The Ancient City of Troy as Britain's Origin

Author: 

Ancient Greek historians placed the Trojan War as early as 14th century BC. In ancient Greek memory, this Mycenaean Bronze Age became the age of the Greek heroes. In the Iliad, the Achaeans from Greece campaigned to recover Helen, wife of the Spartan Menelaus, carried off by the Trojan Paris. The city of Troy itself stood on a hill, across the plain of Scamander, where the battles of the Trojan War took place, ending in Greek victory and the recovery of Helen. The archeologist Schliemann found five cities built on top of each other on the site. Later excavators discovered another two more. Several levels from Schliemann's and later excavations are shown here. This photo shows the great outer walls of the fourth level from the top, which is now considered to have been the one inhabited by King Priam and his court. The city had to be approached through a zigzag entrance which was a great advantage to its defenders.

The fame of the Trojan War in Roman and medieval times provided a starting point for founding myths of nations. The most influential, Virgil's Aeneid, traces the journeys of the Trojan prince Aeneas, supposed ancestor of the founders of Rome. Subsequently, the heroes of Troy, both those noted in Homer such as Odysseus (Ulysses) and those invented for the purpose, often appeared in origin stories of the nations of early Europe. The Roman de Troie was common cultural ground, as a Trojan pedigree was gloriously ancient and established an equality with Rome. So Priam appears in Fredegar's chronicle as the first king of the Franks.Curiously enough modern genetics exactly confirms the basic historical validity of these legends. Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza used polymorphisms from proteins found within human blood to show that within most of Europe, the major genetic character may best be explained by immigration coming from the southeast towards the northwest or in other words from the Middle East towards Britain and Ireland. He proposed at the time that the introduction of farming technology might be the best explanation for this. Thus modern genetics confirms medieval mythology.

Along these lines, Geoffrey of Monmouth reworked earlier material such as the Historia Brittonum to trace the legendary kings of the Britons from a supposed descendant of Aeneas called Brutus. In Spenser's Faerie Queene London is called Troy Novant, or New Troy. Thus, in Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare is very sympathetic to the Trojans and quite critical of the Greeks. These preferences diverge drastically from modern academic allegiance to Athenian culture. By 2010 genetic studies of the British confirmed the oldest-surviving British male lineages had mostly migrated to Britain from the Balkans, and ultimately from the Middle East. Moreover, in pre-Roman times Britain was regularly visited by Carthaginian traders deriving from Tyre, in the Levant. Hence perhaps Blake's "Jersusalem" poem based on the apocryphal story that a young Jesus accompanied this merchant Joseph of Arimathea, traveling to the area that is now England and visiting Glastonbury. "Jerusalem" is considered to be England's most popular patriotic song; The New York Times has called it "Fast becoming an alternative national anthem." (20 July 2009)

[Data courtesy of the Yorck Project, under Creative Commons Attribution-Share- Alike License (Wikipedia)]

Related Play: 

Related Topic: 

Except where otherwise specified, all written commentary is © 2016, Hugh Macrae Richmond