Trojan War - The Real Story
 
 
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[ 'Where Troy Once Stood' by I.Wilkens, revised edition; Part II, Chapter 1; page 13 of 22 ]

Homer calls the sea near the Troad often ‘Oceanus' (e.g. III,5 or VII,422) or ‘Hellespont' and once the ‘Thracian Sea'. The latter name seems most surprising, but it can still be demonstrated that Lincolnshire was once among the many European regions called ‘Thrace' as we find here the towns of Threckingham and the medieval Tric - now the coastal town of Skegness - whose names come from the Old Norse ‘threkr' and Old English ‘thraec'* which are both cognate with ancient Greek ‘thrasus', meaning ‘courageous'. Therefore, ‘Thrace' means something like ‘Land of courageous men' and Lincolnshire was one of them. The northwestern gales blowing from this region stir up the waves of the Wash against the Achaean camp to the southeast:

Even as two winds stir up the teeming deep, the North Wind and the West Wind that blow from Thrace, coming suddenly, and forthwith the dark wave reareth itself in crests and casteth much tangle out along the sea ; even so were the hearts of the Achaeans rent within their breasts. (IX, 4-6)

And the winds went back again to return to their home over the Thracian sea, and it roared with surging flood. (XXIII, 230)

The bay is described not only as wide, but also as situated deep inland, the barracks standing ‘before the deep coastline' (proparoithe éïonos batheiés). Prof. Murray's translation by ‘low coastline' is wrong, but the French version by Prof. Lasserre is very precise : 'baraques devant le rivage profond' (This shows once more the importance of an accurate translation for the location of Troy).

The Wall of the Achaean Camp

As there is in the Iliad no evidence of a river flowing through the camp, the river Cam must have been its western border, the eastern border being the old course of the Kenneth and the Lark. In the Bronze Age the latter two rivers did not cross the main battlefield as is now the case after canalisation of the Lark, but straight north where they reached the sea east of Shippea Hill. For strategical reasons and all practical purposes, the camp was thus situated between two major rivers, providing the Achaeans not only with a natural defense but also with drinking water.

The southern border of the Achaean camp consisted of a canal (taphros) and an earthen wall (teichos) reïnforced with stones and wooden beams and completed with wooden towers. This defense was built only by the end of the war at the proposal of Nestor when the Trojans threatened to attack the camp. The Achaeans started the work after the cremation of a number of their dead comrades who were buried in a collective barrow:

Before the following dawn [...] a detachment of Achaean troops gathered by the pyre and set to work. Over the pyre, they made a single barrow with such material as the plain provided. And from there they built a wall with high ramparts to protect the ships and themselves, fitting it with strong gates, so that chariots could drive through.Outside and parallel with the wall, they dug a deep trench and in this broad and ample ditch they planted a row of stakes. (VII,433-441)

The barrow in question is not very helpful in determining the exact location of the wall, as there are many traces of Bronze Age cremations in the region due to the war and the plague. Besides, many barrows in the plains of Cambridgeshire have disappeared over time due to erosion and plowing, some being only visible from the air as cropmarks. Another approach is therefore needed to find the tracé of the canal and the campwall. It seems a logical thing to do for the Achaeans to link up the Cam in the west with the Lark in the east. The canalisation of

 

[ 'Where Troy Once Stood' by I.Wilkens, revised edition; Part II, Chapter 1; page 14 of 22 ]

the Lark, whose construction date is unknown but supposed to be medieval18, might well be a reconstruction of whatever remained of the Bronze Age ditch. The canal runs straight from Isleham northwest to Prickwillow, from where it follows the old course of the Cam in the direction of Littleport. Traces of an older, extinct waterway have been found which followed a curved line over half of the canal's length19 and which might well have been part of the original Achaean ditch (see Map 3). The campwall had seven entrances as the guard was mounted by ‘seven commanders with hundred sentries each who took their post between the ditch and the wall' (IX,85). Starting from the region of Ilus' barrow, Hector attacked the wall with five divisions (XII,87), which means that five of the seven gates were situated east of the Cam (if there were more, the Trojans risked an attack in the flank). The other two gates were therefore situated west of the Cam, where Priam passed one of them on the way to Achilles' quarters situated in the most western part of the camp. It appears that the wall was not extended along the western border of the camp as Patroclus ‘hemmed the Trojans in between the ships, the river and the wall' (XVI,397, see P on Map 3). The river on the western border must have been sufficient protection, and this may also have been the case with the river on the eastern border, probably because they were relatively wide near the sea.

But how could the entire campwall be swept away soon after its construction? The superstitious people of the time believed that the gods were angry because they had not received sacrifices during its construction. In reality, since the Achaeans were unfamiliar with the country, they had underestimated the huge volume of rainwater that could be channeled by the local rivers which drain a vast area of central England. That is why in our time an elaborate network of canals prevents flooding of the Fenlands. In 1830 the Cam has also been partly canalized (see dotted line C on Map 3). But Achilles nearly drowned when the ‘heaven-fed Xanthus' (Cam) had flooded the plain close to the camp (XXI,233-272). It is therefore quite possible that nine days of incessant rain generated so much water in the rivers which ran from two sides into the canal in front of the camp, that the floods could sweep away the earthen wall over the entire length of about fourteen kilometers (eight miles).

Inside and Around the Achaean Camp

The chariot-races which were part of Patroclus' funeral games were held inside the camp20. The charioteers started on the beach and turned at such a distance inland that they were nearly out of sight (XXIII,462-482). This implies that the campwall was situated several kilometers from the beach. The ‘wide camp of the Achaeans' as the poet often desribes it (e.g.: I,384 or XXIV,199), must therefore have covered an area of some forty square kilometers. Much space was required for the ships, the barracks of the commanders (which had several rooms, a portico and a courtyard), the huts of the 100,000 troops and their female slaves and prisoners, the shrines for the gods, the stables and pastures for horses and cattle. There were of course ‘many paths across the camp' (X,66), the greater part of which is now called the Burnt Fen, a possible reminder of the Achaeans burning their barracks before their departure. Here, archaeologists have discovered a pit with unusual large quantities of household refuse. And in the middle of the Burnt Fen, we find the ‘Temple Farm' about where once the Achaean altars must have been near Odysseus' barracks situated in the mid-section of the beach (XI,808).

Northwest of Littleport is the Mare Fen, a possible reminder of Achaean horses grazing near the sea where ‘Boreas, the North Wind, enamoured of the mares, covered them after likening himself to a dark-maned stallion' (XX, 224). Close by is Butcher's Hill which may be a reminder of the butchers who supplied the army.

 

[ 'Where Troy Once Stood' by I.Wilkens, revised edition; Part II, Chapter 1; page 15 of 22 ]

In the plains near the eastern, southern and western borders of the camp there are three Sedge Fens named either after the wild plant sedge, common to the Fenlands, or else after Old English sedge which, most appropriately, meant ‘warrior'*. When Odysseus interrogates Dolon, a Trojan captured during the night, he is told that one part of the Trojan allies are ‘lying over by the sea', meaning east of the camp (see Sedge Fen SF1 on Map 3) - while others ‘were allotted ground in the direction of Thymbra' (X,427-431). Although the latter name - meaning ‘savory'- has disappeared, either the region south of the camp was meant (see SF2), or the region to the west (SF3), as most of these allies came from distant lands situated west of the Troad (see Part IV for the origin of the Trojan allies).

The Invasion of the Troad

Homer gives a lively impression of the Achaean invasion of the Troad which is in many respects comparable to the Allied landing in Normandy in 1944. Even today, their military performance is most impressive, as it is very difficult to invade a country from the sea, the main problems being the setting-up of defendable quarters and the provisioning from overseas. In the Bronze Age as in modern times, a very wide bay and a large beach were required for the disembarkation of the armies, which was found respectively in the Wash and the Seine Bay. After the landing of the 1186 ships and the installation of the barracks, the Achaean regiments march on Troy in the plain of the Scamander. The tens of thousands of bronze-clad warriors advancing in the fenlands must have been a breathtaking sight :

Even as a consuming fire maketh a boundless forest to blaze on the peaks of a mountain, and from afar is the glare thereof to be seen, even so from their innumerable bronze, as they marched forth, went the dazzling gleam up through the sky unto the heavens. And as the many tribes of winged fowl, wild geese or cranes or long-necked swans on the Asian mead by the streams of Caystrius fly this way and that, glorying in their strength of wing, and with loud cries settle ever onwards, and the mead resoundeth ; even so their many tribes poured forth from ships and huts into the plain of Scamander, and the earth echoed wondrously beneath the tread of men and horses. So they took their stand in the flowery mead of Scamander, numberless as the leaves and the flowers in their season. (II, 455-468)

The Asian mead - eponym of Asia, a daughter of Oceanus in classical mythology - near the streams of Cayster, is the bird sanctuary near the North Sea now known as ‘The Broads' situated to the south of Caister-on-Sea (see Map 2, key 22). The comparison of the number of warriors with the countless fowl in the region is not an exaggeration but consistent with Book II of the Iliad (see Part IV).

Archaeological Finds on the Battlefield

If tens of thousands of warriors equipped with bronze armour and weapons were fighting in the plain, one should expect to find at least some bronze objects left behind in the region, despite the fact that bronze was at the time as highly valued as gold, and therefore carried away as much and as soon as possible by the victors  :

[Nestor shouting to his warriors] :…let no man now abide behind in eager desire for spoil, that he may come to the ships bearing the greatest store ; nay, let us slay the men ; thereafter in peace shall ye strip the armour from the corpses that lie dead over the plain. (VI, 68-71)

 

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Author: Iman Wilkens, FRANCE
Contact address: Trojan War, Tipyn o Gymru, Northway Lane, Tewkesbury, GL20 8HA, United Kingdom

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