by Anton Paier
King Priamus stood surrounded by a small crowd of royal bodyguards and dignitaries in front of the great wooden horse. Around the astonishing contraption a great circle of curious, vociferous citizens and silent, businesslike soldiers was standing as well, looking in amazement. The wooden horse was rather roughly build, evidence of a hasty construction, yet it appeared strong and solid, and its proportions were truly gigantic. It stood on a platform with four big wooden wheels, which evidently allowed it to be trained and carried quite easily on a relatively smooth surface. It stood near the road that led to the main gate of Troy. Already loud voices from the people and even the court dignitaries claimed that it should be carried into the city, reflecting the idea spoken only by some but believed by most of the people gathered that morning near the beaches of Troy: the horse must be a gift to the gods left by the departing Mycenae army. After long years of war, sieges, battles, and innumerable sufferings and deaths, the hope had suddenly taken hold in the weary hearts of the people and officials alike that peace was about to come. The horse stood like a mute witness of this unexpected miracle.
Among all the voices only old Laochoon and tiny, young Cassandra warned of danger and claimed that the horse should be burned. But, after all, Cassandra had been prophesying and foretelling disasters and the destruction of Troy for years, and nobody was really taking her seriously any more.
King Priamus lifted his arms, and the crowd fell silent, watching in expectation.
Noblemen and citizen of Troy! His voice rose surprisingly strong and loud from his frail frame. It is my decision that this great horse will be carried inside our city, as a sign of our gratitude to the gods who delivered us from our enemies, after ten long years of bloody and sorrowful war. He paused, staring at the great circle of people with his deep, piercing eyes. However, I would consider unwise to ignore the advice of our trusted Laochoon and our little Cassandra, and before carrying it into the bosom of our city, I think it would be advisable to have a look at the inside of that capacious abdomen.
The king ordered a ladder to be fetched and soldiers to climb to the horse belly and remove some of the wooden planks. A squad of soldier hastily brought a ladder and soon some men started climbing, among the murmurs of the curious onlookers. Soon a plank was detached and fell with a thump at the foot of the ladder. The first soldier raised his head in the dark opening in the belly to peek insideÖ and immediately fell down with a high pitched scream, the head covered in blood. A cry of surprise and fear rose from the crowd. Immediately the next soldier on the ladder unsheathed his bronze sword, but a spearhead thrusting out of the opening forced him to duck, narrowly missing his head. The officer at the foot of the ladder immediately ordered the soldiers to descent, and few seconds after a volley of arrows from a squad of archers flew towards the opening, imbedding ineffectively in the planks of the horse belly.
With the quick shifting of mood typical of crowds, now everybody was screaming that the horse should be burned, but King Priamus rose against his arms, and the crowd again fell silent. He spoke briefly to a high ranking officer at his side. The officer nodded and jogged under the belly of the wooden contraption.
Whoever you are who hide inside the great horse, listen! He thundered. Our great and merciful King Priamus orders that you throw your arms and descend from the horse. If you accomplish, your lives will be spared. If you donít, a great fire will be started under the horse and you will burn alive, as your treachery undoubtedly deserves!
A brief silence followed, then a voice, muffled but still surprisingly strong, came from the dark opening: - I am Odysseus, king of Ithaca. My men and I will surrender and deliver ourselves to King Priamusí mercy!
After a few instants spears, swords, daggers and javelins fell through the opening clanking on the ground. Finally, a bow and an arrow case fell too with a muffled thump.
We are coming!
Soon men appeared out of the belly opening and started descending from the ladder. They were undoubtedly warriors, wiry and muscular, even if they were bare-chested and didnít wear any armour, which evidently would have been impractical in the constrained insides of the wooden horse. They were preceded by a tall man, with a short black beard and majestic features. When he was on the ground he stared proudly at the Trojan crowd around him with intelligent, deep green eyes. A total of twelve men followed him. Odysseus - because it was evident that he was the man who had spoken from inside the horse - and his warriors were quickly surrounded by guards, checked for hidden weapons, and brought before King Priamus.
After a brief conversation, the warriors were carried away by the guards, except Odysseus, who remained near Priamus and his bewildered dignitaries, surrounded by a wall of spears held by soldiers who appeared quite eager to try the sharpness of their bronze points on the flesh of their prisoner.
My friend, Priamus said with a gentle, soft voice. I hope you donít consider this as disrespect to your Royal dignity, but my men are rather upset by the death of their comrade, and by the not very friendly purpose of your visit. However, I will be honoured to have you as my guest at my house, and have a friendly conversation about the designs of that old friend of mine and lord of yours, King Agamemnon.
I would be honoured indeed to be guest of such a great and famous King, and about Agamemnon, he is not my lord, and even less my friend. He is ant an ally. An ally that was forced on me by my duty to the survival of my people and my little kingdom.
A couple hours later a cavalry patrol reported that the Mycenae fleet was hidden behind a promontory on the coast south of Troy, as Odysseus had revealed - after a short conversation with Priamus had convinced him that the destruction of Agamemnonís power would perhaps be a better guarantee for the future of Ithaca than his victory.
The Mycenae fleet, several hundreds ships strong, was tightly crowded in the waters behind the promontory, in order to hide from Trojan eyes, and spring to action after darkness, when Ulysses men, according to the plan, would open the gates of Troy. A quick plan of their own was conceived by Priamus and his commanders. A Trojan force, mainly consisting of archers equipped with incendiary arrows and of primitive but functional catapults able to throw pots containing incendiary material, was dispatched to the promontory. Soon after, the surviving ships of the Trojan fleet left the harbour and exited the bay of Troy, now empty of Mycenae ships. The land force approached the promontory unseen behind the line of bluffs that rose close to the sea. Part of the Mycenae ships were beached on the confined strip of land between the bluffs and the water, the other ships closely packed behind them. When the Mycenae sentries saw the approaching Trojansí, the latter were already close. It was too late to disembark the army and deploy it on the beach. The men who rested on land near the ships were hastily re-embarked and the beached ships pushed in the water, but they soon found themselves entangled with the ships already in the sea. Confusion seized the Mycenae. Only the biremes at the edge of the fleet on the side of the open sea could quickly sail. But now they saw the much smaller but still dangerous Trojan fleet approaching on their right. Soon a rain of incendiary arrows and pots started to fall on the Mycenae ships packed near the beach. Fire spread quickly from a vessel to another, and confusion turned to panic. The ships untouched by fire tried to escape, but, without a coordinated effort, they fell easily victims of the Trojan ships cutting their retreat. The few ships that had succeeded to reach the open sea ran for their life to the south, without trying to rally and succour their comrades. As King Odysseus and his Ithacans, Agamemnonís minor allies had been forced to join his crusade against Troy only from fear of his army. Other allies had joined only for greed of plunder, the riches of Troy being legendary, but they didnít owe real loyalty to King Agamemnon. Faced by the prospect of sudden and unexpected destruction, it was everybody for itself. No such a catastrophe had ever befallen a fleet before. Most of the ships disappeared in a huge bonfire, the smoke raising as a towering column for hundreds yards in the sky. Only a few dozens ships escaped, many of them wrecking themselves on the coast during the following days, the survivors slaughtered by the local inhabitants who, tired of the ravages of the long war, werenít inclined to mercy. Not were the Trojan soldiers and sailors, and very few prisoners were taken. Nobody knows what happened to King Agamemnon and most of the kings, princes and noblemen in his host. They disappeared in the fires of their ships, or were anonymously slaughtered by enemy sailors and marines, or drowned in the waters. The few ships returning to Greece brought the news of a defeat unprecedented in the history of the world.
It was immediately apparent to the Trojans that the blow that had befallen the Mycenae was of such a magnitude that they were not likely to recover. But after so many years of suffering and grim fight for their survival, they were not willing to take risks. King Priamus and his counsellors and noblemen were almost unanimous that no ambassadors or emissaries of peace were to be sent to the enemy, but armies with the task of crushing them once for all. Only Trakis, a former ally of Troy forced to shift alliance after his armies had been destroyed and the capital starved after a long siege, and some small Aegean kingdoms forced to join Agamemnonís alliance, were offered the possibility to surrender without any punishment but small war reparations and small bodies of soldiers to the Trojan cause. And Ithaca, Odysseusí little kingdom-island, was spared any sanction, with the only condition that Odysseus would participate to the legations sent to Agamemnonís unwilling allies, in order to convince them to follow his example.
An army of 15 000 men, comprising almost all the once powerful Trojan cavalry, was immediately despatched to the northern shore of the Dardanelles, ready to cross Trakis and invade northern Greece, or to invade Trakis itself if it refused Priamus generous offer. Such an army would have been little by the standard of the enormous hosts raised by Agamemnon during the war. But now Agamemnonís main army, over 40 000 strong, had been destroyed to a man on the coast of Troy, together with the great majority of the ships of the Mycenaean coalition and their sailors. The great king himself had been slain and the strategic situation was completely reversed. For years Agamemnonís forces had tightened a nose around Troy, defeating its allies, devastating its territories until the kingdom was reduced to the city itself and a small hinterland. Only Troyís legendary walls and the skill of its famed cavalry and archers had prevented the fall of the city itself and brought the contest to a bloody draw. Now the Mycenae and their allies, temporarily leaderless and bewildered, would not be given time to restore their strength. What remained to them were only scattered forces, mainly garrisons to defend the conquered territories and their own cities. Speed was essential.
When the Trojan army landed on the northern shore of the Dardanelles, it was met by a Thracian delegation which offered them free passage though their land and a reinforcement of 2000 light infantry. The Trojan general, Aeneas, gladly accepted and started his march towards Greece without delay.
In the meantime, Troy, free from siege, had become an arsenal vibrating with activity. New weapons were cast, mercenaries recruited, and warships built with the timber now fully available from the surrounding areas. Nothing succeeds like success. Even the Hittites, who had so far followed policy of strict neutrality, sent a proposal of alliance, with an offer of 200 chariots and 2000 solid Hittite infantry, gladly accepted by king Priamus.
In a few weeks Aeneasí army crossed Trakis and Macedonia, which surrendered with the payment of a strong indemnity, and provided to the necessity of the Trojan army, greatly simplifying its logistics. Now the Trojans were at the doors of Thessaly in northern Greece, and here the first real opposition was to be encountered.
The Thessalians were good horse breeders and had the best charioteers of Greece. Chariots were not a real match for cavalry however, and the lack of cavalry was the greatest weakness of the Mycenaean coalition. The Trojans, who originated from the plains of Scythia north of the great river Danubius, had excellent cavalry. The Mycenae had partly been able to compensate by recruiting Scythian mercenaries, but now most of them were dead. The few Scythians on garrison duty in Thessaly promptly deserted. The Thessalians themselves had lost most of their chariots at Troy. Now they gathered a force of 200 vehicles, stiffened with a few hundreds royal palace guards and a few thousands hastily recruited peasant militia, mostly spearmen and slingers. This motley force gathered at the small town of Argura, where they were joined by some 500 Aetolians. Bravely they disposed their army, inferior both in quantity and quality, on the plains north-west of the town, where the flat terrain would suit their chariots, but even the enemy cavalry. They placed the royal foot guards in the centre and the chariots on the left, in front of the Trojans main cavalry force. Bravely they charged, but the Trojan cavalry, led by Aeneas in person, opened its ranks and wheeled around the enemy chariots, showering them with javelins and countercharging them on the rear. The superior mobility and numbers of the Trojans cavalrymen quickly decided the issue, and the rest of the Thessalian army, seeing their chariots defeated, rapidly disintegrated. Larissa, the capital of Thessaly, surrendered, and the kingdom of the fallen hero Achilles, still remembered with pride by the Thessalians, submitted to the resurgent power of Troy.
In Troy the news of the fall of Thessaly, one of Mycenaeís main Allies, were celebrated with rapturous joy. While the new biremes of the Trojan fleet were still under construction, reinforcements of ships had arrived from some city states on the south-western coast of Asia Minor, which had decided to join Troy and share the fruits of its apparently inevitable victory. King Priamus sent a squadron with troop transports to the big island of Euboea, to cover the left flank of Aeneas advance into the heart of Greece. The Trojans disembarked and occupied the island meeting little resistance.
Now Troy was set to start its offensive against the core of the Mycenaean empire. But would the once mighty empire fall without striking a last blow?