BMCR 2003.12.10

Die Mauern von Troja. Mythos und Geschichte im antiken Ilion

, Die Mauern von Troia : Mythos und Geschichte im antiken Ilion. München: C.H. Beck, 2003. 360 pages, 42 pages of plates : 67 illustrations (some color) ; 23 cm. ISBN 3406504442 EUR 100.70.

This study of the reception of the material remains of Troy and the Trojan landscape throughout the history of the city of Ilion is a revised version of the author’s 1993 Habilitationsschrift. It brings together archaeological, epigraphic and literary evidence covering the span of time between the foundation of Troy VIII in the eleventh century B.C. and the reign of the emperor Theodosius in the fourth century AD. The result is a highly successful synthesis, throwing light on the much understudied subject of the reception and shaping of the urban space of historical Ilion vis-à-vis its legendary past.

The book falls into two self-contained parts. Part A (“Die einzelnen Bauwerke und Denkmäler nach den archäologischen Befunden und den schriftlichen Quellen”, pp. 23-184), is a detailed description of the archaeological and literary materials bearing on the site of Ilion and the related monuments of the Troad. In making use of the notebooks of Dörpfeld and Blegen and the photo archive of Dörpfeld’s excavations, Hertel (henceforth H) brings to light rich archaeological evidence, some of which has never been published, as regards Troy VII-IX. Those readers who have no professional interest in archaeology are invited in the Preface to skip this part of the book and go directly to Part B, where the specialized archaeological discussion of Part A serves as a foundation for an overarching historical synthesis. Nevertheless, many parts of Part A, especially the chapters on the Temple of Athena (the Geometric temple and its xoanon probably evoked in Homer and other traditional epics, pp. 94-5, 118-19) and the system of wells (no connection at all with what is found in the Iliad, pp. 148-53) prove compelling reading even for the layman. The discussion of the identification of the sites traditionally regarded as the tombs of heroes of the Trojan War, such as the joint tomb of Achilles, Patroclus and Antilochus, or the tombs of Ajax, Hector and Protesilaus (pp. 161-82), will also be of interest to a non-specialist reader.

Part B (“Das griechische, hellenistische und kaiserzeitliche Ilion als Erinnerungsort an die mythische Zeit”, pp. 185-309) offers an assessment of the archaeological and literary evidence in terms of cultural history. The discussion is organized chronologically, tracing the history of the cultural reception of the ruins of Troy through the following four stages:

(1) Pre-Homeric and Homeric times (1020-670 B.C.; Troy VIII). Proceeding from the changes in ceramics characterizing the period that followed the destruction of Troy VIIb2, H traces the origins of Troy VIII to the beginning of the Aeolic settlement in the Troad, which he places at the end of the eleventh century B.C. The only Bronze Age monuments observable in the Dark Age were the remains of the fortification wall of Troy VI, reconstructed in the Troy VIIa period, and the so-called Heracles Wall, which presumably stood somewhere between the city and the sea. These were the Bronze Age monuments seen by the poets responsible for the formative stage of Homeric tradition. The tumuli identified as the tombs of heroes belonging to the Trojan and other traditions (Myrine, Ilus, Achilles and Patroclus) form another group of monuments which, whatever their historical background, had already existed by the time of Homer and were habitually associated with the heroic past by the poet and his contemporaries. The same holds good for the landscape of the Troad as a whole. “Damit wurde von Homer eine neue Wirklichkeit geschaffen, die ‘heroische Stadt’ und die ‘heroische Landshaft.’ Diese neue Realität sollte spätestens in hellenistischer und römischer Zeit weiter ausgestaltet werden” (p. 213).

(2) The Archaic and Classical periods (670-334 B.C.; Troy VIII continued). The plain of Troy first became a subject of political propaganda at the time of the conflict over Sigeum between Athens and Mytilene in the seventh-sixth centuries B.C. As Herodotus put it, “They of Mytilene insisted on having the place restored to them: but the Athenians refused, since they argued that the Aeolians had no better claim to the Trojan territory than themselves, or than any of the other Greeks who helped Menelaus on the occasion of the rape of Helen” (5.94; tr. G. Rawlinson). As Xerxes’ visit to Ilion on his way to Greece, along with a magnificent sacrifice to the Trojan Athena, shows, in the Persian Wars the ideological impact of the ruins of Troy was made even more significant: by treating the sack of Troy as Greek trespass on the territory of Asia, the King of Persia symbolically represented the war that he initiated as an act of just retribution for past wrongs.

(3) Hellenistic Ilion untill the end of the Roman Republic (334-20 B.C.; Troy IX). The year 334 B.C. was a turning point in the history of Ilion. The entry of Alexander’s army into the Troad, staged as a symbolic re-enactment of the Trojan War, provided a powerful theme for Macedonian imperial propaganda. Above all it legitimated Alexander’s campaign against Persia, represented as a new Trojan War, i.e. another Panhellenic enterprise aiming to avenge the injury inflicted upon the Greeks by the barbarians of Asia. The subsequent growth and prosperity of Hellenistic Ilion was a direct result of the ideological importance of the city in the eyes of Alexander and his successors. In the Hellenistic period Ilion not only gained greatly in political significance in that it became an independent polis and the religious and administrative centre of a koinon but also experienced an unprecedented degree of urban development. The temple of Athena Ilias, built under Lysimachus and the Seleucids (end of the fourth-third century B.C.) is the most conspicuous example. In material, in structure, in the subjects of the reliefs on the metopes this magnificent edifice deliberately evoked the Parthenon and aimed to establish a meaningful correlation, sanctioned by the tradition of the Trojan War at least since the time of Homer, between Athena Ilias and Athena Polias of Athens. Both temples delivered the same message of an epoch-making confrontation between Greeks and barbarians and the eventual triumph of the Greeks: “Wie der Parthenon auf der Akropolis von Athen als Siegestempel über Asien/Persien galt, so musste auch der Tempel der Athena auf der Akropolis von Ilion zu einem Siegestempel dieser Art werden” (p. 256).

(4) Roman Imperial Ilion (20 B.C.-392 AD; Troy IX continued). Although the Roman tendency to approach the remains of Troy in the perspective of the Aeneas myth can be traced to the first entry of Roman troops into Asia at the beginning of the second century B.C., it was not until Augustus and his ambitious building programme that this tendency began to exert a visible influence on the city and its surroundings. The myth of the Trojan origins of Rome reshaped Ilion into Romana Pergama and resulted in a thorough re-interpretation of the Trojan saga and the Trojan landscape itself. The Greek participants in the Trojan War and the monuments associated with them came to be seen in a negative light, and the palaces of Assarakos and Priam, along with the house and the tomb of Hector became firmly established as new landmarks of the Roman Ilion. These changes both emphasized the new image of Troy as the starting point of the history of Rome and legitimized the Roman presence in Asia. The turn in the reception of Troy that took place in the Roman period is epitomized in the epigram on the tomb of Hector at Ophryneion, written by (or in the name of) Germanicus on the occasion of his visiting the city in 18 AD (Anth. Lat. ed. Riese 708):

Martia progenies, Hector, tellure sub ima
(Fas audire tamen si mea verba tibi),
Respira, quoniam vindex tibi contigit heres,
Qui patriae famam proferet usque tuae.
Ilios en surgit rursum inclita, gens colit illam
Te Marte inferior, Martis amica tamen.
Myrmidonas periisse omnes dic Hector Achilli,
Thessaliam et magnis esse sub Aeneadis.

As H points out in his Concluding Remarks, the positivistic orientation of traditional scholarship resulted in its being predominantly concentrated on the so-called “historical nucleus” of the Trojan saga, whereas the issue of cultural reception remained almost completely neglected. Yet it was Iron Age rather than Bronze Age Troy that exerted a decisive influence on the Greek imagination from Homer onwards, and it therefore deserves to be an object of study in its own right. “Nicht das Troia des 14. bis 12. Jhs. v. Chr. und sich angeblich damals vor ihm abspielende Geschehnisse haben die Entwicklung von Sage und Epos bestimmt, sondern die mit der griechischen Besiedlung einsetzende Geschichte des Ortes und die Imaginierung einer heroischen Vergangenheit, deren Ausbildung massgeblich von als alt geltenden materiellen Überresten bestimmt war” (p. 309).

Although some parts of this book, especially those dealing with the transition from the Bronze to the Iron Age, do not entirely correspond to the current archaeological consensus, H’s argument is cogent throughout and demands to be taken seriously by everyone who deals with the complicated issue of the beginning of the Greek settlement in the Troad. But the main strength of the book is in its exemplary treatment of the millennium-and-a-half history of Ilion as a cultural icon by means of which the diverse ethnic, political and cultural agendas of various groups that tried to appropriate it at different historical periods were effectively articulated.

The book will be of interest to archaeologists and cultural historians of Greece and Rome, to Homeric scholars, and to comparativists working on cultural reception.