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A few “facts” about the Trojan Horse

As you’ve probably guessed by the cover, The Oracles of Troy includes my retelling of one of the most famous episodes of the Trojan War: the story of the Trojan Horse. To prepare the ground, here are a few things you might not know about the ξυλινο αλογο:

  •  Homer’s The Iliad doesn’t mention the Trojan Horse. In fact, the poem focuses on the rivalry between Achilles and Hector and only covers a total of 51 days from the ten year-long siege. Twenty of its twenty-four Books cover just four days!
  • The Trojan Horse is first mentioned in Book 4 of Homer’s The Odyssey (Menelaus is talking to Helen in the presence of Telemachus):
    • ‘My dear,’ said the auburn-haired Menelaus, ‘your tale was well and truly told. I have wandered far in this world, I have looked into many hearts and heard the counsels of the great, but never have I set eyes on a man of such endurance as the indomitable Odysseus. What he did inside the Wooden Horse is another example of the man’s steadfastness and iron resolution. We sat inside it with the pick of the Argive army, waiting to bring havoc and slaughter on the Trojans, when you came up, prompted, I can only suppose, by some god who wished to give victory to Troy, for Prince Deiphobus came with you. Three times you circled round our hollow lair, feeling the outside with your hands, and you called out the name of all the Argive captains in turn, altering your voice to mimic each man’s wife. Diomedes and I, who were sitting right in the middle with the good Odysseus, heard you calling and were both tempted to jump up and come out or give an instant answer from within. But Odysseus held us back and checked our impetuosity. The rest of the warriors stayed absolutely still, though Anticlus still wanted to give you some reply. But Odysseus clapped his great hands relentlessly on the man’s mouth and so saved the whole army, holding him tight till Pallas Athene had induced you to go away.’
  • It is also mentioned in Book 8:
    • Odysseus finished speaking, and the bard, beginning with an invocation to the gods, unfolded the tale. He took it up at the point where the Argives after setting fire to their huts had embarked on their ships and were sailing away, while the renowned Odysseus and his party were already sitting in the assembly place in Troy, concealed within the Horse, which the Trojans had themselves dragged into the citadel. There stood the Horse, with the Trojans sitting round it endlessly arguing. Three policies commended themselves. Some were for piercing the wooden frame with a pitiless bronze spear; others would have dragged it to the edge of the heights and hurled it down the rocks; others again wished to let it stand as a magnificent offering to appease the gods – and that was what happened in the end. For it was destiny that they should perish when Troy received within her walls that mighty Wooden Horse, laden with the flower of the Argive might bringing doom and slaughter to the Trojans. He went on to sing how the Achaean warriors, leaving their hollow ambush, poured out from the Horse to ravage Troy; how they scattered through the steep streets of the city leaving ruin in their wake; and how Odysseus, looking like Ares himself, went straight to Deiphobus’ house with the gallant Menelaus. And there, sang the bard, he engaged in the most terrible of all his fights, which in the end he won with the help of the indomitable Athene.
  • The story appears in more detail in Book 2 of The Aeneid by the Roman poet Virgil:
    • After many years have slipped by, the leaders of the Greeks, opposed by the Fates, and damaged by the war, build a horse of mountainous size, through Pallas’s divine art, and weave planks of fir over its ribs: they pretend it’s a votive offering: this rumour spreads. They secretly hide a picked body of men, chosen by lot, there, in the dark body, filling the belly and the huge cavernous insides with armed warriors… Then Laocoön rushes down eagerly from the heights of the citadel, to confront them all, a large crowd with him, and shouts from far off: ‘O unhappy citizens, what madness? Do you think the enemy’s sailed away? Or do you think
      any Greek gift’s free of treachery? Is that Ulysses’s reputation?
      Either there are Greeks in hiding, concealed by the wood, or it’s been built as a machine to use against our walls, or spy on our homes, or fall on the city from above, or it hides some other trick: Trojans, don’t trust this horse. Whatever it is, I’m afraid of Greeks even those bearing gifts.
  • The horse bore an inscription reading: ‘For their return home, the Greeks dedicate this offering to Athena’.
  • The Roman scholar Pausanias suggested the Trojan Horse was a siege engine or battering ram used to pierce the walls of Troy. He suggested it had been misunderstood by those hearing the story from veterans returning home from the war. The Assyrians of the same era were known to use battering rams, which they named after animals.
  • More recently, some have suggested the Trojan Horse is a symbolic interpretation of an earthquake. The link comes from Poseidon, who was the god of both earthquakes and horses. The area is well known for earthquakes and archaeologist Carl Blegen attributed the destruction of Troy VI (possibly Homer’s Troy) to an earthquake.
  • The Horse would have been around 10 feet wide (3 metres). This is based on the width of the widest gate discovered in the ruins of Troy.
  • Based on the fact the Trojans had to knock the upper walls down so the horse could pass into the city, the Horse would have been at least 25 feet (7.6 metres) tall.
  • The total weight might have been around 2 tons empty. With just twenty fully armed warriors inside, weighing around 15 stone each, this would have at least doubled the weight.
  • If an ordinary man can pull 200 lbs that would require at least forty men to drag the horse to the walls of Troy. Unless it had wheels, they would have rolled the horse on a carpet of flat wooden beams greased with animal fat.
  • Most ancients believed there were thirty to forty warriors hidden inside the horse. Quintus Smyrnaeus named thirty and thought there were more; Tsetses (a Byzantine scholar) states it was 23; Apollodorus gave the number as 50; and if you believe The Little Iliad it was 3,000! Barry Strauss, a modern scholar, says there were none, as the Trojans had to knock down their gates to get the Horse inside the city and while they were celebrating their “victory” the Greeks snuck in and massacred them all!

If you’re interested in seeing a video tour of Troy recreated by the University of Cincinnati using computer graphics, click here.

 

trojan horse

The earliest depiction of the Trojan Horse, from a vase dated around 670 BC

41 Awesome Comments So Far

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  1. Katie
    October 24, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

    Fascinating! Love all the detail about the size and weight of the horse.

    • michael
      May 17, 2018 at 3:39 pm #

      can you answer this within 10 minuets how much does the Trojan horse weigh

      • Glyn Iliffe
        May 17, 2018 at 4:59 pm #

        Hi Michael
        Two tonnes empty, four tonnes filled with armed warriors.
        Thanks,
        Glyn

  2. daisy
    January 25, 2015 at 4:22 pm #

    hi, im daisy de garis, this website was really useful to me and it helped me with my homework

    • Glyn Iliffe
      March 13, 2015 at 11:36 am #

      Hi Daisy
      Thanks for the feedback and sorry for the late reply. If you have any questions about the Trojan War that I might be able to help with, please feel free to get in touch via my Contact page.
      Best wishes,
      Glyn

  3. Kota
    September 2, 2015 at 11:29 am #

    Have you ever thought that the Trojan horse can be a forest in the form of a horse? Only in such a place, we can easily hide 3000 warriors . Maybe forest still exist and you can find it today, on the google earth for example, of course if we know where is realy Troy. 🙂

    • Glyn Iliffe
      November 13, 2015 at 5:19 pm #

      A bit like Birnam Wood in Macbeth? “Let every soldier hew him down a bough
      And bear ’t before him. Thereby shall we shadow
      The numbers of our host and make discovery
      Err in report of us.”

  4. ethan
    January 12, 2016 at 6:32 pm #

    This was awsome. This really helped me.

  5. Bella
    February 24, 2016 at 4:01 am #

    i is a good website great job

  6. Taniah
    February 9, 2017 at 7:54 pm #

    I thought that this website was spectacular!I LOVE everything about it!

    • Glyn Iliffe
      February 21, 2017 at 12:28 pm #

      Thanks Taniah, it’s really nice of you to say so. It’s about to undergo a revamp, just to incorporate new covers for a relaunch of the series.
      Glyn

      • Blake
        February 21, 2017 at 4:41 pm #

        This site helped me with my project for social studies thank you for creating this website.

  7. Blake
    February 21, 2017 at 9:24 pm #

    You did very good.

    • Glyn Iliffe
      February 27, 2017 at 8:10 am #

      Thanks Blake, glad you found it useful.

  8. phil b
    March 9, 2017 at 5:17 am #

    “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”.

  9. Lukas
    July 27, 2017 at 7:57 pm #

    Do you know the dimensions of the horse like how tall it was or how many men it could hold?

    • Glyn Iliffe
      July 28, 2017 at 11:57 am #

      Hi Lukas
      We can only guess the size of the horse, as there’s no physical evidence for it and no proof the Trojan War ever took place. Assuming the horse was real and basing estimates on it having to get through the biggest gate in the current ruins of Troy, then it would have been around 10 feet wide and 25 feet tall. This would weigh around 2 tons when empty and would probably fit a maximum of 25 men. If each was fully armed warriors they would weigh around 15 stone each, which would make the total weight of the horse 4 tons!
      This is just educated guesswork, of course, but I hope it gives you a good idea.
      Best wishes,
      Glyn

  10. nic hinz
    October 31, 2017 at 11:35 pm #

    why are your facts so long there more like stories

    • Glyn Iliffe
      November 1, 2017 at 1:43 pm #

      Hi Nic
      It’s probably because I’m an author and authors like using lots of words. Also, some facts need longer explanations. Hope you found the information useful, though.
      Best wishes,
      Glyn

  11. bella
    February 9, 2018 at 2:30 am #

    great website it helped me for a school project.

    • Glyn Iliffe
      February 9, 2018 at 12:47 pm #

      Glad it was useful to you, Bella.

  12. biily gates mr gay
    June 12, 2018 at 6:09 am #

    this is all false the world is flat deal with it

  13. landyn corrin
    November 1, 2018 at 7:52 pm #

    i loved it it was great

  14. Garth Richards
    December 18, 2018 at 3:26 am #

    Thanks Glyn. This a favourite story from my early childhood.

    Are you able to identify the image of the horse you show here? It looks like it might be a ceramic object?

    regards
    Garth

    • Glyn Iliffe
      December 18, 2018 at 12:21 pm #

      Hi Garth
      It’s known as the Mykonos Vase, and was found on the island of Mykonos in 1961 (by a local man digging a well). It’s the earliest known depiction of the Trojan Horse and dates to around 650BC. You’re right, it is ceramic – it was found at a burial site and was used to hold human remains. It’s currently on display in the Mykonos Archaeological Museum.
      Best wishes,
      Glyn

  15. a person :)
    February 2, 2019 at 10:12 pm #

    love this! I have a project on the trojan horse so this really helped

    • Glyn Iliffe
      February 4, 2019 at 12:06 pm #

      Glad you found the information useful.

  16. Olivia
    March 22, 2019 at 12:53 pm #

    Hi, thanks for all the details, this really helped with my assignment 🙂

  17. Matt
    April 3, 2019 at 8:24 pm #

    Thanks for the information. It was super helpful for my school project!!!!!! 🙂

    • Glyn Iliffe
      April 3, 2019 at 9:23 pm #

      Glad it was useful, Matt. Hope you get good marks.

  18. ron
    October 9, 2019 at 12:32 am #

    Ron,

    Whether is was 20 or 40, the suicidal inmates would have suffocated in only a few minutes. The Horse, as described, would need to be closely constructed, otherwise Trojans could see into it and through it. So, the story as told is fiction. Other considerations:

    1. Who would volunteer for a death trap in which you, 99999 times out of 100,000, will be incinerated?

    2. Even given the Sinon story and assuming the Trojans are complete idiots, you, as a volunteer inside of the horse, have absolutely no idea how long the Trojans will take to come to a decision to haul the horse up the hill to burn it or admit it to Troy with honors–a day, two weeks, longer? And remember, you have to be as silent as a mouse the whole time. No banging around, talking, passing gas loudly, arguing or snoring.

    3. The Trojans have been fighting for almost 10 years when both the Danaans and Trojans will have used every trick and underhanded method imaginable. False retreat was an ancient practice, even then. The Greeks have remarkably sailed away and left a wooden horse dedicated to Troy’s number 1 enemy Goddess. The Trojans don’t go on a drunk. They put out extra coast watchers and double the guards on their city. They are in full alert mode for months.

    4. Tactically it’s impossible. Even should by major divine intervention that leaves every Trojan stupid, the timing is impossible. The most important part of the story is the ‘retreating’ Greek fleet. After dark the Greeks sail/row for the beaches of Tenedos, 45-50 miles away. This means that with loading, launching and spacing of vessels, a 10 hour trip, at fastest. Now they need to arrange their hundreds of ships for landing and land them. One hour to two hours. Even if you break camp at 8:00 PM you can’t complete landing at Tenedos until morning’s light. The fleet will be spotted and reported on.

    Now you must reverse the process without knowing whether your horse commandos have gained and held the wall–the distance is far too far for signal fires or even great bonfires to be seen. This is 9-10 more hours of sailing [depending on wind] and marching tens of thousands of men over rough ground and through the mud and water of the Scamander.

    Obviously, the Trojans have known of your deemed mission for many hours [and if you lay over in Tenedos, the Trojans will have known for days] and is fully prepared for it.

    • Glyn Iliffe
      October 9, 2019 at 7:59 am #

      Thanks Ron. Great post and well thought out. I think you’re just putting detail to what people have thought for centuries – the whole idea is impossible and the Trojans would have been stupid to fall for it. However, it’s just a story and people still love it.
      Glyn

  19. Riham Hussein
    November 20, 2019 at 1:58 am #

    Hi Glyn,

    I have a question about the horse. Do you know what year the Trojan horse event took place?

    • Glyn Iliffe
      November 20, 2019 at 10:09 am #

      Hi Riham
      According to tradition, the Trojan War took place around 1250BC. Layer 7a of the excavations of Troy dates to around 1180BC, and because this includes evidence of destruction by fire this might be the actual date of the capture of Troy. More recently, scientists have calculated the date to 1188BC, based on an eclipse mentioned in the Odyssey when Odysseus returned home to his wife, Penelope, ten years after the war ended. The eclipse took place on 16th April 1178BC, hence the assumed date ten years earlier of 1188BC.
      Hope this helps,
      Glyn

  20. esra
    April 14, 2020 at 10:16 pm #

    Hi Glyn, Where did you find the facts of the dimensions of the Trojan horse?
    You wrote about the guess for the width of the horse is based on the width of the widest gate of Troy, how did you find this fact? Can you recommend me a source for further information about the Trojan horse’s characteristics? I am preparing a project about it. Also, loved your website so much.

    • Glyn Iliffe
      April 15, 2020 at 7:08 pm #

      Hi Esra. I’m glad you like the website – thanks.
      I picked up the stats for the Trojan Horse from a television documentary some years ago. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the title of the programme, so can’t be much help there. Feel free to use the stats in my article for your project, or get in touch via my contact page if you think I can help with any questions you might have.

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