Book Review: The Attack on Troy by Rodney Castleden

The Attack on Troy by Rodney Castleden endeavors to give a “true” account of the Trojan War. Some 3500 years ago, Agamemnon, high king of Mycenae and Hegamon of the Greeks lead the combined might of the Greek city-states in a war against the city of Troy which was near the Bosporus in Anatolia (modern day Turkey). This conflict gave rise to two of the first and greatest works in Western literature; The Iliad and The Odyssey. In this work, Castleden reviews and reconsiders all the available evidence to ascertain the historical truth of the Trojan War.

Castleden does not shy away from departing from The Iliad when its account of the conflict is evidently unlikely. But even then, Castleden still explains how the fantastical elements in Homer match with the facts. For example, the open actions of the Olympian gods cannot be more than fiction, however, without a doubt the warriors on both sides of the conflict prayed to those gods, and even thought that the gods were on their side, or against them, and acted according to that belief.

Further, Castleden explains that the Trojan Horse as it is described in The Iliad is nothing more than a bit of poetic license on the part of Homer. However, there still is a seed of truth in the story; that is to say, that large siege engines, particularly siege towers were in use throughout the Near East and Mediterranean world at this time. These siege towers were basically mobile platforms that would be wheeled into place against the besieged city’s walls and a ramp lowered to disgorge soldiers to attack the walls. With the ramps lowered these towers resembled a horse’s head. Thus a possible true explanation of the Trojan Horse.

Castlesden investigates even the minor details, such as where the Mycenaeans and their allies, actually landed, beached their ships and built their camp. Castlesden’s examination of the literature is through. He also uses the current available archeological evidence to create a plausible history of the war. Further he examines the battle tactics and the equipment used by both sides.

The book is well written. The prose is clear and jargon-less. Castleden sensibly proposes two likely explanations how well the Iliad matches with history: a minimalist view, which sees the smallest possible connection between the fact of the war and the fiction of Homer. He also gives the maximalist outlook, which is that Homer was basically writing history when he composed The Iliad.

Overall, the book is accessible to any and all readers that are interested in the subject of the Trojan War and ancient history.

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