Hisarlik (Turkey) - Scientific Excavations at Ancient Troy

What 125 Years of Scientific Excavation Have Learned about Troy

Excavated Ruins of Troy (Hisarlik), Turkey
Excavated Ruins of Troy (Hisarlik), Turkey. Sean Gallup / Getty Images News / Getty Images

Hisarlik (occasionally spelled Hissarlik and also known as Ilion, Troy or Ilium Novum) is the modern name for a tell located near the modern city of Tevfikiye in the Dardanelles of northwest Turkey. The tell--a type of archaeological site that is a tall mound hiding a buried city--covers an area of about 200 meters (650 feet) in diameter and stands 15 m (50 ft) high. To the casual tourist, says archaeologist Trevor Bryce (2002), excavated Hisarlik looks like a mess, "a confusion of broken pavements, building foundations and superimposed, crisscrossing fragments of walls".

The mess known as Hisarlik is widely believed by scholars to be the ancient site of Troy, which inspired the marvelous poetry of the Greek poet Homer's masterpiece, The Iliad. The site was occupied for some 3,500 years, beginning in the Late Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age period about 3000 BC, but it is certainly most famous as the probable location of Homer's 8th century BC stories of the Late Bronze Age Trojan War, which took place 500 years earlier.

Chronology

Excavations by Heinrich Schliemann and others have revealed perhaps as many as ten separate occupation levels in the 15-m-thick tell, including Early and Middle Bronze Ages (Troy Levels 1-V), a late Bronze Age occupation presently associated with Homer's Troy (Levels VI/VII), a Hellenistic Greek occupation (Level VIII) and, at the top, a Roman period occupation (Level IX).

  • Troy IX, Roman, 85 BC-3rd c AD
  • Troy VIII, Hellenistic Greek, founded in the mid-eighth century
  • Troy VII 1275-1100 BC, quickly replaced the destroyed city but itself destroyed between 1100-1000
  • Troy VI 1800-1275 BC, Late Bronze Age, the last sublevel (VIh) is thought to represent Homer's Troy
  • Troy V, Middle Bronze Age, ca 2050-1800 BC
  • Troy IV, Early Bronze Age (abbreviated EBA) IIIc, post-Akkad
  • Troy III, EBA IIIb, ca. 2400-2100 BC, comparable to Ur III
  • Troy II, EBA II, 2500-2300, during the Akkadian empire, Priam's Treasure, wheel-made pottery with red-slip pottery
  • Troy I, Late Chalcolithic/EB1, ca 2900-2600 cal BC, hand-made dark burnished hand-built pottery
  • Kumtepe, Late Chalcolithic, ca 3000 cal BC
  • Hanaytepe, ca 3300 cal BC, comparable to Jemdet Nasr
  • Besiktepe, comparable to Uruk IV

The earliest version of the city of Troy is called Troy 1, buried beneath 14 m (46 ft) of later deposits. That community included the Aegean "megaron", a style of narrow, long-room house which shared lateral walls with its neighbors. By Troy II (at least), such structures were reconfigured for public use--the first public buildings at Hisarlik--and residential dwellings consisted in the form of several rooms surrounding interior courtyards.

Much of the Late Bronze Age structures, those dated to the time of Homer's Troy and including the entire central area of the Troy VI citadel, were razed by Classical Greek builders to prepare for the construction of the Temple of Athena. The painted reconstructions that you see show a hypothetical central palace and a tier of surrounding structures for which there is no archaeological evidence.

The Lower City

Many scholars were skeptical about Hisarlik being Troy because it was so small, and Homer's poetry seems to suggest a large commercial or trading center.

But excavations by Manfred Korfmann discovered that the small central hilltop location supported a much larger population, perhaps as many as 6,000 living in an area estimated to be about 27 hectares (about one-tenth of a square mile) lying adjacent to and stretched out 400 m (1300 ft) from the citadel mound.

The Late Bronze Age parts of the lower city, however, were cleaned out by the Romans, although remnants of a defensive system including a possible wall, a palisade, and two ditches were found by Korfmann. Scholars are not united in the size of the lower city, and indeed Korfmann's evidence is based on a fairly small excavation area (1-2% of the lower settlement).

Priam's Treasure is what Schliemann called a collection of 270 artifacts he claimed to have found in within "palace walls" at Hisarlik.

Scholars think it is more likely that he found some in a stone box (called a cist) among building foundations above the Troy II fortification wall on the western side of the citadel, and those probably represent a hoard or a cist grave. Some of the objects were found elsewhere and Schliemann simply added them to the pile. Frank Calvert, among others, told Schliemann that the artifacts were too old to be from Homer's Troy, but Schliemann ignored him and published a photograph of his wife Sophia wearing the diadem and jewels from "Priam's Treasure".

What seems likely to have come from the cist includes a wide range of gold and silver objects. The gold included a sauceboat, bracelets, headdresses (one illustrated on this page), a diadem, basket-earrings with pendant chains, shell-shaped earrings and nearly 9,000 gold beads, sequins and studs. Six silver ingots were included, and bronze objects included vessels, spearheads, daggers, flat axes, chisels, a saw and several blades. All of these artifacts have since been stylistically dated to the Early Bronze Age, in Late Troy II (2600-2480 BC).

Priam's treasure created a huge scandal when it was discovered that Schliemann had smuggled the objects out of Turkey to Athens, breaking Turkish law and expressly against his permit to excavate. Schliemann was sued by the Ottoman government, a suit which was settled by Schliemann paying 50,000 French Francs (about 2000 English pounds at the time). The objects ended up in Germany during World War II, where they were claimed by the Nazis.

At the end of World War II, Russian allies removed the treasure and took it to Moscow, where it was revealed in 1994.

Was Troy Wilusa?

There is a bit of exciting but controversial evidence that Troy and its troubles with Greece might be mentioned in Hittite documents. In Homeric texts, "Ilios" and "Troia" were interchangeable names for Troy: in Hittite texts, "Wilusiya" and "Taruisa" are nearby states; scholars have surmised recently that they were one and the same. Hisarlik may have been the royal seat of the king of Wilusa, who was a vassal to the Great King of the Hittites, and who suffered battles with his neighbors.

The status of the site--that is to say the status of Troy--as an important regional capital of western Anatolia during the Late Bronze Age has been a consistent flashpoint of heated debate among scholars for most of its modern history. The citadel, even though it is heavily damaged, can be seen to be considerably smaller than other Late Bronze Age regional capitals such as Gordion, Buyukkale, Beycesultan and Bogazkoy. Frank Kolb, for example, has argued fairly strenuously that Troy VI was not even much of a city, much less a commercial or trade center and certainly not a capital.

Because of Hisarlik's connection with Homer, the site has perhaps unfairly been intensively debated. But the settlement was likely a pivotal one for its day, and, based on Korfmann's studies, scholarly opinions and the preponderance of evidence, Hisarlik likely was the site where events occurred that formed the basis of Homer's Iliad.

Archaeology at Hisarlik

Test excavations were first conducted at Hisarlik by railroad engineer John Brunton in the 1850s and archaeologist/diplomat Frank Calvert in the 1860s. Both lacked the connections and money of their much-better-known associate, Heinrich Schliemann, who excavated at Hisarlik between 1870 and 1890. Schliemann heavily relied on Calvert, but notoriously downplayed Calvert's role in his writings. Wilhelm Dorpfeld excavated for Schliemann at Hisarlik between 1893-1894, and Carl Blegen of the University of Cincinnati in the 1930s.

In the 1980s, a new collaborative team started at the site led by Manfred Korfmann of the University of Tübingen and C. Brian Rose of the University of Cincinnati.

Sources

Archaeologist Berkay Dinçer has several excellent photographs of Hisarlik on his Flickr page.

Allen SH. 1995. "Finding the Walls of Troy": Frank Calvert, Excavator. American Journal of Archaeology 99(3):379-407.

Allen SH. 1998. A Personal Sacrifice in the Interest of Science: Calvert, Schliemann, and the Troy Treasures. The Classical World 91(5):345-354.

Bryce TR. 2002. The Trojan War: Is There Truth behind the Legend? Near Eastern Archaeology 65(3):182-195.

Easton DF, Hawkins JD, Sherratt AG, and Sherratt ES. 2002. Troy in recent perspectiveAnatolian Studies 52:75-109.

Kolb F. 2004. Troy VI: A Trading Center and Commercial City? American Journal of Archaeology 108(4):577-614.

Hansen O. 1997. KUB XXIII. 13: A Possible Contemporary Bronze Age Source for the Sack of Troy. The Annual of the British School at Athens 92:165-167.

Ivanova M. 2013. Domestic architecture in the Early Bronze Age of western Anatolia: the row-houses of Troy IAnatolian Studies 63:17-33.

Jablonka P, and Rose CB. 2004. Forum Response: Late Bronze Age Troy: A Response to Frank Kolb. American Journal of Archaeology 108(4):615-630.

Maurer K. 2009. Archeology as Spectacle: Heinrich Schliemann's Media of Excavation. German Studies Review 32(2):303-317.

Yakar J. 1979. Troy and Anatolian Early Bronze Age Chronology. Anatolian Studies 29:51-67.

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Hirst, K. Kris. "Hisarlik (Turkey) - Scientific Excavations at Ancient Troy." ThoughtCo, Feb. 9, 2017, thoughtco.com/hisarlik-turkey-scientific-excavations-171263. Hirst, K. Kris. (2017, February 9). Hisarlik (Turkey) - Scientific Excavations at Ancient Troy. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hisarlik-turkey-scientific-excavations-171263 Hirst, K. Kris. "Hisarlik (Turkey) - Scientific Excavations at Ancient Troy." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hisarlik-turkey-scientific-excavations-171263 (accessed November 18, 2017).