The Trojan Horse is a tale from the Trojan War about the Greek's strategy to enter Troy and ultimately end the war in favor of the Greeks. The canonical version of the tale affirms that after ten years of war without either side winning, the Greeks built a wooden horse out of wood from their boats, hid some men in it, and sailed away. Once the Trojans had brought the horse into their walls, the men crawled out of the horse at night and opened the doors to the Greek army which had sailed back under the cover of the night. The Greeks ransacked the city and murdered every Trojan they could see. Troy was destroyed.

Today, the term "Trojan Horse" is the metaphorical meaning of the strategy or trick where one invites a concealed foe into a secure place. Such term is used commonly with "malware" computer programs, which appear to be harmless until user installs and runs them.

Literary accounts

According to Quintus Smyrnaeus, Odysseus came up with building a wooden horse that would fool the Trojans, since the emblem of Troy was a horse. Under the leadership of Epeios, the Greeks managed to build the horse and fill it with warriors in three days. The next phase of the plan was leaving a man behind with the horse, so the Trojans would think he was abandoned by the Greeks. Sinon decided to stay behind, and the Greeks departed. When Sinon confronted the Trojans, he managed to convince them that the Greeks left without him, and that the horse was an offering and an apology to the goddess Athena for desecrating her temple.

While the Trojans questioned Sinon, the Trojan priest Laocoön guessed the Greek's plan and warned the Trojans, in Virgil's famous line "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes" (I fear Greeks even those bearing gifts). Before any Trojan believed him, the god Poseidon sent two sea serpents to strangle him and his sons. According to Apollodorus it was Apollo who sent the serpents in revenge since Laocoon had insulted him by sleeping with his wife in front of the "divine image". Helen of Troy had also guessed the plot and tried to uncover the Greek warriors in the horse by imitating their wives' voices. Anticlus almost answered, but Odysseus shut his mouth with his hand. Cassandra, King Priam's daughter and soothsayer of Troy insists that the horse would bring Troy's downfall, but she is ignored, resulting in the Greeks completing their mission and winning the war.

These events are mentioned in the Odyssey:

"What a thing was this, too, which that mighty man wrought and endured in the carven horse, wherein all we chiefs of the Argives were sitting, bearing to the Trojans death and fate!
But come now,change thy theme, and sing of the building of the horse of wood, which Epeius made with Athena's help, the horse which once Odysseus led up into the citadel as a thing of guile, when he had filled it with the men who sacked Ilion. "

The most detailed and most familiar version is in Virgil's Aeneid, Book II

"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.’ "

Men in the horse

Thirty soldiers hid in the Trojan horse's belly and two spies in its mouth. Other sources give different numbers: Apollodorus 50; Tzetzes 23; and Quintus Smyrnaeus gives the names of thirty, but says there were more.In late tradition the number was standardized at 40. Their names follow:

Odysseus (main leader)
Ajax the Lesser


Modern speculation and theories

"There has been modern speculation that the Trojan Horse may have been a battering ram resembling a horse, and that the description of the use of this device was then transformed into a myth by later oral historians who were not present at the battle and were unaware of that meaning of the name. Assyrians at the time used siege machines with animal names... it is possible that the Trojan Horse was such." -Interview from wikipedia

"It has also been suggested that the Trojan Horse actually represents an earthquake that occurred between the wars that could have weakened Troy's walls and left them open for attack. The god Poseidon had a triple function as a god of the sea, of horses, and of earthquakes. Structural damage on Troy VI – its location being the same as that represented in Homer's Iliad and the artifacts found there suggesting it was a place of great trade and power – shows signs that there was indeed an earthquake."

-Wikipedia and historian records


There are three known surviving classical depictions of the Trojan horse. The earliest is on a fibula brooch dated about 700 BC. The other two are on pithos vases from Mykonos and Tinos, both usually dated between 675 and 650 BC, the one from Mykonos being known as the Mykonos Vase.

"Historian Michael Wood, however, dates the Mykonos Vase to the 8th century BC, some 500 years after the supposed time of the war, but before the written accounts attributed by tradition to Homer. Wood concludes from that evidence that the story of the Trojan Horse was in existence prior to the writing of those accounts." Michael Wood's bio and Wikipedia
The Mykonos Vase portraying the Trojan Horse
The Trojan Horse from the movie Troy
Painting of the Trojan Horse being pulled into Troy