Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.02.18

E. Zangger, Ein neuer Kampf um Troia. Archäologie in der Krise. Munich: Droemer Knaur, 1994. Pp. 352. ISBN 3-426-26682-2.

Reviewed by Edmund F. Bloedow, University of Ottawa.

Although Zangger has very little positive to say about Schliemann, he appears to emulate him at least in having the Prefaces to his books written by eminent scholars.1 In Ein neuer Kampf um Troia, Z.'s virtues are, according to Davis, that he "describes and justifies what in the natural sciences is called 'the great unifying theory,' that at the same time explains the collapse of the Mycenaean, Anatolian and Near Eastern cultures" at the end of the Bronze Age (9). This becomes possible because Zangger allegedly combines the theoretical approach of the New Archaeology with the advantages of being a scientist -- i.e., in this instance, a geologist. Add to this the fact that Z. does not confine himself to some tiny corner of the archaeological turf, but ranges over the entire Mediterranean. Finally, he is said to have rendered an enormous service to Mediterranean prehistory, by drawing attention to the potential importance of Western Anatolia in the final, internationally important phases of the Bronze Age.

A closer examination of this study, however, reveals a rather different picture. One of the first striking features of this book is Z.'s bold move of attempting to put Troy at the very center of an over-arching theory -- at a time when the new excavations at the site are under way, with new, significant results coming to light in each new season. In other words, he runs the risk of his conclusions being overtaken by new information. That is precisely what has already happened.

In following what appears to be a latest trend -- i.e., preoccupation with the 'Crisis Years' (1200-1180), Z. seeks to link Troy with the center of events -- within the broad framework of a synthesis of the entire Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean. Accordingly, he begins with a section on "Prehistory in Perspective: An Attempt to reconstruct Events at the Time of the Trojan War". This includes a discussion of "the Crisis Years" (13-16), followed by a brief survey of "the Sources" (16-17), which leads in to a terse overview of "Previous Interpretations" (18-19). The "bisherige Auswertung" is criticised, on the ground of not being based on adequate evidence or a faulty approach to that evidence -- namely, "a medley of mute walls and sherds, and legends that have been endlessly studied but are unreliable, as well as written sources" (18). Part of the problem has been overspecialization and fragmentation within the discipline -- into such isolated branches as Prehistory, Archaeology, Classical Archaeology, History of Art, Ancient History, History, Classical Philology, Philology, Linguistics, Oriental Studies and Egyptology -- to mention only a few. As a result, one has failed to see the wood for the trees. On the other hand, there have been repeated attempts to explain the end of the Bronze Age in terms of single causes. In recent times the most popular have been the Sea Peoples, volcanic eruptions, climatic changes and drought. In such instances, however, no explanation has hitherto been found to clarify just what set off the chain-reaction of upheavals that led to the collapse of Bronze Age cultures from the Aegean to the Eastern Mediterranean. It is Z.'s object in this study to resolve this problem -- i.e., to explain the 'Crisis Years' (19).

This of course appears to be very different from what the title, and indeed also the subtitle, imply. None the less, Z. is persuaded that a new approach is required in order to understand the interconnection of historical events. It is therefore necessary to look at events in their totality, and simultaneously take into account all the regions involved. For this, he draws on a multiplicity of sources, of varying historical value -- but not as approached hitherto, for the currently prevailing approach is bedeviled by fundamental error.

His approach will be to "trace the sources back to their origin, and then test them in respect of their trustworthiness and what they have to offer" (20). This appears to imply a re-evaluation of all the primary evidence relating to the whole of the Bronze Age, to the whole of the Mediterranean. In such a wide-ranging study, however, one can scarcely expect one individual to be able to assess all the primary evidence. Indeed, it soon becomes evident that Z.'s conclusions are based almost exclusively on secondary, and at times even tertiary, sources. And by casting his net very wide, he hauls in a multifarious medley, whose quality varies enormously. For instance, he brings to the debate for the first time, in particular, Plato's Timaeus and Critias, as well as Dictys Cretensis and Dares Phrygius, and other Mediaeval Homeric 'romances' (68-74). For Z., the accounts of the Sea Peoples, contemporary documents, the Homeric epics, ancient authors, legends, extra-Homeric literature, all compete essentially on a level playing field: broadly speaking, they can all be approached as "half true and half untrue" (74-75). The modern critic must therefore decide where the truth lies. How? Referring to the ancient sources, Z. notes, acknowledging the existence of discrepancies: "differences in the reliability of the historical texts depends on the varying interests of a given author" (75). One fears that much the same principle is at work in Z.'s case. He does claim that sources can be tested, and accepted as reliable, by discovering whether one source agrees with other sources and/or with archaeological evidence (76). In most cases, however, he does not carry through with this principle. Rather, citing Nancy Sandars on viewing things from a satellite-like vantage point,2 he maintains that once one has "established the basic structure of things, most of the details fall into place to produce a harmonious overall picture" (20).

Given the title of Z.'s study, it is not surprising that he begins with Troy. Central to his re-interpretation so far as North-West Anatolia is concerned, is the size of what goes under the name of 'Troy'. The misuse of this term, however, as well as associating incorrect 'events' with it, has plagued the true understanding of its fall. On the contrary, "if one had but approached 'Troy' with unpreconceived ideas and regarded the place as one of several Bronze Age cultures (not too insignificant, but at the same time not too mighty), the problems associated with the change from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age would probably have long since been resolved" (80).

In the discussion which follows (80-117), the principal object should ostensibly be to demonstrate the real size of 'Troy'. Initially, the only evidence seems to derive from superficial observations by travellers in the late Middle Ages (82), followed by a review of later travellers, whose concern was not the size but the location of ancient Troy. The actual size of Troy is not, however, established. Instead, Z. moves on to examine the role which Troy played in events at the end of the Bronze Age. The first step in arriving at an objective assessment of this problem is "a correction of the terminology used hitherto". Accordingly, he proposes, for Troy I-V, "Hisarlik (I-V)," for Troy VI and VIIa, "Ilion VI and VIIa," for Troy VIIb and VIII, "Ilion (VIIb) and (VIII)," and for Troy IX, "Novum-Ilium (IX)" (99). Needless to say, this is not based on any new evidence, nor does Z. explain on what grounds it is 'objective'.3 Instead, he embarks on a survey of Troy within the framework of its archaeological history (99-116). This is actually a fairly standard review. Rather than demonstrating from it the thesis with which he begins, he identifies one of the outstanding problems today: "we do not know how large the late Bronze Age city of Ilion was or how large the area over which Troy had direct political control or over which it exerted indirect economic influence" (116). All he can suggest is that the political and economic importance of Troy has hitherto been underestimated. In other words, we are essentially back at 'square one'.

Z. then turns from Troy to Egypt, and a survey of it and his other four areas making up the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean (Central Anatolia, Crete, the Greek mainland and Syria/Palestine). The object of this comprehensive survey is to show how the Trojan War was part of a "Weltkrieg". The crucial cornerstone in Z.'s re-interpretation is the political organization of the west coast of Asia Minor. He is certain that here, in the "westanatolischen Kulturkreis" or "troianischen Kulturekreis", we have to do with, not a single, tightly organised political entity, but a number of moderately-sized states which sometimes competed, sometimes co-operated -- of which Troy and Arzawa were probably the largest. At the same time, he sees them as having formed a "westanatolischen Allianz" (67). Even bolder is the idea that the 'troianischer Kulturkreis' is the home of the Ahhiyawa, who, in turn, are the Sea Peoples.

The initial conflicts in Egypt and in the Hittite kingdom so weakened these two 'super-powers,' militarily, that the situation must have been an invitation to the countries of the 'wesanatolischen Allianz' to lead an attack against the East (216). For this, the Alliance devised a new strategy -- namely, not to launch a frontal attack against the Hittites, but to despatch troops to Cyprus, and then to Syria, with the object of carrying out a pincer-movement from there against the Hittites (217). It is about this time that Hittite engineers allegedly helped the Mycenaeans to build their massive fortifications (206-7). Indeed, the political climate was opportune for co-operation between the Hittites and the Achaeans, chiefly on the initiative of the former -- because of threats from without: to the East, Assyria, and to the North, Kaska. At the same time, there was to the West of Hatussa of course the 'westanatolischen Allianz' -- a threat to both Hittites and Achaeans (207-9).

This ties in with the Trojan Wars. According to Z., there were two Trojan Wars: the first, reconstructed chiefly on the basis of such un-notable sources as Dictys Cretensis and Dares Phrygius. (By contrast with these authorities, Homer is treated much more critically (cf. 222-23). This Trojan War took place at the time of Troy VIh (Ilion [VIh]), and was initiated by the Greeks, as an act of revenge because the Trojans had (at the time of the Voyage of the Argonauts) refused the Achaeans passage through the Dardanelles. Thereafter, Priam, who immediately rebuilt the walls of Troy, on a much larger scale, became much more aggressive. Priam was actually spoiling for a fight (191-98).

Meanwhile, the strategy of the 'westanatolischen Allianz' in the East so took the Hatti and the Egyptians by surprise that Ramses III and Suppiluliuma II recorded in official inscriptions this event orchestrated by the Ahhiyawa, or Sea Peoples (217).

One of the puzzles hitherto has been why the so-called Sea Peoples were unable, after their enormous success, to take advantage of Egypt's weakness and why they did not stay longer in Syria. But if one identifies the Sea Peoples with the states of Western Anatolia, this dilemma also finds a solution.

In order to resolve the current conflict, however, one had allegedly to deal with the Sea Peoples at the source. The only possibility of completely defeating the armies of western Anatolia would be to launch an attack on centers of the 'westanatolischen Allianz' along the east coast of the Aegean. Enter the Achaeans! Enter the second Trojan War, which was fought at the end of Troy VIIa (Ilion [VIIa]) (222-26)! The Trojan War could therefore be seen as an important historical event, an act of retaliation against the Sea Peoples, presumably because they had attacked the Hittites, an ally of the Mycenaeans. Troy would thus become a key player on the international scene and an important factor in world events.

This is a bold, and on first sight, highly ingenious theory. On closer examination, however, it comes up more than wanting. Much, of course, depends on Z.'s crucial cornerstone -- his 'westanatolische Allianz'. In an effort to establish its existence, he amplifies as follows. Comparison of three text genres (Homer's Iliad, the accounts of the Sea Peoples and Hittite texts) for the first time reveals agreement on certain points:

1) At the end of the 13th century an Alliance came about, composed of about two dozen states along the East coast of the Aegean between Thrace and Lycia.
2) All three sources describe, in different ways, the conflict between the Alliance and other states in the Eastern Mediterranean.
3) In both the accounts of the Sea Peoples and the Hittite texts we find the geographical designation, "to those belonging to the islands," as a way of identifying the sphere of influence of this new power in western Asia Minor.
4) Both these sources also reveal that the new enemy harbored interests in both Cyprus and Syria.
5) Archaeological evidence indicates that at the beginning of the 12th century there was a wave of destructions -- originating in western Anatolia, and from here spreading eastwards (76).

If the matter were in fact so simple, Z. would not now be publishing his book. Nor does he later cite specific references from the different sources to demonstrate the above assertions. As it is, just about everything is oversimplified, or does not stand up to scrutiny.

For instance, according to the legend upon which Z. draws for developments after Troy VIh, Priam rebuilt Troy (VIIa) on a much grander scale than what it was hitherto. The archaeological evidence for Troy VIIa, however, reveals a much more modest city than Troy VI. (Z. himself places "the greatest prosperity of the city between 1700 and 1200 BC [Ilion VI]" [111].) Nor is there any detailed discussion of the chronology of Troy VI and VIIa, although these are in fact crucial to his re-interpretation. Furthermore, although Z. offers a plausible picture of friction between East and West, he does not provide a convincing explanation why precisely Troy, seen as the architect of the conflict,4 would want to initiate such a major military campaign at precisely this time. Nor is any compelling explanation given why the Achaeans would want to become involved in a struggle that, according to Z., must include the whole of coastal Asia Minor from Thrace to Lycia, i.e., 'ganz Westanatolien' -- other than that the homeland of the 'Ahhiyawa,' or the Sea Peoples, should be destroyed. One can scarcely imagine that the Mycenaeans would be so naive as to want to lure such victorious aggressors back from the East to confront them in battle. Moreover, the location of the 'Ahhiyawa' in North-West Anatolia is still far from secure.

A further illustration of how Z. works is one of his attempts to identify the Sea Peoples with the Trojans. In his subscription to a liberal drawing of a man from one of the tribes depicted on the pylon of the temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu Z. speculates freely. Although there are no vowels in Egyptian writing, he readily renders Tkkr as the Teuker, "the term commonly used in Greece after 1200 for the Trojans". This, together with their similarities to the people wearing feathered crowns, leads him to speculate further: "if the Tekker really are the Teucrians, and if at the same time they are fashionably depicted as wearing feathered crowns, the problem of the Sea Peoples would be resolved" (81). Well, yes -- perhaps! This is not an isolated instance (cf. his identification of the Drdny [183-84] -- without any independent confirmation, which Z., however, demands in other contexts).

Nothing less than astonishing is Z.'s confident claim that between 1260 and 1240 one can localize three important episodes in Greek mythology" -- the expedition of the Argonauts, the Trojan War, and the attack of the Seven against Thebes (189). He gives an overview of each of these episodes, which for him contain much more than a large kernel of truth, but without discussing any of the problems raised by each of them, especially in respect of chronology.

Elsewhere Z. refers to "an extraordinary economic boom [in Mycenaean Greece] in the 14th century". The only evidence which he cites for this, however, is "Mycenaen pottery -- and ostensibly its precious contents -- found on virtually all coasts of the eastern and central Mediterranean" (188-89). But he says nothing about quantities or types or shapes, and the contents are to date unknown. Nor does he suggest what the Mycenaeans may have obtained in exchange for these items.

Z. prefers Bohemia as the source of tin (105, 188), but for this he does not offer any evidence -- apart from "a 'Cypriot needle' of electrum found in Hisarlik IIh" (105-06). But how a 'Cypriot needle' demonstrates, that "already at an early date Troy had close connections with the Danube region and central Europe" in terms of tin trade remains enigmatic.

A great deal more could be said by way of critique, but the above observations are enough to show that Z.'s re-interpretation is essentially a case of a house built on sand.

The lack of rigour is not, however, restricted to the way in which he advances the basic tenets of his thesis. It will suffice to point out a few other deficiencies.

In connection with Egypt, no distinction is made between a high and a low chronology. (The phenomenon is not even acknowledged; there is in fact very little detailed discussion of chronological problems anywhere in the book, and yet these are crucial.) At the outset the highest value is ascribed to the ancient texts bearing on the Sea Peoples (16), but later their usefulness is questioned (28-29). In one instance, Z. uses a book on objects in the Museum in Cairo as an authority for reconstructing an Egyptian temple, rather than specialised research on architecture (31). In view of the availability of specialised and more recent excavation reports, it seems strange to cite Raban on the trade implications of the Ulu Burun shipwreck (104 n. 253). As noted above, Z. first outlines his approach of tracing sources back to their ultimate origin (20), but in proceeding to a new interpretation he frequently traces the source back only as far as a scholar whose interpretation he favours (32 n. 34). Indeed, Z. is very eclectic in both the ancient evidence and the modern research which he uses. For important details on Egypt he sometimes cites, not Egyptologists, but specialists in other domains. Moreover, at one point he draws heavily on S. von Reden's recent study for Ugarit (Ugarit und seine Welt , 1992) but then, for information that "a hierarchically organized feudal society supported the king of Ugarit," he suddenly cites Astour's study of twenty years earlier, although for this he could have cited von Reden just as well. Otherwise, it is remarkable to find Hoffner (1992) cited for the end of Ugarit but not of Hatussa, and Muhly (1992) and Singer (1987) cited for the end of Hatussa but not Hofner (37).

Z. is predisposed to accept the decipherment of the Phaistos Disc -- namely, as bearing a West Luvian dialect (ostensibly a letter from a Great King of Anatolia to an Achaean ruler), the Lukka-Land of Hittite documents; this "West Luvian dialect could easily be the or one of the languages of the cultural region of West Anatolia/Troy" (61-64). It does not seem to occur to Z., however, that the absence of similar symbols at Troy as those on the Phaistos Disc constitutes something of a problem for such an interpretation. At all events, the Phaistos disc has no bearing on his principal thesis.

For the possibility that 'Troy' stood for 'the land of the Trojans,' Z. cites "Meyer 1975, 169" (297 n. 244), but 'Meyer 1975' does not appear in the Bibliography. Blegen is credited with having found skeletons in Troy VIIa, but for this Z. does not cite Blegen's publication, rather "Page 1959b, 29" (298 n. 297), but no 'Page 1959b' is to be found in the Bibliography. For the Coarse Ware ('Barbarian' pottery) found in Troy VIIb and elsewhere, Z. cites Muhly, who, whatever his expertise in other fields, is not an authority on 'Barbarian' pottery. For the destruction of Troy by Fimbria in 85 BC, Z. cites, not the relevant ancient source, but "C.B. Rose, 'The Post-Bronze Age Excavations at Troy,' Studia Troica 2 (Mainz 1992), 44" -- which seems to imply that the evidence for this event a) rests on archaeological excavations, and b) has only just come to light. This is extraordinary, to say the least. Z. also points out that Dörpfeld discovered a weak spot in the fortifications (195). For this, he cites, not Dörpfeld's publication of his excavations, but "Robert von Ranke-Graves, Griechische Mythologie (Hamburg 1992), 588". Numerous other examples of this type could be cited.

The most important result of Z.'s study is that in the end 'ein neuer Kampf um Troia' does not in fact emerge -- at least, there is no new Trojan War.5 When Z. maintains that in his re-interpretation 'the Trojan War could be regarded as an important historical event -- namely, as an act of retaliation against the Sea Peoples,' this does not amount to a new Trojan War, but only a new interpretation of the Trojan War. Unless, of course, he wishes to imply that, with his thesis of two Trojan Wars, his second is a 'new' Trojan War. But this too is not new. Two Trojan Wars have long been recognised. In fact, some critics believe in many Trojan Wars.

It is unfortunate that Z. was unable to consult Drew's latest book, in which he advances a completely different solution to the same problem(s) -- namely, that the key to the 'Crisis Years' was a fundamental change in warfare: the introduction of the foot-soldier, or infantry tactics.6 Whether Drew's hypothesis will stand the test of time, remains to be seen. At all events, it appears to be much more solidly founded.

No less curious is Z.'s attitude towards Schliemann, for whom he reserves no fewer than 12 pages (84-96). This is curious because the entire discussion is essentially irrelevant -- except for his final conclusion, that one of Schliemann's "fundamental statements was enough to send the whole of prehistoric investigation of the Aegean -- and the public -- down the wrong road for more than 100 years" (96). This, however, is sheer nonsense. In the first place, it is a gross misrepresentation to cite, in this context, Schliemann's first publication on Troy, implying that Schliemann never changed his mind over the course of the subsequent important campaigns at the site, especially that of 1890, for whose continuation he had planned a 9-month campaign in 1891, together with Dörpfeld. Had Schliemann excavated in 1891 (and beyond), he would have been the first to change his mind about the size of Troy. It also implies that all serious scholars have been completely naive in (it would follow) basing their approach exclusively on Schliemann's early statement. Otherwise, Z.'s treatment of Schliemann is based almost exclusively on the highly negative research of the last two decades.7 Furthermore, he judges Schliemann by the criteria of today's archaeological methodology, not by that of his own day. Such an approach is simply 'clever' hindsight. Comparing Schliemann's view of Troy with what we know today, Z. writes: "consequently, what Schliemann regarded as Troy was not Troy at all, but only a small sector of an influential city". That may be true, but it is completely misguided to claim that, "that he overlooked this, had devastating consequences for Aegean prehistory" (98), not to mention that it is grossly exaggerated. To liken Schliemann to an archaeologist who, having come upon Central Park in New York, concludes that the city did not consist of millions of inhabitants, is absurd.

Z.s critique of Schliemann leads him into a critique of Korfmann, the current excavator of Troy, whom he accuses of major contradictions, whereby he has ostensibly also contributed to confusion over the real size of Troy.

In fact, with this latter conflict we seem to come to the heart of the book -- at least so far as the title is concerned. The title was presumably deftly chosen. Ostensibly, it should read 'Ein neuer troianischer Krieg'. Kampf can mean more than just 'war' -- and probably does, because nowhere in the book does a new Trojan War materialise. The real Kampf seems to be fought in the "Nachwort" (281-89), which consists of a bitter attack on Korfmann. If in this 'neuer Kampf um Troia' Z.'s case is as weak as are the thesis and methodology in his book (see Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 25 April, 1994), he should have thought twice before writing the 'Nachwort'.

This 'Kampf' is in a way reminiscent of Schliemann's brush with Captain Bötticher just over a hundred years ago. As Schliemann was advised by colleagues, so now Korfmann and his team would do well not to be side-tracked by carping from the sidelines -- rather that they continue undeterred, employing (as they are in fact doing) the latest 'state of the art' methods, for thereby they hold out the promise of elucidating many questions related to the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age .

In conclusion, it is surely ironic (among other things), that for his new interpretation Z. is most dependent on the two archaeologists whom he most criticises -- Schliemann and Korfmann, the two to whom subsequent scholars may also become most indebted for information about Troy.


  • [1] In the case of The Flood from Heaven: Deciphering the Atlantis Legend (London 1992), Anthony Snodgrass (Cambridge); here, Jack Davis (Cincinnati).
  • [2] N. Sandars, The Sea Peoples (London2 1985), 13.
  • [3] Since Ilion is Greek, one would expect some ethnic connection, but none is suggested. Likewise in the case of Hisarlik.
  • [4] "Troy could have been at the center of the Western Anatolian conspiracy, and presumably is also camouflaged behind the mysterious land of the Ahhiyawa" (77).
  • [5] So far as I can tell, the phrase, 'Kampf um Troia,' appears only once in the text: "in so far as it is a question of battles before Troy itself, one could speak of the 'Kampf um Troia'" (68) (emphasis added). Otherwise, one encounters the "Konflikt um Troia" (75).
  • [6] R. Drews, The End of the Bronze Age (Princeton, 1993).
  • [7] I.e., the Calder-Traill-Cobet School. Some of their conclusions are indeed true, but their research certainly does not represent the whole picture.