A NEW LOOK AT THE TROJAN WAR
July 2000, Military Illustrated (London)
by John Egan
The Fall of Troy, one of the most significant events in the history of western civilization, is shrouded in mystery. What happened at Troy and why the saga of Troy grips the imagination have baffled commentators from Herodotus to Shakespeare. Generally, legend tells us that Prince Paris Alexander of Troy abducted Queen Helen of Sparta and brought her back with him to Troy. An alliance of western Greek states was forged and a ten-year naval/commercial war ensued with Troy defeated by means of a ruse. That a woman’s beauty could cause such destruction was for Herodotus so unbelievable that he came to the remarkable conclusion that Queen Helen was never in Troy, for he reasoned that no matter how fierce Paris’ ardor might have been, King Priam his father, would never have risked all to maintain his son’s marriage to Helen. Shakespeare was also confounded and wondered why Priam just didn’t give Helen back to the Spartans. For many modern commentators the whole story just seemed too hard to believe. Eventually, by the 19th century, most scholars asserted that Troy had in fact, never existed, and that the story of Queen Helen and the Trojan War were pure allegory. It wasn’t until Heinrich Schliemann discovered the remains of a small town on The Plain of Troy in 1871 that these ideas changed. With that discovery, the new science of Archeology and historians as well, generally accepted Schliemann’s excavation as proof that the legends had some basis in fact.
Modern scholarship sets the date for the Fall of Troy c. -1250 BCE. However, alternative explanations exist which place The Fall in a more reasonable and comprehensible historical context. Powerful evidence shows that Troy fell not at the accepted date, c. -1250 BCE but rather c. -850 BCE and that Helen and Homer were probably contemporaries. Sources from antiquity indicate that Homer studied with Mante, the Oracle at Delphi, daughter of the blind Seer Tirasias of Thebes who were both contemporaries of Jason, i.e. the generation before Helen.1 Homer’s books contain such minute details of accurate geographical references it is difficult to conclude he was not there to compile the evidence himself. 2 It’s also interesting that, according to the standard chronology, Greek literature begins with the Iliad, the greatest classic in that language. There’s no development of Greek epic composition; it emerges suddenly in full flower. Thus a commentator may write without blinking “if Homer learned to write in the 8th century, there was little or nothing for him to read.” 3 There is no reflection upon how a completely evolved epic poetic language, vital to this day, should abruptly emerge in a literary void. This problem is not unlike many other events in the modern study of ancient history, which defy conventional understanding but are easily resolved when one eliminates the 400-year gap in Greek history known as “The Greek Dark Age.”
Unlike the European “Dark Age” which referred (falsely) to an era of cultural regression the “Greek Dark Age” is a period from which there are no artifacts, a 400 year interval in which there is no evidence whatsoever that it ever happened. What this means is that artifacts exist from the Bronze Age, thought to have ended c. -1200 BCE, with the next level of artifacts from classical Greece and the advent of Greek literature c. -800 BCE, with nothing in between. It is very possible, extremely likely actually, that there is no gap; that the Bronze Age ended right when the evidence indicates, with Homer writing upon events that he either actually witnessed or else lay quite close to him chronologically. We are saddled with the “Greek Dark Age” because modern professional historians needed to place Greek history forcefully into the context of Egyptian history since no calendar or other fast frame of reference exists for Greek history prior to the introduction of the Olympic Games in -776 BCE.
Conventional understanding of the chronology of Egyptian, and by inference, Greek history before -776, comes from the historian Manetho, who lived in the Third Century BCE, known to be wrong on most of his other assessments of history. Manetho based his history of Egypt on fragmentary records and our understanding of his history comes from Christian historians. No records from Manetho himself exist. It’s been known for a long time that Manetho's chronology of Egyptian kings is mostly imaginary. Whenever comparisons could be made with records from Egyptian monuments, Manetho’s history was shown to be false. However, since there is little else to go by except for Manetho's history, his understanding of events is now the holy writ. J.H. Breasted, perhaps the most renowned Egyptologist writes:
Although we know that many of his divisions are arbitrary and that there was many a dynastic change where he indicates none... his dynasties divide the kings into convenient groups which have so long been employed in modern study of Egyptian history that it is now impossible to dispense with them. 4
Since then Egyptologists have erected the “Four Pillars” of Egyptian chronology of which only the sack of Thebes by the Assyrians in -664 BCE is reliable. The others are based upon far-fetched and contrived astronomical data accepted only because they seem to confirm the standard chronology. 5 A gap of 400 years in Manetho’s Egyptian chronology in the time of the Greek Bronze Age confuses Greek history to the point of absurdity as modern historians invented the “Greek Dark Age” to fill in the gaps created by Manetho’s faulty chronology. It’s interesting to note, that in one of the most astounding “coincidences” in all of archeology and history, an “Anatolian Dark Age,” a culture alien and remote from the Greek, also spans the years -1200 to -750 BCE.6 With the timing of both Bronze Age Greece and Anatolia calibrated upon a faulty Egyptian chronology, ancient history is thrown into a ludicrous turmoil.
The mountain of evidence against Menetho is actually quite astounding. For example, hundreds of tiles were excavated from the palace of Ramses III bearing the Pharaoh’s name, who according to Manetho, lived in the 12th century BCE. Unfortunately for Manetho’s chronology, Greek workmen carved their initials on the rear of the tiles before they were fired.7 The problem here is that the theoretical framework holds that the Greeks did not develop their alphabet until 400 years later, in the 8th century BCE. How could Greek artisans have emblazoned their marks on the tiles at a time when Greeks weren’t even supposed to have an alphabet? When faced with evidence like these professional Egyptologists close ranks and deny the reality of the conflicting evidence since their careers are at stake. A realistic and alternative view of the past then becomes a difficult and professionally dangerous vision.8
Placing the Fall of Troy in a more recent historical context is significant because it would indicate that the shift from the matriarchal & matrilocal clan system of the Greek Bronze Age, into the current patriarchal system, occurred not at some time in the mythically remote past. When sources from antiquity indicate that King Priam of Troy had fifty sons, nineteen of whom were legitimate, the numbers are symbolic. For the Ancients, 50 was the number of strife and since Priam’s clan was wiped out, that would be the perfect number of sons allowed the virile King. More significant however is the number of 19 legitimate sons, one per year, in the nineteen-year lunar eclipse cycle that regulated the generational cycle and the queen’s reign. In remote ancient times, in the matrilocal system, males moved to the local of the queen to serve her for one year before they were sacrificed and a new “king” chosen, often randomly. Later, in a gesture toward humanity, the “kings” who serviced the queen were allowed to service her for 19 years before a new queen was chosen to head the clan. We see this process in the selection of King Meneleos to serve as Queen Helen’s consort. Helen was chosen Queen of Sparta not because she was first born or because there were no suitable male heirs but rather upon her physical attributes. When it was deemed time for her to reign and choose a mate, the suitors came to her. Only when she finally chose Meneleos did he then become King of Sparta and he left his home in Mycenae to join her.9
Helen was revered in Sparta as the High Priestess of the Moon Goddess. Her training began as a young girl and this would have included martial training as a fighting priestess. They were proficient in use of the bow and wrestling and trained with a through knowledge of herbs and poisons that made the ladies very dangerous when provoked. The cult of the fighting priestess emerged with the breakdown of the matriarchal system in Europe as men who professed allegiance to the male Olympian gods increasingly violated sanctuaries overseered by women oracles. As this society slowly disintegrated, Sparta emerged as the final bastion of matriarchy in Greece.
Sparta was a matriarchal society, which makes sense militarily. In the matriarchal system women are protected and revered for their magical and intuitive powers but mostly for the essentially mysterious ability to give birth: For even if the clan is reduced to a few males, survival is possible as long as there are sufficient women to guarantee reproduction. If the situation were reversed; only a few woman extant with hundreds of males, the clan would be doomed, as the reproduction rate would be too slow to insure survival. With women recognized as the most significant and valuable asset of the clan, property was transferred from mother to daughter. Men were kept separate from the city in barracks where they learned the arts of war to protect the clan and its women. As late as -325 BCE Aristotle was shocked to see that 40% of the property in Sparta was still owned by women.10 The matriarchal system had been eradicated centuries ago in Athens and the degree of personal freedom still exercised by Spartan women shocked him. Five centuries before, women were dominant in Bronze Age Greece and when Prince Paris of Troy abducted Queen Helen of Sparta his action was the prevalent mode of “heroic” royal behavior that attached great prestige to the beauty of the clan’s queen. This valiant act gave him the right to take Helen as his wife. When his father’s reign was through, Helen would be the new queen of Troy with Paris her consort. This would be the reason why the Trojans never gave her up: She was of royal blood, their future queen and kin.
Whether or not the current excavation at Hissarlik is the mythical Troy takes nothing away from the singularly significant location of the city astride the region’s major east-west trade routes. Situated on the Plain of Troy or the Troad as it was called, Troy grew rich collecting tolls and tribute from western Greek shipping as well as from the overland route from Asia to Greece that transversed the Troad in ancient times before Byzantium was a major city. Troy hosted a yearly east-west trade fair and when Jason and his contemporaries opened up the sea trade route in the generation prior to the Trojan War, Troy’s revenues increased correspondingly. The “Golden Fleece” refers to the practice of collecting gold by laying a ram’s fleece across a stream until it was filled with gold dust. But more than gold; all the riches of the east were available in the Black Sea trade and Greece had plenty of good wine and olive oil to exchange. However it was Troy which skimmed the profits and when Helen was abducted, the western Greek states found a unifying cause to forget their differences and forge an alliance. Troy was not alone as the city maintained many Asiatic allies unwilling to see western Greece triumphant. The war that evolved was the last great military struggle of the Bronze Age before the mass introduction of iron implements forever changed the face of war in Europe. After ten years of devastating naval raids in which the power of Troy was diminished but not broken, it was apparently decided upon to attack the city directly. In this phase of the war, the combatants waged Greek ritual warfare to decide the issue.
Strabo is the single most knowledgeable geographer of the ancient Troad. He stated unequivocally that Novum Illium was not mythical Troy and that the city of Priam lay at another location, probably the Bali Dag.11 Modern geology also indicates that the location of the battlefield could not have been the lowland near the current excavation at Hissarlik. The most recent geological study shows that the area on the Troad near Hissarlik was under water in the Bronze Age; probably a shallow harbor now silted over. 12 The Greek naval expedition would have kept their ships safely anchored in this harbor and made camp at Kalifatli, now inland, but whose name indicates the site once repaired sea vessels. From there, they rode chariots to Troy, strategically located where the Scamander River flows through the pass that leads to the rest of Asia. They then dismounted and engaged in Greek ritual warfare, which was single combat among the nobles with occasional large-scale battles erupting when the men felt like fighting.
Greek ritual warfare was probable similar to European medieval warfare which someone once described as “ a polo match without rules among armed men.” Homer’s verse, which tells that the Greeks rode to Troy in chariots but did not fight from them, is often misinterpreted as a fault in Homer’s comprehension of the war, without understanding that well formed infantry is inherently superior to cavalry organizations. In addition, we have many modern examples of mounted heavy infantry using horse transportation to the battlefield from whence they fought on foot. Harold’s English army in 1066 fought that way and the French at Crecy and Agincourt would have been well advised to do the same. What makes Greek ritual warfare different from say, 20th century warfare, is its emphasis upon honor rather that results, and from this the use of bronze rather than iron.
The 3000-year gulf in time that separates us from the Bronze Age makes any assessment into the personal motives of the various participants difficult. The greatest mistake one can make is to assume that these people were part of a “primitive” society. The fabulous palaces and temples of Crete that lack any defensive structures show that this society was technologically gifted and completely dedicated to the arts of peace. For a period of at least two thousand years, warfare in the Mediterranean was apparently strictly controlled much like European warfare in the period AD 1648-1792. At this time the ruling elite of Europe decided that warfare was not going to interfere with their lifestyle. Hence elaborate military tactics and strategies evolved centered about sieges in which civilians were not harmed. Much like their European descendants and also very accustomed to the finer things in life, the people who waged war before Troy were an exceedingly sophisticated and worldly people torn between two opposing ideologies: The patriarchal system, newly emerged, in which the benefits of matriarchy are essentially scorned and deadly force is final arbiter of disputes; and the matriarchal, wherein women are revered and honor takes precedence over death. Of course we know now that the patriarchal system prevailed and doomed the matriarchal system save a brief revival when the ancient cult was rehabilitated somewhat in the medieval chivalric code.
Within the structure of the matriarchal system that regulated Bronze Age warfare, honor on the battlefield still held an important place and a nobleman’s armor indicated that. Bronze was prized because of its beauty and iron disdained most likely because it was not only too heavy but also because it is simply an ugly metal. There is no reason to assume that these people didn’t have the resources to smelt iron. They simply chose not to and preferred bronze armor, finely wrought with gold and jewel inlays. In Greek single combat, the victor was allowed to strip the body of the vanquished and this, along with prisoner exchanges for ransom, made the warfare on the Plain of Troy highly profitable. The battles probably began with a few single combats before any large scale fighting erupted. Like medieval battles, which also often began with single combats, they did not begin at any sharply appointed hour but ensued when some sort of communal consensus was reached, from the commanding general down to the last joined drummer boy that it was time to fight. After ten years of indecisive but devastating commercial war and perhaps one year of equally indecisive land war, the battle for the fate of Troy reached its final stage with the assassination of Hector and Achilles.
Prince Achilles, son of King Peleus and the sea goddess Thetis was a cross dresser brought up a girl to avoid military service. When he finally entered the conflict Achilles grew rich personally leading many of the maritime raids upon Asiatic Greece in which cities were sacked, the men murdered, and the women and children carried off as slaves. This type of warfare, which we as modern people are well accustomed to, and term total war, was a new development for Bronze Age society and one for which they were not prepared. From the accounts it seems clear that Achilles was a psychopathic killer tolerated by the leadership of the western Greek alliance precisely because his ferocity and complete lack of mercy took the war in a direction not originally envisioned by the people who began it. Achilles’ most notorious act of barbarism was his slaughter of prisoners. Unlike Henry V’s reputation, which was tarnished by the murder of noble prisoners at Agincourt, Achilles has suffered no approbation for his similar treatment of noble captives on the Plain of Troy. The reason for this seems to be a desperate need for some heroes to emerge from the gang of murderous, back stabbing thugs who made up the winning side. With honor no longer an issue among the Greeks, and them unwilling to return home defeated in their ultimate aim of the freeing of the Dardanelle to their shipping, the leadership of the alliance finally turned to their most brutal operative, Achilles, to assassinate Hector, the de facto leader of the Trojan clan.
Prince Hector of Troy, son of Priam and brother of Paris Alexander was the toughest fighter in Troy. His single combat with the Greek champion Achilles is what the epic poem The Iliad is all about. It seems clear from a reading of The Iliad that Achilles’ single combat with Hector was highly, rather singularly, unusual. Since Homer had to write his description of this episode in the land of the victors it’s probable he used metaphor to describe the events around Hector’s death. Unlike every other single combat in The Iliad where the fights take place before the walls of Troy with both armies assembled for battle, in this one, the Trojan army cowers in fear behind the walls while Hector stands alone to meet Achilles. Hector then chooses the rather unusual tactic of running away, three times around the walls of Troy. This chase convinced Schliemann that his excavation at Hissarlik was the true Troy since it was small enough for Hector to have run around three times. More likely however, this incident is a metaphor for the isolation and ambush of Hector as three, in classical numerology, is the number that represents conspiracy. Homer indicates quite clearly that treachery was afoot but he casts the blame upon the goddess Athena who tricks Hector into thinking she is his brother Deiphobus. Hector then expends his only spear and when he looks toward Deiphobus for another, he sadly finds that his spear-carrier has disappeared. Alone and unarmed he falls prey to the heavily armed Achilles. Upon consummation of the deed, Achilles then mutilates Hector’s body and denies him burial, another gross violation of the Greek code of ethics. For this, he is ultimately ambushed and killed by Paris Alexander, with his lush sister Polyxena and possibly Helen, as bait.
With both champions dead and no end to the conflict in sight, Troy is finally betrayed from within. Many classical commentators had difficulty accepting the story of the Trojan Horse and with reason; since King Priam and the leadership of Troy would have had to be complete imbeciles to bring such a device into the city and leave it unattended while they all engaged in drunken revelry. Evidence that Troy was betrayed comes from the commentators Dictys and Dares.13 Their interpretations are logical and supported by other evidence. They indicate that factions within the Trojan alliance were dissatisfied with the ruinous course of the war and Priam’s obsessive allegiance to Helen.
Led by the respected Trojan elder Antenor and key ally King Aeneas of Dardania, a later founder of Rome, the mutinous faction allowed the Greeks into the city. Priam’s entire clan was murdered along with those that remained loyal to him, as well as Helen’s three sons by Paris, named Bunomus, Aganus and Idaeus. Paris’ death is controversial. There are ridiculous accounts of him dying with his former wife Oenone, a forest nymph, who had mated with him after Paris was abandoned as a babe in the wilderness to be raised by wolves, etc. More likely, it was he, and not his brother Deiphobus, who was killed and mutilated in the palace he shared with Helen. Since Paris slew Achilles and abducted Queen Helen, which was the greatest Heroic Feat of the Age, it could not be admitted that his body, like Hector’s, had been gruesomely butchered, so fabulous accounts were rendered to cover up the atrocities.
In accord with the Greek method of war, all the women and female children were spared with Queen Helen returning to Sparta with Helen, her daughter by Paris, possibly the source of reports about “the 2nd Helen.” A number of Trojan clans were spared including, of course, Aeneas’ and Antenor’s. The latter then ruled the now powerless Trojan rump state from Novum Illium after the Greeks razed the city of Troy itself, probably in breach of any agreement they made with Antenor and the other traitors, who most likely did not envision their city completely eradicated, lost to this very day.
Upon their return home the leaders of the western alliance faced severe problems for the war had ravaged not only Troy but also the entire region. His queen, Clytemnestra, Helen’s sister, assassinated Agamemnon, King of Kings and master of the alliance against Troy. Clytemnestra regarded the act as her right and duty to protect the Mycenaean clan, the most powerful in Greece, from the ruinous transgressions of Agamemnon, who had gone so far as to sacrifice for political reasons his own most beauteous daughter Iphigeneia, in line as the next Queen of Mycenae. Some say their son Orestes took revenge and murdered Clytemnestra. Accordingly he was arrested and placed on trial in Athens. The jury was divided; likely six men and six women; one side for innocence, the other for guilt. In the end, the story goes, the goddess Athena appeared and ruled Orestes innocent of murder as she resolved, incredibly, that women had no relationship to their children, making the male lineage predominant.14 More likely, there was a coup d’ etat in Athens that broke women’s hold on power. This event marked the end of the matriarchal system in eastern Greece but it wasn’t until the Roman Conquest in -146 BCE that matriarchy was finally extinguished in Sparta. In this cultural context the establishment of the Olympic games in -776 BCE makes logical sense. After ten years of the most devastating war in their history and the subsequent collapse of the Bronze Age royal court society, a process that took eighty years according to Thucydides, the Greeks eventually decided that a pause to reconsider their actions every four years might prevent a recurrence. It didn’t.
There are conflicting accounts about what happened to Helen. Some say Helen and Meneleos relaxed in retirement before walking to the Elysian Fields hand in hand. Her Spartan daughter Hermione was the next chosen queen and she reigned while Helen was still in Sparta. For political reasons, the Spartan clan forced Hermione to take as her king Polyxena’s killer, Achilles’ brutal son Neoptolemus. The liaison proved unsatisfactory for Hermione and she conspired with her beloved cousin Orestes to murder Neoptolemus. He did the deed and since Orestes had taken the queen and killed her king, all in accord with the Greek ethical code, he was named King of Sparta and Hermione bore him three sons. That the Spartan clan accepted Orestes is strong prima facie evidence that he never did kill his mother since anyone suspected of matricide would have been shunned in Sparta.
As to Helen’s departure, it was perhaps a fair one as she finally settled in Egypt to end her days. Here, we are left with this tantalizing report by Herodotus as grist for the mill of speculation that, due to the extreme scarcity of evidence, is what every study of the Bronze Age and the Trojan essentially is.15
There is a sacred precinct in Memphis, which is very beautiful, and richly adorned, situated south of the great temple of Vulcan. Within the enclosure stands a temple, which is called that of Aphrodite the Stranger. I conjecture the building to have been erected to Helen, the daughter of Tyndarus; first, because she, as I have heard say, passed some time at the court of Proteus; and secondly, because the temple is dedicated to Aphrodite the Stranger; for among all the many temples of Aphrodite there is no other where the goddess bears this title.
The Histories. II: 112
Gustav Schwab, Gods and Heroes: Myths and Epics of Ancient Greece (New York 1946).
Rhys Carpernter, Folk Tale, Fiction and Saga in the Homeric Epics (Berkeley, 1956). Also, “The Criticism of an Oral Homer,” J.B. Hainsworth, Journal of Hellenic Studies, 90 (1970) 90-98.
The Iliad (Penguin 1990), Robert Fagles, trans, introduction by Bernard Knox, p19.
J.H. Breasted, A History of Egypt (New York: Scribner, 1937).
David M. Rohl, Pharaohs and Kings (New York, 1995), pp. 119-135. John Forsdyke, Greece Before Homer: Ancient Chronology and Mythology (New York).
Akurgal, E Die Kunst Anatolians, Berlin 1961, cited in Immanuel Velikovsky, Ramses II and His Time (New York, 1978).
E. Naville, The Mound of the Jew and the City of Onias, (Egyptian Exploration Fund 1887), cited in Immanuel Velikovsky, Peoples of the Sea, (New York 1977).
John Anthony West, Serpent in the Sky: The High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt, (Quest, 1993).
Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, (Penguin, 1992), F.A.S. Butterworth, Some Traces of the pre-Olympian World in Greek Literature and Myth (Berlin 1966), Bruce S. Thorton, Eros: the Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality (Westview, 1996).
L.F. Fitzhardinge, The Spartans (London,1980), p.150.
Strabo, The Geography of Strabo (Cambridge, 1966-70).
John C. Kraft et.al. “Geology and paleogeographic reconstructions of the vicinity of Troy,” Troy: The Archaeological Geology, Rapp & Giffords (eds), (Princeton, 1982).
R.M Frazer, The Trojan war: The Chronicles of Dictys of Crete and Dares the Phrygian (Indiana, 1966).
Raine Eisler, The Chalace & The Blade (San Francisco,1988).
Robert Drews, The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe, c.1200B.C. (Princeton, 1993).