The Trojan War was probably the single most significant event of the Mycenaean Age. The tale, immortalized in Homer’s epics, is familiar to us moderns even millennia later. For the sake of the beautiful Helen, and to avenge her husband’s indignation at her kidnapping, the Late Bronze Age Greeks mounted a massive campaign. Approximately 1200 troop-carrying vessels1 were launched, and a war raged around the besieged city of Troy for 10 years, until the strategem of the wooden horse gave the Greeks access to the citadel. Once inside the city, they utterly destroyed it, slaughtering many inhabitants and enslaving all survivors who did not flee. This, at least, is the mythical account. When was that war fought?

The canonical Greek calculation was 1193/2-1184/3 B.C. This number was arrived at by the 3rd-century B.C. chronographer, Eratosthenes of Alexandria, who apparently relied on the calculations of Ctesias and on Manetho’s Egyptian king-lists. Ctesias, a late 5th-century author, is today viewed as “an amusing liar”2 and “an ancient red herring”.3 Manetho’s lists are the basis for modern calculations for Egyptian chronology. They are convincingly challenged by Velikovsky.4

The archaeologists also have a date for that war, ranging sometime between ca. 1260 and 1200 B.C.5 This date is assigned to a conflagration layer (stratum Vila) at the site of Hissarlik in Northwestern Turkey, which, in the excavator’s opinion, marks the Greek destruction of Troy. The date depends on the time of the Mycenaean pottery found in this layer. That in turn is based solely on Egyptian chronology.6 Thus, if the Egyptian scheme is off, both the Greek calculations and the archaeological date must be changed.

It is a simple task to show that the Greek calculations are of no worth and that the Greeks themselves made the Trojan War contemporaneous with many events that we now know to be of the 8th century B.C. Elsewhere I will show this in some detail. Only the archaeological problems will here concern us.

It is conceded that no artistic representations of any event connected with the Trojan War appear before the 8th century B.C.7 We have already seen that cults to the Greek leaders of that war do not seem to have sprung up until then. Homer is invoked to explain both these and many other phenomena, but Homer was almost universally regarded by the ancients as composing his epics very shortly after Troy’s fall.8 In our attempt to resolve this dilemma, we shall examine the archaeological findings from Hissarlik to see why they were assigned an early date, and whether the stratigraphy and other archaeological considerations support a 13th-century date for the great war. The Homeric problem and mythical matters relating to the war will await discussion until another time.

Just as at Mycenae and Tiryns, the first large-scale excavation of the site was undertaken by Heinrich Schliemann in the 1870’s-1890. His collaborator, Wilhelm Dörpfeld, continued the work after Schliemann’s death in 1890. From 1932-1938, yearly excavation of the site was undertaken by an expedition from the University of Cincinnati. Their findings, published in final form in the 1950’s, provide the principal scientific data about the site.

Nine major habitation levels, ranging from the Early Bronze Age (stratum 1) to Roman times (stratum IX) were distinguished, of which only levels VI-VIII will concern us.

As was pointed out in my earlier paper, the 8th-century Phrygians, who, according to Homer, were allies of Troy during its siege, copied the architectural style of the fortifications of Troy VI when they built their great gate at Gordion. Since the end of Troy VI is put at ca. 1300 B.C., its walls must have been buried by 500 years of debris, making them invisible in the 8th century. The excavator of Gordion, faced with this 500-year problem and no intermediate examples, still saw close similarities and was hard pressed to explain them.9 A house of Troy VI, destroyed in the great earthquake that leveled the site, assigned to ca. 1300 B.C., is of the same type as buildings beginning in the 8th century B.C. after a supposed break of centuries during which no similar houses are known. 10 The end of the sixth layer of Troy is dated by the presence of Mycenaean pottery, which, in turn, receives its place in time from Egyptian chronology.

Between the 7th and 8th strata of Hissarlik, it is said that 400 years transpired, during which the site was “a ghost-town in the gloom of the Dark Ages of the ancient world.” “There is nothing at Troy to fill this huge lacuna. For 2000 years men had left traces of their living there; some chapters in the story were brief and obscure, but there was never yet a chapter left wholly blank. Now at last there is silence, profound and prolonged for 400 years; we are asked, surely not in vain, to believe that Troy lay ‘virtually unoccupied’ for this long period of time”.11

Why are we asked to believe this? The eighth settlement began ca. 700 B.C. The seventh, however, contained Mycenaean pottery, which, of necessity, should be centuries earlier. At a tell such as Hissarlik one would expect a layer of wash and/or humus to mark this 400-year abandonment.12 There is none.

Recalling the legend of Troy, we would hardly object to an abandonment after the Greek sack of that city; it would be only natural, and is, in fact, attested in ancient sources.13 But the settlement said to mark the Trojan War is VIIa, and we are here dealing with the second sub-stratum above this, VII b2.14

Why should people who tenaciously remained on the site for 2000 years, despite fires, earthquakes and all-out war, abandon the town now? Was there another sack of the city, this time more devastating than the earlier destruction by the Greeks, yet, unlike its predecessor, lost forever to human memory?15

Let us examine this 400-year gap in some detail. Was the end of settlement VII b2 marked by a destruction layer so intense that abandonment could be rationalized? Reading the official publication of the most recent excavation, we find that it was not known what caused the end of stratum VII b2.16

If there is no sterile layer marking the desertion and no obvious cause for such action, we are certainly justified in asking if the site really was abandoned. If level VIII immediately overlay level VII, why could it not have begun immediately after the end of VII? The answer is that Troy VIII began in the early 7th century B.C. while Troy VI and VII contained Mycenaean pottery. Between VII and VIII “some four centuries must have elapsed” (emphasis added).17

If, by redating Egyptian chronology, we reduce the age of Mycenaean pottery by centuries, could Troy VIII have followed immediately after Troy VII without any gap?

Surprisingly, perhaps, for those accepting the old chronology, such a revision fits the circumstances of the two layers. In 1893 Dörpfeld, the great German excavator of Troy, more interested in stratigraphy and architecture than in pottery, treated Troy VII and VIII as a single unit, and, in some cases, could not differentiate between the two phases.18 With the results of over 20 years of excavations before him and an additional 8 years to reflect on matters, he still had Troy VIII follow immediately after Troy VII, and, at times, noted the presence in Troy VII of the 7th-century pottery characteristic of Troy VIII.19

Dörpfeld assigned the task of analyzing the pottery from all levels of the site to Hubert Schmidt. Schmidt noted obvious Greek wares in level VIII, marking a Greek colonization, while the material from layer VII seemed to represent a different culture. He nevertheless placed VIII immediately after VII. Noting Mycenaean imports in Troy VII, he still put this layer at ca. 1000-700 B.C., rather than 500 years earlier.20

These were early excavators and could be forgiven for their opinions as they did not know any better. Egyptian chronology had not yet established firm absolute dates for Mycenaean pottery.21 What did the modern excavators find?

After completing seven seasons of excavation at Troy, Carl Blegen, the chief archaeologist of the Cincinnati expedition of the 1930’s, saw no break between layers VII and VIII.22 After several more years had elapsed, allowing additional time to reflect on the dig, to study the pottery more carefully, and especially after Mycenaean pottery dates became more firmly entrenched,23 it was realized that a gap of centuries should exist between the two layers. Nevertheless, even in their official publication, the excavators were so impressed by certain facts relating to the mound itself that they left open the possibility that there was no gap.24 By the accepted chronology there had to be a lacuna, as they acknowledged, but they hesitated on this point. Their reasons are interesting.

The new excavations showed that the locally-made pottery of Troy VIII was “obviously akin” to that of Troy VII.25 The local grey ware pots of Troy VII (i.e., of the Mycenaean Age) were looked upon as the “direct ancestors” of the local ware not only of Troy VIII but also of 7th-6th-century Northwestern Turkey and the off-shore island of Lesbos as well.26 With a 400-year gap in the evidence, how can one connect this widespread 7th-6th-century ware with that of the Mycenaean Age?

At the very time that there was supposed to be a 400-year abandonment of Hissarlik, one house seemed to show continuity between the end of layer VII and the time of VIII, as if no one had left and only a few years had passed.27

In several deposits of Troy VIII there were sherds from Troy VII.28 There was finally, however, a more serious problem. Although the excavators were meticulous in their method of digging stratified layers and labelling and recording all finds and their provenience,29 in sub-strata of Troy VII that seemed to be undisturbed, sherds were found of the imported Greek pottery of the early 7th century.30 “The only explanation we can find is to suppose that, in spite of our efforts to isolate and certify the deposits we examined, contamination had somehow been effected and brought about the intrusion of the later wares into strata of Troy VII b”.31 The discovery of these 7th-century sherds “in several areas in the strata of Troy VII b1” stratified below layer VII b2, which is supposed to represent the 12th century, “presents a perplexing and still unexplained problem”.32

After all the digging by Schliemann, Dörpfeld, and Blegen at Hissarlik, only one sherd has turned up which could conceivably fall within the 400-year gap postulated for the site. Stratigraphically, however, it was not found where it should have been. A rim fragment from a “Protogeometric” cup was found “with sherds of Phase VII b I, but probably out of context.” The reason it was probably out of context is that it was covered over by “two successive buildings of Phase VII b2”33 which of necessity belong to the 12th century B.C. The sherd beneath those two buildings is seen as part of a body of material found from Palestine to Macedonia34 which, beginning perhaps ca. 900 B.C., was in vogue until the 8th or 7th century B.C.35 It is stratigraphically impossible to have a 7th, 8th, or even 9th-century B.C. item below the floor of a 12th-century B.C. building, unless contamination occurred. “There was apparently no contamination from disturbance or later intrusions,” however.36

In time these “perplexing and still unexplained” problems were brushed aside, and reservations about a 400-year gap were abandoned, because, by the accepted chronology, that gap had to exist. All the work of the excavators, their failure, to detect any physical sign of abandonment, their belief that Troy VII ended immediately before Troy VIII began (i.e., sometime around 700 B.C.), their detection of continuity of culture, their discovery of a house that seemed to span the ghost years, their finds of “12th-century” pottery just beneath or mixed in with 7th-century strata, their finds of 7th-century pottery in and sometimes under “12th-century” layers which seemed undisturbed (a situation quite similar to but more disturbing than what we saw for the stratified section just inside Mycenae’s Lion Gate), the opinions they held, the problems that upset them-all became secondary to making the evidence fit the accepted chronology. Archaeological facts were forced to fit a historical theory.

Then a new theory was needed. If there was indeed a 400-year gap, something must have caused it. The cause for the end of layer VII b2 was unknown when no gap was seen,37 but when the gap became necessary, it was decided that Troy VII b2 must have perished by fire and sword more terrible in their effect than the Trojan War which ended Troy Vila. Why else would people too stubborn to leave despite 2000 years of great hardships abandon their site now?

Only revision of the Egypto-Mycenaean dates can explain the “still unexplained” problems at Hissarlik. Only then do they cease to be “perplexing.”


  1. The number of ships is commonly (but incorrectly) said to be 1,000. Thucydides (1. 10.4) speaks of 1200, while the sum preserved in the Iliad (II. 494-750) is 1 186.

  2. J. Forsdyke, Greece Before Homer (London: 1956), p. 68.

  3. A. R. Burn, Persia and the Greeks (London: 1962), p. II; see pp. 11-13.

  4. I. Velikovsky, “Astronomy and Chronology,” Pensée (Spring-Summer, 1973); 38-49. Other ancients also dated the war early. We have already seen that the most ancient source, Herodotus, also got his date from the Egyptians, who were obviously lying to him (see “Shaft Grave Art: Modern Problems,” n. 41). Other estimates ranged from the 14th-12th centuries B.C. (see Forsdyke, Greece Before Homer, p. 62 and G. Mylonas, “Priam’s Troy and the Date of its Fall,” Hesperia 33 [1964]; p. 353, n. 3). These dates are challenged as too early even by adherents to the accepted chronology. I hope to treat this topic in detail at a later date.

  5. C. W. Blegen, the latest excavator of the site, pushed the date progressively back (see “New Evidence for Dating the Settlements at Troy,” ABSA 37 11936-19371: 12 for 1200 B.C.; Troy IV. I [Princeton: 1958], p. 9 for pre-1230 B.C.; “Troy,” Cambridge Ancient History [henceforth CAH], fascicle 1 [1961], p. 14 for 1250 B.C.; Troy and the Trojans [London: 1964], p. 174 for 1260 B.C.), Other archaeologists lean more toward Blegen’s original assessment of ca. 1200 B.C. (See Blegen, CAH fascicle, p. 14, n. 1; C. Nylander, “The Fall of Troy,” Antiquity 37 (1963): 7, 10, II; G. Mylonas, “Priam’s Troy,” pp. 362-66). The problems are complex: how much earlier than the destruction of Pylos the destruction of Troy should be; whether certain potsherds from Troy Vila are very late LH III B or very early LH IIIC; the time of the transition from LH III B to LH IIIC. These need not detain us here. For our purposes, the archaeological date falls sometime within the 13th century B.C.

  6. Blegen, Troy and the Trojans (henceforth T & T) pp. 159-61, 174.

  7. K. Friis Johansen (The Iliad in Early Greek Art [Copenhagen: 19671, p. 36]) sets the influence of the Iliad on art at ca. 700. J. N. Coldstream (Greek Geometric Pottery [London: 1968], p. 351) has one scene appear early in the 8th century, but Johansen, pp. 23-25, does not think that the Iliad itself is responsible for that scene. The subject, Siamese twins, need not be connected with Nestor’s account in Book XI of the Iliad, or even be connected with Nestor. In any case, no example exists before the 8th century. Of course, the lack of figural representation during the Dark Age could account for this, and this is not prima fade evidence that the war was fought this late.

  8. See “Shaft Grave Art: Modern Problems,” n. 41.

  9. Isaacson, “Carbon 14 Dates.” p. 28, see n. 33, p. 32 for references.

  10. See “Later Use of the Grave Circles,” n. 5.

  11. D. Page, “The Historical Sack of Troy,” Antiquity 33 (1959): 31.

  12. Since most of the material from Troy VIII was found on the lower slopes of the mound, one would expect the erosion of the upper mound to deposit a layer of the dissolved remains of the mud brick houses, etc., from higher up the slope. Such a layer should be found above the last deposits of Troy VII and below the first of Troy VIII. For just such an instance from another mound and a good explanation of the process see K. M. Kenyon, Digging up Jericho (London: 1957), pp. 44-45, 171, 259-60, 261; and M. Wheeler, Walls of Jericho (London: 1958), pp. 43, 55, 124.

  13. Those authors (Lykurgus, In Leocrantem, 62; and Strabo, XIII. 1.41-42) make it quite clear that the abandonment lasted at least till the Roman period. Strabo considered Hissarlik not to be the Troy of Homer (XIII. 1. 25, 35, 37, 38). For these and other literary, archaeological, stratigraphical, geographical, and topographical reasons, this writer is unconvinced that Hissarlik is the site of the Homeric Troy. He is further unconvinced that the burning of layer Vila was the work of the Greeks, or, in fact, of invaders. J. L. Caskey, a participant in the Cincinnati expedition, who does believe that Hissarlik is the site of Troy, states some of this writer’s reservations very well (“Archaeology and the Trojan War,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 84 [19641: 9). Since it is generally accepted that the Trojan War was fought at Hissarlik, its archaeology is important.

  14. There is, in fact, no sign of abandonment or marked population loss or change after the conflagration of level Vila. On the contrary, the original inhabitants quickly rebuilt the town (Blegen, T & T, pp. 165 f.)

  15. Blegen (T & T, p. 172) suggests this.

  16. C. W. Blegen, et al., Troy IV. I (Princeton: 1968), p. 147.

  17. Ibid.

  18. W. Dörpfeld, Troja 1893, Bericht iiber die im Jahre 1893 in Troja veranstalten Ausgrabungen (Leipzig: 1894), p. 64.

  19. W. Dörpfeld, Troja und Ilion (Athens: 1902), pp. 31, 201.

  20. H. Schmidt, “Die Keramik der verschiedenen Schichten” in Dörpfeld, Troja und Ilion, pp. 296-98.

  21. Blegen, Troy IV.1 p. 4.

  22. Blegen, “New Evidence,” p. 12. Although he set the division at 900, rather than Dörpfeld’s 700 B.C., he still had one layer follow immediately after the other. The journal for 1936-1937 was not released until 1940, two years after excavations at Troy had ceased. From the article (p. 10) it is clear that Blegen wrote after the end of his last season, and, whenever the article was submitted between 1938 and 1940, there is no evidence that he changed his mind before publication of the volume (there is no postscript, or corrigendum attached).

  23. A. Furumark’s monumental work of dating Mycenaean pottery by Egyptian associations came out shortly after the Troy excavations had ended.

  24. Blegen, et al., Troy I. 1 (Princeton: 1950), p. 23: Blegen, Troy IV. 1, p. 250.

  25. Blegen, Troy IV. I, p. 251. Also see pp. 147, 252-53, 257.

  26. W. Lamb, “Grey Wares from Lesbos,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 52 (1932): 1-2. See Blegen, Troy IV. I, p. 253.

  27. Blegen, Troy IV. 1, p. 250, 291-93.

  28. Ibid., pp. 253, 265.

  29. Blegen, Troy 1. I, pp. 20-21.

  30. Blegen, Troy IV. I, pp. 158, 181.

  31. Ibid., p. 181.

  32. Ibid., p. 158. Blegen, as we saw in my previous article (Pensée [Spring-Summer, 1973], p. 27) was faced with the same problem of 7th-century sherds in bona fide Mycenaean strata at Pylos and was again at pains to account for this state of affairs.

  33. Ibid., p. 233.

  34. Ibid. Blegen compares it to V. R. Desborough’s low-footed skyphoi with pendent semicircles. See Desborough (Protogeometric Pottery [henceforth POP] (Oxford: 1952], p. 192).

  35. For scholarly opinions on the Euboean and/or Cycladic manufacture and the range of dates for this type of cup, see Desborough, POP, pp. 192-94; Desborough, “A Group of Vases from Amathus,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 77 (1957): 218; Desborough, “The Low-Footed Skyphoi with Pendent Semicircles,” Archäologischer Anzeiger (1963), cols. 204-205; Desborough, The Greek Dark Ages (London: 1972), pp. 186, 197 and see 199; O. T. P. K. Dickinson in Popham and Sackett’s Excavations at Lefkandi, etc., p. 28; J. N. Coldstream, Greek Geometric Pottery, p. 330; A. M. Snodgrass, The Dark Age of Greece, pp. 71, 98, n. 4, 335 and index p. 448; H. W. Catling, “A Pendent Semicircle Skyphos from Cyprus and a Cypriote Imitation,” Reports of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus, 1973 (Nicosia: 1973): 184-85.
    Most exports of this ware to the East Mediterranean (presumably including the example from Troy) are thought to belong to the early 8th century (Desborough, PGP, pp. 192-94; Snodgrass, The Dark Age of Greece, p. 335) but possibly continued into the 7th century (Snodgrass, The Dark Age of Greece, p. 98, n. 4). To my knowledge, no one has treated the example from Troy to determine its date within the 9th-7th-century range, but wherever it falls, its find spot still poses a serious stratigraphical problem for the standard chronology.

  36. Blegen, Troy IV. 1, p. 231. If Troy VII b2 really ended ca. 1100 B.C., this sherd of the 9th, 8th, or 7th century ought to lie above this layer. Instead, it was found stratified ca. 1/2 m. below, and two buildings were constructed over the spot where the sherd was found. Since no contamination was detected, these buildings assigned to the 12th century B.C. should postdate this 9th, 8th, or 7th-century sherd, and the “12th-century” Mycenaean pottery they contained ought to postdate the sherd as well. See Fig. 359 of Troy IV.2.

  37. See “The Warrior Vase,” ns. 10, 16, 18.