WHERE IS TROY?
Military Illustrated, June 2000
by John Egan
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 unbelievable. 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.
The popular legend has it that Schliemann discovered “Troy” almost by chance. Writers have likened it to someone going to some remote part of the world, sticking a spade in the ground and discovering an ancient city. Actually, Schliemann knew very well where he was digging. The ancient village of Novum Illium or “New Troy” was already marked on a map that he was familiar with, the very same he later used in his 1870 which announced the discovery of “Troy.” His rediscovery of a small, fortified village marked the beginning of Archeology as a science and seemed to settle the debate, once and for all, about the location of Troy.
However, the evidence from the maps indicates that the true location of Troy may yet be undiscovered. Sources from antiquity say that Troy was a large city, not visible from the sea, with wide streets and avenues and crowned with a temple-adorned acropolis. But Novum Illium, which has been thoroughly excavated, is in plain sight of the sea and encompasses an area of only 5 acres.
The map, which led Schliemann to Novum Illium, was a British Navy 1840 survey map of the region. Since the region is of great strategic significance, the British Navy survey was very detailed and accurate. For any study of the Plain of Troy this map is still the best, for in 1840 the region was still generally unspoiled and many ancient monuments and trails were clearly marked on the map.
Schliemann knew from a number of sources, including the land’s owner, Frank Calvert, as well as the 1840 survey map, that Novum Illium, a town known in historical times, lay at Hissarlik (the legend Novum Illium is underlined in red on the 1840 map). Eager to make a name for himself as the discoverer of Troy, he insisted that Novum Illium was Troy. Since the village was clearly old enough to be mythical Troy, the name Novum Illium is now forgotten and Schliemann’s excavation became Troy for every other archeologist since then. However the evidence indicates that the small village he unearthed is not the mythical Troy of Helen and Priam.
Part of the problem in identifying Troy can be laid to 19th and 20th century conceit about the capabilities of the Ancients as builders. Despite the apparent evidence that ancient architectural knowledge surpasses our own in almost every significant way, there seems to be an assumption that Troy must have been small despite the incongruities in that assertion. Primarily it seems inconceivable that a devastating ten-year war would have been fought over a village when by all accounts Troy was the largest city in the Greek world.
It is extremely difficult the gauge the motives of Ancient peoples when it comes to architectural constructions. The highly militaristic Sparta had no city walls whatsoever, but was rather a conglomerate of four separate towns. The remains of Gla, a large construction of unknown origin and purpose in Boeotia, has walls 18 feet think and two miles in circumference. The true location of Troy may yet elude us simply because it was too large for our modern imagination.
The maps used by Schliemann offer clues to the true site of Troy. The map from Schliemann’s 1870 book Illios: The City and Country of the Trojans is an exact reproduction of the British Navy survey map from 1840, made thirty years before Schliemann’s discovery, except that the inscription “Novum Illium” on the 1840 map (underlined in red) is ingeniously obliterated and replaced by the legend “Troy” on the 1870 map. To replace the name on a map doesn’t make it so; and the maps themselves offer extremely powerful evidence that the mythical Troy lay six miles upstream at a place called the Bali Dag.
Marked in yellow on Schliemann’s 1870 map are, according to the key, ancient roads. Take a close look and you will see that all the ancient tracks lead to the Bali Dag! (circled in red). That is the place where the ancients insisted the mythical Troy lay. Novum Illium is often referred to as historical Troy, a place separate and distinct from mythical Troy. If Novum Illium at Hissarlik were mythical Troy then all tracks in the region would necessarily radiate out from it. They don’t. Only one trail leads to Novum Illium!
Nearby the Bali Dag are fresh water springs. Homer wrote that the Trojan women would do their wash in these springs during lulls in the fighting. You can still see women doing the wash there. There are no fresh water springs at New Troy. The map, The Topography of the Troad shows that the fresh water springs lay near the Bali Dag. There has always been mystery surrounding these springs since Homer wrote one was warm and the other cold. Since they are now both now cold, dissenters to the Bali Dag site attempt to use this evidence to prove that these springs are not ones described by Homer. Yet the fact remains that there are no fresh water springs at Novum Illium and the ancients would not have built a city where there was no water. Most likely, the springs were thermal 3000 years ago but have since lost their heat, a known geological phenomenon.
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. 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. So the evidence not only indicates that there were no fresh water springs but that the area near Novum Illium was under salt water. Further, the town of Kalifatli, whose name indicates a place where sea vessels were repaired, lies at what was probably the head of the harbor. This site is about halfway between Novum Illium and Bali Dag.
So what was Novum Illium? It was probably an outlying harbor station for the main city of Troy. When the real city of Troy was razed, the few survivors would have moved to the harbor station at Hissarlik and renamed the town New Troy, the name itself being powerful prima facie evidence that something is amiss. There is no instance is history when a destroyed and rebuilt city renamed itself “New.” Dresden was destroyed in 1945. The rebuilt city is not “New Dresden.” Lisbon was wreaked in 1755. It is not now “New Lisbon.” If the fortified village at Hissarlik were actually Troy, it would have been called Troy and the inhabitants would have been proud to maintain their cultural heritage as are all people. But instead they named their town something else. Fundamentally, it’s as simple as that.
What about the canal, which is also noted on the British survey, map? No one knows when it was built, but it is reasonable to believe that only Troy the commercial center had the need and the resources to complete such a major engineering achievement. The canal now terminates in a marshy area that we can assume was once a navigable part of Besika Bay. If mythical Troy were at Hissarlik, the canal would lead from there to the bay. It doesn’t. In fact, the canal leads from Besika Bay directly to the Bounarbashi River and from there to the Bali Dag.
Schliemann said that he dug at the Bali Dag and found nothing. In truth, he was already convinced that Troy lay at Hissarlik and only dug at the Bali Dag, (superficially at best, if he actually dug there at all), to convince himself that the Ancients were wrong. He knew that a dated ruin lay somewhere else, exactly marked for him on a British survey map. He dug there and the village he discovered became Troy forever after. Since then, no archeological investigations have ever been undertaken at the Bali Dag.