Trojan War - The Real Story
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[ 'Where Troy Once Stood' by I.Wilkens, revised edition; Part II, Chapter 1; page 10 of 22 ]

From the Scaean Gates to the Springs

Since Odysseus and Menelaus had been on a diplomatic mission to Troy before the war (III,205), the town was well known to the Achaeans, while during the conflict intelligence could be gathered from prisoners. Homer could therefore easily imagine for instance Hector and Paris walking down from the Pergamus to the Scaean Gates (meaning ‘Left' or ‘West' gates, the plural referring to the double doors). These gates are identical with the Dardanian Gates, as the Greek scholar Aristarchos already observed in the second century BC, and it is in fact implicit in Homer's text. Since the Scaean gates overlooked the battlefield to the north (see e.g. III,145ff and XXII,194 or 413), they must have been the northwestern entrance to Troy. There were no doubt more gates to the city and an impression of what they looked like was discovered recently when a Bronze Age site west of the Gog Magog Hills was excavated, with ditches, palissade lines and an elaborate entranceway about 5 meter in width. A series of beam slots indicated the presence of a wooden structure while traces on the chalk suggested the passage of foot traffic16.

On the northwest side of the town, which suffered most of the Achaean attacks (VI,433), Achilles pursued Hector on a waggon track leading from the Scaean gates past a hillock (skopie) to the washing basins of the Trojan women. The basins were made of polished stones and situated near two springs feeding into the Scamander, a hot and a cold one (XXII,143-157). The mention of springs west of the city was always considered as one of the most significant topographical features in Homer for the location of Troy (but not found near Hissarlik). It so happens that there are many strong cold water springs west of the Gog Magog Hills, while hot water may have been generated either by volcanic activity or by the adjacent limekiln. Going from the approximate site of the Scaean gates on the Gog Magog Hills (see Map 3, key 21) and indeed passing by a hillock, the Missleton hill (key 22), one soon arrives at the springs which now provide Cambridge with drinking water (key 23). The huge reservoirs of the town's Water Company stand in part on the earlier mentioned hillfort of Cherry Hinton, also known as the "War Ditches". As described in the Iliad, the waters of the springs flow into the Scamander, the present Cam (via the Cherry Hinton Brook and the Coldham Brook, key 24). Some springs have been sealed over in the past but north of the reservoirs a spring can still be seen ouzing to the surface at the crossing of the Cambridge Road and the Cherry Hinton Road. Nearby are limestone quarries (whence the ‘polished stones') but unfortunately the whole site has by now been destroyed by the Water Company and a cement company. In 1903 Prof. McKenny Hughes had discovered here, in addition to bronze objects and pottery, the remains of a massacre, as many bodies of both young and old of either sex had been thrown into a ditch.

Batieia, the Barrow of Myrina

According to Homer, there was a burial mound far away in the plain in front of the city, a detail that provides additional evidence that Troy was situated on the Gog Magog Hills :

Now there is before the city a steep mound afar out in the plain, with a clear space about it on this side and that ; this do men verily call Batieia, but the immortals call it the barrow of Myrina, light of step. There on this day did the Trojans and their allies separate their companies. (II, 811-815)

About five kilometers from the Gog Magog Hills there is effectively an isolated mound in the plain, situated on the Fleam Dyke (see Map 3). This dyke would explain why the barrow had ‘a clear space on both sides' or, as the Greek says : entha kai entha, ‘on this side and that'.


[ 'Where Troy Once Stood' by I.Wilkens, revised edition; Part II, Chapter 1; page 11 of 22 ]

The mound is now called Mutlow Hill, from Old English moot, a place of gathering *.It was still in use as a meeting place in Anglo-Saxon times, judging by the traces seen from the air of chariotwheels converging on the mound. The barrow, which dates from the middle Bronze Age, was investigated in the nineteenth century by the Rev. R.C. Neville who discovered, among the remains of burials, glass beads from the eastern Mediterranean dating from around 1500 BC. This confirms that the tomb existed in Homer's time and that the British Isles had contacts with Mediterranean countries as early as the middle Bronze Age. As to Batieia, this was the name ‘humans gave to the divine Myrina'. She was a queen of the Amazons who, according to classical mythology, had defeated with a big army the people of Atlantis who lived on the shores of the Ocean in a land of which it was said that the gods were born17. She was believed to have been the wife of King Dardanus, an ancestor of Priam of Troy.

One may wonder why the armies assembled in the plain to engage in battle as the war might have lasted only a few months if the Achaeans had laid siege to the city. The reason must be that the Achaeans ran the risk of an attack in the rear by the allies of the Trojans who arrived from all over England, Scotland, Wales and Brittany (as we will see in the following chapters). Another reason is even more important: if the Achaeans left their camp, their fleet could be destroyed by Trojan allies coming in from regions east and west of the Wash. The warring parties therefore engaged in battle only during the day, pursuing each other with their chariots over the great plain between the Gog Magog Hills and the coast. Sometimes the battle raged close to the river Cam which borders the plain to the west (called ‘left' by Homer who explains  that ‘the left is where the sun sets, the right is toward the dawn' (XII, 240) :

Nor did Hector as yet know aught thereof, for he was fighting on the left of all the battle by the banks of the river Scamander, where chiefly the heads of warriors were falling, and a cry unquenchable arose, round about great Nestor and warlike Idomeneus. (XI, 497-501)

It is unlikely that the fighting took place on a daily basis for ten years on end, and it seems that there were indeed periods of weeks, months and even years that nothing much happened around Troy according to the classical authors Dares and Dictys, allowing Achilles to sack many cities in the region.

The Barrow of Ilus

The Iliad provides useful indications of the location of the barrow of King Ilus, the founder of Troy and grandfather of King Priam. To begin with, it is said that the frightened Trojan horses mentioned above ‘sped over the midst of the plain past the tomb of ancient Ilus' (XI, 166). Elsewhere we read that ‘Hector is holding council by the tomb of godlike Ilus, away from the turmoil' (X, 415) in a quiet area ‘clear of corpses' where he assembled his troops for an attack on the Achaean camp (VIII,489; see H on Map 3). Finally, it appears from the following citation that the barrow of King Ilus was situated near the right bank of the river Scamander at great distance from Troy. When King Priam and his squire are on their way to Achilles' barracks in the Achaean camp with a ransom for the corpse of Hector, they must have covered a considerable distance when the night had set in. They therefore decide to make a halt past the barrow of Ilus :

Now when the others had driven past the great barrow of Ilus, they halted the mules and the horses in the river to drink ; for darkness was by now come down over the earth. (XXIV, 349-351)


[ 'Where Troy Once Stood' by I.Wilkens, revised edition; Part II, Chapter 1; page 12 of 22 ]

About where this barrow might be, there is today the hamlet of Barway, situated on the right bank of the Cam and a few miles south of Ely, a town on the west bank. As Barway was called ‘beorg-eg' in Old English, meaning 'barrow island'*, it is the most likely place for Ilus' barrow, the more so as the latter should be situated near a ford in the river Xanthus (Scamander) where King Priam crosses the river (XXIV, 692). This ford in the Cam must have been situated near the village of Little Thetford, the latter name being Old English for ‘chief ford'* (see Map 3, key 28). The second leg of King Priam's journey (see KP on Map 3) in the company of a safe-conduct, poetically described as Hermes, thus led him to the western extremity of the camp where Achilles' barracks were situated. This complies with Homer's remark that ‘Achilles and Ajax of Telamon had drawn up their shapely ships on the extreme flanks trusting in their valour and in the strength of their hands' (VIII, 224-226). The ford, in which traces of a Bronze Age trackway have been found in 1935, is mentioned again when Achilles and his troops managed to reach the spot in a counterattack, cutting the Trojan force in two. One part was driven toward the city across the fields, and another part chased into the river (XXI,1-10; see A on Map 3).

Although King Ilus was buried not far from the town of Ely, it is unlikely that this city owes its name to him nor, as the locals believe, to the eels which are abundant in the region and already much appreciated in the time of Homer who spoke of ‘eel and fish'. It rather appears that the Isle of Ely, which was still an island in the early Bronze Age, when the sea reached even further inland, was called ‘El-ge' in 730AD* meaning ‘Elle-land' or ‘land in the Helle Sea', Homer's ‘boundless' Hellespont, which was the ancient name of the North Sea as we will find in Chapter 4.

The Location of the Achaean Camp

In the late Bronze Age the Wash reached nearly as far inland as Littleport, the beach being only about 35 kilometers distant from the Gog Magog Hills. But this distance has doubled over time to 70 kilometers due to the silting up of the bay, resulting in a flat landscape known as the Fenlands, so that today's coastline is found near the town of King's Lynn. But 3200 years ago the shore of the Wash ran approximately from Littleport via Brandon Bank and Feltwell Anchor to Shippea Hill, so that the river Little Ouse, Homer's Satnioïs, reached the sea north of the Achaean camp (see Map 3). For this reason the poet did not list it among the rivers that ultimately swept away the campwall. The Achaean ships must therefore have been beached close to left bank of the now canalised part of the Little Ouse.

Since the camp was situated on the southern shore of the bay, the ships and barracks were exposed to the northern gales blowing from the sea:

And the sea surged up to the huts and ships of the Argives […] not so loudly bellows the wave of the sea upon the shore, driven up from the deep by the dread blast of the North Wind. (XIV,393-395)

Although the shore was some ten kilometers wide, the 1186 ships were drawn up in rows on the beach between the two headlands :

Far apart from the battle were their ships drawn up on the shore of the grey sea […] For albeit the beach was wide, yet might it in no wise hold all the ships, and the host was straitened ; wherefore they had drawn up the ships row behind row, and had filled up the wide mouth and all the shore that the headlands shut in between them. (XIV, 30-36)


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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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