Secrets of the Dead


The Real Trojan Horse

It was the ultimate sneak attack, bringing a city that would withstood nine years of battle to its knees. But was it simply a work of fiction? Or did the Greeks really trick the Trojans into defeat with a giant wooden horse that concealed enough soldiers to reduce the powerful city to rubble?

AIRED: October 13, 2015 | 0:54:40

Announcer: Coming up on "Secrets of the Dead,"

a decade of warfare.

Man: Troy was a city

worthy of a 10-year siege.

Announcer: The ultimate sneak attack.

Man: Homer tells us they used a Trojan Horse to get in.

Announcer: But could the Trojan Horse

be more than an epic myth?

Man: So, clearly,

there was an attack.

Second man: The body of the horse

very closely resembles the hull of a ship.

What I'm gonna do is engineer the conquest of Troy.

Announcer: The real Trojan Horse,

on "Secrets of the Dead."

Narrator: Legend has it that the fortress city of Troy

only fell when its citizens were tricked...

fooled into bringing a giant wooden horse

inside their gates

that concealed enemy troops in its belly.

Today, the term "Trojan Horse" is a byword for deception.

Man: The Trojan Horse is the enemy within,

the gift that you shouldn't accept,

the gift that really turns out to be poison.

Narrator: The story comes from an ancient Greek poem,

one of the oldest and greatest in Western literature.

Woman: It's got everything-- a beautiful heroine, sex,

revenge, violence, and a tragic ending.

Narrator: But could the poem be more than fiction?

Man: It's really a very sophisticated story

of what happens to both sides in the course of a war.

Narrator: Our experts will examine the physical evidence

to reveal the truth behind the myth.

Did the Trojan Horse actually exist?

They'll look for proof that the fall of Troy

was a real event

and test radical theories

as to what may have led to its downfall.

Was it an earthquake?

Man: Completely destroy your entire city.

Narrator: A battering ram?

A revolutionary new weapon?

Man: Would be a fairly sophisticated structure.

Narrator: Or could it really have been a wooden horse?

Forensic investigators will try to find

the real Trojan Horse.

The story begins with a fight over a woman.

Helen of Troy, the Spartan queen

whose face launched a thousand ships,

the most beautiful woman in the world,

who'd run away to Troy with a Trojan prince.

Man: According to the Trojans,

she left willingly.

According to the Greeks, she was kidnapped.

Narrator: The dispute over Helen is the cue

for a vast Greek army to set sail

and attack the Trojans.

It was an expedition of revenge,

an expedition of loot, an expedition of glory

against Troy.

Narrator: The legend was first written down

28 centuries ago,

in the works of the poet Homer.

He describes a 9-year siege

and how the Greeks devised an ingenious plan

to crack Troy's formidable defenses.

Strauss: The Greek army would pretend to leave,

but it would leave behind a beautiful wooden horse.

Narrator: This is the part that the movies tend to focus on.

Strauss: The Trojans, to their peril,

accept the horse inside the city.

Narrator: That night, the soldiers inside the horse

sneak out.

They open the gate, let the invading army in...

and the city is wiped out.

For most people today, this epic tale is just that--

a work of fiction.

Hall: The whole cycle of stories about Troy

is almost always assumed just to be a myth.

Narrator: But is there any truth to the legend?

Classics professor Edith Hall studies Homer's texts

and has long doubted the accepted view.

Why couldn't there have been a Trojan War?

If the war took place, then maybe

the ancient story of the Trojan Horse

had some historical reality behind it as well.

I want to find out whether there was

any real history behind that myth,

and in particular, whether there was any real history

behind the Trojan Horse.

Narrator: Retired military engineer Stephen Ressler

will approach the problem from a different standpoint.

Ressler: What I'm gonna do is engineer the conquest of Troy.

I want to use a series of computer models

to examine the ways that the conquest might have happened

from an engineering perspective.

Narrator: By combining cutting-edge experimentation

with forensic analysis of the ancient texts,

our experts will set out to answer

some fundamental questions.

Did the Greeks and Trojans really fight over Troy?

How did that war end?

Ultimately, the experts want to find the truth

behind the tale of the wooden horse.

The first step is to prove that Homer

was describing a real place...

that the city of Troy existed

and that it really was an almost impregnable fortress.

The texts are clear about where we are to look.

Homer's poems say that Troy stood by the Aegean Sea,

that the gods could watch the battle

from the Mountains of Ida,

and that the Greeks brought supplies

from what are now called the Dardanelles.

Connect those points,

and the evidence leads to a corner of modern-day Turkey.

It's got to be near the water.

It has to be in a fertile plain.

Narrator: Eric Cline is an expert in Bronze Age history

and in modern archaeology's quest to find Troy.

Homer's texts provide precise geographical clues,

right down to the water that was said

to flow from beneath the city.

This region of Northwest Turkey might fit the bill,

but you need a place where there's hot and cold springs.

Homer tell us that Troy had those.

Narrator: Scholars have been reading Homer

for more than 2,500 years.

The clues have always been there for anyone to see.

But it wasn't until the 1870s

that the first serious attempt was made to follow them.

A millionaire showman named Heinrich Schliemann

was the first to start digging.

Firm in the belief that Homer's words

weren't fiction but history,

he began to explore here in Turkey.

Heinrich Schliemann is the first excavator of Troy of note.

He puts a huge trench

right through the middle of the mound,

and he was looking for Troy.

He ran against conventional wisdom.

He was not a trained archaeologist.

Narrator: Where a modern archaeologist

will excavate with forensic care,

he used dynamite.

But it paid off.

Nearly 50 feet below the surface,

he found a paved ramp

buried in the rubble of older buildings.

Cline: As Schliemann is digging,

he comes across this layer,

which is a gate, and in fact,

Schliemann thought he had found the Scaean gate

that Homer describes being wide enough

for two chariots to go through at the same time.

Narrator: This gate is the backdrop

for some of the key events in Homer's story.

It's through the Scaean gates

that the wooden horse is said to have entered the city.

As far as Schliemann was concerned,

he had found Homer's Troy.

Shortly after his discovery,

he presented this image to the world--

his wife draped in ancient gold.

They found gold and silver and necklaces and tiaras

and earrings.

Narrator: Without any proof, he declared

that this was the lost treasure of Homer's Troy.

Strauss: Schliemann was a genius and a con man.

He engaged in many swashbuckling,

questionable, even reprehensible tactics.

Nonetheless, in spite of that, he deserves the credit

for being the first person

who really brought this to the attention of the world.

Narrator: But many 19th-century scholars

refused to believe the site was Homer's Troy.

The citadel Schliemann found just didn't seem big enough.

Homer describes a large, fabulously wealthy city,

ripe for plunder.

And yet the hilltop citadel at this site

barely covers 5 acres.

It seemed too small.

It wasn't quite what Homer had described.

Narrator: Schliemann's archaeology seemed

to contradict Homer's account.

In the 1990s, a major discovery cast his work in a new light.

The plain south of the citadel was once enclosed,

covered in dozens, even hundreds of buildings.

Here was Troy, in all its magnificence.

Strauss: Before that, skeptics could have said that

Troy was nothing but a fortress

or a pirate's nest, as someone put it--

a citadel half a acre in size.

But the lower town shows

that Troy was a settlement of 75 acres in size,

a substantial place by the standards of the Bronze Age.

It was, um, as wealthy as one might expect.

It was a city worthy of a 10-year siege.

And suddenly it--it makes a lot more sense.

Narrator: The proof was conclusive--

Troy did exist,

and it was 10 times bigger than Schliemann's original find.

Now another puzzle emerged.

Scholars wanted to prove this 50-acre site

had provided the backdrop for Homer's epic

set in the 13th century B.C.

Man as Homer: Then to secure the camp and naval powers,

they raised embattled walls with lofty towers.

From space to space were ample gates around

for passing chariots,

and a trench profound.

Narrator: Homer describes a city

whose walls could not be breached.

Military historian Mark Schwartz

wants to know how the real Troy was defended.

He starts on the edge of its lower city.

So far, very little of this vast area has been excavated.

Schwartz: This would've been filled with houses.

Lots of activity going on in the streets.

You know, sort of the everyday hustle and bustle of life

in a very active merchant city.

Narrator: For Schwartz, the task

is to build a mental picture

of what an attacking army would have faced

as they approached.

It's clear that stone walls were not the only obstacle.

OK, so, this is... old excavation unit,

and you can see just down there,

that's the remains of that fortification ditch.

That was about 2 meters deep and 3 to 4 meters wide.

Would've run the length of the entire lower city,

about 2 kilometers around.

Narrator: While it may not seem impressive,

that simple ditch would've been highly effective.

And it's the first sign that the Trojans made

serious preparations against attack.

The entire lower city was rimmed by a defensive ditch,

and inside that a wooden fence.

This modern storm drain has very similar dimensions.

Schwartz: So, this was a serious impediment

to most of the army-- to the chariots,

to the infantry, to any sort of

equipment they're trying to bring across.

They can't just climb in and climb out.

It's--not that easy. In fact, it's--difficult.

Imagine trying to do it with a full sent of bronze armor.

[Indistinct shouting]

Schwartz: And you're being shot at.

This is essentially a form of attrition.

It's a way of slowing down the army

and making sure that the attackers accrue

a lot of losses on the way,

and that basically discourages them

from further attack.

Narrator: But it's only just the first line of defense.

Schwartz: If the Greeks actually got through

that line of defense,

they would have the entire lower city to get through

to get up to the citadel.

Street fighting, basically. Urban combat.

It would've been a pretty tough slog.

Narrator: Troy seems to be a city that was designed for war,

a city that could only be captured

at a great and terrible cost.

But if an epic conflict had taken place here

between the Trojans and the Greeks,

what could have caused it?

Greek myth says it was honor

that launched a thousand ships

to bring Queen Helen back home.

Could there have been other, more practical reasons

for an army to invade?

Edith Hall has come to see firsthand

the landscapes of Homer's literature.

Hall: I feel as though I'm walking straight into

the 13th century B.C.

I feel like a time traveler.

Narrator: For Hall, being on the ground

confirms what the few surviving

historical sources suggest--

that this mound of rock

less than half a mile from the sea

was the key to the balance of power

in the entire region.

Hall: This is the northeast bastion of Troy,

and it's from here that you can get a real sense

of the setting, the amazing strategic location of the city.

It's at the very crossroads of east and west.

This is where the coast of Asia meets the sea.

It's where Greeks would first arrive

if they want to come up into the Black Sea.

Whoever had this place had the control of the Dardanelles

and the whole of the Bosporus,

could control the whole of the trade into the Black Sea,

and was basically the conduit, the channel

for all kinds of communications

between Western Europe and Asia.

Narrator: Troy's importance wasn't just strategic.

The city had a reputation throughout the region

as a center of wealth and luxury.

The Greeks, anyway, thought that the Trojans

had a very, very, very luxurious standard of living.

So, this is not your basic, little,

run-of-the-mill cow town.

This is a major prosperous city.

Narrator: The Trojans were traders,

and they were particularly famous

for one commodity--horses.

Horse bones found in the archaeological record

show that at a time when they were scarce elsewhere,

these prized beasts were plentiful in Troy.

Hall: One of the words that Homer uses for Troy

is that it has very wide avenues, wide streets.

They wanted to be able to drive their horses and their wagons

and their chariots actually within the city walls,

so obsessed with their horses were they.

Strauss: Horses were also a symbol of the power of Troy

because horse breeding and horse dealing

were such an important part of the Trojan economy.

Narrator: And during this era,

horses had a clear military value.

Strauss: The horse in the form of the chariot was a war animal.

Horses might also be a gift

that one king would give to another.

It would be a very high-end, very luxury item.

Narrator: Could the Greeks have dazzled the Trojans

with a symbolic horse

and gotten them to let down their guard?

With its wealth, trade, and vital strategic position,

it's clear that Troy was worth fighting for.

But what evidence is there that the city was sacked

in the way Homer describes?

Generations of archaeologists have scoured these ruins,

trying to identify when these walls fell

and what caused their collapse.

Was the damage the result of time,

or was it caused deliberately?

Cline: What I want to find is evidence of destruction,

such as tilted walls and things off-kilter,

even cracked blocks--

things that, uh, wouldn't happen naturally.

And in fact, this huge piece

should not have this crack right through the middle.

You can actually see where it's broken in half right here.

In fact, there's quite a lot of

little details around the site just like that.

I'm looking here at some cracks in the blocks

that make up this defensive wall.

That's hard to tell when they cracked,

but they're definitely cracked running right through

the middle of a number of them.

Narrator: It was once believed that these cracks

were evidence of an attack,

the systematic destruction that followed

after the Greeks slipped inside the city walls.

Modern scholars are less convinced.

Cline consults with retired military engineer

Stephen Ressler.

The damage is quite unique in that it's

a series of very, um, clear fractures

that are oriented on a diagonal.

But the rocks are simply fractured.

They're not pulverized

or broken into small pieces.

This certainly does not look like

the result of an attack on the walls of Troy.

Narrator: It seems a far greater force

than the Greek army threatened Troy in ancient times.

Man as Homer: Then terribly thundered the father of

gods and men from on high,

and from beneath did Poseidon cause the vast earth to quake

and the steep crests of the mountains

and the city of the Trojans.

Narrator: Even Homer tells us the city was shaken

by what he calls the wrath of the gods.

Certainly the damage Cline saw in Troy

was beyond the powers of Bronze Age man.

[whistle blowing]

Having dismissed the possibility

that the devastation was caused by

an invading Greek army,

Cline travels 300 miles to Istanbul.

Dr. Ozel. I'm Eric Cline.

Hi. Nice to meet you. How are you?

Nice to meet you.

Narrator: This station monitors seismic activity

all over Turkey.

Here is our recording.

Cline: Wow.

Narrator: This is one of the most

earthquake-prone regions on earth.

How many earthquakes do you record per day?

Ozel: Not less than 50...

50 per day? For small ones? Yes.

Last year, we had recorded 13,000 per year.

Per year. Wow.

The intensity and the magnitude

can--can vary greatly,

so, probably most of them, you wouldn't even notice.

But every so often, there would be one

that would completely destroy your entire city.

In 1999, there were at least 17,000 people

killed right away.

From the 19th century till now,

uh, more than 90,000 people

lost their lives because of the earthquake in Turkey.

Narrator: That's 12 times the population of ancient Troy.

The ancient city sits on the edge

of a major fault line.

And the north Anatolian fault,

it goes all the way across.

Yes. This is the northern...

There it is. ...starting from here.

From there.

Ozel: Approximately 1,500 kilometers... Wow.

And then it's just entering Greece.

Right. Right.

Narrator: The damage Cline found

was most likely caused by an earthquake

or series of quakes.

Today, we know why earthquakes take place,

with plate tectonics, and we know the science behind it,

but in antiquity, they would have thought

the gods were angry and the earth was shaking

because of the gods.

Narrator: Even as Cline stands watching,

reports come in of a new quake

originating just a few miles from Troy.

There was an earthquake 140 seconds ago

in the region of Canakkale, right near Troy.

We've just been in this area

in the region of northwest Anatolia.

We're talking about earthquakes in antiquity

and here one has happened just now in that very same location.

In the end, we can surmise

that there were really destructive earthquakes

in the late Bronze Age

and that we should expect to some--

to find some indication of that while excavating.

Narrator: Seismologists agree

that a series of quakes

may well have hit Troy around 1300 B.C.

But here, the mystery deepens.

Homer's war took place around 1180 B.C.,

fully 100 years after the earthquake hit Troy.

And it seems that instead of fleeing Troy,

the local people returned and rebuilt the city,

populating it more densely than ever.

We've got strong masonry of the one city,

the one that was destroyed,

but there's almost an immediate rebuilding.

We're looking here at the end of one of the

big houses of the previous city.

But now we've got a new addition,

which has been added after the earthquake.

So, obviously, there were survivors.

They have rebuilt. They've done new additions.

Narrator: Cline spots a difference

in the quality of the craftsmanship.

Things have changed a bit.

This is not quite as nice masonry

as it is in the big house.

It's on a different level.

The big mansions of the previous city

now seem to have smaller interior

party walls put in,

almost as if there's 3 families living there

where one family had been before.

Narrator: Evidence found in the rebuilt Troy

suggests that its citizens were facing a new threat,

not from earthquakes but from a human enemy

beyond their walls.

Excavations have uncovered dozens of huge storage jars

sunk into the ground beneath the citadel.

They are there to stockpile food supplies.

That would have enabled them to survive

within the protection of the city

for a longer period of time than had been the case earlier.

Cline: This could all be suggestions that

people are gearing up for a war.

Narrator: Did they expect a long siege?


Narrator: And Troy's defenses hold important clues

that further the investigation.

Rose: Parts of the fortification walls

were thrown down by the earthquake,

and so there was a need to rebuild quickly.

Narrator: But the walls weren't just rebuilt,

they were strengthened.

A new tower was added on the southeast side of the city.

One of the gates leading to the citadel was blocked

so that there were fewer entrances to the citadel.

Narrator: Each of these steps made Troy harder to capture.

Man: So, this is fortress Troy.

Narrator: Military historian Mark Schwartz

puts himself in the position of the defending troops

manning the citadel walls.

335 meters of this very, very solidly built wall.

This looks imposing as it is,

but it would've been double this height.

And you can see it's about 4 meters wide

in--in--in places.

So, you could actually get a number of defenders up here

hurling stones, shooting arrows, right,

at anyone who's attacking the city.

And they're also covering their weak places.

Narrator: Troy's weak points are its 3 principal gates.

We know that after the earthquake,

the western gate was sealed.

The eastern gate was fortified with a second outer wall

to funnel attackers into a narrow kill zone.

And a large tower dominated the approach from the lower city.

So, what do they do? They have

towers projecting from the wall.

Defenders on top of this tower,

which is a little bit higher than the wall,

can shoot back while defenders on top of the wall

are shooting down, and so you get

any attacker right in a crossfire right there.

Narrator: The fortifications were clearly well thought out,

but Homer is also clear-- they fell.

Man as Homer: Soon should our arms with just success be crowned

and Troy's proud walls lie smoking on the ground.

Narrator: From within these formidable defenses,

archaeological clues suggest that an enemy force

was somehow able to breach the city walls.

What has been found there is

approximately a meter of earth,

very blackened with bits of charcoal,

within which some arrowheads have been found.

Narrator: Here is evidence that the city was taken,

that it was burnt, and that this time,

it was not quickly rebuilt.

So, clearly, there was an attack.

Who the attackers were has always been a question.

Narrator: Many find this evidence persuasive.

It matches Homer's time frame

and points directly to a Greek assault.

One of these arrowheads is of a type

found only on the Greek mainland.

The city that seems to have been destroyed by an earthquake

eventually recovered.

It was rebuilt.

And this city seems to have been destroyed by humans.

Narrator: And while few bodies have been recovered from this time,

to Barry Strauss, the way those bodies were left

tells a brutal story.

The excavators have found an unburied male skeleton

outside the door of a building on the citadel.

Perhaps it was a householder trying to defend his home.

Most dramatically, they found the skeleton

of a 15-year-old girl buried in the lower city.

An ancient people would not bury a body within the walls

unless they were under very great stress.

Narrator: For some scholars, the written and archaeological record

makes a clear case.

The Trojan War and the sacking of the city aren't myth,

but historical fact.

I'm convinced that the Greeks were at war

with the residents of this part of western Turkey

all through the Bronze Age.

The ancient Greeks in the 8th century B.C.

produced an incredibly detailed account

of a war that had taken place about 500 years before,

rich in all kinds of detail about the Bronze Age

that I don't think they could have necessarily have invented.

Narrator: If Homer is reliable about the Trojan War,

could his story of the horse be rooted in fact as well?

Man as Homer: 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!

Narrator: And when the Trojans pulled this carved horse

into their city,

these chiefs jumped out and opened the gates

for the rest of the Greek army.

Today, some scholars believe Homer's tale

is a mythologized version of the truth.

Perhaps the carved horse was something else entirely.

What if it wasn't a statue? What if it was a weapon

and Troy's downfall was caused by a practical device,

like a battering ram?

Mark Schwartz looks at the feasibility of this strategy.

He starts at the city gates.

Schwartz: This is the south gate.

The main gate to the citadel.

Narrator: Troy's gates would have been wooden

and the obvious points to attack.

So, if the Greeks got close enough,

how would a battering ram have worked?

A battering ram is-- at its simplest

is just a big log with something sharp

or heavy at the end of it,

and you're just using the weight and the momentum

behind this big log to get in and smash

a gate such as this one.

It'd be more effective if it had metal at--at one end.

And sometimes the metal was shaped

to look like a ram's head,

hence giving it the name "battering ram."

Narrator: The theory is simple,

but how does it stand up to scrutiny?

The forests to the south of Troy

would supply the necessary wood.

You look at it. [Slapping tree]

That would make a nice battering ram, I think.

Narrator: But a ram would have to be heavy,

and the attackers would need a way of

striking the strengthened gates repeatedly.

They couldn't simply pick up a tree trunk and charge.

I was a combat engineer specifically,

and combat engineers specialize in

both construction and destruction

of obstacle systems.

Narrator: Stephen Ressler places himself

in the position of his ancient counterparts.

I'm particularly fascinated with ancient engineering

because of the conditions under which

the ancient engineers operated.

They worked in a world of much greater constraint.

They had very limited materials and very limited tools

to do their work.

Narrator: Applying those limitations,

Ressler constructs a virtual model of a battering ram

that the Greeks had the technology to build.

Ressler: I'm incorporating a chassis made up of wooden timbers

with 4 wheels, wooden wheels that's

structurally robust enough to support

a ram consisting of a tree trunk

that probably weighed about a ton and a half to 2 tons.

Narrator: It could be wheeled up to the gates,

and to the Trojans, this could have looked like

a giant horse.

The battering ram itself

would swing on ropes

so that gravity could drive the impact.

Each blow would be 10 times more effective

than simply charging the gate with a fixed ram.

The same forces make a modern wrecking ball effective.

But deploying such a large weapon in battle conditions

would be uniquely difficult.

Man: It would have taken hours to approach the walls of Troy

and then to deploy the ram

and to batter down the doorway.

Schwartz: They would probably

assemble the battering ram

outside of the range of arrow fire,

but obviously, once they got within range--

they'd have to in order to get it up to the gate--

they would be under constant attack.

Narrator: In skilled hands, a Bronze Age bow

is accurate and lethal at more than 150 feet.

And so they would have had to run a gauntlet

to get right up to the gate.

You're essentially being funneled right into

a--a death trap right here.

Man: The doorway might have been knocked down

in the matter of 15 minutes of continuous operation,

but they would've been subjected to

considerable defensive fire from the battlements above

during that period of time.

And so, you would have had to try to...

bang and slam right into this gate.

Really, with all of these attackers from here and here,

from there.

[Indistinct shouting]

I would not like to have been in that situation at all.

My suspicion is that the machine

never would've had an opportunity to go into action.

I think it probably would have been destroyed

before it reached its target.

Narrator: If Ressler's suspicions are correct,

then a battering ram couldn't have been an alternative

to Homer's Trojan Horse.

The Greeks could only take Troy by direct assault

if they were prepared to waste countless lives.

Strauss: Ordinarily, to take a place by assault,

you need to have a superiority of 3 to 1.

All the evidence we have suggests that

the Greeks did not have that kind of superiority.

Certainly in Homer, the Greeks complain

that the Trojans have an equal number of men

to the amount of men that the Greeks have.

Narrator: In this scenario, the Trojan War

would soon reach a stalemate,

and the only option for the Greeks

would be to begin a siege,

which, according to Homer, lasted 9 years.

Man as Homer: Now 9 long years of mighty Jove are run

since first the labors of this war begun.

Narrator: Troy's defenses were perfectly suited

to withstand a lengthy assault.

But could the Trojans themselves

survive a lengthy assault?

Mark Schwartz looks for evidence below the surface.

So, this is the ancient water system of Troy,

and this was what allowed the citizens of Troy

to actually survive the siege,

because you can go maybe a few weeks without food,

but only a few days without water.

So, they actually constructed this beautiful system

of shafts to supply water to the citizens.

Wow. That is incredible.

Narrator: The earth below Troy hides a natural spring.

That's one of the reasons why the city stands here.

Over a period of centuries, the water's flow

was controlled and directed via channels

cut by hand through the bedrock.

Schwartz: I mean, you can see the chisel marks.

Maybe they took a natural path and then enlarged it.

Originally, the water would have been filling this.

Narrator: The network spreads out underneath the citadel.

Schwartz: You could see this vertical shaft

going right up to the surface.

That allowed access to this water system.

Ah. And another shaft down here.


Narrator: Out of reach today,

there is a vast man-made central reservoir

at the end of this opening.

It was capable of holding nearly

300,000 gallons of drinking water.

Schwartz: These shafts are like

the veins and arteries of the city.

Uh, in the fact that they provide the life to the city.

Narrator: Homer tells us that the Trojans survived

9 years under siege,

and the archaeology suggests that was entirely possible.

But Homer also tells us,

and the archaeology supports the idea,

that the downfall of the city did come.

There is another extraordinary explanation

as to what the real Trojan Horse might have been.

In the centuries after the downfall of Troy,

siege towers would become an accepted part of warfare.

What if Homer's writings are actually a veiled description

of the first time one was used?

It is certainly plausible that the whole idea

of a Trojan Horse is a dim memory

or even a metaphor for some sort of siege tower.

I mean, the siege tower would have had men inside of it.

It would have been covered with animal skins,

and it's not such a far leap

to get from a siege tower to a Trojan Horse.

Narrator: While historical sources date siege towers

to a slightly later period,

there's nothing in their construction

that the Greeks could not have achieved.

In its simplest form, a siege tower

really is nothing more than a mobile ladder

that's designed to get assault troops

up to the level of the enemy battlements

with some level of protection.

Narrator: And yet, it's clearly a mammoth undertaking.

As with the battering ram, the tower that Ressler models

would have a wheeled wooden base.

But on top of that sits what is in effect

a moving, multi-story building.

Ressler: It consists of a heavy timber framework

covered with wooden planking on 3 sides for protection,

normally somewhat higher than the level of the battlements

so that archers positioned on the top level

can look down and fire down upon the battlements.

Schwartz: So, you have to imagine these walls

would be maybe 6 meters high of stone,

with another 3 meters of mud-brick wall on top of that.

Narrator: Taking Troy's fortifications into account,

Ressler designs a machine 5 stories tall

using 25 tons of wood,

capable of holding 200 men.

It would require hundreds more

to push and pull it into place.

This wouldn't be a stealth attack.

You can imagine the chaos that would have been

a battle such as this.

You would have to launch everything you had at that wall.

You would have had to have your men all along here,

your archers, your slingers back there,

giving you covering fire, shooting at those defenders,

trying to suppress their fire on you.

Then you'd have to wheel slowly that tower into place.

Narrator: The effort involved would've been enormous.

Ressler estimates his model

would have moved at less than 3 feet per minute,

but there is a possibility that it could have been done.

It certainly seems plausible to me

that the Mycenaeans would've

had the know-how and the resources

to make such siege towers.

Narrator: One of the best clues

that such technology did exist at that time

can be found in the city walls themselves.

It seems clear that the Trojans

were aware of siege warfare.

There is no other reason to make their walls

at an angle rather than straight up and down.

Narrator: This simple fact would've been a barrier

to the siege tower's success.

The walls angle about 20 degrees here.

If you think of it like this,

you're actually gonna have quite a bit of space

between the top of the wall and the top of the siege tower.

And somehow, under full fire from defenders,

you're gonna have to get men up that siege tower,

up and over onto the wall.

Narrator: The slanted walls would have required

an extra level of engineering.

Ressler: And that means that the tower must be

equipped with some sort of a drawbridge

that will allow assault troops to be able to bridge that gap.

The drawbridge itself would be

a fairly sophisticated structure

in order to be able to carry those loads safely.

So, we can see that there's a fairly substantial challenge

in designing a siege tower

to attack the walls of Troy.

Narrator: And, of course, it's nothing

compared to what would have faced

those who manned the apparatus.

Mark Schwartz has serious doubts

that a tower would've worked.

Schwartz: Given the losses they would've incurred,

given the angle of the walls,

given the difficulty in getting

from the top of the siege tower

over onto the tops of the walls,

given the limitations on the available

archers and slingers they might have had,

it would've been very unlikely that

such an attack would've been successful.

Narrator: Having ruled out the possibility

that the Trojan Horse was any kind of assault weapon,

the experts must return to Homer's writing.

And the idea that the Greeks found a radical way

to end the siege, not with brute force, but with guile.

Man as Homer: Unite and rouse the sons of Greece to arms,

but first with caution try what yet they dare.

Narrator: The determined Greeks may have considered

one other wild possibility.

Hall: The Greeks celebrated cunning intelligence.

They told each other lots of stories about

trickster heroes and people who managed to steal things

or win wars by tricks.

The story of the Trojan Horse

is as plausible a history

as any other speculation that scholars have come up with.

Why don't we do Homer the credit

of really listening to what he says?

Narrator: According to the stories,

the ruse worked like this.

The Greeks assemble a group of

heavily armed, handpicked warriors.

They're loaded inside a giant horse

which is left outside the gates of Troy.

The remaining soldiers appear to sail away,

abandoning the siege.

They're actually hidden, shielded from view

by an island just offshore.

What follows has been represented countless times

in story, art, and film.

The horse is taken inside the gates,

and the Trojans let their guard down

as they celebrate the war's apparent end.

The Greek soldiers inside the horse sneak out

and throw open the city gates.

With every other theory discounted,

this last possibility remains--

the horse Homer wrote about did exist.

But how plausible is this scenario?

Why a horse?

Perhaps the animal's connection with Troy

made it a logical choice.

Strauss: It would have been a fine symbol

that the Greeks had left,

because the horse was one of the symbols of Troy.

So, for the Greeks to leave a horse

was a token of submission.

Narrator: How would they have built such a complex structure?

Stephen Ressler believes the answer to this question

is rooted in the fact that the Greeks of the late Bronze Age

were seafarers.

Ressler: We know the Greeks were great shipbuilders.

So, if they were gonna build a large wooden horse,

I have to believe that they would've built it

the same way they built their ships.

Narrator: The maritime Greeks had been honing

their carpentry skills for centuries.

Ressler: Well, first in the overall framework of the horse,

we have a keel below, just as a Greek ship would have;

we have the prow, which corresponds to the prow of a ship;

we have a stern post corresponding to

the stern post of the ship.

The body of the horse very closely resembles

the hull of a ship.

And I truly believe that's the way

it would've been put together.

It had to be able to carry fairly substantial loads.

Narrator: Those loads being a number of armed troops.

But just how many warriors could fit?

The Trojan Horse literally grows

with each telling of the story.

Later accounts suggest it held virtually

a full ship's company.

From the mythology, the most common number we hear is 30.

So, let's start by assuming there were

30 men inside the horse's belly.

Narrator: A warrior in full armor

would require more than 35 cubic feet of space.

Ressler: Here's my model of a single man seated,

and in order to investigate how much space

30 of them would require,

all I have to do is copy him 29 times.

Narrator: They can be arranged in a number of ways,

some more efficient than others.

Ressler: And so, we can look at an alternate arrangement

of men seated in two groupings,

one above the other inside the belly of the horse,

and in this case, it's a considerably more

efficient arrangement.

Not only can we fit 30 in,

we can actually fit 40.

Narrator: The result is a massive structure--

the enormous statue below by Hollywood.

If I take this model and scale it up

to meet the proportions of a full horse,

it turns out that the height of the Trojan Horse

would need to be a little bit over 10 meters tall.

That's equivalent to the height of

the walls of Troy themselves,

and indeed a horse that large would've weighed

upwards of 30 metric tons.

Narrator: Clearly, a smaller horse was required.

And for the trick to work,

the Greeks only needed to conceal enough men

to open the gates.

Ressler knows sheer numbers alone

do not guarantee success in a stealth attack.

Ressler: I think 9 elite warriors inside the horse

constitutes a strike force that was entirely

adequate to their mission,

which was simply to get the gates of the city open.

Narrator: With that in mind, he adjusts his model.

It would need to be small enough

to appear unthreatening.

The horse is actually quite modest in size.

In fact, I suggest that if you were a Trojan,

you might actually be surprised that it

could conceal 9 men inside.

Narrator: It's a little more than 13 feet tall

and less than 7 feet wide.

Ressler: I've designed my Trojan Horse to be small enough

to fit inside the south gate of Troy.

Cline: Homer tells us they used a Trojan Horse to get in

by hiding their men inside this huge, wooden animal.

Narrator: Could the Greeks really have tricked the Trojans like this?

I frankly would be surprised

if the Trojans would fall for that.

At the very least, I would want to knock and say,

"Anybody there?"

How plausible is it?

That's difficult to say.

But the idea of getting forces, infiltrating forces

in the city in order to

gain access to the gate and open it

to the rest of the army is plausible.

We can imagine that there was a debate.

Do you think the Greeks have really gone?

Do you trust the Greeks or not?

Another group, though, said no, this is a gift from the gods

and that we ought to take it in and welcome it.

Narrator: According to Homer's account,

the horse does go through the gate,

and the siege reaches its bloody end.

And the Greeks inside the horse

open the gates of the city.

The Greeks enter and they are

able to slaughter their opponents.

The Trojans mount what little resistance they can,

but in the end, it's not enough.

The Greeks finally, after all this time, take Troy,

kill its royalty, and sack the city.

Hall: The scale of the brutality

that was needed to take a city of this size and sophistication

was breathtaking.

Homer's description of the sacking of Troy

is very graphic and very violent.

It comes in the mouth of Priam, the king of Troy,

who actually foretells his daughters being raped,

his sons being put to the sword,

the little children being thrown off the walls of Troy,

the whole place gutted.

By the end of the day, there would have been

nothing left of Troy but a smoking ruin.

Narrator: Homer's Troy fell more than 3,000 years ago.

As the ancient city has been covered

with physical layers of stone and earth,

so a chain of real events

has been obscured by layers of myth-making.

And yet it's hard to reject the entire story as fiction.

Cline: In my opinion, the Trojan War took place.

I think Troy was a wealthy city.

I think it took quite a while to capture.

Narrator: We know that the walls of Troy

would frustrate almost any attack.

Strauss: They tried one thing after another.

In the end, they had no choice but to try deception.

Narrator: Any direct assault would have required

men and resources far beyond what was available.

And the Trojans appear to have been

ready for a long siege.

The experts have considered and ruled out

all the possible ways the Greeks

could have defeated the Trojans.

It seems the Trojan Horse

might be the most plausible tactic.

Of course, we start out by saying,

"This can't possibly be true.

It's so simple-minded."

And yet, sometimes simple-minded things

turn out to be true.

Hall: Homer tells us that the stalemate in the war

could only be broken with the Trojan Horse.

It's a jolly plausible account resonant with history.

Narrator: And if Homer was right about

Troy and the Trojan War,

maybe his description of the fall of Troy

is also true.

Once you've used a Trojan Horse,

no one is gonna fall for that again.

But if this was the one time it was used,

it might even have succeeded.

Narrator: Expert opinion on the accuracy

of the Trojan Horse story is divided.

But the fact that it's now legendary

doesn't mean it's just a legend.

AnnoAnnouncer: The "Secrets of the Dead" investigation

continues online.

For more in-depth analysis and streaming video

of this and other episodes,


This program is available on DVD.

To order, visit

or call 1-800-PLAY-PBS.


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