Thursday, August 13, 2009

In Search of the Trojan War

I just watched the 6-hour BBC miniseries In Search of the Trojan War (again) which, while nearly 25 years old now, still is mostly accurate and most of the conclusions narrator slash amateur archeologist and historian Michael Wood presents are amongst the accepted mainstream hypotheses nowadays. Personally, my favorite episodes are the last two; the ones that put the putative historical core that formed the basis for The Iliad in historical context of what was going on in the eastern Mediterranean, Aegean and Asia Minor regions between about 1300 B.C. and 1180 or so B.C. (the Trojan War being dated to roughly 1250 B.C.)

Wood presents an intriguing scenario; a patchwork of Empires (the so-called "Great Powers Club") of the historical near east include Egypt, Hatti, Babylon, Assyria, Mitanni and possibly the Achaean Greeks as a member on the northwestern fringe, with a number of other powerful city-states that serve more as clients, vassals and occasionally rebellious kingdoms with pretentions to greatness, including Amurru, Arzawa, the Assuwa Confederation, Israel, etc.

The last decades of the Bronze Age are characterized by inter-Imperial "cold wars" which occasionally flared up into real battles. With the exception of the famous clash at Qadesh, in which Hittite and Egyptian forces fought directly, this was often mostly done by these empires offering up sacrificial clients; Egypt and Babylon (and later Assyria) encouraged and supported rebellions of client states in the Levant, and Greek interference on the west coast of Asia Minor (including, perhaps, the historical core of the Trojan War itself) caused a possible conflict with the Hittites, as reported in the "Tawagalawa Letter" recoved on clay tablet from the Hittite archive at Boğazköy in present day Turkey.

Of course, this appearance of vibrancy was perhaps a bit of a sham, because a few decades later, the infamous Bronze Age collapse occured. The Mycenean palace civilization was thrown into ruins, and Greece entered a 500 year dark age. The Hittite kingdom completely disappeared, to be subsequently nearly completely forgotten for thousands of years, and the Phrygians (probably of Balkan origin) later rule over their territory. Almost every city state from the Dardanelles to the Nile was destroyed. Egypt kept the best records of the time, recounting numerous battles with the displaced "Sea Peoples"; of mysterious extraction, they appear to be entire displaced populations looking for places to settle.

When the dust cleared, the Hittites were gone, the Myceneans were gone, the Mitanni were gone, the Philistines and other foreign populations were settled into new lands, and the so-called Iron Age was in full swing. Greece later emerged from its dark age as Classical Greece, Asia Minor's culture and ethnic make-up was completely changed, the Levant and the Phoenicians/Canaanites had almost completely replaced the Greeks as the Mediterranean naval power, and other vast changes in societies throughout the Near East had taken place.

I bring this up, because going through Deadhouse Gates, which I'm currently reading (only about 20-25% complete so far) has made me think that this same basic plot outline would make an absolutely fascinating story arc for a long, fantasy epic of the type that Erikson writes. Twist the geography a bit so it's not immediately recognizeable, make all of the various entities unrecognizeable culturally and linguistically, and you've got a skeletal outline of an incredible fantasy epic; the story of the fall of empires.

Great stuff. I think history also provides great fodder for "fantasization" in the form of the history of the Tarim basin, but that's a post for another day...

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