Trojan War
March 18, 2021

Was There Ever a Trojan War?

By Nilakhi Banerjee

The Trojan horse really exists, or rather did exist until a few years ago.

It is a horse that has crossed history over the last 3,000 years, who has made poets, princes, kings, and emperors fall in love with it. It has fought in all the most important wars, won memorable races, traveled all over the known world and then died out less than 50 years ago, just a step away from the 21st century.

The Trojan War and the Horse That Left its Mark

Everyone remembers how the siege of the city of Troy ended, narrated by the poet Homer around the 12th century BC. It was Ulysses who devised the winning stratagem after 10 years of ruthless war between the Acheans, who besieged the city, and the Trojans who defended it. Odysseus pretended to abandon the battlefield and retreat with his ships. Before leaving the beach, however, he designed a huge wooden horse, making it look like a propitiatory act towards Poseidon. The horse was in fact one of the symbols with which he was depicted.

Inside the statue, Ulysses hid himself, fully armed, together with about fifty warriors. The Trojans, convinced that the long siege had finally come to an end, dragged the horse inside the walls as spoils of war. When the tired and drunken Trojans went to sleep late at night, the fifty brave Acheans had no difficulty in getting out of the horse, opening the city gates to the rest of the army, which had meanwhile returned from the beach, and then conquered the city together.


To the modern readers of Homeric poems it may have seemed a great naivety to bring that votive sculpture within the walls of the city. But it is important to know that for the Trojans, the horse, their horse, was sacred. It was an animal that was bred with maniacal care, selecting the best specimens for courage, strength, endurance and above all speed. They were horses with white livery (although technically we should say grey) of small to medium stature (especially by today’s standards) and “not beautiful but fast” as described around 500 BC by the historian and geographer Hecataeus of Miletus.

The first mention of these horses can be found in the Iliad where they are present in the “Catalogue of Heroes” (book II, 851-852) in which Homer tells of the attempt by the Venetians of Paphlagonia, allies of the Trojans, to free the city. Paphlagonia was a region of present-day Turkey, not far from Troy where, Homer writes, “the race of wild mules was born”.

Still today, however, not all historians and archaeologists believe the legend of the wooden horse. Some claim it was a Phoenician boat with a horse-shaped figurehead called hippos, others a catapult similar to a horse’s head. The only real Trojan horse of which one can be absolutely certain of, is the tenacious, brave and very fast white horse of the Venetians of Paphlagonia.

The Trojan Horses That Survived the War

Homer tells us that the head of the Venetians, Pylaemenes was killed in battle by Menelaus, King of Sparta and husband of Helen, the woman for whom the fierce war between the Acheans and Trojans originated. Meanwhile in Paphlagonia, taking advantage of the absence of the army engaged in the war in Troy, there was an insurrection. The Venetian soldiers, therefore, having to flee from the burning city and not being able to return to their land, joined the wise Trojan Antenor.

He led them and their herd of precious surviving horses from the coasts of the Black Sea to the lagoon of Venice. The migration is also testified by the Roman historian Titus Livy in his essay Ab urbe condita , where he explains that Venetians and Trojans arrived “in the innermost gulf of the Adriatic Sea, in the land of the Euganeans, between the sea and the Alps.”

From there they settled in various encampments that later became important cities such as Padua, Treviso and Belluno, going as far as Santa Lucia in Slovenia. In particular the Venetian horse breeders found their place of election along the Piave River, so that after several centuries, their horses took the name of Venetian Horses of the Piave breed.

Ancient and Unanimous Nobility of the Piave Breed

From then on, very few animals can claim such an ancient and unanimous license of nobility in their pedigree. In classical Greece, these horses are honored by poets, historians and writers for their speed, endurance and immaculate ivory cloaks. The Spartan poet Alcman, for example, in the 7th century BC compared them to the woman he loved to enhance their beauty.

Here are his immortal verses: “She presents herself to us so beautiful, as if she were standing in the midst of a flock of sheep, a vigorous horse, triumphant in races, with her hooves resounding with winged dreams. Do you see him? He is a Venetian purebred.”

One of the greatest Athenian tragic poets, Euripides, also deals with this splendid animal several times. For example, in the 5 th century poem “Hippolytus”, he writes: “Artemis, lady of Limma Marittima and the rumbling stadiums of horses, oh to be in your plains, to be able to tame the foals from Veneto.”


Before that, there had been Hesiod, Pindar and many others, until 440 BC when charioteer Leo Spartan won the 85th Olympics with a pair of mares from Veneto. From that day on, this breed also became sacred to the Greeks, so much so that Leo wanted an inscription dedicated to the Venetian horses in his statue.

In the meantime, the Venetians made the horse their reason for living. This ancient and noble people called the horse “Evko”, an Indo-European word similar to the Latin “equus” and the Sanskrit “akvas”. A root that can still be found today in several places such as il Cavallino (Equilium), a peninsula in front of Venice, or Acelum a hilly village near Treviso, present in the list of the most beautiful villages in Italy, where the famous prosecco wine is produced.

In these lands, the breeding and trade of horses became one of the main drivers of their economy. The discovery of coins in the areas around the Piave River, Corinth, Syracuse and Magna Graecia, evidenced a flourishing trade.

The Greek historian Strabo, who lived at the turn of the first century, also tells us that the Venetians used to mark each of their horses with a wolf-shaped mark and for this reason they were also called “Lycophore,” which in Latin means wolf bearer. This tradition lasted until the last horse of the Piave breed died out about forty years ago. Strabo had the opportunity to see one of these horses himself, which was branded with the wolf’s head.

Importance to the Roman Empire

Even in ancient Rome the horses from Veneto had a special place. The Roman cavalry constantly supplied itself with horses and riders from Veneto, of which it always sought an alliance. The trust given by the Romans to these warriors and breeders was well placed, because the. Venetians had enormous glory in battle. Among the many successes, the most celebrated was the tragic and bloody battle of Talamone against the Celts, who in 225 BC were annihilated by a coalition of four Roman legions, a contingent of Etruscans and precisely the Venetian cavalry. 

But in Rome, if possible, the Venetian coursers were even more famous in times of peace. In the ludi circenses , the famous public games held at the Circus Maximus or the. Colosseum, Venetian horses were the stars of chariot races. The most popular and beloved attraction along with gladiator fights.

The ‘Veneta factio’ ran with the blue insignia, the national color of the. Veneti inspired by the linen flower that these. People were expert growers and competed in a lane specially dedicated to it. Still nowadays, in the numerous re-enactments that are organized in Rome for tourist purposes, ‘the Blues’ are the main attraction.

The Middle Ages and Napoleon’s Obsession

At the beginning of the MiddleAges, after the fall of the Roman Empire, a particular variety of more sturdy. Veneto horses called “Paduan” were established, suitable to support the heavy armor. Of medieval knights during the numerous bloody battles or to transport the large chariots with supplies and goods. The painter, sculptor and architect Donatello, immortalized this noble steed in. Padua in the famous equestrian monument dedicated to. Gattamelata, an Italian warlord who fought in  Veneto in the mid-15 th century.

In that period, needs, habits and lifestyles changed. New pastimes such as the carousel, the. palio and the tournament became established, where these mighty animals were the most celebrated heroes. Shakespeare also took care of them, as in the “Taming of the Shrew” quotes them. Gremio: “And I would gladly give my horse, the best in. Padua, to that man who began to seriously court her…”. 


Among the most prestigious horse rides of the time, there is certainly that of. Verona, also mentioned by Dante in the VX of  Hell (Divine Comedy). A popular entertainment that already in the 12 th century saw women competing too.

The fame of these horses, now widespread throughout Europe and Asia. Minor, was the origin of great exhibitions including the “Fiera dei Cavalli e dei Morosi” near. Verona and the “Fiera di Santa Lucia” near Treviso. Both of them are still held today and have abundantly over a thousand years of history.

The Fiera di Santa Lucia, in particular, boasts a two-thousand-year history, being the heir of a. Previous paleo-Venetian exhibition of sacred horses dedicated to the god of light Lugh. Which later developed and became international around the 6 th century with the reign of the Franks.

Venetian horses were then exported to improve local breeds in France, Belgium, Holland, the Balkans and even Asia Minor. This was well known to horse connoisseurs, such as the French. So much so, that between the end of 1700 and the beginning of. 1800, Napoleon organized six conquest campaigns in Veneto during which he ordered his army to raid horses.

Within the blood of these famous white horses of which the French emperor loved so much, it would seem that. Trojan/Venetian blood was flowing. Once he had conquered Venice, Napoleon plundered it by stealing more than thirty thousand. Works of art of inestimable value, including Tiziano, Mantegna and Veronese.


The most brutal and unbearable spoliation for the Venetians, however, was that of St. Mark’s horses. A sculptural group of four bronze horses dating back to the 2 nd century. BC, which the Venetians had taken from the Hippodrome of Constantinople, because they celebrated their victories with their horses’ chariots. The event is also documented by a press release dated 1797 (entitled: The French troops steal St. Mark’s horses ), which sees a Piazza San Marco crowded with French soldiers intent on transporting the precious relic.

What we do find however, is Mycenaean pottery dating up to the end of layer VIIa. As for the Hittite tablets, most of these texts date generations earlier, which also coincides with. Troy layer VI, reiterating the note from earlier that this layer. Ended from an act of mother nature, that is, an earthquake.

When modern scholars attempt to piece this puzzle together what they do find is a series of separate events. Which would have inspired later storytellers. Some scholars have even concluded that the war did not occur between the. Mycenaeans and Trojans, but instead the Mycenaeans with the Hittites over the land where Troy resided.

Troy stood at an economic center joining the Eastern and Western worlds. It also stood as a gateway between the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Having control over this land would have brought great economic wealth to its rulers.


This collection of activities involving the Mycenaeans would eventually form a single. And fluid narrative to be sung by traveling bards such as Homer. The role of the bard was to entertain. GuidedbytheMusesand taking artistic liberties where necessary, the bard would weave mythology into his or her story. It was the mythology that organized historical facts, be it from separate historical eras (Nagy, 27).

Will we ever truly identify aTrojanWar? Maybe not, but we do have the pieces to collectively. Create a series of events that would inspire such a story of war.