Troy, the Origin of Empires: Part 1 The Roman

When I was a little boy I regularly used to visit Mrs Bruce, the caretaker of Helen’s Tower at Clandeboye, County Down. This beautiful Tower was designed by William Burn, constructed in 1848-50, probably as a Great Famine Relief project, by Lord Dufferin, and not finished completely until October 1861. It is named in honour of his mother Helen Selina, Countess of Gifford, who was a granddaughter of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, poet and dramatist. She herself was a poetess of repute, being the author of Dr. Ian Paisley’s favourite poem, The Irish Immigrant. On the first floor there was a bedroom, above it a sitting room with a carved and diapered ceiling, each square of which contained either a coronet or crest. Upon the walls of the room golden tablets recorded the poems associated with the name of Helen, Lady Dufferin, who died of cancer of the breast in 1867.

One of these poems, Helen’s Tower by Robert Browning reads:

Who hears of Helen's Tower, may dream perchance
How the Greek Beauty from the Scæan Gate
Gazed on old friends unanimous in hate,
Death-doom'd because of her fair countenance.

In March of this year I accompanied the Somme Association and dignitaries from throughout Northern Ireland to Troy to see again the “Scæan Gate” and explained the connection with Helen’s Tower at Clandeboye and the replica of the Ulster Tower at Thiepval. Today’s investigations at Troy obviously involve many disciplines outside that of archæological investigation, including philological studies, not only that of Homer’s works in Ancient Greek, but in Anatolian studies as well. This is a discipline based upon both the speech and culture of the Hittites and Luwians, not to mention comparative studies in prehistoric, classical and Near Eastern archaeology.

We now have a clear picture of Late Bronze Age settlement in the area, in a city that not only presents an obvious distinction between an upper and a lower city but one with finds and archæological details more characteristic of an Anatolian as opposed to an Aegean scheme. This is particularly significant in a period when much of the Anatolian peninsula was dominated by the Biblical Hittites; the site is obviously critical for both Anatolian studies and Hittitology. The existence of Hittite treaties with Troy or (W)ilos – Wilusa in the Hittite texts- has recently been confirmed. Ancient Greek philology as well, in particular the offshoot devoted to Homeric studies, continues to emphasize the importance of Troy.

Among the recent publications on Homer and his works we may cite those of the well known scholar of Greek, Professor Martin L. West of Oxford and those of Professor Jaochim Latacz of Basel. Both these scholars see a historical core to the Iliad. Modern scholars of Anatolian Studies represented by the internationally acclaimed Hittitologists Professors David Hawkins of London, Frank Starke of Tübingen and others, generally agree that investigations here lie within the land and city both called Wilusa by the Hittites. Troy was the home of a local power that in the 13th Century BC became a vassal state of the Hittite Kingdom.

As early as the third century BC, Rome began to acclaim its Trojan descent. The city goddess Roma appeared in coinage as a Trojan donning a Phrygian headdress. The same held true for the “Trojan” goddess Venus/ Aphrodite. As mother of the renowned hero Aeneas who led the surviving Trojans to Latium in Italy, where they settled and established the lineage of the Roman population, she was therefore the patron goddess of Julius Caesar who dominated Roman politics from 60 to 44 BC. Julius’ patrician ancestry, that of the Iulii or Julians, was traced back to Aeneas’ son Ilos (Iulus or Julius Ascanius) and marked the family as potential rulers. Julius Caesar dreamed of an incursion against the Parthians, following once more upon the footsteps of Alexander the Great. He was said to have wanted to establish a new capital in the “old homeland” of Troy. His plans however were thwarted by his assassination. It is interesting to note that Constantine the Great (306-337) first established the Eastern Roman Empire from what is now Istanbul on the Bosphorus, having first chosen Ilion as the location for his new capital. Construction here had already begun before his final option in 326 AD for Byzantion which he then renamed Constantinople, a name which survived until our own time.

C. Day Lewis’s translation of the Aeneid of Virgil puts it thus:

“Thus it is written. An age shall come, as the years glide by,
When the children of Troy shall enslave the children of Agamemnon,
Of Diomed and Achilles, and rule in conquered Argos
From the fair seed of Troy there shall be born a Caesar –
Julius, his name derived from great Iulus – whose empire
Shall stretch the ocean’s limits, whose fame shall end in the stars.”

To be continued

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