17. The Man Who Confirmed That the Bronze Age’s Most Famous Besieged City Had Actually Existed
The Iliad is probably the Bronze Age’s best-known adventure story. Set in and around Troy, it recounts the final year of the Trojan War, sometime in the thirteenth century BC. As told by Homer, Troy was besieged for ten years by a Greek coalition led by Mycenae’s High King, Agamemnon. They wanted to recover Helen, wife of Sparta’s king and Agamemnon’s brother Menelaus after she had been seduced by Paris, the son of Troy’s King Priam. The epic poem features plenty of rollicking exploits, graphic and gory combat, and many plot twists and turns. The city eventually falls when the wily Odysseus tricks the Trojans into letting in a huge wooden horse with concealed Greek warriors within.
The Iliad is an awesome story, but as history, Troy and the Trojan War were dismissed for centuries as pure myth. However, German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann believed that there was actual truth in the Iliad, and set out to prove it. He excavated from 1870 to 1890, and initial finds of gold and silver convinced him that he had found Homer’s Troy. In reality, Schliemann had excavated the right city, but the wrong period; his initial finds dated from about 1000 years before the Trojan War. The site actually held the remains of nine different Troys, built atop each other. Excavations continued after Schliemann’s death in 1890, and today his finds are labeled Troy I through IX, with Troy VI being the likeliest candidate for Homer’s Troy.