Troy was an ancient city in northwestern Asia Minor. It was famous as the setting for the Iliad, Homer’s epic* about the ten-year war between the Greeks and the Trojans. The ancient Romans favored the city because they believed that they were descended from Aeneas, a Trojan hero* who survived the war.
The city of Troy dates from about 3000 B.C., during the Bronze Age. The home of powerful rulers of the ancient kingdom of Phrygia, the city grew prosperous because of its location along major trade routes that connected Europe and Asia. Little else of its early history is known. Around 1200 B.C. the city was destroyed by some catastrophe—perhaps the Trojan War that Homer described in his poem. Rebuilt and destroyed several more times over the next few hundred years, the region was finally resettled by Greek colonists in about 700 B.C.
The Greeks renamed the city Ilion, and it became an important sacred site for them. Home of a temple to the goddess Athena, it was visited by great leaders such as the Persian king Xerxes and Alexander the Great.
* epic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style
* hero in mythology, a person of great strength or ability, often descended from a god
Under Alexander and his successors, the city became the center of a religious federation* and the site of a festival and Greek games.
In 85 B.C. the Romans sacked Ilion during a war with the Greeks. The Roman ruler Sulla rebuilt the city, which became known as Ilium. According to the Roman historian Suetonius, Julius Caesar considered moving to the city. Other Roman rulers, including the emperors Augustus, Hadrian, and Caracalla, visited Ilium and honored its legendary connection to Rome.
In the early A.D. 300s, the Roman emperor Constantine considered making Ilium a new capital for his empire. He chose the city of Byzantium instead. Although Ilium continued to flourish during the A.D. 300s, it steadily declined thereafter. By about 1200, the city had been abandoned. Its remaining walls and buildings fell into ruin and slowly disappeared beneath the earth.
The location of Troy was lost for centuries. Then, in the early 1800s, archaeologists* identified a place in present-day Turkey as the site of the ancient city. Systematic excavations provided evidence that seemed to confirm that the ruins were those of the ancient city. Archaeologists have discovered nine different settlements at the site.
The original city of Troy was built on a cliff overlooking a bay in the Aegean Sea. Over the centuries, the bay filled with silt*, and the site now lies about four miles inland from the coast. The ruins of massive stone walls, towers, gates, and buildings provide evidence of the city’s importance and grandeur. Among other discoveries at the site are pottery, tools, bronze weapons, and jewelry of gold and precious stones.
Scholars are uncertain whether Homer’s account of the Trojan War is based on historical events. But archaeological evidence at the site suggests that Troy was violently destroyed by some catastrophe at about the same time that the Trojan War is believed to have occurred. Some scholars argue that an earthquake and fire caused the destruction. Others, however, maintain that the evidence suggests that the legends about the Trojan War are based on actual events. (See also Aeneid; Archaeology of Ancient Sites; Colonies, Greek; Epic, Greek; Migrations, Early Greek.)
* federation political union of separate states with a central government
* archaeologist scientist who studies past human cultures, usually by excavating ruins
* silt fine particles of earth and sand carried by moving water
According to Homer and legend, Priam ruled Troy at the time of the Trojan War. While excavating the ruins of Troy in the 1870s and 1880s, the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann discovered a treasure of gold jewelry and other items. He called the discovery "Priam's treasure.” Later archaeologists determined that the treasure actually came from an earlier period in Troy's history. Even so, Schliemann's discovery continued to be known as Priam's treasure. Housed in the Berlin Museum, it disappeared during World War II and has never been recovered.