What Was The Trojan War, And What Did A Horse Have To Do With It?

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According to Greek legend, the Trojan War was a nine-year siege by the Greeks upon the ancient city of Troy (also called Ilion). This conflict, which took place about 1200 B.C., probably reflects an actual war that was fought at a mound now known as Hissarlik in present-day Turkey. Hissarlik is located about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) from the mouth of the Dardanelles (called the Hellespontus by the ancient Greeks), a strait (narrow body of water) that connects the Sea of Marmara with the Aegean Sea. The war was possibly fought over control of trade routes through the Dardanelles. The Greeks used a large wooden horse as a trick to defeat the Trojans (inhabitants of Troy) in the war.

The Greek poet Homer (ninth–eighth? century B.C.) told the story of the final year of the Trojan War in his epic (long narrative) poem the Iliad.The strife began after the Trojan prince Paris abducted Helen, wife of Menelaus of Sparta, a Greek city-state. Helen was considered the most beautiful woman in the world. Although she married Paris, she remained loyal to the Greeks. Menelaus demanded the return of Helen, but the Trojans refused. Menelaus then persuaded his brother, King Agamemnon, to organize an army for an assault on Troy. The Greeks were led by the heroes Achilles, Patroclus, Diomed, Odysseus, Nestor, and two warriors who were both named Ajax. The army needed favorable winds for the sea journey to Troy, so Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to Artemis, the goddess of hunters. When the winds came, the Greek fleet set sail. For nine years they attacked cities surrounding Troy, but they could not penetrate Troy itself. The city was heavily fortified with walls and ably defended by Trojan forces under the command of Hector, son of King Priam of Troy, and other members of the royal family. Finally the Greeks adopted a new tactic: They built a large wooden horse on wheels and concealed a few warriors inside. Then they offered the horse as a gift to their enemy, leaving it outside the city walls. The rest of the army pretended to go back home while a soldier named Sinon persuaded the Trojans to accept the gift. The Trojans wheeled the horse into the city, ignoring warnings from Priam's daughter Cassandra, who had been given the power of prophecy (ability to see into the future) by Apollo (one of the most important Greek gods), and Laocoön, the priest of Apollo. During the night the Greeks returned to Troy and their companions crept out of the horse and opened the city gates. The Greeks then destroyed Troy, and Helen was reunited with Menelaus.

Further Information: Halsall, Paul, ed. Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. [Online] Available http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/asbook.html, October 25, 2000; Nardo, Don. Ancient Greece. San Diego: Lucent, 1994; Sutcliff, Rosemary. Black Ships Before Troy: The Story of the Iliad.New York: Delacorte, 1993.