When we read Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, (which just about every schoolchild in America has been asked to do for generations) we naturally assume them to be largely tall tales, set in the eastern Mediterranean area. However, while there are elements of the fantastical in these epics, there is also a solid historical core. That may not surprise TBR readers, but what is surprising is that the setting of the events is not in the modern areas of Greece and Turkey at all (forget about Heinrich Schliemann). According to a growing number of thinkers, these events happened even earlier than we might have thought, and far to the north, in the lands we think of as the home of the Vikings. Sound far-fetched? Read on . . .
By John Tiffany
The idea that the Mykenaens had a northern origin is not really a new one, although it may come as a novelty to most TBR readers. It may also come as a surprise to learn that the “Troy” (actually at least nine Troys at what is today Turkey’s Hisarlik) discovered by Heinrich Schliemann may not have been the original Troy of Homer.
Consider the region of Troy. In the Iliad it is stated to be located along the Hellespont, which is systematically described as being a “wide” or “boundless” sea. We can therefore exclude the notion that it refers to the Dardanelles, where the city found by Schliemann lies. The identification of this city with Homer’s Troy continues to raise doubts among the cognoscenti. One of the first critics was Moses Finley in his famous The World of Odysseus.
Amazingly, evidence has now emerged to make a convincing case that Homer’s Troy was in what today we call Finland, and the ancient Achaeans, as the forerunners of the Mykenaeans are called, resided, at the time of the legendary Trojan War, in the region of Scandinavia.
Swedish historian Martin P. Nilsson was one of the first to come out with this amazing thesis that the Mykenaeans had a Nordic origin. In Homer and Mycenae and The Minoan-Mycenaean Religion and Its Survival in Greek Religion, Prof. Nilsson reports on archeological evidence uncovered in Mykenaean sites in Greece that supports the theory that the Achaean population came from the north. Examples: the presence of large amounts of Baltic amber in the most ancient Mykenaean tombs in Greece (but not in the later ones), the Nordic features of Mykenaean architecture and the racially Nordic skulls found in the Kalkani necropolis.
Between 13,000 and 8000 B.C. the vast glaciers of the last ice age melted, and the levels of the world oceans rose by 360 feet, submerging vast areas of what we now call the continental shelves of the world. The effect of this glacial melting and sea level rise on archaic European life marked the end of the Paleolithic and the beginning of the Neolithic era. Much of the civilization of that time may have been in areas that are now under the sea.
One needs further to realize that the climate in northern Europe, including Scandinavia and the Baltic area, was significantly milder in the Bronze Age, until the second millennium B.C., than it is today. This period of warmth, from 8000 B.C. up till 500 B.C., is known as the postglacial climatic optimum (we will call it the PGCO), which can in turn be broken down into four phases. Here we are concerned with the warmest of these, which is called the Atlantic phase. This was quite long lasting, from 5500 B.C. until 2000 B.C.—over 3,000 years, which allows plenty of time for civilizations to arise, flourish and fall.
During this time, the winters were mild and humid; the red fir, alder and hazel forests of the cooler phases preceding it in the Baltic area gave way to mighty oaks, which require warmer climate. The climate then began to cool off again, and beech trees and firs began to prevail during what is called the Sub-Boreal phase of the PGCO. Research on pollens proves beyond doubt that these changes in climate and vegetation actually occurred, as Mario Pinna, professor of earth sciences at the University of Turin, explains in his traits on climatology.
Before the Atlantic era came the Recent Pre-Boreal (RPB; 8000-7000 B.C.) and Boreal (7000-5500 B.C.) periods.
Homer’s works may well have had their real-life setting in the Sub-Boreal period.
According to scholar Pia Laviosa Zambotti, the Atlantic period, peaking about 2500 B.C., was “the best climatic period Scan dinavian countries have ever known, which justifies the high cultural level achieved in Scandinavia around 2500 B.C. . . . This long, favorable climatic period saw the development of northern cultures, including the Maglemose and Erte boelle civilizations, and Bronze Age culture, and the construction of dolmens and ‘passage grave’ tombs.”
Zambotti reports of the Sub-Boreal era: “[T]he temperature dropped. . . . Beech trees spread, and leafy flora migrated from northern Sweden to more southern areas. . . .”
The idea that the Atlantic era Baltic area was the homeland of Homer’s heroes is most recently set forth by a magisterial new book, The Baltic Origins of Homer’s Epic Tales, by Felice Vinci.
But is this just another crank theory, some of which may appear convincing at first sight? On the contrary, Vinci—a nuclear engineer with an extensive background in Latin and Greek studies, who has been researching his theory on the northern origin of Greek mythology for many years, has done his homework well. Nearly every page of his 370-page book offers additional evidence for this remarkable theory.
But probably the most convincing single piece of evidence concerns place names, which often serve as “fossils” that tell the investigator what sort of people once lived in an area, because quite often the names they give to local features persist long after the people themselves, and even the memory of them among the modern locals, have vanished from the region. (This is quite obvious from our own country, the United States, which still has thousands of place names based upon old American Indian languages.) Vinci gives example after example of how supposedly Greek place names correspond with place names in the Baltic area.
Often an ethnic group when it migrates from one region to another, will take their place names with them and apply them to what seem appropriate features in their new, adopted homeland.
But could the correspondences cited by Vinci be caused by mere coincidence? The catalog of ship names proves there is more to this situation than coincidence alone.
The reason: if you read the list of ship names as given in Homer’s Iliad starting with Iliad 2.494 to 97 and 507-10 (266 lines of verse, known collectively as The Catalog of Ships), which present us with 29 Achaean fleets that took part in the Trojan War, and match them as best you can with the place names of Greece, you find they skip all over the region. Neither is the sequence hierarchical. For example, the commander-in-chief, Agamemnon, who “was the most eminent; he led a great many troops” (Iliad 2.580), is listed ninth.
Yet when you match them to places in the Baltic area, you can go down the list, item by item, and they correspond not to random locations in the Baltic; rather they proceed in stately fashion in a counterclockwise direction around the Baltic Sea. (This is a traditional way of ordering things that goes back into the mists of time; Vinci gives several examples.)
Vinci provides the reader with a map of the Baltic showing the exact, counterclockwise progression of places and peoples listed in Homer’s Catalog of Ships (see page 8):
Hyrie (modern Herraeng), in Sweden, Aulis (Norrtaellje), Thebes (Taeby), Boeotia, Minyhae, Phoci, Crisa (Kisa), Thron ion (Tranas), Tarphe (Torpa), Locris, Euboea (Oeland), Cal larius (Hallarum), Athens (Karlskrona), Asine (Asum), Tiryns (Tyringe), Troezen (Traene), Calydon (Kiel), Pylene (Ploen), Ole nus (Wolin), Aetolia (Jutland), Crete, Rhodes (Rodniki), Lin dus (Lida), Crapethus (Klaipeda), Curetes (Kurland), Casus (Cesis), Libya (Livonia), Cos (Koeo), Phthia, Helias, Thessalus (Teis sala), Troy (Toija), Pherae (Voera), Iolcus (Jolkka), Titanus (Tiiton ranta), Meliboea (Myllyperae), Pelion (Paljakka), Oloos son (Oulu), and Cyphus (Kuivniemi).
In many cases, the similarity of the ancient and modern names is obvious even to the layman. Such a neat sequence could not happen by accident.
The Achaean migration from the Baltic to what is today called Greece fits in with the diaspora of other Indo-European populations in the first half of the second millennium B.C.: the Hittites in Anatolia, the Cassites in Mesopotamia, the Tocharians in Turkestan and the Aryans in India. As to the latter, it is remarkable that Bal Gangahar Tilak, a Hindu scholar, found traces of the probable Arctic origin of the Aryans in the Vedic hymns. This squares with clues emerging of a still earlier location of the Achaeans, connected to the mythical world of the gods, even more northerly than the Baltic one, in the Lappish area and even the coast of the Arctic Ocean.
In fact, Vinci finds Olympus, with the name almost un changed from Achaean times, when it was called Oulympos, in Finland, where it is now called Oulankajoki. (Interchanges between p and k are common in Greek dialects. There is, for example, pou and kou for “where” and pote and kote for “when.”)
Homer writes of a journey by the goddess Hera, from Olym pus to Lemnos. Along the way she passes through Pieria (Lap land), then travels along the Gulf of Bothnia’s west side from north to south (Emathia and Thracia to the Achaeans), and finally cuts across the sea toward Lemnos (modern Lem land). This, says Vinci, confirms the location in Sweden of Homer ic Thrace, which is also where the Norse god Thor lived.
Bronze Age artifacts are frequently found by Scandinavian farmers plowing their fields, although we hear little about this.
Vinci points out many similarities between the region of the Finnish Toija and Homer’s Troy, which can be verified by any visitor to Finland. Aerial surveying of the area of Toija and Kirkkojaervi gives us a good picture of where the ancient Trojan War may well have taken place. (We anxiously await more focused and in-depth archeological investigation.)
It is interesting to note that when Homer speaks of the Styx, he never refers to it as a river. Instead he uses the expression “the waters of Styx” (hydor Stygos). “Styx” means “hateful” and its root, styg-, is very similar to the Norwegian stygg, meaning “ugly.” Vinci identifies the Styx as the lakes Kitka and Livojaervi, one of which flows into the White Sea while the other flows into the Baltic, based on what Homer says about the Styx.
Homer also writes about a murderous whirlpool. There is nothing like this in the Mediterranean, but there is such an eddy in the Lofoten archipelago of Scandinavia. It is known as the Maelstrom, or, in Norwegian, Moskenstraumen. For centuries, there have been tales of ships being swallowed up in this region. The British Admiralty advises sailors to steer clear of it.
In short, from all the converging information magisterially summarized by Vinci, the Urheimat, the original homeland of the Indo-Europeans, emerges as an Arctic land. It lay in the northernmost part of Scandinavia, or rather, the area stretching from Lapland to the Kola Peninsula. Five or six thousand years ago, the primordial Indo-European civilization developed there, thanks to the favorable climate of that era.
It seems remarkable to think that nowadays the Finns spend their time skiing on their native slopes, unaware that they may be trampling with their ski boots the very ground where lay the “fragrant altar” of the shrine of the king of the gods, Zeus, and where Paris awarded the golden apple to divine Aphrodite.
Whether you are a fan of Greek civilization or simply an Aryan buff, you will find much of interest in Vinci’s tome, recently translated into English from his native Italian.