The Trojan War was a key event in Greek mythology. Many stories, poems, plays, and illustrations from Ancient Greece depict aspects of the war, creating a wealth of material that researchers have used to study the event. Although the Ancient Greeks believed that the war really occurred, modern students of Greek history often believe that it never actually happened, and instead, the myths about the war may have reflected a period of political instability in Ancient Greece that resulted in many military expeditions and small skirmishes.
According to legend, the Trojan War was sparked by a squabble among the Gods, a recurring theme in Greek mythology. The goddess Eris, angered at not being invited to a wedding, tossed a golden apple onto the table at the wedding feast, declaring that the apple would go “to the fairest of them all” and triggering a fight between Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena.
The battling goddesses decided to solicit the opinion of a mortal, selecting Paris of Troy for the judgment. Paris awarded the apple to Aphrodite, who in turn promised that Paris would be able to marry Helen, a Greek princess. Unfortunately, Helen was already married, but Paris didn't let that stand in the way: he kidnapped her from the Spartans, triggering a war that would drag on for 10 years.
So many events in the Trojan War have been exhaustively documented in Greek mythology that it is impossible to discuss them all in a short space. A few events were notable, however. One was the Greek muster of 1,000 ships, pulled together even after many of the Greeks expressed an unwillingness to fights. Another was the Trojan Horse, a sneaky trick suggested by Odysseus to smuggle Greeks into Troy in the belly of a giant wooden horse, allowing them to attack the city from the inside.
Many stars of Greek mythology show up in stories about the Trojan War, including Agamemnon, Heracles, Achilles, Menelaus, Odysseus, Clytemnestra, Theseus, Penthesilea, Philoctetes, Cassandra, Patroclus, Ajax, and many others. The events were told, retold, and dissected among the Greeks, becoming an intimate part of their culture and belief systems. The Romans were also struck by the stories of the war, borrowing many of them for their own.
Until the 19th century, the entire story was believed to be a fiction, because no one was able to identify a site in Turkey which could be confirmed as the site of Troy. An ancient city that could have been Troy was later unearthed, however, and the area showed clear signs of military conflict. It is possible that the Greeks waged war against their Trojan neighbors, making some of the other events of the war more plausible, including the sacrifices, feats of military heroism, and abduction of Helen.