Saturday, January 16, 2010

Was Troy Greek?

Let me set this whole thing up for you. I've been listening to a lot of lectures on tape from The Learning Company ("Buy something from us and get five catalogs a week!"), filling in a lot of my classical history so woefully ignored in my time as a civil engineer. And on this past Tuesday Night, Sacnoth and I attended a lecture at the UW by Professor Carol G. Thomas on Greek history. Short review here - she was marvelous on the subjects of the existence/nonexistence of Troy and Homer, but she was torpedoed by the support staff, from nonfunctional mikes to a horrible screwup at the door that turned getting into the venue into a middle-aged mosh pit.

Anyway, with all this (and re-reading the Illiad), I'm hitting a question I haven't seen brought up in serious analysis.

Was Troy Greek? Or, to be more accurate, was Homeric Troy, currently identified as "Troy 6" in archeology, a Greek city?

What most people know about the Trojan War (in addition to the big wooden horse), is that it was a fight between the Trojans and the Greeks. This sets up the two sides as equal, as two distinct nations, but that feels wrong.

In the Illiad itself, Homer doesn't identify the Greek side as greeks - instead they are the Achaeans, an alliance of city/states who come across the sea to beat up Troy for Paris stealing Helen. And indeed, most of the political action in the Illiad involves Achilles playing holdout over slights real and imagined. So the "Greek" side is hardly organized.

And as a writer, the actions and allegiances of the gods always bother me. The deities, Greek Deities, are on both sides of the conflict, and their own squabbling reflects on the battlefields as loyalties change and deals are made.

Add to that the idea that we think of Greece as the borders of modern Greece, but ancient Greece was a larger entity, with settlements along the Black Sea, in Sicily, and in southern Italy. And in Asia Minor. Heck, of the seven wonders of the ancient world, three of them (The Colossus, the Mausoleum, and the Temple of Artemus) were in Asia Minor.

And the identity of the Trojans as a individual race or nation remains a bit fuzzy. They seem to be just as localized as a Greek-style city-state. So then the question is - Was Troy Greek?

My initial answer is: It depends on what you call Greek, podner.

Our modern sensibilities do more than define ancient Greece by modern borders. It also creates the idea of a unified Greece that did not necessarily exist. The history of Greece that I've been uncovering points to regular raiding and battling between the city-states, and the city-state, or polis, is the main unit of political currency.

It is only when Greece is threatened by an outside force (Persia, or later Rome), do the city-states unify under the "Freedom for the Greeks" banner and use it as a rallying cry. And once the danger has passed, they go back to more parochial squabbling. In fact the story of the Illiad seems to be a lot more the tale of an uneasy alliance of city-states going out to pound on another city-state of similar heritage and background, than it does a campaign against a foreign foe.

So the answer to "Was Troy Greek?" seems to be "Troy was likely a city with a Greek heritage or heavily influenced and led by Greeks at the time of the Achaean siege."

I don't know if this is an original idea. Possibly someone has already proposed this in a more learned fashion, and it is equally likely someone else has come up with good reasons why it is not so. Right now it remains a theory, and if you want to take it and run with it, go for it.

Yeah, I think about these things.

More later,