Troy Is Sacked and Burned

According to Greek mythology and literature—especially Homer’s epics the Iliad and the Odyssey—the Trojan War was one of the most important events of the ancient world. In the legends, it all started after Paris of Troy stole the stunning Helen from her husband the King of Sparta, Menelaus. The enraged Achaeans (the Greeks) gathered their arms, sailed to the city of Troy, where Paris held Helen, and destroyed it.

The war raged on for ten years, but the Greeks were utterly unable to infiltrate the city walls until they came up with an ingenious ruse: the Trojan Horse. They constructed a huge wooden horse that they left outside the city gates, and then pretended to sail away. When the Trojans saw the horse they thought it was a victory trophy and dragged it through their previously impenetrable city gates—without realising that a secret stash of Greek warriors was actually hidden within the belly of the beast.

After darkness fell, the Greeks crept out of their equine war machine and opened the city gates; at the same time those that had sailed away returned, under the cover of darkness, and invaded the city. That night the soldiers sacked and burned the city of Troy; killing its inhabitants, desecrating its temples, and ending the war at long last.

Of course, whether or not this actually took place is still subject to debate, but nevertheless there are certainly elements of truth in it. For instance, some historians have suggested that the Trojan Horse was in fact a colossal battering ram shaped like a horse, in much the same manner as the Assyrians of the time employed powerful siege weaponry with animalistic names and features. Others have suggested that the walled city’s defences were actually destroyed by an earthquake, and there is archaeological evidence that supports this theory too.

Then there is the question of Troy itself. In Ancient Greece it was thought that the city stood somewhere around the Dardanelles, in Turkey, and that the war took place in the 12th or 13th century BCE. Then for a long time after, it was thought that the city probably never existed. However, since the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann excavated the site of Troy VII in Turkey, it is widely accepted that it is a real place. In fact Troy VII is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As for the date 11 June 1184 BCE, it is based on the calculations of Eratosthenes, a famous Greek scholar from the third century BCE. Eratosthenes was a man of many talents: astronomer, athlete, geographer (he actually invented the word and concept of “geography”), mathematician, music theorist, poet and just about everything else. He is also thought to be the first person to calculate the circumference of the Earth, the distance from the Earth to the Sun, the use of the leap day… and the practice of scientific chronology. It was through the latter that he tried to fix the dates of all sorts of important historical events starting with the Fall of Troy on, according to his arithmetic, 11 June 1184 BCE.