art thou, Troy?
It may come as
a surprise, but the location of Troy is once again in dispute.
Rather than Turkey, new thinking places it in Northern Europe…
or even our skies.
Iliad, recounting the final 51 days of the tenth and final year
of the Trojan war, and the Odyssey, detailing Ulysses’ voyage
home, are the oldest, and perhaps still the grandest, epic poems
of Western literature. In his memoirs and books, Schliemann wrote
that when he was eight, his father took him on his knee and told
him the story of the Iliad, the forbidden love between Helen,
the wife of the King of Sparta, and Paris, son of Priam of Troy,
and how their elopement resulted in a war that destroyed a civilization.
That story, said Schliemann, awoke in him a hunger to search for
the archaeological proof of the existence of Troy and Tiryns and
Mycenae. In fact, he was so hungry that he went into business
to make his fortune so he could afford the search. Eventually,
he found Troy, at Hissarlik, a tell in Turkey.
Schliemann’s discovery of Troy was initially hailed as confirmation
that behind Mankind’s ancient legends, lay truth. Homer’s
Iliad and Odyssey were based on fact – for Troy had been
located. When Schliemann began his quest, the consensus was that
there had never been a real Troy. Of the few that did accept its
historical nature, most pointed to a hill named Bunarbashi, in
Turkey. Schliemann visited the location, but as the Iliad mentioned
that Mount Ida was visible from the walls of Troy and no mountain
could be seen from Bunarbashi, he ruled the location out.
Using geographic clues from the Iliad, Schliemann located another
hill near the village of Hissarlik that seemed to fit Homer’s
descriptions. Furthermore, in 1822, Charles Maclaren had published
a book claiming Hissarlik was Troy. Frank Calvert, an Englishman
living in Turkey, believed the same. Schliemann thus began excavations,
found archaeological remains, stretching back to the right timeframe
and concluded one of the archaeological layers corresponded with
the “legendary Troy”. One of the greatest historical
enigmas had just been solved.
After Schliemann’s death in 1890, excavation in Hissarlik
continued. More than a century later, there is ever growing dissent
that Hissarlik is Troy, with various authorities vociferously
arguing Hissarlik is – cannot be – Troy. To quote
Sir Moses Finley: “the more we know the worse off we are”
– so much so that it is now, despite what most people believe,
deemed totally unlikely Hissarlik is Troy. We should have known,
for even the Roman geographer Strabo had this to say when he was
shown Hissarlik: “this is not the site of the ancient Ilium”.
Henceforth, the quest for Troy is back on. The question is: where
is a well-known statement that “Homer is not a geographer”.
This is due to one simple problem: when Homer describes a location,
this often does not conform to reality. For example, Strabo wondered
why in the Odyssey the island of Pharos, situated just outside
of the Egyptian city of Alexandria, was said to lie a day’s
sail from Egypt. In reality, it wouldn’t take five minutes.
Places like Rhodes were never described as an island by Homer,
though you would think he would describe it as such. The location
of Homer’s Ithaca does not conform to reality either. Dulichium,
the long island, has never been identified, for where it is supposed
to be, there is nothing. Professor John Chadwick thus concluded:
“there is a complete lack of contact between Mycenaean geography
as now known from the tablets and from archaeology on the one
hand, and Homer’s accounts on the other.”
Most observers have hence claimed that Homer never visited the
locations, made the landscape up, etc. But some recognise that
if Troy was not Hissarlik , Homer’s Pharos may not have
been near Alexandria… and that would mean that the entire
Iliad and Odyssey may not have occurred in those locations in
and around the Mediterranean Sea that have become associated with
them at all. So if not there, the question remains: where?
important clue comes from Plutarch, who wrote that the island
of Ogygia, mentioned in the Odyssey, was situated “five
days sail from Britain, towards the west.” Indeed, such
a location would make sense of Homer’s description of the
site: a large number of seabirds is said to fly around Calypso’s
Cave on Ogygia and the North Sea and its islands are far better
known for their large number of seabirds than the rather tranquil
coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. Elsewhere, Homer refers to the
wild or singing swan, which is found in Siberia and Scandinavia,
whereas Mediterranean countries only know the silent swan. Furthermore,
the movement of the tides is often evoked by the bard, in both
literal and figurative senses; but the tides are notoriously undramatic
in the Mediterranean Sea, but all the more impressive along the
shores of the North Sea.
This would place Homer’s epic in northern Europe, which
may seem startling at first, but not to such well-respected authorities
as Stuart Piggott: “The nobility of the [Homeric] hexameters
should not deceive us into thinking that the Iliad and the Odyssey
are other than the poems of a largely barbarian Bronze Age or
Early Iron Age Europe.”
Europe, but where in Europe? For Felice Vinci in “The Baltic
Origins of Homer’s Epic Tales”, the answer is the
Baltic States, along the coastlines of Denmark, Sweden, Norway,
Finland, Poland, etc. As to the location of Ogygia, for Vinci
it should be identified with the Faroe Islands, specifically the
Vinci is not the first to argue for a Scandinavian setting. It
was also offered by the Swedish historian Martin P. Nilsson. Others,
such as Bertrand Russell, stated that the Mycenaean civilisation
originated with fair-haired northern invaders of Greece. One obvious
question is why a Northern European story would become the backbone
of the Mycenaean – Greek – civilisation in Southern
Europe. For Vinci, the answer is simple: when the climate began
to change and grow colder, these people were forced to migrate
south. One tribe, the Achaeans, reached the Peloponnese and founded
the Mycenaean civilisation. The migrants had brought their legends
with them, but the geography of the north did not transpose on
the south, hence the discrepancy.
where precisely does Vinci locate these battles? The Iliad is
placed along the Gulf of Finland and the Odyssey in and around
Denmark. Troy itself is Toija in Finland; Thebes is Täby
in Sweden; the Peloponnese was Zeeland, in Denmark. Vinci’s
argumentation is linguistic, showing similarities in place-names,
but hence suffers from a potentially fatal flaw, as most of these
names cannot be traced back to before ca. 800 AD. This means that
a gap of two to three millennia exists; as mentioned by Vinci
himself, these people left their homeland in 1000 BC, so how can
we be certain where was what, as there was no continuous tradition
Still, it is clear that there is some connection between north
and south Europe, for there was trade between these Baltic states
and Mycenea, as revealed by the large quantity of Baltic amber
that was found in the most ancient Mycenaean tombs in Greece.
Ogygia is clearly not situated in the Mediterranean Sea, seems
clear. Its vegetation does not conform to the Mediterranean climate.
And in Homer’s epics, there are frequent references to fog,
even snow, and of how the sun does not seem to set but instead
lingers just beyond the horizon, a phenomenon that is typical
for summer in the northern regions. In the Odyssey, we read: “Here
we can perceive neither where darkness is nor where dawn is/ nor
where the Sun shining on men goes down underground / nor where
Furthermore, the sea is never described as being bright, but grey
and misty. The characters wear tunics and “thick, heavy
cloaks” which they never remove, not even during banquets.
The sun or its warmth are seldom mentioned in the book, yet are
what would immediately come to mind in a Mediterranean setting.
Indeed, there is nothing in this geographical description that
hints at a Mediterranean setting; even if Homer was not a geographer,
he should at least have known what a typical Mediterranean landscape
looked like – as he is believed to have lived there. Instead,
it seems he lived elsewhere…
Vinci may be right, Piggott is most definitely right: the Achaean
warriors used chariots to move across the battlefield, a method
of fighting that was unknown in Greece. But similar chariot fighting
was described by Julius Caesar when he invaded Britain; what he
witnessed, seemed taken word by word from Homer’s accounts.
Furthermore, the “great walls” of Troy (never said
to be made out of stone) could be identical with the palisades
around various megalithic tumuli and Celtic settings. The sweet
wine the warriors drink may seem typically Mediterranean at first,
but we now know that wine was grown in northern Europe, but that
honey was added… making the wine indeed sweet; such an addition
was not required for Mediterranean wines, and once again, it seems
Homer’s heroes were thus fighting elsewhere. Finally, in
Homer’s account, everyone drinks from bronze chalices, which
is typical of Celtic customs – and largely absent from Mediterranean
walls of Hissarlik, the traditional Troy
Celtic setting therefore works, but the question does remain:
where in northern Europe? Iman Wilkens argues that “the
Trojan War was a major conflict between the European continent
and the British Isles for free access to a raw material which
was found nearly exclusively in Cornwall and that was essential
in the Bronze Age as crude oil is at present. This raw material
was tin required for the production of bronze.”
Wilkens thus tackles one of the greatest archaeological mysteries
– the megalithic civilisation – and links it with
the greatest historical epic. Indeed, this culture could provide
the most logical answer to the problem. The Cornish tin mines
were exhausted in 1200 BC, when we see the end of the megalithic
civilisation. But around 1400-1200 BC, there was potentially still
hope – and great anxiety: without bronze, the continent
would return to primitive living conditions, unless tin could
be obtained from England – either through trade or by force.
The trade option was unrealistic, as the continent had nothing
to offer in return. Hence war was the only option. That, for Wilkens,
is the true stage of the Trojan War: the struggle of the European
continent to continue its way of life, resulting in an attack
question is: where in Britain? In the Middle Ages, there was a
widespread belief in the Trojan origins of many western European
people. The Romans claimed they descended from Aeneas, the British
and the Franks claimed Trojan stock. The British were never precise,
claiming that Brutus the Trojan had founded “New Troy”,
i.e. London. In 1879, the French-born Belgian lawyer Théophile
Caillieux argued that Troy was situated in East Anglia, where
he discovered two huge war-dykes between Cambridge and the Wash.
Wilkens too focused on the frequent mention of dykes in Homer’s
account, suggesting that the war involved low-lying lands –
which is perhaps one of the few uncontested issues of Homer’s
geography. The Fleam Dyke and the Devils Dyke are indeed enigmas.
The Devils Dyke is the largest monument of its kind in Britain.
The Fleam Dyke is a ditch and rampart 26 metres wide and up to
3.5 metres high, running for 5 km from Fulbourn across the dry
chalklands to Balsham.
They obviously served a military purpose and formed a barrier.
It is known that the wide plain had already been cleared around
1500 BC and that the barriers were likely erected to stop horse-drawn
war chariots. Officially, though, they are said to be 1200 years
old, and constructed by the Saxons. Still, the problem is that
no-one knows what battles were fought here. Caillieux and Wilkens
hence put two problems together, concluding that the barriers
were there to stop the Achaeans in their path to attack troy.
For them, Troy was located on the heights just above Cambridge,
the Gog Magog hills; the acropolis of Troy (known as Pergamus)
was thus identified with the Wandlebury Ring.
identifies Argos with France and Mycenea with the modern French
town of Troyes, whose name is indeed taken from Troy. Ithaca is
placed in Cadiz, in Southern Spain. Indeed, all of these locations
have strong Celtic, megalithic connections and a war between Britain
and the continent over tin is logical. The work of Barry Cunliffe
also underlines that this ocean-facing megalithic civilisation
had experienced sailors, conform to the strong sailing tradition
that runs through Homer’s epics.
As to the Odyssey, Wilkens transforms this into a transoceanic
voyage, our hero reaching the New World, as well as places like
Senegal, the Cape Verde Islands, the Dutch Antilles and Cuba,
before arriving back home in Ithaca – Cadiz. As to Ogygia,
for Wilkens this is the island of St Miguel, in the Azores.
Iliad and the Odyssey are epic poems – legends. Though there
is no doubt they have a historical aspect to them, the question
is how much, what precisely, and whether there is sufficient material
that will ever allow a precise location “somewhere”
in Northern Europe.
Epic poems also have a symbolic nature. Ulysses’ voyage
in the Odyssey is often seen as being a description of a man’s
initiation into a mystery cult; some of the battles have an archetypal
nature. And in the past century, astronomical connotations to
ancient myths are slowly been discovered. For Edna Leigh, as recounted
in “Homer’s Secret Iliad” by Florence and Kenneth
Wood, the Iliad was indeed not a historical, but an astronomical
text. In fact, she felt it was the world’s oldest substantial
astronomical text. She believed that the Iliad was created to
preserve ancient knowledge of the heavens.
are star names listed in the Iliad, so at the very least, the
text has some astronomical connection. Furthermore, sailing instructions
in the Odyssey are given with such confidence that they must reflect
the learning of a man who could use the skies for practical purposes.
But Leigh went much further than these basic astronomical observations.
Eventually, she would identify no less than 650 stars and 45 constellations
in the Iliad. Her strongest point is the Catalogue of Ship, which
is believed to have been the oldest part of the Iliad. But equally,
it is the most boring; it is literally a catalogue of ships that
participate in the attack on Troy… a very boring part of
an otherwise great epic. So boring that it could indeed be an
index – or catalogue – of… stars.
detected an underlying logic in the epic. She realised that the
main warriors of the Iliad were stars; the brighter the star,
the more powerful the warrior was. Their victims were always the
less bright stars. When seen as such, the Greek and Trojan regiments
represented 45 constellations; The commanders and leaders were
the seventy-three brightest stars in the constellations, such
as Aeneas (Spica), Agamemnon (Regulus), Menelaus (Antares), Aias
(Canopus), Patroclus (Procyon), Paris (Betelgeuse) and of course
where is Troy? For Leigh, Troy is the universe, as we see it:
the night’s sky. The scheming and battles were the futile
efforts to halt the precession of the equinoxes, specifically
the decline of Thuban in Draco as the pole star and the return
of Sirius, the brightest star, to the skies of Greece –
for that is indeed the location where she places it. Sirius was
identified with the hero Achilles, the greatest warrior at Troy.
Hence also why Achilles is known to chase Hector… Orion.
In summary, Leigh interpreted the epic as a battle in the sky,
visible from roughly 2800 BC and ending in ca. 1800 BC. Still,
as the return of Sirius to our skies occurred in the 9th millennium
BC, she argued that the entire story began then, with the return
of Achilles to the field of battle (ca. 8900 BC), the story ending
in ca. 2200 BC, shortly before the arrival of the new pole star.
Achilles' return to the battlefield, to which Homer devotes several
books, is indeed a moment of astronomical importance. It is one
of the most elaborate descriptions, with the smith-god Hephaestus
creating a new shield for Achilles: “He wrought the Earth,
the heavens, and the sea, the Moon also at her full and the untiring
Sun, with all the signs that glorify the face of Heaven –
the Pleiades, the Hyades, huge Orion, and the Bear, which man
also call the Wain and which turns round forever in one place,
facing Orion and alone never dips into the stream Oceanus.”
These particular constellations mark the area of the night sky
in which Sirius and its constellation, Canis Major, reappeared.
Troy is likely “out there”: it marked a time of change,
in the night’s sky, an observation that was perhaps made
by those great astronomers of the megalithic civilisation, who
are renowned for incorporating astronomical alignments in their
stone circles. But what about the Northern setting of the epic,
and the great age of 8900 BC? Sirius’ apparition in Northern
Europe was later than in Greece. And hence, perhaps the epic of
Troy is indeed a battle of the skies, but perhaps those recording
these changes did not live in Greece, but in Northern Europe.
This would make Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey not only the epic
tales of a lost age, but of a lost civilisation.