Cortona is called "Mother of Troy and Grandmother of Rome" in popular speech, and may be one of Italy's oldest towns. Tradition claims it was founded by Dardanus, the founder of Troy (after whom the Dardanelles are named). He was fighting a local tribe, the story goes, when he lost his helmet (corythos in Greek) on Cortona's hill. In time a town grew up that took its name (Corito) from the missing headgear. By the 4th
century BC the Etruscans had built town walls, the traces of which can still be seen in the 3-km (2-mile) sweep of the present fortifications. As a member of the Etruscans' 12-city league, Cortona became one of the federation's leading northern cities. The area's major road, the Via Cassia, passed the foot of Cortona's hill, maintaining the town's importance under the Romans. Medieval fortunes waned, however, as the plain below reverted to marsh. After holding out against Perugia, Arezzo, and Siena, the commune was captured by King Ladislas of Naples in 1409 and sold to the Florentines.