You are here

The Archaeology of Greek and Roman Troy

The Archaeology of Greek and Roman Troy

By Charles Brian Rose. Pp. xv + 406, figs. 158, color pls. 29. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2014. $99. ISBN 978-0-521-76207-6 (cloth).

Reviewed by

Rose summarizes his 25-year investigation of the Graeco-Roman layers of ancient Troy/Ilion by assembling an array of archaeological results not only from his excavations at Troy but also from his survey along the Granicus River and his participation in Turkish investigations of tomb robbings. He combines these with a solid command of the historical record of all things Trojan to generate a synthetic overview of the development of Ilion and the Troad from its Bronze Age origins to the Middle Byzantine era. While his subjects include the diachronic development of Troy/Ilion, he also explores the significance of Ilion as a repository of ideological identities with the Trojan War legend. Through the centuries, a variety of regimes from the Persians to Alexander to the Hellenistic Successors to the Roman imperial dynasties cultivated the inhabitants of Ilion to foster a connection and thereby legitimize their authority. Everyone, it seems, needed to confirm his mythological roots with Troy. Most interesting in all this is the manner in which the ideological focus of cultic activity at Ilion was adapted by the inhabitants to cultivate the friendship of each newly arriving hierarchy. This resulted in a constant remodeling of the site’s landscape to accommodate the changing viewpoints of benefactors. As Rose demonstrates, by the second and third centuries C.E., Ilion had become a bustling international tourist town.

Despite the expressed purpose of the book, Rose begins with a worthwhile assessment of the results of the Bronze Age excavations, furnishing the trajectory of later developments with recent ideas about Troy’s legendary experience. In chapter 1, he enumerates recent developments, including the discovery of defensive ditches that surrounded the lower towns of Troy II and Troy VI. He addresses recent scholarship with Hittite and Luwian texts to demonstrate the existence of intricate relationships between Wilusa and the Hittites, Assuwa, the Seha River Kingdom, the Arzawa, Miletus, and the Ahhijawa. He carefully identifies the transition evident in Troy VIIa and VIIb, with Troy VIIa developing into some sort of refugee center and Troy VIIb demonstrating characteristics of Balkan intrusion. On the matter of the Trojan War and its historicity, however, Rose takes a pass. The most he will say is that Troy was the only proven citadel in the region and that the remains of its massive walls were still visible in the Iron Age. Those seeking to confirm the myth or to locate its site need have looked no further than Hisarlık.

Although the site remained unoccupied until the late Classical era, evidence of cultic activity situated directly amid the ruins of the Trojan citadel emerges as early as 1000 B.C.E. By the seventh century B.C.E., Hellenic Greek populations clearly associated the ruins with the site of the Trojan War. Peisistratus of Athens founded Sigeon nearby while fostering an Athenian identity with the Trojan War. Likewise, the Locrians annually sent maidens to Troy to atone for the rape of Cassandra by Ajax. Neolithic settlement mounds in the vicinity were quickly identified as tumuli of Trojan War heroes. Gradually, the inhabitants at Ilion assumed their place in the wider North Aegean community. Since there is little evidence of development at Ilion in the Classical era, Rose relies on discussion of four notable tomb remains and his survey results to reveal what is known about rural settlement at this time. Separate chapters detail the remarkable finds of the Polyxena Sarcophagus (late sixth century B.C.E.), the Child’s Sarcophagus (ca. 450 B.C.E.), the Dedetepe tumulus; and, perhaps the most spectacular, the Çan Sarcophagus (second half of the fifth century B.C.E.). These finds help to situate a local rural aristocracy, sometimes rebelling against Persia, sometimes fighting Greeks, yet comfortably dominating the landscape of the early classical Troad.

As a settlement, Ilion did not develop until the fourth century B.C.E., and it was still relatively unpopulated during Alexander’s visit in 334 B.C.E. At about this time, the inhabitants realized that a program focused on strengthening the site’s Homeric credentials could lift its fortunes substantially, particularly with the aid of royal sponsors. Enter the Antigonids, the Seleucids, and the Attalids, whose benefactions, including a koinon situated at Ilion and a nearby colony (ultimately Alexandria Troas), put the town on a growth trajectory. Monumental complexes developed rapidly, including the Agora, the Sanctuary of Athena, Theater A, the Bouleuterion, Temples A and B in the enclosed precincts of the Upper and Lower Sanctuaries, a fortified Lower City that retraced the boundaries of the Late Bronze Age (LBA) settlement, a qanat-like adaptation of the LBA Spring Cave, and Trojan War heroia installed on nearby mounds. With new monuments situated directly before the surviving LBA fortifications walls, ritual reinforced the Homeric association of the surrounding architecture, which in turn lent historical validity to the Homeric epics.

The most peculiar development remains that of the ideological adoption of the site to suit Republican Rome. Rose proposes that the Upper and Lower Sanctuaries honored the same deities—Dardanus (the ancestor of Aeneas), Cybele, and the Samothracian gods (associated at Rome with the Trojan penates)—as those increasingly venerated in third-century B.C.E. Rome. The cult of Cybele thus furnished a common denominator for the increasingly publicized status of Troy as the mother city of Rome. This connection was naturally taken up by the Julio-Claudian dynasty, to whose members nearly 80% of all imperial images at Ilion were dedicated. The Upper and Lower Sanctuaries were flattened to make way for large porticoes, a grandstand, a new Odeon, and a bath/gymnasium with aqueduct. Later dynasties followed suit, particularly the Antonines, who allowed Ilion to strike large coins commemorating Rome’s 900th birthday with an extensive array of Trojan subjects, coins probably taken home as souvenirs by tourists. By the time of Caracalla, the site possibly featured an over-life-sized bronze statue of Achilles scaling the LBA walls of the citadel. Despite repeated earthquakes and sporadic violence, the town continued to prosper until the mid fourth century C.E., when the population began to recede into the hinterlands. One of the most interesting aspects of this development is the degree to which “Trojan” identity changed over time, from Phrygians identifying themselves as Greeks to Greeks identifying themselves as “Asians.” As Rose concludes, Troy/Ilion serviced the ideological ambitions of numerous east-west polities through facile, though effective, manipulation of the timeless Homeric saga.

Nicholas K. Rauh
School of Languages and Cultures
Purdue University

Book Review of The Archaeology of Greek and Roman Troy, by Charles Brian Rose

Reviewed by Nicholas K. Rauh

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 120, No. 4 (October 2016)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1204.Rauh

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.