Greece – The Modern Siege Of Troy

IT was Schliemann who began the modern siege of Troy. How he was laughed at for making the attempt! As if there were anything in Homer but pure fiction! His faith, enthusiasm and perseverance were based on a settled consciousness of historic elements in Homer. In spite of the wonderful imaginative drapery in which the Homeric story was invested, Schliemann could feel the force and pressure of the reality beneath. Perhaps if he had been more critical and less trustful, he would not have felt it; but he believed that a real Troy, just as a real Greece, was the foundation of the story of the Iliad. So, in his ardent faith he went to the spot where tradition said that Troy used to be. With indomitable perseverance, Schliemann began with his spade to uncover the city. His discoveries were at first ridiculed. Then people began to smile another way when he brought forth the treasures he had unearthed, the relics of a prehistoric age. Afterward, when he had published his two books on Troy, the great value of his find was recognized by archeologists; but it was said, and said rightly, that the civilization of the Troy he had found did not correspond with the Troy described in Homer. Schliemann had gone further back into the past than he had known. He had dug down clear below the foundation of the Homeric Troy into still older strata.

The excavations at Tiryns and Mycenae threw a search-light upon the Homeric age. If the relation of the Epic with the Mycenaean age cannot be established in all points, we can at least see the identity of the outline and the historic connection. The material of the Mycenaean age thus furnished criteria with which to determine the relative age of the discoveries at Troy. We were compelled to face the fact that the civilization indicated by the vases, ornaments and pottery which were found in the second city must have been centuries older than that of the Mycenaean age.

In 1890 Dr. Schliemann returned to Troy with Dr. Dorpfeld and renewed excavations. Instead of the seven cities, first assumed by Schliemann, nine were distinguished. In the sixth city, counting from the bottom, were found Mycenaean masonry and pottery. Only a small portion of the sixth stratum was uncovered; part of it had been removed in digging to the lowest stratum, but still more was destroyed by the Roman Ilium, the ninth city, whose foundations had been set far down in the sixth city below. The death of Dr. Schliemann put a stop to excavations, on the very threshold of new discovery. Mrs. Schliemann was devoted to her husband during his life. She had shared his faith, his labors, and his rewards. She alone was present with him when they uncovered the Great Treasure in the second city of Troy. What better way to perpetuate his memory than to complete his work at Troy? Through her generosity, supplemented by that of the German Government, the excavations were renewed under the direction of Dr. Dorpfeld in the spring of 1893. It was in June of that year that I joined Dr. Dorpfeld at Hissarlik.

Schliemann had dug deeply; the new task was to dig widely, to uncover laterally the stratum of the sixth city, and see how far this outcropping of Mycenaean masonry would lead. The work had already been in progress for two weeks when I arrived. on the ground and was able to see-it carried to most important and fascinating results.

My first impression at Hissarlik was that of utter bewilderment. Though used by this time to the, general aspect of excavations, I had never seen and in which the strata seemed at first so hopelessly mixed. The problem at Olympia was comparatively simple; all the buildings were essentially on the same level. But here at Troy city after city had been built on different levels, the foundation stones of one commingling with the walls below. They seemed to be dovetailed in inextricable confusion. No temples, colonnades or theatres, as at Delos, no columns, capitals, triglyphs or statues, save in the Graeco-Roman city on the top, gave any indication of former beauty and glory. Hissarlik seemed but a curious pile of stones, dust and ashes, and, had I been alone, half a day would have sated my curiosity,—and the puzzle would have been unsolved. After four days of study under Dr. Dorpfeld’s guidance, with fresh daily revelations by industrious spades, the confusion became less confounded, the different strata became more familiar, and what seemed to be unmistakably the Homeric city gradually took shape and definition.

The general situation of Hissarlik furnishes topographically the essential conditions suggested by the Iliad. It is not, like Tiryns, an island in the plain; it is rather the end of a long ridge projected upon the plain and capable of being strongly fortified. In the broad valley below we may trace the channel of two rivers, one to the right and another to the left. The island of Tenedos lies out in the sea. Rivers, like politicians, change their course. I have seen the Upper Missouri make a new channel in a few weeks. It is not surprising, then, that the Scamander and its tributary the Simois should have left their ancient beds. How great a part the river plays in the story of the Iliad is seen in the twenty-first book, when Achilles does battle not only with the Trojans at the Scamander, but with the river itself. Objection was made to Hissarlik as the site of Troy because the Scamander is not where one might expect it to be. But the old river-bed is there, and there are signs of the old ford and of the point where the Simois flowed into it, corresponding closely with the description of Homer. When the Greeks fight the battlefield is between the river and the sea, so that when the Trojans are driven back they must pass through the ford at a certain place or else be cut off by the river behind them. The plain stretching from Hissarlik to the sea, with the ancient river-bed, furnishes just such conditions.

Desirous as I was of getting a good general idea of the whole topography of the Trojan plain and surrounding hills, I was glad that it was possible to make a trip to Bounarbashi and back. Our party was made up of Dr. Dorpfeld, Dr. Wolters, a quartet of German students, the Turkish representative at the excavations, a Turkish cavalryman, an attendant with packhorse, and the writer. It may not have been Homeric to go on horseback; but there were no chariots that could possibly go where we were going. We set out in the fresh cool morning; the wind was blowing over the bending grain, which bowed and swayed on the plain just as it does in the rhythmic lines of the epic. In less than an hour from Hissarlik we reached Hanai-Tepeh, an artificial mound, explored by Mr. Frank Calvert and Dr. Schliemann in 1878-79. Mr. Calvert found here the remains of numerous skeletons which had been carefully interred. Not far from this place, however, we passed the site of a great crematory, where the beds of ashes were five and six feet deep, with occasional protruding skulls and bones. Here the Trojans may have burnt their dead.

Our next point was Eski-Hissarlik on the Scamander opposite Bounarbashi. It is clear that the divine river which had such a mighty tussle with Achilles, and but for the interference of Hephaestus would have engulfed not only the vulnerable heel of his swift foot but the rest of his divinely descended body, is still a formidable stream when its pride is swollen. It would easily have been able to carry out its threat of covering the Grecian hero with such a pile of sand that no one — not even Schliemann — would have known where to find his body. The river can only be crossed at certain fords, and when running high only by boat. As we forded it the water was up to the breasts of our horses. The fine view which rewarded us from Eski-Hissarlik was repeated from the height of Bounarbashi. It was this place which Lechevalier, who visited it in 1785-86, assumed to be the site of the old acropolis of Troy. Influenced doubtless by the commanding character of the height and its great value from a military standpoint, von Moltke and others accepted this view. This place with the hill opposite would make an almost impregnable position, but its site does not correspond with that of the city described in Homer. It is too far from the sea, —nearly twelve miles, —there is no plain for the battlefield, and the river flows directly under the city.

From the summit of Ujek-Tepeh the whole Trojan plain and the AEgean spread out like a map: We could see how broad the plain of Troy is, and what a magnificent theatre the poet had in rendering the battle scenes of the Iliad. ” Fair-flowing,” ” divine, “deep-flowing, silver-eddying,” Scamander winds be-low. The broad plain ranges to the north, bound by the blue ribbon of the Hellespont. Mount Ida, capped with clouds, rises grandly in the southeast; while to the south in the AEgean is the island of Lesbos, nestling under the chin of the Tread. Westward and close to the shore is Tenedos, which, because it is in the beginning of the Iliad instead of at the end, every schoolboy knows was ruled with might by the god of the silver bow. It is a long low island with a high headland at the north.

Beyond the island of Imbros to the northwest is the bold rugged outline of Samothrace, with its lofty mountain rising 5,240 feet above the sea. It was here that Poseidon, ” the mighty Earth-shaker, held no blind watch, but sat and marvelled on the war and strife, high on the topmost crest of wooded Samothrace; for thence all Ida was plain to see, and plain to see were the city of Priam and the ships of the Achaians.” It was no blind Homer who wrote that passage, and he did not invent his map. Schliemann made excavations on Ujek-Tepeh, but found nothing of importance.

We lunched at a village below Bounarbashi. The drum-beat in the village announced a Turkish wed-ding, but it was solemn enough for a funeral. Crossing the Scamander again at another ford, and later a stout arm of the same stream, we reached Schliemannville by evening, feeling more confidence than ever in the tradition that Hissarlik was the site of the Homeric Troy. To accept that tradition is to settle the question laterally, but not vertically. Dickens wrote a tale of two cities; Dorpfeld was deciphering a tale of nine. Which of them was the Homeric Troy?

It is an interesting sight to see forty or fifty men working hard with spades, picks, shovels and barrows, not for gold and silver or precious stones, — though not a little gold has been found at Troy, — but simply in mining the buried ore of history. The hill has been cut and channelled in every direction. The only inhabitants, except the birds that light here, are lizards, worms and crickets. Two Turkish soldiers, armed with breech loading rifles, guard the excavations. Most of the workmen are Greeks, dressed in Turkish blouse and trousers. Without the slightest sentiment about Helen they are repeating the victory of their fathers in recapturing the city. The old Greeks took one Ilios; the modern Greeks are taking nine. You hear the clank of shovels and of picks against the stone. These men are turning stones into bread. They get two francs a day for about eleven hours’ work. They begin at five in the morning and quit at seven at night; but they have a rest at eight o’clock, and three hours in the afternoon in the heat of the day. As fast as it is loosened the debris is carried off in wheelbarrows and hand-cars and dumped on the plain. As it is more interesting to see a fire burning than to see the charred remains after it is over, so in one sense it is more fascinating to see the work of excavation going on, and to take a hand now and then with the shovel, than to see only the remains of former digging. At Troy we had the stimulus which results may give to expectation.

” Who knows,” I said to Dr. Dorpfeld one morning as we were sitting at breakfast, ” but we may find to-day the temple to which Helen went to bear her offerings to Athene.” Up to that time no building laid bare showed any traces of a column, though foundations of megara — which might have been palaces or temples — had been found. It was singular that that very morning, on the stratum of the Mycenaean or sixth city, should have been found the remains of a column in place, and on the other side of the cut the marks where other columns had stood. So that it was possible by the next day, in spite of all that had been unfortunately cut away in previous excavations, to describe the plan of a large rnegaron which was either a palace or a temple.

In his early excavations Schliemann, as already said, distinguished the successive strata of seven different cities, and regarded the third city, the ” Burnt City,” as the Homeric Ilios. The latest examinations show that not only are there nine strata of as many cities on the hill of Hissarlik, but that one of these has been rebuilt thrice on the original levels, so that very likely a dozen different cities have stood on that hill. This in itself proves that from the remotest time successive settlements existed on this spot. That it is the same site as the Roman Ilium or Novum Ilium, which was supposed to rest on the Homeric Ilios, can hardly be doubted. The nine successive strata may be distinguished, beginning at the bottom, as follows : —

I. A primitive settlement built of small stones and clay.

II. Primitive fortress; large brick buildings, much monochrome pottery, and objects of bronze, silver and gold found by Schliemann. This city was destroyed several times.

III., IV., V. Three successive village settlements built on the ruins of the second city, the houses of small stones and sun-dried brick, the villages some-times with fortified walls.

VI. A walled city with fortress and towers of the Mycenaean age, great buildings of dressed stone, and Mycenaean and local pottery.

VII., VIII. Hellenic village settlements on the ruins of the sixth city.

IX. A Graeco-Roman city, with temple of Athene, Boule and marble buildings.

The characteristics of these cities are determined not merely from their masonry, but from the pottery and implements found in them. In the first prehistoric city the pottery was of primitive character, and the idols were rude and barbaric.

In the second city, the gold and silver objects and monochrome pottery were also very ancient. The doorways, the fortress, the broad paved street, and the fact that this city met the fate ascribed to Troy and was consumed in a terrible conflagration, all favored Schliemann’s conclusion. But, as already said, the second city was too old for the Homeric Troy in the character of its civilization. Furthermore, it was a city of small extent, and the hill at that level was too low for the Trojan acropolis.

The brilliant result of the excavations of 1893 is the essential identification, in a large way at least, of the sixth city with the Mycenaean period, and the finding of walls, towers, gateways, palaces and possibly a temple which identify it at once with the Homeric age. This does not discount any of the great results of Schliemann’s work. By digging deep he revealed to us a civilization far more primitive than the Homeric; while Dorpfeld, by broadening out the excavations of the sixth city, has uncovered the Homeric city, and given us an acropolis of ample extent, with buildings even greater in size than those of Tiryns and Mycenae. The area of this sixth city was equal to that of Tiryns, and but little smaller than that of Athens. ” Without any hesitation,” says Dr. Dorpfeld, ” we may now draw on the ruins of the sixth city of Troy when we have to describe the buildings and culture of the age which Homer celebrates.” 1 As Dr. Dorpfeld shows in the same work, the descriptions, and very often the special language, of Homer exactly fit the houses of Troy, the circuit wall and its towers.

The infinite pains, skill and labor by which these superimposed cities at Troy were distinguished can hardly be conceived by those who have not been there. The original strata were not all perfectly level, and ran up and down so that the walls crossed each other. To distinguish the Mycenaean from the Roman walls let down into the same level is not difficult for the expert. Many of the Roman blocks, of which there were seventeen layers, were marked with letters, perhaps the stone mark of the contractor.

The identification of the Mycenaean period furnishes us a new basis for estimating the age of the sixth city and those below it. Putting the Roman Ilium at the beginning of the Christian era, we may date the sixth city anywhere from one thousand to fifteen hundred years before Christ; the fifth, fourth, and third cities may range from 1500 to 2000 B. C.; the second, from 2000 to 2500 B. C.; and the third, from 2500 to 3000 B. C. But these are only relative and approximate dates ; the primitive city might easily be a thousand years older.

I have spoken of the different layers of history as they were suggested on the Acropolis of Athens. But nowhere can one pass so rapidly from one age to another by slight changes of level as at Troy. As we mounted and descended through the different strata it seemed as if we were going up and down the ladders of time. How young seemed the Hellenic city, with its beautiful marble capitals and columns, compared with the primitive villages built on the basic rock below! One day, as we were digging in the third or fourth city, we came on several large jars or pithoi containing about a bushel of peas. They had been there probably four thousand years, and still preserved their form without their vitality. Some of these jars found at different levels were five feet or more in height. They were set in the ground, as shown in the illustration, and served to hold grain or wine. But in some cases the mice had gnawed through and devoured their contents.

No bricks were found in the Mycenaean period, and the dressed stones are peculiar to Troy. I have lying before me, however, a piece of brick which came out of the second city. It was originally sun-dried, but it has passed through a terrible fire. The outer part, where it was in close contact with wood, has been melted till it is nothing but a cinder. What was the inner part still retains the semblance of clay, and is friable. Running through it you can see the marks and the mould of the straw laid into it; for it tells of a time when bricks were not made without straw. After the Boston fire one could find many evidences of the terrible heat, but no piece of brick just like this. When this brick was burned neither Chicago nor Boston was known or thought of; the Pilgrims had not landed at Plymouth; the United States was a far-off event; Columbus had not set sail for the new world; the art of printing was unknown; neither England nor France had a national existence ; Mahomet was not born; Paris had not been made the seat of the Frankish monarchy; Italy had not been conquered by Theodoric; Jesus had not come, and the marvellous results of his life were undreamed of Julius Caesar, Pompey and Cicero, Darius, Plato, Socrates, Sophocles and AEschylus were unborn. I have a few fragments of clear charcoal made from the beams set in the wall. It was just where these beams were that the fire raged hottest and the adjacent brick was almost melted. It seems remark-able that the delicate piece of straw laid in this brick. should have imprinted on the clay the lines of the fibre of which it was composed. Think of a wisp of straw leaving its signature on a piece of brick made four thousand years ago ! In a burnt wall at Troy, where a beam had lain, a knot in the wood was stamped in the clay.

The full results of the final excavations of Troy, which I shall always consider it a rare event in my life to have witnessed, will not be known, perhaps, until the sources and relations of its culture have been more fully established. While holding that the sixth city of Troy is contemporaneous with Tiryns and Mycenae, and noting the influence of Mycenaean culture as seen in the vases (undoubtedly imported) of that period, Dr. Dorpfeld recognizes the difference between the culture of Troy and Mycenae. The decoration of the former is distinctly simpler than that of the Argive palaces. It was left to Dr. A. Korte of Bonn to show that the predominant culture at Troy was Phrygian with points of contact with the Mycenaean.

When I went to Troy my chief fear was that some of the poetry of the Iliad might vanish in the ruins of Hissarlik. There are scenes which are beautiful in the glow of a sunset which are not beautiful in the glare of noon. I was not sure that the Homeric Ilios could stand so much publicity. And if my conception of it had been confined to that of the second city, I should have felt that the fact fell too far below the poem. But the uncovering of the Mycenaean city, with its great walls, towers and battlements, strengthened the sense of reality. It might have been on just such a tower that Helen stood looking over the plain of Troy when she won from the Trojan elders the greatest compliment ever paid to the beauty of a woman. But in Troy, as in Ithaca, site and scene are but the warp and woof of which the immortal picture is woven. We need not press the correspondence too far between fact and fancy. Over mountains, islands, sea and plain the poet has spread his canvas, and like a beautiful sunset in the AEgean has suffused the scene with the bright glow of his imagination. And when the last stone of Troy shall have crumbled into dust the unfading pictures of the immortal epic will remain.