For hundreds of years, people have been trying to "decode" the legend of the Trojan War. Archaeologists have found the historical Troy, and they think that they've uncovered some of the major players. But what was the famous Trojan Horse?

Homer's epic poem The Iliad is one of our main sources of information about the Trojan War, and its tale of love, revenge, and ruin has been a source of speculation for a long time. Though we've always known the poem was partly allegorical, there were many times when historians believed it was an accurate record of real events. Hundreds of years ago, multiple thinkers argued that their nations — from America to Sweden — were the historical Troy.

Advertisement

Times changed, and people began to believe that the story was made up out of whole cloth. Many laughed when Heinrich Schliemann, a German businessman and archaeology buff, went to find Troy. They stopped laughing when he found Troy. The real-life Troy, which gets burned down in the fables, showed up as burned remains at a Turkish site called Hissarlik. Scholars turned their eyes to the texts again, trying to separate myth from history.

Scholars mostly agreed that the story of the Trojan Horse had to be a myth. For those who don't know the story, this is a giant wooden horse that the Greeks offered the Trojans as tribute. Inside the massive structure's belly, however, several Greek soldiers were hidden. At nightfall, they crept out and opened the city gates, allowing the Greek army to enter and lay waste to Troy. Even the myth labors to explain why the Trojans would do something so stupid. The city elders only agree to bring the horse into Troy because the man who makes the strongest argument against taking the horse into their city is randomly dragged away by two sea serpents.

That part of the story had to be completely made up, right? Well, mostly. Even in ancient times, armies made "siege engines." These giant devices would batter a city's gates, or work as stairways to allow soldiers to go over the city walls. Siege engines were a gamble, because in a time before giant metal structures, the only material that could be used to make them was wood, and people inside a city had a good idea what to with things made of wood. You light it on fire. Attackers soaked horse hides in water and draped them over the engines to keep them from being set on fire by the besieged peoples.

Advertisement

So the Trojan Horse may have been the siege engine that won the protracted war — the one that the Trojans couldn't, or didn't defend against. It might have been something built stealthily, or quickly, or weirdly, enough that the Trojans foolishly didn't understand what was happening until it was too late.

Or it could have just been a really good story.

[Via Did the Trojan Horse Exist, The March of Folly.]