Helen of Troy was much more than a slave: research

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London, Jun 3 (UNI) Scientists have discovered that women in Ancient Greece were major power brokers in their own right and often played key roles in running affairs of state.

Until now it was believed that they were treated little better than servants.

''It was thought that in those days women were rated as little more than chattels in Ancient Greece,'' said Professor Terry Brown, of the faculty of life sciences at the Manchester University.

''Our work now suggests that notion is wrong,'' he added.

The discovery is part of an investigation by Manchester researchers into the founders of Mycenae, Europe's first great city-state and capital of King Agamemnon's domains.

Mycenae is one of the most important and evocative archaeological sites in Europe.

According to the legend, Agamemnon led his armies from Mycenae to Troy to bring back Helen, the wife of his brother Menelaus, who had run off with the Trojan prince Paris.

The citadel was first excavated in the 1870s by Heinrich Schliemann, who uncovered tombs containing crumbling bones draped with jewels and gold face masks.

The images provided scientists with a family picture album for the rulers of Europe's first great city-state. However, genetics experts have now taken this work a stage further by attempting to extract DNA from 22 of the 35 bodies found in the grave circle.

The genetic material isolated by the scientists is known as mitochondrial DNA, which humans inherit exclusively from their mothers.

The genetic material extracted from a pair, a man and a woman, revealed they were brother and sister. They had been thought to have been man and wife.

''To be precise our DNA evidence suggests the pair were closely related, possibly siblings or possibly cousins. However, the facial reconstruction work also shows they were very similar in appearance which indicates they were brother and sister,'' said Prof Brown.

The critical point, he said, was that the woman was thought to have been buried in a richly endowed grave because she was the wife of a powerful man.

That was in keeping with previous ideas about Ancient Greece that women had little power and could only exert influence through their husbands.

''But this discovery shows both the man and the woman were of equal status and had equal power. Women in Ancient Greece held positions of power by right of birth, it now appears.'' he said.

''The problem has been that up until recently our interpretation of life in Ancient Greece has been the work of a previous generations of archaeologists, then a male-oriented profession and who interpreted their findings in a male-oriented way,'' he explained.

''That is changing now and women in Ancient Greece are being seen in a new light,'' Prof Brown concluded.


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