The greatest find of the 21st century solves 3,000-year-old mystery of the Trojan War
Troy was a lost city for 2,700 years, and if what the ancients tell us is correct then the survivors of the Trojan War were relocated, and founded a city of their own. But just like Troy, it disappeared, until September of 2018 when archaeologists made the find of the 21st century, and solved a mystery almost 3,000 years in the making.
1. The new discovery
While Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey do contain a certain amount of myth, archaeologists are starting to come to terms with the fact that most of it actually happened. For millennia, scholars thought of the Trojan War as a piece of fiction, as no physical evidence was available to prove that it happened.
But thanks to a group of archaeologists in Greece’s Ministry of Culture, we may now have completed the puzzle that came unraveled over 3,000 years ago. The question of what happened to the survivors of the Trojan War was finally answered in October of 2018, when archaeologists unearthed the lost city of Tenea.
2. For centuries no one knew what happened
The Trojan War is said to have occurred sometime around 1,200 or 1,300 BC, while Homer’s account of the war (which for centuries, was the only evidence that the Trojan War happened) was written about 400 or 500 years after the fact.
It’s entirely possible that the epic story picked up some embellishments over the course of 500 years, making skeptics out of the most optimistic of scholars. In fact, in the mid-1800s, scholars had all but abandoned efforts to find Troy and started moving their copies of The Iliad and The Odyssey to the fiction shelves. But eventually, that all changed.
3. The Trojans were relocated
If Homer’s account of the war is remotely true, then it would be extremely difficult to locate the Lost City of Troy. The reason is (spoiler alert) after the walls of Troy are breached by the Greeks hiding in the famed Trojan Horse, they slaughtered most of the people and burned the city to the ground.\
Fire has the unfortunate consequence of wiping away historical records in a flash, and in this case, it buried the memory of a city for over 3,000 years. Scholars believe that the Greek King Agamemnon removed the city from the planet, then took the survivors back to Greece and allowed them to found a city of their own.
4. Tenea was founded by the survivors of Troy
King Agamemnon was especially harsh to the Trojans, partially out of jealousy, partially out of rage, for how the war was fought, and partially for good old-fashioned blood lust. Upon taking the city (which according to Homer, took Agamemnon a solid 10 years to accomplish) he killed most of the men and sold the women into slavery.
But according to Greek historian Pausanias, who was around during the second century BC, Tenea was a city founded by the survivors of the Battle of Troy. Tenea was referenced in several other Greek myths and texts, but up until 1873, the ancient texts were all we had. But in that year, one of the greatest archaeological finds in history was discovered.
5. An unlikely man searches for Troy
The discovery of the Lost City of Troy in 1873 was the 19th century archaeological equivalent of the discovery of the Tomb of King Tut. Except that King Tut’s Tomb was found by an archaeologist, whereas Troy was found by a businessman with a hobby.
Heinrich Schliemann had a boyhood obsession with The Iliad and The Odyssey. By the time he was an adult, he could read both ancient and modern Greek. He was born in Germany and later emigrated to America and became a US citizen. He retired at age 36 (must be nice) from his work and devoted the rest of his life to finding the Lost City of Troy.
6. He started digging without permission
As unlikely as it seems that a businessman armed with a copy of The Iliad in his suitcase would become the one who discovered the long-lost city of Troy, but at the time no scholar was willing to stick their neck out and try. Schliemann had great energy and drive, however, and after two years of searching, he started digging without permission from the Ottoman Government.
Schliemann chose a spot in the Dardanelles, which are and always have been the gateway to the Black Sea from the Aegean Sea. The strategically important position in what was once the Ottoman Empire was a likely choice for a city of Troy’s stature. In 1870 he started digging.
7. Schliemann finds the site
Schliemann actually discovered Troy in 1870, but as he kept digging, and what became apparent years later, is that Schliemann had only found the first version of Troy. Troy, like just about every city ever, was built on top of the ruins of earlier versions of itself.
Schliemann referenced his copy of The Iliad to determine that Troy was likely in a remote spot that was known only to the most specialized archaeologists. Once he identified the spot of Hissarlik, he focused his efforts on a tell, which was a mound of dirt that rose 100 feet high. He didn’t discover one Troy, but nine versions of the ancient city.
8. He found gold and took it
Schliemann was convinced he was in the right spot, but nobody else was. Then, in 1873 he made a discovery that shocked the world. We now know he unearthed Troy 2.0 (out of nine), and in it he found a large building that he believed to be the King of Troy’s palace (King Priam).
Then later that year, he found a massive collection of gold that he dubbed the “Treasure of Priam” (which he promptly smuggled out of the country). Since then, Hissarlik has been under constant excavation and scholars have agreed it is indeed the Lost City of Troy. The long-thought myth was actually proved true, so scholars then turned their sights on finding Tenea. But for over 100 years the trail was cold.
9. Almost 40 years after the first clue
The story of how archaeologists found the Lost City of Tenea begins almost 35 years ago in the year 1984. In that year, a young, enthusiastic team of archaeologists uncovered a sarcophagus in the Peloponnese (southwest of Athens) near the Greek village of Chiliomodi.
Dr. Elena Korka (who led the team that found Tenea) was at the site in 1984, and something about it told her it was special. “After I uncovered the sarcophagus, I knew I had to go back for more,” she said. But she waited for her chance to lead a team. When that opportunity came, even though it was 29 long years later, she went back to the sarcophagus.
10. They found Roman and Greek tombs
The sarcophagus discovered in 1984 brought exciting possibilities with it. Going through the trouble of placing a body in a sarcophagus was evidence that civilization was nearby. After all, just about every town and village in the world has a cemetery of some sort.
It was 2013 when Dr. Korka and her team returned to the sarcophagus. Dr. Korka’s team uncovered several tombs, and then a big discovery: an ancient road. For years, they followed the path of the road until it led to the site of a Roman mausoleum. Nine tombs were found in 2018 alone, and in September of that year, Dr. Korka unearthed the most important archaeological find of the 21st century.
11. Archaeologists used a drone
By October 2018 Dr. Korka and her team were positive they were on to something spectacular. All of a sudden, artifacts of all kinds began appearing beneath the carefully removed dirt. This was archaeology done the old-fashioned way, as the crew carefully began excavating what amounted to an entire ancient city.
While the crew used many old methods, which also included a ton of good ol’ research and speaking with locals, they also relied heavily on drone footage to decipher the topography. Once the site was identified, what they found was incredible. But how did they know this was the Lost City of Tenea?
12. The Teneans did well
One of the aspects of Tenea that stood out to Dr. Korka and her team was the fact that the city may have had significant wealth. Already, 200 coins have been found that span the time from the Hellenistic era (roughly 323–31 BC) to late Roman times (Rome fell in 479 AD).
Greece was conquered by the Romans in 146 BC, and many of the coins bear the mark of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (who reigned from 193–211 AD). Given the number of coins discovered from this era, Dr. Korka’s team determined that Tenea experienced significant economic growth during that time. There was other evidence of wealth too.
13. When the conquerors became the conquered
Historians often like to say that even though the Romans conquered Greece, it was actually the Romans who were conquered by Greece’s highly advanced and sophisticated culture. Over the course of the next 500 years, Romans would copy much of the Greek way, from their architecture and art to religious beliefs.
For this reason, Dr. Korka’s team excavated a number of tombs that spanned over the course of centuries. The key find was a Roman mausoleum outside of the city, and then seven other Roman Hellenistic tombs. Many contained urns and gold and silver coins indicating that the deceased were wealthy people.
14. They ruled themselves
When experienced archaeologists open a tomb or an ancient sarcophagus, they typically have an idea of what to expect. In this case, while finding urns and coins wasn’t uncommon, Dr. Korka’s team was awestruck by the kinds they found. Not only would these finds exhibit the craftsmanship of the Teneans, but also their vast wealth as well.
“We found urns that we haven’t seen before,” Dr. Korka said. “They were in touch with the West.” Not only that, but some of the coins they found were cut right there in Tenea. That means for at least a period of time, Tenea was wealthy and ruled autonomously, free from the reign of Roman Emperors. Given its location’s access to both the Adriatic and Aegean Sea, it’s easy to understand why their possessions were so diverse.
15. Teneans founded Syracuse
Archaeologists didn’t just fine urns and possessions from the West. They also found that Teneans had relationships across multiple empires. Again, it was believed to be a myth until September 2018, but legend has it that Tenea and fellow city Corinth, founded Syracuse in Sicily around the year 734 BC.
Syracuse was one of the most important trading ports in the ancient world, and just like Tenea, it was eventually taken by the Romans. But for a period during the 3rd century BC, a period of 50 years of peace and prosperity saw unprecedented wealth flood Syracuse, thus fueling a bustling economy across the Mediterranean Sea.
16. A find of significant wealth
Among the more personal of items, archaeologists managed to dig up an intact pythamphorae, which is a large jar that is used for storing items. It was made of solid bronze, again indicating that whoever owned it was a wealthy person.
When the cities of today go by the wayside sometime after tomorrow, all that will be left are the mighty sewer systems beneath them. Tenea is no different. Dr. Korka’s team unearthed a 12-foot section of clay pipe that appears to be for sewage. That’s pretty impressive because while the Greeks were smart about bringing fresh water into cities, they weren’t so good at moving bad water out.
Tenea is turning out to be quite the ancient city. Archaeologists have only begun to scratch the surface of what’s below the 733 square yards they already discovered. One of their great finds was in the interior of the structures, in what might have been considered the center of town. A large atrium was found that had columns supporting architraves.
This sort of structure was commonplace in ancient Greece, and the architecture used to create the support mechanism was flawless, which prompted one archaeologist to comment that the city’s construction was “luxurious” and that the structures were “very strong and very well done.”
18. Evidence of fine craftsmanship
The luxury in Tenea didn’t stop at just the architecture or personal possessions. Evidence of wealth was all around in the form of floors that were made from fine materials from clay to stone and even marble. With such a diverse array of luxurious items, it lends credence to long-held theories about Tenea.
A city so richly invested in trade during a period of prosperity would’ve no doubt shown the spoils of their efforts. That notion is also shown off in the skill and craftsmanship that went into the construction of their buildings. Walls were perfectly crafted, and archaeologists uncovered evidence that not only was there mortar in the walls, but some walls were covered in it.
19. Life and death
With all of these discoveries aside, how do we know that this ancient city is the Lost City of Tenea? For this we must remind ourselves that prosperous as Tenea was, its origins are quite tragic. It was built by prisoners who had just been stripped of their homeland after watching it burn.
Child burials were crucial in determining the prevailing custom of the time. Romans had strict rules about burying the dead outside of city walls for fear of disease, but children were allowed to be buried inside because of parents’ attachment to their child. Among other finds, Dr. Korka found evidence of this practice in Tenea.
20. It all starts with Homer
It seems that history cut the survivors of the Trojan War some slack, as their descendants ended up living a rich and luxurious life in Greek, Tenea. But how did they get there in the first place? And archaeologists still want to know how Tenea disappeared from the map.
For an examination of how we got here, on the cusp of solving one of the longest-standing mysteries in history, we must start with the ancients who gave us the reason to search for these cities in the first place. We have to revisit Homer and his ancient classic The Iliad.
21. Helen of Troy
Of the nine “layers” of Troy discovered by Heinrich Schliemann, it has been generally agreed upon by scholars that Troy VI, or the sixth version of Troy (which was around in the years 1700–1250 BC), was the one attacked by Mycenean Greeks.
Historians have pointed to the strategic location of Troy in the Dardanelles as a reason for the Greeks to attack them, but according to Homer, it was the love affair between Troy’s Prince Paris and the wife of the Spartan King that sparked one of the greatest wars in the ancient world. From Homer’s The Iliad, we know the Spartan King’s wife as the infamous Helen of Troy.
22. Agamemnon’s will
The Iliad starts at a point when the Trojan War is almost over but then flashes back to show how the Greek army got to the walls of Troy. Agamemnon, his brother Menelaus, and all the states under Agamemnon’s rule arrived on the shores of Troy, then lay siege to the city for a decade.
Troy was said to have high walls and Schliemann found plenty of evidence of fortified positions and obstacles around the city, leaving historians in agreement that the city must’ve been under constant harassment. But the fortifications were strong, and even though the Greeks prevail in the end, it was because they were clever, not because they broke the back of the Trojan army.
23. Hector of Troy fights back
The Greeks had a tough time trying to breach the walls of Troy, and for a moment it looked like they were going to lose the war. Hector of Troy, the oldest prince and the heir to the Trojan throne, led an attack against the Greeks that nearly sent them back into the sea.
At the climax of the battle, Hector engages who he thinks is Achilles, Agamemnon’s greatest weapon, and vanquishes him in one-on-one combat. The only problem was that it wasn’t Achilles — it was Achilles’s best friend. Hector takes his armor, which belonged to Achilles, before retreating back behind the walls of Troy.
24. Achilles, ever heard of him?
Achilles was enraged by the murder of his friend and demanded that Hector meet him in one-on-one combat. Hector agrees and fights Achilles in the armor he took from Achilles’s friend. Because he knew the armor well, Achilles sank his blade into a gap in Hector’s armor, which killed him.
With Hector gone, Troy relies on its allies for help, which included the Amazonians and Ethiopians. But Achilles was too skilled of a warrior and defeated all of their best fighters. But as he was doing so, Paris took aim and fired an arrow into Achilles’s heel, then finishes him off to the horror of the watching Greeks.
25. The Trojan Horse
With his greatest warrior killed, Agamemnon decides he cannot defeat the Trojans. But then the Ithacan King Odysseus comes up with a brilliant idea of deception that involves gifting the Trojans a massive Trojan horse, making it look like they’re giving up.
The Trojans accept the gift (“I fear the Greeks, even bearing gifts”), and during the night after a massive celebration, Greek soldiers start emerging from the Trojan horse and open the gates to the city. The Trojans were caught completely by surprise and their city was doomed. The nine versions of Troy were then burned and buried, lost for almost 3,000 years.
26. The fall of Troy
The Iliad doesn’t go into the destruction of Troy in-depth, and The Odyssey picks up after Troy lies in ruins. As far as what really happened to Troy, we know that it burned, but for the most part, Homer’s work just doesn’t go there. Much of what we know comes from Virgil’s Aeneid, which was written 700 years after Homer’s books.
The Odyssey follows the journey of King Odysseus, the man who thought of the Trojan Horse ruse on his journey home to Ithaca. That in itself takes ten years, as the reader follows his journey through the Greek land. So what happened to the Trojans?
27. A bad day everywhere, except Tenea
According to Virgil, most of the Trojans we know as characters in Aeneid die in the end. King Priam and Paris join Hector in death, and Helen escapes by exposing herself to her former husband. Evidently, she was very beautiful, because he forgave her on the spot and took her back (and then lived happily ever after).
Agamemnon was killed and his army defeated shortly after. As for the Trojans, most of the men were killed, and most of the women were taken as captives by the invading Greeks. The rest were taken prisoner and brought back to Greece with Agamemnon and his army. This is when they founded the city of Tenea.
28. Trojan prisoners founded Tenea
For 2,700 years, this is where much of the historical record ends and where the mystery begins. There are a handful of references to Tenea, but they are quite sparse. The exceptions, however, are very much important. It was the Greek historian Pausanias from the second century AD that gave us the idea that the descendants of Tenea were Trojan prisoners.
If it weren’t for Pausanias, we may never have known this truth, as much of what we know is the source of myth. The only other real mention of Tenea comes from the Sophocles’s play Oedipus Rex when he writes that Oedipus was from Tenea.
29. Tenea did very well
It is poetic justice that Tenea enjoyed such prosperity after experiencing such a horrible fate in their original city. But the Trojans and their descendants were remarkable people, having founded two cities that prospered so greatly and lasted so long through the shifting tides of time.
Even though both of their cities ended up wiped off the map for almost a millennia and a half, the Trojans and Teneans made a far greater impact than many cities of the ancient world. Cities rise and fall all the time throughout history and few make their mark on the world. Now, the only question that remains is: What happened to the city of Tenea?
30. The best is yet to come…
It appears that Tenea was another victim of the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Dark Ages. Thus far, archaeologists have found a lack of artifacts from the fourth century AD, which was about when the Gothic King Alaric invaded the Peloponnese.
King Alaric inflicted further havoc by sacking Rome twice, and effectively ended almost 2,000 years of Roman dominance in Europe. Archaeologists estimate that by the sixth century AD, Tenea was likely abandoned, as plague, bad weather, and even a volcanic eruption stunted any growth in Europe. But there is so much we don’t know and still have to piece together, as archaeologists have only begun to uncover the history that lies beneath.