Deconstructing Homer’s epic

TEVFIKIYE, Turkey – Turkish guide Mustafa Askin stood on top of a crumbling tower of the ancient city of Troy and pointed to a grassy field where he says Achilles and Hector most likely fought to the death. «The duel took place down there, in front of us,» Askin said, pointing to a green field near a small spring outside of the city walls, a field that bares little resemblance to the sandy beach where Brad Pitt and Eric Bana battled it out in the movie «Troy.» Archaeologists are grumbling that the film bears only a partial likeness to the city they have been painstakingly uncovering after decades of research, digs that show a large walled city that grew rich from trade, but was later burned to the ground. «Why didn’t they film it here?» asked Askin, an amateur archaeologist, guide and author of the book «Troy» as he stood atop the limestone city walls. «This is real atmosphere.» In front of Askin was the green field where the two warriors are believed to have battled and a nearby spring where Trojan women are said to have washed their clothes. Behind him was evidence of war, a layer of charcoal buried in the dirt throughout the city that reaches 5 feet (1.5 meters) deep in some areas – the remains of a city that was burned to the ground. «I wish they had asked archaeologists for advice,» said C. Brian Rose, head of Greek and Roman excavations at the site for the past 15 years. His digs show a city of about 8,000 people that controlled trade to and from the Black Sea. The population could have tripled in times of war as people fled the countryside, archaeologists said. Experts say there is no definite proof that the city was ancient Troy, but almost all evidence points in that direction. Standing on top of the ruins of the citadel, the highest point of the ancient city, tourists can still see the Dardanelles, the narrow waterway through which ships have to pass from the Aegean Sea to enter the Black Sea. «Troy was probably an international trading emporia,» said Eric Cline, associate professor of archaeology and ancient history at George Washington University. The city’s markets would have been filled with gold and ivory from Egypt, copper from Cyprus, silver from Anatolia and amber from the Baltic area, Cline said. But that wealth also made Troy vulnerable to jealous neighbors. Troy was across the Aegean Sea from the Greek city-states and on the fringes of Anatolia, where the powerful Hittite Empire ruled. «Troy is on the outer peripheries of two major empires, both of whom wanted it on their own,» Cline said. Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks, said outright in the film that the war was fought for power and wealth and not, as legend has it, over the kidnapping of a beautiful woman named Helen by the Trojan Prince Paris. Cline, who took his students to see the movie on the opening day, said he was so excited when Agamemnon gave his speech that he stood up in the middle of the theater to cheer. «The movie was dead on in that respect and I was impressed,» Cline said. A student had to ask him to sit down. The center of the city, where royalty lived, was surrounded by limestone walls that were 12 feet (3.6 meters) thick and 27 feet (8.1 meters) high. The movie’s walls appeared to be much higher and more imposing. «They might have exaggerated a bit but it was definitely a well-protected city,» said Nurten Sevinc, director of the Canakkale Archaeological Museum, where pottery and other relics from the city are kept. The outer city where the merchants lived was surrounded by a ditch which would likely have had a wooden wall on its interior side. That ditch would have been used to stop soldiers on chariots from approaching the wall and firing arrows. «This made the city practically impregnable,» said Rose, a professor of classical art and archaeology at the University of Cincinnati. Houses in and near the citadel had clay jars up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) high buried in the floor, evidence that the Trojans had prepared for a siege, archaeologists said. There was strong evidence that the city was destroyed at the beginning of the 12th century BC. A layer of charcoal and burned bricks stretches across the site. Pieces of skeletons have been found mixed in with the ashes. Arrowheads have been found scattered throughout the city as have some 100 stones found in piles that were most likely used in slingshots, Rose said. Many of the weapons were found outside of the citadel, which is likely to have housed any royal palace. The citadel would have been lavish and the houses found in that area are about twice the size of the homes in the lower city. But any palace would not have had imposing stone statues like in the movie. Those statues were used 700 years later and would not have been covered with loincloths as in the film. «They are willing to show Brad Pitt nearly nude but they put loincloths on the Greek statues in the palaces?» Rose asked. And the Greeks would not have put coins on the eyes of their dead. «Coins were not invented for another 500 years,» Cline said. The filmmakers took other liberties. Agamemnon and Menelaus die in the movie, but survived in Homer’s «Iliad,» the epic saga on which the movie is loosely based. Paris survived in the movie but died toward the end of the war, according to Greek mythology. «Where they really did damage to the story is in killing people they were not supposed to and not killing people they were supposed to,» Cline said. And what about Brad Pitt as Achilles? «He was the opposite of what I expected,» said Sevinc. Ancient Greek vase paintings, she says, portray the warrior as «darker with dark hair and a beard. A rougher, harder-looking guy than Brad Pitt,» Sevinc said. Despite the grumbling, many archaeologists are reveling in the attention. «There are mistakes (in the movie) but don’t worry about it. What we like is that sales of ‘The Iliad’ are going through the roof and my Greek history class is full,» Cline said.