The Trojan Horse: The Ultimate Deception

Relief showing the Trojan Horse episode
Relief showing the Trojan Horse episode, from Gandhara(?), British Museum, 1990 1013 1; image source: British Museum


From ancient times to the modern era, Deception has long been recognized as a powerful tool in the arsenal of military strategists and commanders. Deception remains an essential element in military planning and operations. It allows forces to exploit vulnerabilities, create opportunities for surprise attacks, and divert enemy attention and resources.


In popular culture, the phrase “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts” has become synonymous with scepticism and wariness toward unexpected gestures. It reflects the enduring impact of the Trojan Horse story, first mentioned by Homer in the Odyssey, but the main source for the story is Virgil’s Book II of the Aeneid.

The Trojan Horse story stands as one of the most enduring and iconic examples of deception in warfare. Originally thought to be a work of fiction, German businessman Heinrich Schliemann proved the existence of not one, but nine different cities of Troy in the Anatolian (modern-day Turkey) city now known as Hissarlik. This is known due to the different layers and constructions of the recovered evidence during excavations in the 1870s and throughout the 1890s. Since then, more than 24 different excavations have taken place.

Excavations of Troy in the 1890s
Excavations of Troy in the 1890s

The Troy from Homer’s Odyssey, also known as “The Burnt City”, stands at the seventh layer out of the nine known cities of Hissarlik. By an amazing coincidence, the Trojan Horse is mentioned in the seventh book of the Great Epic.

Heinrich Schliemann in the 1870s
Heinrich Schliemann in the 1870s – © American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Archives, Heinrich Schliemann Papers

“The idea of a structure built to resemble a horse, built for the sole purpose of slipping warriors past the Trojan defences, seemed ludicrous. New evidence, however, suggests that the story may have had its foundations in truth.

The structure that has been found fits descriptions given by Homer, Virgil, Augustus and Quintus Smyrnaeus. In the epic poem, Posthomerica by Quintus Smyrnaeus, a reference is made to a bronze plaque inscribed with the words, “For their return home, the Greeks dedicate this offering to Athena.”

A plaque, with those words inscribed, was found in the ruins, among the other ruins. Carbon dating and other analyses show the wooden planks to date back to the 12th or 11th century BC, which would place the find at the approximate time the war is thought to have taken place.” Source: Ancient Literature

The Trojan War

The Trojan War, a legendary conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans, had been raging for ten long years. The Greeks, unable to breach the impenetrable walls of Troy, devised a plan to deceive their enemies and bring an end to the protracted war.

It was Odysseus, the crafty Greek king of Ithaca, who conceived the audacious plan of the Trojan Horse. Built by master carpenter Epeius, the Greeks constructed a massive wooden horse, hollowed from within, with the intention of hiding soldiers within its belly. This Trojan Horse was meant to be an offering to the gods, a symbol of surrender.

A replica of the Trojan Horse stands today in Turkey, the modern day location of the city of Troy.
A replica of the Trojan Horse stands today in Turkey, the modern-day location of the city of Troy. – Wikipedia

The Greeks strategically abandoned their siege of Troy, leaving the Trojan Beach littered with abandoned ships. They cunningly led the Trojans to believe that they had given up and departed and that the hose was an offering to Athena (the goddess of war). All the while they were hidden Greek warriors waiting patiently within the wooden horse.

The Trojans, unaware of the Greek warriors concealed within the Trojan Horse, saw it as a prize and a sign of their victory. They joyously brought the horse into their city, unaware of the danger lurking inside.

Under the cover of darkness, the Greek soldiers emerged from the Trojan Horse, opening the city gates to the waiting Greek forces. Troy, caught off guard and weakened by celebration, fell swiftly to the surprise attack.

Symbol of Deception

The Trojan Horse proved to be the decisive factor in the fall of Troy. The strategic deception orchestrated by the Greeks allowed them to breach the impenetrable walls and secure victory. The fall of Troy marked a turning point in the Trojan War and had far-reaching consequences for the Greek civilization.

The story of the Trojan Horse has endured through the ages as a symbol of deception and guile. It serves as a cautionary tale, illustrating the power of deceit in warfare and the need for constant vigilance and scepticism.

Excavation team in Troy in the 1890s
Excavation team in Troy in the 1890s © bpk

The Trojan Horse has influenced military strategy and tactics throughout history. The concept of using deception, misdirection, and surprise to gain an advantage over the enemy can be traced back to this seminal event. Military leaders have drawn inspiration from the Trojan Horse, employing similar tactics in subsequent conflicts.

The lessons learned from historical examples of deception in warfare are still applicable today. Modern military strategists and commanders continue to recognize the value of deception as a means to gain a strategic advantage. The use of misdirection, camouflage, psychological operations, and cyber deception are all employed in contemporary warfare to confuse, mislead, and deceive adversaries.

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