B.G. Hilton – Author

In Search Of… S02E8: Troy

A woman in a white robe walks on the beach while Nimoy narrates the basics of the Iliad. Helen, stolen away, the Greek army comes after, besieges Troy, wooden horse. True story or not?

Man in pith helmet looking into hole = archaeology

Interesting question. There’s an archaeological site in Turkey that is called ‘Troy’, and which matches some elements of the Homeric description of Troy in terms of location, size and shape. Is that enough to say that the Iliad is a true story? Is it even enough to claim that it is based on a real story? Let’s watch.

Majestic shot of Ionian mountains, mellow electronic music. Nimoy tells us that ‘relatively few Westerners go to Turkey, these days.’ What? Seriously? Okay, if this is the level of scholarship we’re looking at here, perhaps we won’t get a satisfactory answer to our question.

Nimoy talks about Greek colonies in what’s now Western Turkey. This bit honestly looks like someone was supposed to do an assignment on Greek colonies in a high school history class, but didn’t do the reading. Basically, there’s a bunch of shots of statues of gods and heroes. Nimoy claims that Homer did a lot to further the legends of heroes, learning about them by traveling through Ionia.

There’s a re-enactment of Homer walking through a ruined city, the camera pointed at his shadow. It’s so cute. Anyway, ‘some say’ Homer was a guy who picked up all of these stories about Troy and pieced them together into the Iliad. They do correctly point out that the Iliad doesn’t mention the Trojan Horse.

Nimoy, sitting in on the 1970s-est sofa ever, says that many scholars doubt whether the Iliad referred to real events, or even whether Homer was an actual person or whether the Iliad was just an anthology of folktales. Well, if Homer did pick up pieces of his story from all around Ionia, then the Iliad is an anthology, and Homer is the anthologist. Just saying.

Some people believed that the Iliad was literally true. This included Heinrich Schliemann, a self-educated and self-made millionaire. The re-enactment of Schliemann sitting on a horse surveying the Turkish plains is deeply charming. ‘Schliemann’, in white suit and pith helmet is shown looking around, checking out things on the ground. You can almost imaging him saying ‘Ist Troy over here? Nein. How about over here?’

Basically, we’re told that he’s looking for things that match with Homer’s descriptions. The bit where he tries to test a particular ruined city by running around it and seeing if the time he took is the same as the time it took Hector to chase Achilles around the walls of Troy is just lovely.

More shots of ‘Schliemann’ looking at things while Nimoy talks about how smart he was. The scenery is very lovely – rolling hills and fertile plains.  The camera crew was clearly having the time of their lives.

‘Schliemann’ looks at some things on the ground, which we’re assured are evidence that even someone less clever than Schliemann would have recognised. The S-man orders diggings to commence, while Nimoy gives a speech about how scholars of his time scoffed at him and looked down on him. In this sort of show, that’s always a good sign that they think their guy is right. Scholars never scoff at anyone who deserves to be scoffed at. Just doesn’t happen.

But Schliemann does find evidence! Yay! ‘The remnants of a lost civilisation.’ Walls, basically. Nimoy claims that the things Schliemann found were more advanced than things we can make today. This claim is illustrated with footage of someone making a simple coil pot, so I’m inclined to take it with a grain of salt.

There’s some footage of Turkish women using spindles and cookware, very similar to the cookware and spindles found in Troy. How does this make the Trojans more advanced? Is that even an argument that we’re really taking seriously, is that just In Search Of’s go-to when talking about the ancient past?

Anyway, ‘Schliemann’ walks through the city, imagining Trojan craftsmen. File footage of Turkish craftspeople. This is getting lazy. More footage of artefacts, while Nimoy tries to make it more interesting. He almost succeeds.

Brief mention of the fact that the site Schliemann discovered was actually nine different cities, each built on top of the ruins of another. Which (if any) was the Troy of the Iliad? But we’re skipping over that to look at bronze ingots and ships’ stoves. Shots of volcanoes because Troy II was destroyed by fire.

Next up, we’re told what Troy II is. Basically, the oldest city is Troy I, youngest Troy IX. Schliemann thought Troy II was Homer’s city, but nowadays we think that the walls of Troy VI look like a better bet. Lots of very sweet footage of the ruins, while Nimoy talks up Troy VI, with its cosmopolitan ways.

There are inscriptions that Nimoy claims show that Alexander the Great thought the Iliad was literally true. So? Alexander the Great was basically history’s most successful frat-boy, not a scholar. Next came the Romans. I’m not sure if Nimoy means they came physically, (though they did control Ionia) or they came to the Troy story. He’s talking about Virgil’s Aeneid, which tied the story of Troy into the history of Rome — and also added the element of the wooden horse.

After a little aside about Augustus wanting to move Rome’s capital to Troy (seriously?), we’re told that Schliemann was so keen on Greece that ‘he took a young Greek woman to be his bride.’

Ew. Really creepy way of putting that. Besides if he was so into Ancient Greece, surely an old Greek woman would have been more appropriate. Re-enactment Schliemann is talking to re-enactment Bride of Schliemann when he re-enacts finding his greatest discovery. Schliemann goes into a hole into Troy II, because he’d seen a flash of treasure. Long, long, super long build up as he digs it out.

It was beaten gold jewellery. Very cool looking. Somehow this was proof that Helen was real. Not seeing it myself. Oh, and Schliemann smuggled it out of the country, against the wishes of the Turkish authorities. The treasure was sent to the Berlin museum, where it was looted during World War II. Pity, would have been much safer in Istanbul. Nice stock footage of the war, though.

Coming into a landing now. Nimoy tells us that little changed in Turkey between the 1870s and the 1970s, which is a straight-up falsehood. Footage of the 1976 earthquake. The people rebuilt, just as the ancient Trojans rebuilt. The final collapse of Troy was probably after an earthquake, but Nimoy asks isn’t it nicer to believe that it fell “gloriously and for love?” End

Super lazy episode this week. Really lazy. Some nice footage, but… yeah, lazy.

More interesting is where does this fit into In Search Of’s usual oeuvre?

Well, we’re told that there is a solid, firm archaeological establishment that, with one voice, accepts or scoffs at theories. This is how a lot of fringe people see academia in general; a bunch of hidebound old fools who exist simply to repeat what was told to them by their own teachers. Only a brilliant outsider can come into their comfortable world and shake things up with new discoveries! And Schliemann is constantly… repeatedly put forward as proof of that. The brilliant layman, mocked by his academic peers who failed to see his brilliance.

Except, that’s not really how it was. Schliemann was working at a time when the wild, treasure hunting days of early archaeology were only just starting to settle down. Schliemann wasn’t a brilliant newcomer so much as the last hurrah of an older way of doing things. There was a time when archaeology mostly just rich yahoos running into the wilderness with  spades and digging stuff up. By Schliemann’s day, we were beginning to see the field become the professional, scientific endeavour it is today, but the key word here is ‘beginning.’

Besides, Schliemann excavated a city that matches some of the Homeric description of Troy. Does that mean that there really was a massive Greek invasion of Ionia? Maybe. Maybe not. Whoever ‘Homer’ was, the Iliad was an oral record for possibly centuries before it was put on paper. Schliemann found some interesting stuff. He also did irreparable damage to an important site. Maybe he did find Homer’s Troy — but even if he did, he was still a hack.

Basically, I think this episode exists mostly to push the legend of the heroic outsider who forces the academic community to take them seriously. It’s important to remember that it takes quite a lot of editing to make Heinrich Schliemann fit that mould.


Nimoy: “If nothing else Schliemann, had unearthed a monument to the tenacity of man. Fire and sword had raged, again and again, a city of the living had been raised on the city of the dead.”

Okay, I’ll pay that one.

Summing up

Adorable reenactments: 9/10, Majestic footage of Turkey: 8/10, Stock footage of archaeological artifacts with minimal context: 4/10, Hagiography: 4/10, Overall likability: 5/10. Overall: 30/50. Credit

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B.G. Hilton - Author