The History of the Troy Game

A vague and only ever-so-slightly mythical history.

There are two major instances of the Troy Game in classical myth/history. The first instance is the story of Theseus, son of the Athenian king, who managed to murder the Minotaur Asterion within the Cretan Labyrinth. Theseus did this with the aid of Asterion’s half-sister Ariadne, who gave him the key to besting both the Labyrinth (itself a magical entity) and the monster it contained. The Labyrinth was a ‘game’, a test of courage, intellect and magical ability in the face of certain death. Theseus won the Game, but only because of Ariadne’s treachery against her half-brother.

The second instance of the Troy Game in history is that of the Trojan War itself (also won through treachery, a recurring theme in the Game). In The Aeneid Virgil speaks of the Troy Game as a military manoeuvre, learned by the Trojans from the Cretan Labyrinth (it is probable settlers from Crete founded Troy). The Game was a complex military strategy that awed all who saw it (and terrified all it was used against). In the Iliad Homer depicts the Trojan War itself as a literal ‘game’ in which the gods pit mortal against mortal and against the gods themselves. Other classical and medieval authors depicted the Troy Game in the Trojan War as the actual labyrinth-like defences of the city — which eventually failed through treachery.

After Troy fell in c. 1200 BC, the Trojans scattered about the Mediterranean lands. After several generations, Aeneas’ great grandson, Brutus, gathered up many of the Trojan survivors and sailed to Albion (pre-Celtic Britain) and established London on an already ancient and hallowed site of holy mounds, circles and lines: a maze laid upon a maze, a merging of British and Cretan-Trojan power. London itself grew out of the Trojan-British mazes, taking its name from the holiest of the mounds, the Llandin (Parliament hill); establishing the seat of government at another (Westminster sits on the mound Tothill); and a military base on the third (London Tower stands on the White Mound, or Tower hill). Until the nineteenth century the City of London (the ancient square mile) contained a disproportionate number of alleys, laneways and streets named on variations of the word ‘maze’. It is intriguing that the ancient points of power about which the Game was constructed remain to this day as important sites within London – they have lost neither mystery nor importance. It is also important to realise that London as a physical manifestation of the Game, the Labyrinth, is how the Labyrinth was originally conceived of, not only in Knossos, but in the many temples/buildings known as labyrinths on Crete. The Game/Labyrinth is not a separate maze (as we imagine them in gardens) but a interconnecting twisted labyrinth of buildings.

The Troy Game became an important aspect of life up to the sixteenth century (not only in London, but around Europe). The ‘Game’ itself was played informally in Smithfield outside London at least once a year by young men; labyrinths were built inside cathedrals and churches, and in gardens and parks at Greenwich, Blackheath, Southwark and what is now Peckham Rye (these labyrinths were often called Troy Towns); while secret military and religious societies were formed about the ‘mystery’ contained at the heart of the labyrinth. Most medieval chronicles and histories mention various manifestations of the Troy Game. When the Protestant Reformation became a force during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Game metaphorically and literally went underground. The secret societies continued, the Game continued, but in London-under-London — the mass of tunnels, chambers, and sewers that date back to pre-Roman times (it used to be possible, as late as the early twentieth century, to walk from St James Park to the Tower completely underground, using these ancient chambers and tunnels … the authorities stopped the tours when it was realised the tunnels led under the heart of Buckingham Palace!). The Troy Game is also remembered in children’s games like hopscotch (children negotiate a difficult maze using their cunning and strength), in a game played by Welsh shepherds called ‘Caerdroia’, or ‘Troy Town’, which recalls the ancient labyrinth about Troy itself, while Welsh herdsmen still cut maze-like symbols into the turf which they call ‘The Walls of Troy’. These are only a few examples, London and British history is packed with mysterious allusions to both Troy and the Game. Most historians have ignored them (as I did for years), not understanding the connections.

The Labyrinth under London exists to this day, although it is closed to the general public and the extensive nineteenth-century maps of it have ‘disappeared’. The three magical ancient points (or mounds) still exist, and are still sites of power (ancient London, the City, is encased within the magical triangle of those mounds). The modern road and subway system connects these three ancient sites with lines and circles … and every commuter and tourist who travels London’s underground and road systems unwittingly re-enacts the basic movements of the Game.

If anyone were to understand the mystery at the heart of the Game, that which brings it to life, then it will still be capable of being woken.