Critique of Dr Stephen Kershaw’s lecture ‘Troy: Myth, History and Archaeology’ 16/01/2014

Critique of Dr Stephen Kershaw’s lecture to Kings Lynn DFAS ‘Troy: Myth, History and Archaeology’ 16th January 2014. P J Crowe – Tuesday 21 January 2014 

Overall impression – a very well presented entertaining talk to a general audience, illustrated with some slides of ancient Greek ceramic art and early paintings, as well as some site photos from ‘Troy’ at Hisarlik. Delivered with enthusiasm, Dr Stephen Kershaw (SK) captured some of the magic and emotional appeal of Homer’s Iliad as he gave an outline of the story. His talk was well received and he held the attention of the audience throughout. Would have liked to see a map showing the route from Aulis to Troy.

Having recently studied the Iliad and written a book on the subject of finding the Homeric plain of Troy, I can offer a few points of detail which SK did not have time to cover, in the hope these may be of interest to some members.

1. The first journey to Troy. 
SK told of the sacrifice of Iphigeneia, Agamemnon’s daughter, before the fleet sailed to Troy. But by starting with this drama, he did not tell us that this was the second attempt to reach Troy. The first, some 2 or 10 years earlier, had failed because the Greek fleet got lost. They sailed past the island of Lesbos and landed in ancient Mysia, the region around Pergamon. Here they sacked Teuthrania before realising it was not Troy. They were then driven off by a local hero called Telephos, and most of them returned to their homes. In short, the legends tell us that the Achaeans first fought on Asian soil at Teuthrania in Mysia, due east of Lesbos, not at today’s Troy at Hisarlik. This Mysian war story is of crucial importance in discovering the real site of Homer’s Troy, because that’s where the Trojan plain is found.

2. Troy at Hisarlik with no natural acropolis. 
The talk was naturally based on the assumption that Troy was at Hisarlik, which he neatly summed up as being the size of the grounds of Halifax Town football club. Less than 200 yards across. SK included two cross-sections showing the archaeological strata of the mound assumed as Troy. He did not point out that the site had no natural acropolis, although Homer’s Ilios, the walled acropolis of Troy, was much larger and stood on a towering natural hill.

3. Troy elsewhere. 
SK mentioned that some authors claimed to have found Troy in other places, such as Pergamon and Croatia. His mention of Wilkens’ claim to find Troy near Cambridge (actually outside Ely) caused a ripple of laughter. Thus all theories that Troy was not at Hisarlik were sort of lumped together and ridiculed by association. Yet SK did not say why Hisarlik was thought to be Troy. He did not say what was missing at Hisarlik that made some people want to look for Troy somewhere else. He did not say why a place called Burnabashi, some 6 miles from Hisarlik, was thought by the world experts to have been Troy for some 80 years before Schliemann dug at Hisarlik.

4. The main features of Troy and its acropolis Ilios. 
SK did not tell us the main features of Homer’s Troy. Briefly these were as follows:
a. Ilios stood on a large natural acropolis.
b. Troy stood close to the ‘Hellespont’, assumed to mean the Straits of the Dardanelles.
c. It was not far from Imbros and Tenedos.
d. From Il. Book 13, it was visible from Samothrace, an island some 40 miles away to the north-west.
e. Close to the walls of Troy was a hot (or warm) spring.
f. From Il. Book 24 the lands of Troy lay between Lesbos and Phrygia ‘in the uplands’. I.e. east of Lesbos.
g. The site should date to Trojan times in the late Mycenaean period. (i.e. the Late Bronze Age)

From a map, the contradiction is immediately obvious. If Troy was east of Lesbos, it cannot have been visible from Samothrace, or near Imbros and Tenedos. The text must have been corrupted.

5. The Troys compared. 
Troy at Burnabashi – has a natural acropolis and a hot spring, and is not far from Imbros, Tenedos and the Straits. But not visible from Samothrace and not east of Lesbos. No Late Bronze Age occupation.
Troy at Hisarlik – Occupied before Mycenaean times, visible from Samothrace, and not far from Tenedos and Imbros. But it has no natural acropolis and no hot or warm spring. And not east of Lesbos.
Troy at Pergamon and Bergama – Pergamon is a splendid natural acropolis, Bergama has hot springs. Both were occupied in the Bronze Age and both lie east of Lesbos. They are close to the ‘Hellespont’, assuming, with at least one leading scholar, that this name applied to the whole of the northern Aegean Sea in the time of Homer. But not visible from Samothrace or near Imbros and Tenedos. This is where the legends say the Greeks first fought on Asian soil.

‘Troys’ found in Croatia, the Baltic and near Ely can have no relevance to Homer’s version of the story of the Trojan War in the Iliad.

6. Some general comments 
a) As one who works with academics, in education, and as a successful author, we should expect SK to stick to the conventional views, which he does. He sees the Trojan War stories as myths and was not apparently interested in discussing their possible origins. So the possible historical elements in the myths are not explored. While he had heard of my work on Troy at Pergamon / Bergama, he did not know about the discovery of the Iliadic plain of Troy there. So I gave him a copy of my book to remedy this.
b) SK said in passing that Troy had a good harbour but this is not true. There are no god natural harbours with two headlands on the Straits. In Trojan times Hisarlik was a coastal fort, bordering on a large bay at the mouth of the river Mendere. This will have been gradually silting up, so was probably shallow, and may not have been suitable for large invading ships. Manfred Korfmann’s job when he went to Hisarlik was to discover an alternative harbour for Troy and he found one at Besik Bay, a few miles to the SW of Hisarlik. But this location does not match with either Homer’s descriptions of the bay of Troy, or with the Iliadic descriptions of the Trojan plain. Scholars today have different views as to where Troy harbour once was.
c) SK showed two close-up photos of a gold necklace or head piece, part of ‘Priam’s treasure’ now on display in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. This display, as a few of us saw during our NADFAS Moscow visit three years ago, was stunning, and one or two more photos would have done this display more justice. Wikipedia’s page on Priam’s treasure gives a better impression of this treasure, and also shows Schliemann’s young wife wearing the diadems. See’s_Treasure

7. Further information 
Those interested can learn more from my web site,

PJ Crowe, 10 Rectory Lane, N Runcton, PE330QU. Email: