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Transmitting Troy to the Twelfth Century (and Beyond)

The upper left image is the Arch of Constantine. It is important to the story of Troy because Constantine was the Roman Emperor who moved the capital from Rome to Constantinople (now Istanbul) in the fourth century CE. Not long after this move, the empire itself split into east and west. The eastern Roman Empire was Greek in language and culture; the western was Latin.

graphic of archWhile Homer's Iliad and Odyssey continued to be read, taught and loved in the Greek-speaking eastern Roman Empire, they were increasingly ignored in the west. As knowledge of the Greek language declined in Europe, and Latin became more widespread, the Latin Aeneid became the dominant Troy story in Europe. Consequently, the Greek heroes remained heroes in the East, while the Trojans were the heroes in the West. European countries traced their founders to the Trojan refugees. Not only was Aeneas the ancestor of the Romans, but his descendent, Brutus, was said to have founded the ruling class in Britain.

There were also other, lesser, sources for the Troy story in late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, including The Fall of Troy by Quintus Smyrnaeus, a short Latin Iliad, and two supposed "eye witness" accounts of the Trojan War by Dictys and Dares.

Transmission of Troy Stories Activities Transmission of Troy Stories Bibliography
Explore the links below


  • Virgil in Late Antiquity, The Middle Ages, and The Renaissance: A Rough Bibliography: Complied by David Wilson-Okamura. A comprehensive bibliography, especially good if you are interested in Medieval adaptations, commentaries, Dante, the Old French Roman d'Eneas, etc. Fairly specialized stuff, but interesting to browse through to see what kinds of things people have been writing about and in response to Virgil over a long period of time.


  • Brutus of Troy: This Wikipedia article traces Brutus, a descendant of Aeneas, to Britain, and explains how the name of Britain was thought to be derived from "Brutus."
  • "The Demise of Paganism": A long, fascinating essay by James J. O'Donnell, originally published in Traditio 35(1977), 45-88. It focuses on the conflict between paganism and Christianity in the late fourth century.
  • Geoffrey of Monmouth: a short biographical essay from Early British Kingdoms by David Nash Ford.
  • Nennius and Historia Brittonum: a short essay from the Cambridge History of English and American Literature.
  • Overview of Late Antiquity: by Steven Muhlberger. This is the home page which indexes a series of informative essays on late antiquity. A valuable site for getting an introduction to this fascinating period. It is part of the ORB Online Encyclopedia.
  • "Peoples and Languages": Chapter I of Byzantium: The Empire of New Rome by Cyril Mango. Scribner's, 1980. This Chapter is about Constantinople and the constitution of the Byzantine Empire in the sixth century CE. Focus is on an imaginary traveler of that time and the diversity of the people and languages encountered. Lively, well written.




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© Diane Thompson: 8/25/1998; updated: 8/7/2016