronze Age settlement that we are currently excavating, we don’t have these rich finds.
I expect that one day the cemeteries of Troy will be found, and then, if they are unplundered, we will have very rich finds from Troy.
HS: Still, you would expect to find imported pottery sherds in the settlement, in the lower city of Troy VI.
WDN: There are sherds of Mycenaean pottery. Kolb says recent analysis of the clay shows that much of the Mycenaean pottery was locally produced. From this he concludes that there were no close trade connections between Troy and Mycenaean Greece. But for me it’s the other way around: The fact that this pottery looks just like it’s imported from Mycenaean Greece, but was actually locally produced, suggests to me that Mycenaean potters went to Troy and worked there. This is evidence for very close connections between Troy and the Greek mainland, I think. And then we have other imported pottery from the Levant, Cyprus and Crete.
HS: It’s surprising that with all this imported pottery you don’t have Hittite pottery, especially since you say Troy was a Hittite vassal.
WDN: Yes, that’s a good point and a rather difficult question. It’s the same at my site of Miletus: We do not have a single sherd of Hittite pottery. At other sites 033in western Anatolia, the Hittites left rock inscriptions—but not pottery. I suppose that Hittite pottery was not an export item. Only Mycenaean pottery was exported in large quantities in the Late Bronze Age. We find it all around the eastern Mediterranean.
HS: Don’t you think that Korfmann has some interest in magnifying the importance of Hisarlik/Troy? Whenever I talk to archaeologists, it always turns out that their site is the key one. After all, Korfmann wants to ingratiate himself with the Turks, who want to make it a big tourist site for the many, many Germans who visit, thousands of Germans every year. Do you think this is a factor? Does Korfmann need to protect the financial support he gets from Daimler Chrysler?
WDN: Every archaeologist thinks his site is the most important. But Korfmann’s site also has a very famous name: Troy. Homer’s Troy. So there’s no need to exaggerate; it’s a place that everybody already knows all over the world.
HS: Well, that raises a question: Is Hisarlik Homer’s Troy?
WDN: Yes, it is Troy.
HS: This is a debated matter, is it not?
WDN: Not any more. It was debated for a long time, but I don’t think that anybody today doubts that Hisarlik is Troy. In antiquity, everybody believed Hisarlik was Troy; that’s 035why they built a temple of Athena there in the fourth century B.C. Many famous men in antiquity visited Ilium Novum [New Ilium], which was the Roman name for Hisarlik. It started even before Alexander the Great (fourth century B.C.) and later included Caesar, Augustus and other Roman emperors.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, however, there was much contention about the identification of Hisarlik as Troy. But now all the Troad has been surveyed, and we can say that Hisarlik was the central settlement of the Troad during the Late Bronze Age. The capital of the Troad was Troy. There can be no doubt.
HS: In 1975 Moses Finley said that Homer’s Troy must be evicted from the history of the Greek Bronze Age.
WDN: Yes, I know. It goes in waves. Sometimes it crests, with people saying that Homer’s Troy is historic, and then there’s the trough when people say it’s all myth. But now we have evidence that Finley could not have known. On one hand, we have much recent philological research. For example, classical philologists now know that the hexameter lines [with six beats] in which the Iliad is written originated in the Mycenaean period. Almost all the architecture, the weapons and the dress of the people described in the Iliad are Mycenaean—of the Late Bronze Age. And then if Wilusa is Ilios (Troy) and Milawanda is Miletus—as new research on Hittite rock inscriptions almost certainly proves—then we know a lot more.
For example, the Hittite sources tell us about wars they fought in western Anatolia against a country named Ahhiyawa. In the 1920s scholars connected this Ahhiyawa [sometimes written “Akkiyawa”] to the Greek Achaea—that is, to the land of Homer’s Achaeans, a word the poet uses to refer to the Mycenaeans. Therefore, Ahhiyawa was probably a state in mainland Greece. Milawanda [Miletus], in turn, was a vassal state of Ahhiyawa on the west coast of Anatolia.
From Milawanda the Mycenaean Greeks conducted wars against vassal states of the Hittites in western Anatolia—among them, according to the Hittite texts, a state called Wilusa. The Greeks had more than one name for Troy: There was “Troia,” which is obviously Troy, and then there was “Ilios” [the Romans later called the city Ilium]. Homer’s Iliad means “the story of Ilios.” And “Ilios” sounds very much like Hittite “Wilusa.”
The connection between Ilios and Wilusa becomes almost certain once we realize that Ilios was originally Wilios. This form of the name had disappeared by Homeric times [eighth century B.C.]. So the original name of Troy was Wilios, which is very close to the Hittite name Wilusa.
This is similar to Miletus-Milawanda: Just take away the original ending, tus, and replace it with the Hittite ending, wanda, and you have Hittite Milawanda. We do the same today when we translate names from one language into another. For instance, the Italian city of Milano becomes Meiland in German. This happens often, though at the moment I can’t think of an example in English.
HS: Well, Parigi and Paris.
WDN: Yes. Italian Parigi comes from the French Paris. This explains why we have these two different words: Wilios and Wilusa. One is Greek and the other is Hittite—that is, Miletus is Greek and Milawanda is Hittite. Hittite texts tell of wars against Wilusa [Troy/Wilios/Ilios], during which the city was conquered and the king was sent into exile. If we don’t exactly find the Trojan War described in the Hittite sources, the texts do describe 053a situation in which the Troy of Homer’s Trojan War fits very well—of Mycenaean Greeks attacking Troy.
If Troy is Wilusa and Miletus is Milawanda, as I think is true, the two cities were vassal states of two different powers: the Hittites and the Mycenaeans. Late Bronze Age Troy/Wilusa had contact with the Hittites, as we know from a clay tablet from Hattusa, from about the 14th century B.C. On the other hand, the earlier Minoan settlement at Miletus/Milawanda was destroyed in the middle of the 15th century B.C.; then the Mycenaeans took over the site, ruling Miletus/Milawanda in the Late Bronze Age.
We now have evidence from different fields coming together. From classical philology, we have studies of the Iliad’s meter. From Hittite sources, we have accounts of wars and peoples that fit the Trojan War very well.
HS: All that speaks to the historicity of the Trojan War, but that’s a slightly different question from identifying Hisarlik as Troy. What you’re saying, as I understand you, is that there is no other candidate in the Troad.
WDN: Exactly. Hisarlik is the center of the Troad in the Late Bronze Age—the settlement of Hisarlik therefore must be Troy. There is no other candidate.
All Germany is transfixed by the debate over the significance of Hisarlik/Troy (see “The New Trojan Wars”). Seeking safe passage through the maze of accusations, arguments and counter-arguments, we turned to one of the world’s most eminent archaeologists, Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier—who also serves on Archaeology Odyssey’s Editorial Advisory Board. Formerly a professor of archaeology at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, Niemeier has been the head of the German Archaeological Institute in Athens since last fall. He is also director of excavations at Miletus, on the Aegean coast of southern Turkey. Perhaps equally important, for our purposes at least, he […]