The Iliad is one of the most famous literary works of the Western world. It's an epic tale of Greek gods, earthly soldiers, and a decade-long fight over the most beautiful woman in the world. Could The Iliad actually be based on fact? Could the Trojan War really have happened? Josh Bernstein travels to Greece and Turkey in search of ancient Troy. Along the way, he'll learn what it took to live and fight on the coasts of the Aegean in the late Bronze Age. He'll test the tools of the Trojan warriors, and he'll uncover a city in northern Turkey that just might prove The Iliad was far more than a simple work of fiction.
Homer: "It's a shame that so many people today hear 'Homer' and think only of The Simpsons. Not that The Simpsons are bad (I think the show is brilliant), but the 'real' Homer, the writer who lived around 725 B.C., is considered to be one of the greatest poets who ever lived. If Homer was indeed a single person (debated), his mastery of language puts even Shakespeare to shame. Some believe that Homer was to the spoken word what DaVinci was to paint and light. A true master. But today, people wonder if the world Homer sang of--and the epic 10-year battle he immortalized in the poetic songs of the Iliad and the Odyssey--was based on real people from real places. Well, let's go see what we can find out."
Heinrich Schliemann: "In the 1870's, businessman-turned-archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann was convinced that he could use the Iliad and the Odyssey basically as treasure maps, as guides to ancient cities of riches. Archaeology as a science was in its infancy, so the methods he used (and in some cases, pioneered) are not viewed favorably today. For example, digging a huge trench right through several millennia of artifacts. Or putting precious artifacts around the neck of his beloved wife, Sophia. But Schliemann was not to be discouraged and he blazed trails which many today still use to explore the world of Homer."
Troy: "There is a site in Western Turkey near the Dardanelles strait called Hisarlik, Canakkale. Using Homer's works as guides, Schliemann believed that this was were Troy once stood. As a result, it's where he dug the now infamous trench. Today, it's commonly accepted that Schliemann was right--in his placement, not his methods. We've also since learned that this was the site of several Troys, as Yasar Ersoy is explaining to me as we walk around the site. Nine different cities were built one on top of the other, creating layers now called Troy I through Troy IX by archaeologists. The Trojan War probably took place around 1250 B.C., which most scholars place in the level of Troy VI or VII. Of course, Schliemann knew none of those--only that he found jewels and guessed that they were those of Paris or Helen. Confident in his interpretation of Homer, he continued his quest, only this time in Greece."
Mycenae: "'Mycenae, rich in gold' was all Schliemann needed to hear to pursue the other famed city of the Iliad. However, unlike Troy, the location of the ancient city of Mycenae was never lost to time. In fact, just 35 years prior, in 1841, the Lions Gate of Mycenae had been cleared by Greek archaeologist Kyriakos Pittakis. The door had been opened, Schliemann just had to walk through and dig. In 1876, he got permission to do just that, and he was the first to excavate the ruins inside this former kingdom. Digging a huge hole in what was once a burial site, Schliemann discovered bones, 31 pounds of gold, and beautifully wrought death masks. Putting this together with the Iliad, he announces he's found the Mycenaean king of the Iliad--namely, Agamemnon himself. In this instance, time would prove him wrong, but his legacy of using Homer's works as a guide would influence archaeologists and scholars from then on."
Ithaca: "On such scholar is Robert Bittlestone, a multinational business consultant based in England. Robert may be the man who has finally found the island kingdom of Ithaca, home of Odysseus. His theories are explained in his book 'Odysseus Unbound: The Search for Homer's Ithaca' and Robert and I are exploring his ideas together. His basic theory is that what once was an island separate from Same, now called Kefallonia, is now actually ATTACHED to Kefallonia as a result of centuries of seismic activity that filled in the narrow seaway between them. The Ionian Islands, after all, sit on top of one of the most active fault lines in the world, and earthquakes can change the landscape very quickly here. Going forward with his premise, Robert explains how placing Ithaca here solves several inconsistencies in Homer's work, and it also seems to pinpoint several other landmarks on the island which the 'real' island of Ithaca to the east doesn't have. I have to say, it's a fascinating possibility and I'm hopeful that the tests and surveys which Robert does in the coming years prove him right--it would be as big a discovery as anything Schliemann did."
Boar's Tusk Helmet: "Beyond the landscape of the Late Bronze Age, Homer also sang of the weapons of war during that time. In fact, he described some items with such detail that he inadvertantly provided clues for archaeologists. I've come to the town of Nafplio to meet Dr. Eleni Palaiologou and conservator Pinka Taratori and to see one such item. The clue comes from the Iliad's Book 10, where Homer writes of a helmet made of leather: 'Inside it was crisscrossed taut with many thongs, outside the gleaming teeth of a white-tusked boar ran round and round in rows stitched neat and tight--a master craftsman's work, the cap in it's center padded soft with felt.' Eleni and Pinka have just such a helmet here and, sure enough, it seems to match Homer's description, perfectly. The fascinating thing about this is that by the time Homer lived, boar's tusk helmets were no longer in use. People wore metal helmets. So for him to refer to something that disappeared centuries before him would be like you and I talking in precise detail about a helmet worn by Cortez--only Homer didn't have The History Channel to help him! It really makes you wonder how knowledge was being stored and transferred before books and TV were part of the culture."
Chariots for Hire: "To really get a feel for the world Homer was singing about, I decide to try something new--riding a chariot. After all, Homer describes riding, racing, and killing with a chariot with the vivid detail you and I might describe driving a car. For someone who was allegedly blind, his writing is shockingly graphic. But could it be true? To test this idea, I'm giving chariot warfare a shot. Literally. I'll be firing arrows and throwing spears from the back of a two-man, two-horse chariot, built to meet Late Bronze Age specifications. My first impression? BUMPY. Really, there's NO shock absorption between the wheel and my feet and I can feel every little pebble we hit, which makes it tough to let go of the chariot's rail, much less shoot anything. But I'd imagine a person would get used to that and, after a few loops around the track, I can at least put a bow in my hand. Hitting the target is harder. Miss. Miss. But on the third pass, I hit it. And by the fifth pass, I'm actually hitting the center, which again means that I'm dealing more with my own learning curve than anything else. The same for the spear test, which only takes me three passes to hit the center. Not that this is what real battle would be like, but it at least proves (sort of) that the world Homer spoke of was not fictitious--it seems that he spoke from experience, whether it was his or that of some people he'd met during his journeys."
Have Ship, Will Travel?: "So the landscape seems to be accurate. And the armor and the weapons seem to check out. What about GETTING to the fight? Could Greek ships have made the journey across the Aegean 3200 years ago to do battle against the walled city of Troy? To answer that, I'm meeting Vice Admiral Apostolos Kourtis at the ancient port town of Volos, Greece. He and his team have just started building a Pentecontor, a Mycenaean naval warship, using only traditional tools and techniques. It will be a while before his ship is seaworthy, but his research and expertise tell him that their ships were indeed capable of crossing the Aegean. But to really find out, why not go back to Turkey and see if any Late Bronze Age shipwrecks have been found there? Not a bad idea..."
Bodrum: "Bodrum is sort of the South Beach or Hamptons of Turkey. It's a beautiful seaside town with a busy summer nightlife and plenty of upscale shopping. But I'm here to explore shipwrecks and Yasar Yildiz, the Director of the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology, has been diving wrecks here for years. He and I set our sights on a shallow reef where, over the past 1800 years, 12 or 13 ships have wrecked one on top of the other. Apparently, shallow reefs are notorious for destroying ships. At night, it's all too easy to sail right onto one and rip out the bottom of your boat."
The Dive: "While I do not claim to be a serious diver with logbooks full of exotic sites, I have been fortunate to dive in some beautiful places both for the show and on my own. The cenotes of the Yucatan and the coral reefs of the Red Sea have been at the top of my list for years, but THIS site, at 85-90 feet below the surface, is now #1. First of all, the water is absurdly clear. I can't even believe I'm 90 feet deep because visibility is so good and there's just so much light everywhere. And the ships!! Maybe John and Ritchie on Deep Sea Detectives are used to seeing such things, but there's a WHOLE SHIP right below the surface! I swear, that mast must reach up from the wreck to only 5 or 8 feet below the water line! It's truly amazing, and I spend every minute of my air here exploring the pottery, the wrecks and just enjoying the view. But, back on the surface, Yasar says that while these wreck sites do go back thousands of years, they don't reach the actual Late Bronze Age. For that, I need to visit his museum."
Greek Ship, Trojan Waters: "In 1982, Dr. Jemal Pulak discovered a Bronze Age ship called the Uluburun. It dates to the 14th century B.C., making it the oldest shipwreck to have ever been excavated. It has also provided the most diverse cargo ever found from the Bronze Age. The contents were impressive--copper plates and pottery from the Middle East, elephant tusks from Africa, colored glass and tin from Central Asia, and gold from Egypt. The diversity of these locations strongly suggest, if not prove, an extensive network of trade in this region. And, on top of that, there were Mycenaeans soldiers on board, which would seem to prove that the Greeks were indeed sailing these waters during the time of the alleged Trojan War. Granted, the Uluburun was a cargo ship, not a warship, but it wouldn't seem much harder to sail here with soldiers instead of trade goods."
The Trojan Horse--An Earthquake?: "Back at Troy with Yasar Ersoy, I'm taking a closer look at the levels of Troy VI and VII. Could anything here indicate the collapse of a city by war? Any weapons? Any fallen buildings? Any slain corpses? No, no, no, and no. The evidence at Troy VI during the Late Bronze Age seems to point to destruction by earthquake and not the attack of a thousand ships. So far, but archaeologists are still searching. But what about the Trojan Horse? Did that ever exist? Well, perhaps, but it might have been more metaphorical than literal. Or perhaps I should say 'mythical.' Many people know that Poseidon was the Greek god of the Sea. But he was also the Greek god of Earthquakes. And...He was the Greek god of Horses. So perhaps Homer was using a well-recognized cultural reference when he sang that the city's fall came from the Trojan Horse... To you and me today, it may sound like a giant wooden statue. But 1400 years ago, to the people of the Aegean, he may just as well have said that the angry seas and earthquakes destroyed the city of Troy. He just put it poetically."