The legend of Troy is one of the most enigmatic known to man. Little is known of Troy, and what we do know is still considered to be a myth by some. To discover Troy we must look upon several factors.
The Troy of legend is known chiefly from the epic poem, The Iliad. The Iliad is an incredible tale of tragedy, sacrifice, and honor. It is set in the final years of the Greek siege of Troy, which lasted roughly from 1194 B.C. to 1184 B.C. The credited author of The Iliad is Homer. Very little is known of Homer. There is even some doubt to his existence. He is, however, mentioned in at least two historical references before A.D. The first mention of Homer is from Xenophanes of Colophon, a Greek poet and philosopher, who lived from 570 B.C. to 480 B.C. The historian, Herodotus, wrote, "Homer lived four hundred years before my time." This would place Homer at about 850 B.C.
The Iliad does not end with the fall of Troy. At its end Troy still stands and the legendary Greek hero, Achilles, still lives. Homer wrote a second poem, The Odyssey. This poem deals with the events that take place after the fall of Troy and the death of Achilles. Thus, there is still another story to be told. During Homer's time this was fine, as the story of Troy was still very well known. The gap between the two poems was filled by Quintus of Smyrna who wrote The War at Troy. This work was probably written in the third century A.D., but this is not certain. Quintus tells of the death of Achilles, the fall of Troy, the wooden horse, and many other details left untold by Homer.
Troy was still considered very much a real place to many ancient peoples. Homer told his poems as fact. The war at Troy was taught to children. The Romans were fascinated with Troy. However, over the centuries the facts became faded from memory until they could not be distinguished from history or myth.
This view remained largely unchallenged until a German archaeologist named Heinrich Schliemann began excavating for Troy in 1870. He chose a hill called Hissarlik by the locals. Hissarlik, which means "Place of fortresses", is located near the Dardanelles. He excavated the site for 20 years until his death in 1890. After his death his assistant, Wilhelm Dorpfeld, continued the excavations. The University of Cincinnati sponsored excavations of the site between 1932-1938. This was led by William Semple and Carl Blegen. Several settlements were found at the site. They are numbered from Troy I to Troy IX.
According to legend, the founder of Troy was Ilus, son of Tros. Ilus was succeeded by his son, Laomedon. Laomedon was said to have been slain by Hercules when he captured the city. Laomedon was succeeded by his son, Priam. It was during Priam's reign that the legendary Trojan War took place.
The excavations at Hissarlik revealed nine distinct settlements, each built upon the remains of the previous. Troy I is at least 5000 years old. Troy II existed during the early Bronze Age. Schliemann discovered a great treasure among the ruins of this Troy. This led him to believe this was the Troy of Homer, but he was mistaken. Troy III-V covers the period roughly from 2200 B.C. to 1750 B.C. Troy VI flourished between 1750 B.C.-1300 B.C. A large fortress, huge walls, and guard towers were found. Carl Blegen believes this Troy was destroyed by a massive earthquake. Dorpfeld mistakenly believed this Troy to be Homer's Troy.
Troy VII was discovered to be two different settlements. To distinguish between the two, they are known as Troy VII A and Troy VII B. Troy VII A was built soon after the destruction of Troy VI and differs little. It was destroyed by fire around 1200 B.C., which agrees with the traditional date for the destruction of Homer's Troy around 1184 B.C. This is the Troy that most believe to be the Troy from the Trojan War. Troy VIII contains remains of Greek villages which date from 1100 B.C. to 100 B.C. Troy IX was a Roman settlement. It lasted until 500 A.D.
Popular legend has the cause of the Trojan War to be over Helen, wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta. The Trojans refused to return Helen to the Greeks after she was lured away. A force of 1000 Greek ships assembled under the command of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, sailed for Troy prepared for war. The siege lasted ten years and culminated with the capture of Troy by the Greeks.
Modern theory has the war being fought for economic reasons. The placement of Troy upon a hill allowed a commanding view of the area. This allowed Troy to control nearly all trade flowing through the region. Thus, the Greek's probably laid siege to Troy in an effort to break this control.