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Finding Ajax, Hero of the Troy Wars
The road up the mountain from the beach at Kanakia on Salamina’s south-western coast is a steep, rutted track. Difficult for vehicles, but my friend Chris and I decided to walk up on this October morning.
We are going to visit a place where we had been two years before – a sanctuary where archaeologists were searching for a monument to Ajax, hero of the Troy Wars. Our quest that day was to find the Acropolis of Ajax. Chris had heard that Prof. Yannos Lolas, the archaeologist in charge of all the digs on Salamina, is present on the island. We had met him two years before at a site where the archaeologists were looking for a monument to Ajax.
Salamina is famous for a naval battle in 480 BC in which the Persian fleet was destroyed by the Greeks. It is located only a few kilometers off the coast of Attica. The island isn’t popular with tourists, perhaps because of the NATO base on the island.
The history here dates to the Neolithic period. There are many archaeological sites, but they are not clearly marked on maps and the locals have little interest in their existence. However, my friend, who lives on Salamina, and I have explored some of these sites over the past few years and this time we are hoping to discover the remains of Ajax’s realm.
Ajax, Hero of the Troy Wars
Ajax, whose real name was Aias, was the son of King Telamon who ruled Salamina. He played an important role in Homer’s epic poem of the Troy Wars, The Iliad. Ajax, hero of the Troy Wars, was one of the generals who fought in the wars and is described as being a man of great stature and bravery.
After the death of Achilles, Ajax and Odysseus are the two generals who fought to recover his body. It was Ajax who carried Achilles’s body back so it could be buried with his friend Patrokles, while Odysseus stayed to fight off the Trojans.
After Achilles’s burial Ajax expected that Achilles’s magical armor would be given to him, but instead, Odysseus received it. Enraged, Ajax took his vengeance by slaughtering a herd of livestock, then he fell on his sword and killed himself, a tragic end to one of the Troy Wars most distinguished heroes.
As we reach the crest of the hill near the wooded area in which the sanctuary is located, we are delighted to find Prof. Lolos there with some of his assistants. He remembers us from two years before, and we are warmly greeted. Has he discovered Ajax monument yet? He explains they have found pottery shards with part of the Troy hero’s name but are still looking for the missing pieces which will prove that a monument was erected here.
We tell Prof. Lolos that we are on a quest to find Ajax’s acropolis. We had imagined it to be on a hillside on the other side of Kanakia village, so it was a surprise when he said: “Just cross the road. Take the path to the left. The acropolis is only a ten-minute walk.”
What luck! We follow the professor’s direction, cross the road, and locate the pathway just past a crag of rock. The path isn’t difficult, in fact, it’s well marked: a scenic route with lovely views down the mountainside to the sea and coastline.
Finding Ajax’s Acropolis
Within ten minutes we arrive at the site and are astounded! Remains of walls and foundations are scattered up the mountainside. Part of the ruins, Prof. Lolos, said, was an industrial and commercial area of Ajax’s city. It dates to the 13th century BC and was likely abandoned shortly after 1200 BC.
On the lower part overlooking a wide bay, are the palace ruins with a high stony area nearby that might have been a watchtower. The acropolis commands a perfect view of the coastline and Kanakia Bay, therefore the ships of Ajax’s naval kingdom could easily have controlled this part of the island. High on the mountainside, surrounded by a forest of pine, the city would not have been clearly visible from below.
Of all the prehistoric settlements discovered on Salamina, the acropolis site at Kanakia shows the longest record of habitation. Like other Mycenaean period sites of the Greek mainland, Ajax’s acropolis appears to have reached its peak in the 13th century BC and was likely abandoned at the beginning of the late Helladic period, shortly after 1200 BC.
On the upper terraces, there is a large building incorporating a maze of rooms and corridors and a small shrine. There are also the remains of an unusual fortified gate and complexes comprising of storage and other areas. One of the unique finds is a bronze plate from a scale-corselet stamped with the cartouche of Ramses II (1279-1213 BC). Prof. Lolos told us the archaeologist had also uncovered a clay bathtub on the site sunken in the anteroom of the palace area at the north entrance, but it has been covered to protect it.
We spent an hour wandering, amazed at the extent of the ruins and thrilled that our quest to finding Ajax, hero of the Troy Wars, had been successful. I wonder what surprises next year’s archaeological hunt will bring us!
Written by and photos by W. Ruth Kozak for EuropeUpClose.com.