More than half of all surviving Greek literature is written about it. It has been the subject of a Shakespeare play and many Hollywood movies. From it we get such phrases as “Achille's heel”, “Cassandra complex”, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”, and words like “Pander”. It is, of course, the Trojan War.
The Greeks never tired of hearing the stories of courageous heroes and their mighty deeds in battle. Yet the modern reader often has trouble getting involved in the story. A ten year war over one unfaithful wife? And you thought the Vietnam War was pointless! Could the ancients really be so barbaric as to glorify such a war?
Until recently, the Trojan War was thought to be nothing more than a myth. How could a war in which gods fought alongside mortals, horses could speak, and heroes perform impossible acts even have a remote element of truth. Thanks to the work of amateur archaeologists Heinrich Schliemann, we now know that, like most other myths, the Trojan War has its basis in truth.
According to ancient legend, the city of Troy was built by two of the gods. Today, archaeologists refer to this city as Troy VII, the seventh city built on that location. The ancient Greeks had many reasons to attack the Trojans. The Trojans dominated the Greeks in trade. They also stood as a barrier to further eastward expansion, and controlled valuable land and water routes.
Fear of the Trojans kept the Greeks in check, but events were soon to change. An earthquake devastated Troy, and the Hittite empire, Troy’s strongest ally, disintegrated. The Greeks seized their chance. For whatever reason they finally went to war against Troy, they needed little provocation. Perhaps the story of Helen has a little truth in it after all.
After the war ended, the Greeks returned home to only a brief moment of piece. They were themselves attacked and besieged by Dorians. The Greeks, still in the bronze age, were no match for the Dorians. One by one, the Greek cities fell until only Athens was left.
Eventually the Dorian invaders became absorbed by the Greeks, but the entire Greek world, exhausted, isolated, and fragmented, collapsed into economic depression and political instability. The Greeks longed for the good old days, and poets nostalgically sang about the heroes of old. And so this almost insignificant war, which otherwise might have been totally forgotten by history, became the most famous conflict of all time.
Time marches on. As the legend of Troy passed on to other cultures, who didn't have the same historical connections to it, the war was viewed differently. The whole thing was looked upon as a big tragedy, a waste of life. Sympathy was given to the Trojans. The Romans went so far as to claim descent from the Trojans.