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Homer's epics

A 2,500-year-old stone coffin with well-preserved colour illustrations from Homer's epics has been discovered in western Cyprus.

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Trojan War

"The Trojan War: A New History" by Barry Strauss (Simon and Schuster).

The Trojan War is probably the world's most famous subject of legend and myth. Unfortunately, it is also shrouded in mystery and archaeological controversy. For a thousand years what the world knew of Troy, of Illium, and of ancient Greek heroes like Achilles, Agamemmnon and Paris, came through the medium of Homer's "Illiad" and "Odyssey."

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Unearthed ruins on Greek island could be palace of warrior king Ajax

On a deserted green hill above the Aegean Sea, archaeologists have unearthed what may be the palace of Ajax, one of the greatest heroes in Greek mythology.

From a rocky outcrop among the tranquil ruins, it is easy to imagine the warrior-king of Homer's Iliad setting sail from the island for Troy more than 3 300 years ago, as crowds lined the pine-covered slopes to wave farewell.
The idyllic location on Salamina island perfectly matches historical references, a fact which led archaeologists to wonder whether the scattered stones here might have formed one the most famous kingdoms of prehistoric Greece.

The central palace complex from a 3,200-year-old settlement on the island of Salamis, near Athens, Greece, is shown in an undated handout picture provided by excavator Yiannis Lolos.

"I had early indications but I wasn't certain I had discovered a palace until we found the twin ceremonial halls" - Yannos Lolos, Ioannina University archaeologist, head of the excavation.

Across the sea from Salamina lies the coast of north-eastern Peloponnese, the peninsula of the kingdoms of Agamemnon's Mycenae and Nestor's Pylos.
The Iliad is the epic story of Greek cities joining forces to wage war on Troy and recover Helen, the kidnapped queen of Sparta. Ajax, (in Greek the name is Aias) son of Telamon, is described as a massive man and a great warrior, second only to his cousin Achilles.
An icon of strength and dignity, he is mentioned by several writers of the ancient world. He appears among the early suitors of Helen, "the face that launched a thousand ships". In fact, the Greeks gathered 1 186 ships, including 12 offered by Ajax.
In Homer's Odyssey, the long-wandering hero Odysseus finds Ajax dead in the underworld but still angry he was not awarded the armour of the dead Achilles. One version of his death has him so offended at the snub that he goes mad and commits suicide.
Six years of excavations at the site of Kanakia, on the south-western tip of Salamina island, have revealed a maze of stone walls making up at least two major palatial complexes, the settlement around them stretching down to the natural port.
Kanakia, was first inhabited around 3000 B.C. The Mycenaean settlement covers some 12.5 acres, and features houses, workshops and storage areas.
So far, archaeologists have uncovered 33 rooms in the 8,000-square-foot palace, including two central royal residences containing what appear to be two bench-like beds.

"We established that there was a population exodus from Salamis, which was completely abandoned shortly after 1200 B.C. ... They must first have gone to Enkomi on Cyprus, which was already an established center. It was probably the refugees' children that moved there" - Yannos Lolos.

Salamis was founded around 1100 B.C., when Enkomi, some 2.5 miles away, was abandoned.

Longitude: 2324'40.44"E. Latitude: 3754'1.60"N

The building with the two great halls - or megara - covers 750m2 and has 33 rooms on four levels. Unlike Mycenae, Salamina is not surrounded by great walls but is built with defence in mind, with narrow, guarded entrances.
Among the finds are tools, Cypriot pottery and bronzes, proof of relations with the eastern Mediterranean. But the most stunning discovery is a single bronze scale from an armour breastplate that bears the stamp of a famous Egyptian pharaoh.
Translated by professors Jacke Phillips and John Ray at Cambridge, it is the name of Ramesses II, who ruled Egypt during the 13th century BC. It was possible that Salamina men had fought as mercenaries in the army of Ramesses.

"The piece is ... unique. I know of no other armour scale with a hieroglyphic inscription." - Jacke Phillips.

With few tangible historical finds to prove the existence of the great Mycenaean kings, the discovery on Salamina is sure to fire up yet another academic debate about Homer.
The blind poet, believed to have lived in the 8th century BC, wrote down oral stories about a war thought to have happened around 1 200 BC.
Many doubt he recounted real facts and some do not believe he even existed. Others say some of the greatest archaeological discoveries, including Troy, owe a debt to Homer's descriptions.
Lolos said 450 years is too short a time in oral tradition to forget such great kings as Agamemnon, Nestor or Ajax.

"I don't think Greeks went crazy and started inventing the names. In fact, I think others will now resort to Homer's list of ships for clues on where to dig"- Yannos Lolos.

Finds so far match the general profile of the legendary Ajax, who owned ships and got involved in piracy in the eastern Mediterranean.
The discoveries offer new clues about Mycenaean traditions.

"This verifies the existence of small kingdoms" - Christina Marabea, who works on the site.

One myth recounts that after Ajax's suicide his half-brother Teucrus, who also fought at Troy, was disowned by his father and emigrated to Cyprus, where he founded a new city of Salamina.
The ruins of Ajax's Salamina show that the city was abandoned around 1200 BC, when the Trojan war ended, but there were no signs of violence or haste.

"Why it was abandoned is a great mystery ... Ajax was the last king; maybe after his death the system collapsed"- Yannos Lolos.

At Salamina in Cyprus, evidence has been found of a wave of settlement from mainland Greece. Is it possible that Ajax's people left and set up a new home there?
By classical times a new city had been built on the other side of the Greek island of Salamina, today dominated by a large naval base. The old city was forgotten but not its king - Ajax is the name of the island's soccer team.

Watch the Channel 4 news item about the discovery
Duration: 3.5 minutes. First broadcast on Sep 29 2005.
9mb WMV file.


-- Edited by Blobrana at 00:52, 2006-05-02

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