Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Evidence from Hittite Records "Was There a Trojan War?"
Volume 57 Number 3, May/June 2004
by J.D. Hawkins

The Hittites were a powerful civilization that controlled most of Anatolia in the second millennium B.C. Their language, written in cuneiform script on clay tablets, was recovered and deciphered in the first decades of the twentieth century, but scholars are still wrestling with the problem of placing the cities and countries named in their ancient texts onto modern maps. The kingdom of Arzawa, located roughly in western Anatolia, was a threat to the Hittites throughout most of the fourteenth century B.C. but toward the end of that period was decisively defeated and broken up into provinces. The treaties concluded with the vassal rulers of these provinces are known among the Hittite texts.

Recent inscription readings have allowed scholars to locate the two main Arzawa lands in the central-west part of Turkey, extending from the inland plateau to the coast. The recent recognition that another kingdom, which the Hittites referred to as the Lukka lands, occupied what is now southwest Turkey thus leaves only northwest Anatolia as yet-to-be-filled space on the Hittite map.

One Arzawa land, Wilusa, is known principally from the treaty between its ruler Alaksandu and the Hittite king Mutawalli II (who ruled circa 1295-1272 B.C.). Sparse references in other texts of the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries B.C. imply that Wilusa was the remotest Arzawa land and lay on the coast, and this may be combined with that rare item, a Late Bronze Age city in northwestern Turkey. The evidence of its citadel and lower city is sufficient to suggest the seat of a local ruler of the period; and while the textual evidence points to Wilusa as a land, it would be usual for its capital city to have the same name.

A long letter from a Hittite king, probably Hattusili III (who ruled circa 1267-1237 B.C.), to the king of Ahhiyawa mentions that Wilusa was once a bone of contention between the two. The location of Ahhiyawa has been controversial since its earliest recognition in the Hittite texts in the 1920s. The scattered references to it suggested that it lay across the sea and that its interests often conflicted with those of the Hittites. What is now known of the geography of western Anatolia makes it clear that there could be no room on the mainland for the kingdom of Ahhiyawa. Furthermore, the references to the political interests of Ahhiyawa on the west coast mesh well with increasing archaeological evidence for Mycenaean Greeks in the area, so that it is now widely accepted that "Ahhiyawa" is indeed the Hittite designation for this culture.

From what we now can understand from the Hittite sources, the Arzawa land Wilusa, identified with the archaeological site of Troy, was a point of conflict between the Hittites and the Ahhiyawa. This provides a striking background for Homeric scholars researching the origin of the tradition of the Achaean attack on Ilios. There is every likelihood that the Iliad and the traditions of the Trojan War, however immortalized in epic narrative, do indeed preserve a memory of actual events of the Late Bronze Age.

J.D. Hawkins is professor of ancient Anatolian languages at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Back to Main Text

© 2004 by the Archaeological Institute of America