• Opera In-Depth - Les Troyens - The Real Troy and the Real Carthage

    This article introduces some pointers about the real cities behind the legendary sources for Berlioz's opera Les Troyens. It's just as a matter of curiosity and trivia, therefore it is placed in the cluster "Around the Opera." We also address what happened to the legendary Aeneas after the events in the opera.
    The archeological site for the real city of Troy is located in what is now the modern nation of Turkey, in its northwestern Anatolia region, southwest of the Dardanelles and sitting besides Mount Ida. Its name in Ancient Greek was Τροία. After its fall, a new city was founded over its ashes, called Ilium, which declined as well and disappeared during the Byzantine era. Modernly, the Turkish city of Hisarlik (also spelled Hissarlik) sits on top of it.

    Archeological excavations begun in 1865, and revealed deeper and deeper layers that got numbered. Troy VII is the layer that is generally accepted (although not conclusevely) with Homer's Troy. The numbers go from most ancient (I) to most recent (IX, which corresponds to Ilium). The village of Hisarlik is part of the province of a larger Turkish city, called Çanakkale. The site was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1998.

    These pictures found in Wikipedia show the ruins of Troy VII:

    Troy VII It appears to have been destroyed by war.The evidence of fire and slaughter around 1250 BC, which brought Troy VIIA to a close, led to this phase being identified with the city besieged by the Greeks during the Trojan War.

    The historicity of the Trojan War is still subject to debate. Today many scholars agree that the Trojan War is based on a historical core of a Greek expedition against the city of Troy, but few would argue that the Homeric poems faithfully represent the actual events of the war. The number of warships sent by the Greeks, for instance, is supposed to have been highly exaggerated by Homer (1,186 according to him). There is no evidence that a Trojan Horse was ever used as trickery to win the war.

    For a long time scholars supposed that Troy had never existed and the entire event was legendary, but the discovery of the ruins in the mid-19th century changed this consensus.


    The founding of Rome by Aeneas suggested in Les Troyens is but part of a broader legend. According to it, Aeneas was merely an ancestor of Romulus and Remus, the twin brothers born of Rhea Silva, daughter to Numitor, kind of Alba Longa, who conceived the twins from the god Mars. After they were abandoned, they were raised by a she-wolf. Later they disputed about the location of the city they planned to found - Romulus favored the Palatine Hill while Remus wanted the Aventine Hill. They fought, Romulus killed his brother, and founded Rome on the Palatine Hill. Subsequently and lacking women for his city, he conducted the abduction of the Sabines, and gave birth to the Julian-Claudian first Roman dynasty. Rome's foundation is dated between 758 and 728 B.C., and possible historical bases for the Romulus legend remain unclear and disputed.

    Back to Aeneas, after the events in Les Troyens he arrives to the Italian Peninsula and lands in Latium, right in the middle of modern Italy's Western coast, where they were welcomed by King Latinus and allowed to settle. Latinus then gives to Aeneas the hand of his daughter Lavinia in marriage.

    The ancestor line from Aeneas to Romulus is long and complex. Supposedly he had with Lavinia a son called Silvius, who then engendered a son called Aeneas Silvius. Ten generations later in the family tree we get Numitor, then Rhea Silva, then Romulus and Remus. Romulus with Hercilia fathers the first Kings of Rome. Subsequent legends have enhanced Aeneas' role as a closer relative of Romulus. Since the legend of Aeneas is a Greek legend and that of Romulus and Remus is a Roman legend, what happened is that people tried to conciliate the two legends by tightening these ties.

    Aeneas founded the city of Lavinium named after his wife. Dido's sister Anna who is in the opera, subsequently traveled to Italy and joined him there. Lavinia got jealous and Anna killed herself (a trait prevalent in her family, hehe). He lived a long and prosperous life and after he died, Aphrodite asked Jupiter to make of him an immortal god. Jupiter agreed, Aphrodite fed him Ambrosia and Nectar, and he lived again, becoming the god Jupiter Indiges.


    Carthage has existed for 3,000 years (in spite of a couple of destructions and refoundings) and is nowadays a suburb of Tunis, capital of Tunisia. It has currently a population of about 20,000 inhabitants. Historically, it was founded by Canaanite-speaking Phoenicians coming from the city of Tyre, now located in modern Lebanon. They traveled to what is now the Tunisian coast under the leadership of Queen Elissa, who may have been a real person in spite of confusing sources and accounts. In any case, she was renamed in Homer according to the Greek naming tradition as Queen Dido. Elissa's brother was King Pygmalion of Tyre.

    Carthage was a large and rich city, developing rivalries with Rome, Syracuse, and Numidia, which resulted in the Punic wars (Punic is another word for Phoenician). This is a picture of the UNESCO site that has remains of the ancient city:

    What Dido says about a descendant of her fighting against Italy has historical veracity. A Carthagian, Hannibal, did defeat the Romans in the Second Punic War in the battle of Canae. Subsequently, however, he was defeated by the Romans in the battle of Zama in 202 B.C., and the weakened Carthage was destroyed by the Romans in the Third Punic War in 146 B.C. They did refound it, and it survived until the Muslim conquest when it was destroyed a second time, in 698, when Roman emperor Tiberius III was defeated in the Battle of Carthage by the Muslims coming from Arabia (the Umayyad Caliphate). The Romans withdrew from Africa and the Muslims founded Tunis right next to the ravaged city.

    Here is a picture of the modern city of Tunis:

free html visitor counters
hit counter

Official Media Partners of Opera Carolina

Opera Lively is the Official Media Partner of Opera Carolina

Official Media Partners of NC Opera

Opera Lively is the Official Media Partner of North Carolina Opera

Official Media Partners of Greensboro Opera

Opera Lively is the Official Media Partner of Greensboro Opera

Official Media Partners of The A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute and Piedmont Opera

Opera Lively is the Official Media Partner of The A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute
of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and Piedmont Opera

Official Media Partners of Asheville Lyric Opera

Opera Lively is the Official Media Partner of Asheville Lyric Opera

Official Media Partners of UNC Opera

Opera Lively is the Official Media Partner of UNC Opera
Dept. of Music, UNC-Chapel Hill College of Arts and Sciences