for National Geographic News
Did the city of Troy really exist? Is the Trojan War myth or military reality? And what about that giant horse?
As the blockbuster Brad Pitt film Troy storms the cinemas, archaeologists and historians are shedding light on the ancient city and epic that inspired the movie.
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In the Greek poem The Iliad, the basis for Troy, Prince Paris of Troy steals the gorgeous Helen, of Greece, from her husband, King Menelaus. The act brings the two nations to war, and eventually Greeks led by the warrior Achilles lay siege to Troy.
The poet Homer probably wrote the epic in the eighth or ninth century, B.C., several hundred years after the war is supposed to have taken place. Much of it is no doubt fantasy. There is, for example, no evidence that Achilles or even Helen existed.
But most scholars agree that Troy itself was no imaginary Shangri-la but a real city, and that the Trojan War indeed happened.
Archaeologists who have been digging into the myth of Homer's poem believe the legendary war may have been a process rather than a single event.
"The archaeological and textual evidence indicates that a Trojan war or wars took place, and that Homer chose to write about one or more of them by making it into a great ten-year-long saga," said Eric Cline. Cline is a historian and archaeologist at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
In northwestern Turkey, Heinrich Schliemann excavated the site believed to be Troy in 1870. Schliemann was a German adventurer and con man who took sole credit for the discovery, even though he was digging at the site, called Hisarlik, at the behest of British archaeologist Frank Calvert.
The site contains nine cities built on top of each other. There is a citadel in the middle and a town around it. A high wall fortified the town.
Eager to find the legendary treasures of Troy, Schliemann blasted his way down to the second city, where he found what he believed were the jewels that once belonged to Helen. As it turns out, the jewels were a thousand years older than the time described in Homer's epic.
Today archaeologists believe that the sixth and seventh oldest cities found in layers at Hisarlik are the best candidates for the Troy of The Iliad.
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