The city’s name comes from a legend, according to which the city was founded by fleeing Trojans after the burning of Troy by the victorious Greeks. King Priam’s surviving son, Aeneas, sacrificed a bull to the Gods but the animal refused to die quickly and galloped to the sea before expiring. This was interpreted as a good omen and the place was called Buthrotum or “wounded.”
The first archaeological excavations at Butrint were made by the Italian archaeologist Luigi Ugolini in 1926-1936, who headed an expedition on the Finiq zone. The city of Butrint was most probably built during the third century B.C., on the south side of the hill. At this time a theatre and a temple were built.
However, the fertile land attracted Roman curiosity and the area was turned into a Roman colony in the first century B.C., when much of the population was romanized. A great many artifacts have been found in Butrint’s theatre, among which are the Goddess of Butrint, Zeus’ marble head, Agripa’s portrait and many inscriptions in Greek and in Latin.
Between the fourth and thirteenth centuries, the city is often mentioned as an Episcopal center. During 1080-1085, Butrint fell under Norman and then Venetian domination. From 1300 until 1700 the Venetians rebuilt its fortifications in their style. After 1700 it fell under French control until 1798 when Ali Pasha Tepelena conquered the area and built two castles there to defend the region against the French.
The city is surrounded by a wall built in the fourth and third centuries B.C., which enclosed a large city of 11 hectares including a theatre, trade centers and temples. The wall is hardly ever straight but zigzags its way around the city instead—perhaps a way of increasing its defensive value. An important programme of archaeological research and development was started at Butrint in 1994 by the British Archaeological School in Rome with financing by Lord Sainsbury and Lord Rotschild, under the aegis of the Butrint Foundation.