Troy, also known as Illium, or Ilios, or Ilion, or possibly even Wilios or Wilusa, was one of the major city-states of the ancient world, at the center of a complex web of allied and enemy states. The people of Troy are known as Trojans or Dardanians. The region around Troy is sometimes known as The Troad. The infamous Trojan War destroyed the city-state of Troy and many of its allies. These events set the stage for much of classical mythology and literature. The war is usually dated to around 1200 BC, sometimes as 1194 BC to 1184 BC. The city of Troy features heavily in Homer's Iliad, and is the starting point of Homer's Odyssey, and Virgil's Aeneid. The invading force is variously known as Achaeans, Danaans, or Argives in Homeric texts, but in modern representations are usually just called Greeks or Myceneans.
Culturally, the Trojan people would be very similar to the Achaeans / Greeks. Extrapolating from Homer, we gather that they spoke the same language, worshiped the same Gods, used similar implements of war, and had parallel funerary customs.
The Troy of Legend would have enormous walls, and a population of in the tens of thousands at least. Homer describes the Achaean fleet as being 1,186 ships. If each ship had 100 men, that would be a fighting force over 100,000 strong. He describes the Trojan army being roughly a tenth the number of Achaeans. Assuming that able-bodied men make up less than half the population, the city must be well over 20,000. The Trojan forces are also bolstered by various allied states, which is part of what caused the Achaeans to sack other cities in the 9th year of the war. During the war, the Troad would be marked by at least one Achaean-made wall (complete with ditch and gates), numerous battlefields (or perhaps just one large enough to host hundreds of thousands of soldiers), and the pillaged ruins of various smaller communities. Homer also names 14 rivers within the Troad, and mentions that the city itself sits upon a steep hill or cliff.
Troy is one of the most famous cities that might or might not have existed. The commonly accepted archaeological site for Troy is in Hisarlik, Turkey, where a number (at least 7) of now-ruined cities were built one atop the next over the course of centuries. These ruins were first identified as Troy by Heinrich Schliemann in 1870. Until that time, Troy was a lost city of antiquity.
Some scholars are critical of Schliemann, and would locate Troy elsewhere or contest that it even existed outside of Legend. Schliemann thought for certain that Troy was at Hisarlik, and found a great treasure at Troy II, the level of the second city built at the site. He labeled this as Priam's treasure, but later later archaeologists think it's more likely that the Troy of Legend was Troy VI or Troy VIIa. One of Schliemann's servants, named Yannakis, claimed Schliemann fabricated Priam's treasure horde out of the finds of several different digs.
David A Traill has written a book that questions Schliemann's honesty about many of his findings and the events in his life, but does not contest the location of Troy. He does, however, accuse Schliemann of some shenanigans in his later discoveries of the cities of Mycenae.
Other scholars note that Homer's sailing times seem unusually long for the Mediterranean Sea, and not all of Homer's descriptions match the geography of Hisarlik. This could be the result of poetic license, a natural outgrowth of Homer being both blind and not a sailor, or as evidence that Hisarlik is not the true site of Troy. Sir Moses Finley believed that nothing in Homer's writings was the least bit historical or accurate.
Iman Wilkens has written a book that proposes the entirety of the Trojan War predates the Greeks and was transplanted. In Wilkens' version of events, Troy was in what is now England, the Achaeans were Celts instead of Greeks, and the Odyssey took place in the Atlantic. His claims have yet to find much support from the larger archaeological community, but are an interesting read and make for a captivating campaign setting.
Thanks to all this controversy, the GM is free to define Troy however he likes within the context of his campaign.
And of course, the best source is to read Homer.
For views outside the mainstream:
Schliemann of Troy : Treasure and Deceit, by David A. Traill
Where Troy Once Stood, by Iman Wilkens Wilkens' website
Game and Story Use
- Any historical or fantasy game set in the decades leading up to 1200 BC should probably mention the growing climate of tension and conflict between Mycenae and Troy. In many ways, the Trojan War was the classical equivalent of WWI. It started as a conflict between a handful of leaders, and quickly grew to encompass all of the Mediterranean.
- In a Pulp game, PCs could uncover a different set of ruins that more clearly matches Homer's descriptions.
- PCs in a Classical Greek campaign could be asked to aid in the sacking or defense of Troy. Seeing as how the players would know that the war lasts 10 bloody years, the PCs might go to the same lengths that Achilles did to try to escape such a fate.
- Wilkens' Celtic Troy hypothesis could make for a very interesting campaign setting. His book is quite detailed, and locates all the major cities of Homer at various points along the Atlantic Coast of Europe. His map of Odysseus' journey through the Atlantic is quite intriguing, taking him as far as Cuba.
- The Iliad and Odyssey have been referenced repeatedly in fiction and cinema, from James Joyce's Ulysses to the Coen Brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou. A campaign could use a similar tactic, being structured to follow the plot of one of another of the classics, with references overt or subtle as fit your tastes.