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Heinrich Schliemann at Troy and the so-called 'Treasure of Priam"

Hausarbeit 2008 21 Seiten



Diana Beuster

Heinrich Schliemann, his first excavation cycle at Troy and the so-called ‘Treasure of Priam’

Some short notes on Schliemann’s life

The discovery of Hisarlik as Troy by Heinrich Schliemann was certainly one of the most sensational news stories of the nineteenth century. Hisarlik is now commonly assumed to be the site of Troy, the city in and around which Homers Iliad took place. With his extraordinary find, Schliemann radically started to redirect scholarly thinking about the ancient past and, no less he started a controversy about himself, his life and his methods. That controversy, starting back in his own days and still continuing more than 100 years after his death, was in the beginning mainly fought by Schliemann’s own fellow countryman, but it’s nowadays a fully international debate.[1]

Heinrich Schliemann was born on January 6th 1822 in Neu-Buckow in Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Germany. In 1836 he finished the so-called Realschule, a "common school." Despite his academic achievement, he was forced to leave school when his father felt into financial problems. Heinrich found employments in several enterprises, and besides his work he educated himself and used his money only toward the advancement his education. He dedicated himself especially in languages like Dutch, English, French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, which he learned in the next few years.

On March 1844 Schliemann took another job with the Schröder & Co. Enterprise, a large import and export office. Schliemann was stationed 1846 in Russia, mostly due the fact that he was fluent in Russian language. Here in Russia Schliemann led the foundation of his wealth, which later on allowed him to travel around the world and excavate at different sites in the Mediterranean.[2] However it has been established by Scholars in the last two decades that Schliemann did not – like he mainly stated in his diaries, letters and publications – make his fortune only in order to finance later on excavations and his travels around the world. Not before 1860 he started to get more and more interested in the Ancient times and especially in Archaeology, and at that time he already had make quite a fortune. His later version of Troy as his childhood dream should be considered as what German scholars call ‘ Selbstinszenierung’.[3]

In 1850 Schliemann left for America, and in early 1851 he arrived in Sacramento and became a buyer of gold-dust. Although his wealth enlarged, he liquidated his business in 1852 and returned to Russia, where he married Ekaterina Lishin. Schliemann invested in the Indigo market, which he soon controlled. He began to earn more money than ever and now he mainly used his money for traveling extensively. Among his visits were: India, Singapore, China, Japan, Nicaragua, Cuba, Mexico, France and Greece, which soon would become his home. Obviously he did earn enough money to retire from business; at the end of 1863 he liquidated his business in Russia. Again he started to travel around the world, and he even published his travel adventures in the book ‘ La Chine et le Japon au temps présent ’, which was printed in Paris in 1867. Schliemann settled in Paris, but since his wife refused to live with him, Schliemann sailed back to America in 1868 where he made arrangements to officially divorce Ekaterina. Schliemann traveled to Greece in the summer of 1868 to do some Archaeological work. For example, arriving at Ithaca he went to work to find the Palace of Odysseus. Using legends from the locals' and of Homer as his guide, he began his excavation on the isthmus of the island and discovered a group of over 20 vases, each filled with ashes. 1869 he published his experiences in the book ‘ Ithaka, der Peloponnes und Troja. Archäologische Forschungen’, both written in German and French language.[4] It soon became Schliemann’s habit to publish his books in at least two languages; he also wrote his letters and his diaries in different languages

That book, together with travel book ‘ La Chine et le Japon au temps présent ’ and his curriculum vitae both in Latin and Classical Greek was sent to the University of Rostock to apply for the PhD ‘in absentia’, which he obtained, although with ‘ rite’, which is the lowest grade one can achieve in the dissertation process.[5]

Tired of being alone, he sent a letter to a friend in Athens, which stated a request to find a poor, beautiful, dark-haired, well-educated and young Greek woman who also had interest in Homer. At the end of July, 1869 Schliemann went to visit Sophia Engastromenos, and later he married her in September 1869. In the following year Schliemann traveled to Turkey, where he met Frank Calvert, whose family lived since decades in Turkey and served as consuls for several Western states. It was Calvert, who finally drew Schliemann’s attention to Hisarlik as being the legendary Troy. Schliemann’s first dig at the hill was illegal, and he soon had to stop it. But in April 1870 he got the permission to dig at Hisarlik from the government in Constantinople, and immediately he starts to dig the so-called ‘Great Trench’ with the help of more than 100 workers. In the campaign from 1873 he discovered what is now known the ‘Priam’s Treasure’ or ‘Priam’s gold’; I will give further explanations later on in the paper.

Shortly after the first excavation cycle in 1874 he published ‘ Trojanische Alterthümer. Bericht über die Ausgrabungen in Troja ’, which included a chart of 218 plates of photos from the findings. This publication namely of the treasure backfired when the Turkish government canceled his permission to excavate and sued him for a share of the treasure.[6]

On the other hand this publication was widely discussed, especially in Germany and in Great Britain. Whereas in Germany the critics were mainly negative, most probable due to the overwhelming influence of the Classical Philology and therefore the Philologists (especially Wilamowitz-Moellendorff)[7] at German Universities and the almost total rejection of Homer’s works as Schliemann’s working hypothesis, the response in Great Britain was mostly a mixture of interest and positive criticism. Schliemann was invited to the ‘Society of Antiquaries’ in London in 1875, where he met Sir William Gladstone, an enthusiastic admirer and researches of Homer, and mainly from Gladstone came the suggestion to involve the famous anthropologist and archaeologist Rudolf Virchow in the archaeological work in Troy. The cooperation with Rudolf Virchow and the contact with other sciences should prove very profitable for the future excavations by Schliemann.[8]

Now Schliemann’s main attention was drawn to Mycenae; and in 1876 the Greek government granted him permission to excavate in Mycenae. And again, due to his luck or his skills – depending on the point of view – he unearthed something which was considered to be an Archaeological sensation. Schliemann, searching for the graves of the Homeric heroes, dug within the city walls and discovered the famous Shaft graves, and in one of the graves the so-called ‘Mask of Agamemnon’ was found. This time he did not attempt to smuggle the treasure out of the country, probably due the fact that his every step was supervised and observed by a Greek counterpart from the government. The publication of this excavation ‘ Mykenae’ was printed in 1877.

Soon after the first excavation cycle in Troy Schliemann had bought a house in Athens, which he wanted to be turned into a museum full of the findings from Troy, but because of the opposition both from the Greek and the Turkish government he withdrew his plans.

Nevertheless he tried to settle the lawsuit with the Turkish government in order to gain a new permission to dig in Troy. Schliemann paid back a large amount of money to the authorities, and obtained a new ‘firman’ to open the excavation in Troy. The second cycle of the excavation started in 1878 and included next to 1878 the campaigns from 1879 and 1882.

In the intervening time Schliemann had started to dig in Orchomenos in 1880, where he discovered the so-called ‘Treasury of Minyas’. As usual he finished his excavation with a publication; ‘ Orchomenos. Berichte über meine Ausgrabungen im böotischen Orchomenos ’ was published in 1881.

At the third campaign in 1882 Schliemann was accompanied by a young German architect, who had achieved his first archaeological merits with Ernst Curtius in Olympia. The young man’s name is Wilhelm Dörpfeld, and he should continue the work in Troy after Schliemann’s death in 1890. Dörpfeld furthermore escorted Schliemann on his trip to Tiryns in 1884, and he worked at his assistant in the following excavation at Tiryns. For the first time a palace from the Mycenaean time was fully discovered and excavated. The improvement of Schliemann’s archaeological skills – without any doubt mainly due to his colleagues’ like Dörpfeld or Virchow – is evident on the publication ‘ Tiryns, der prähistorische Palast der Könige von Tiryns, Ergebnisse der neuesten Ausgrabungen von Dr.H.Schliemann mit Vorrede von Geh. Oberbaurath Prof. F.Adler und Beiträgen von Dr. W.Dörpfeld ’ in 1886.[9]


[1] W.Schindler. Werk und Leben Heinrich Schliemanns. In: J.Hermann (Ed.). Heinrich Schliemann. Grundlagen und Ergebnisse moderner Archäologie 100 Jahre nach Schliemanns Tod. Berlin 1992. 15-17

[2] Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Vol.55. München 1967-1971. 171-172

[3] B.Mannsperger. ‘Selbstinzenierung’ Heinrich Schliemanns in der Darstellung der Mitarbeit seiner Frau Sophia. In: J.Hermann (Ed.). Heinrich Schliemann. Grundlagen und Ergebnisse moderner Archäologie 100 Jahre nach Schliemanns Tod. Berlin 1992. 65-66

[4] Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Vol.55. München 1967-1971. 173-174

[5] M.Siebler. Troia – Homer – Schliemann. Kulturgeschichte der Antiken Welt. Bd.46. Mainz 1990. p.106 and L.Press. Schliemann – the man of success. In: J.Hermann (Ed.). Heinrich Schliemann. Grundlagen und Ergebnisse moderner Archäologie 100 Jahre nach Schliemanns Tod. Berlin 1992. 52

[6] Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Vol.55. München 1967-1971. 175-176

[7] The leading authority in the studies of Wilamowitz-Moellendorf in the Anglophone sphere is doubtless Prof.W.Calder, besides to D.Traill main criticizers of Schliemann and his work. Probably – but this is only my very own personal opinion – W.Calder lets himself get too much influenced by Wilamowitz-Moellendorfs critical and sometimes even despicable view toward Schliemann??

[8] J.Herrmann. Schliemann – Leistung und Wirkung. In: J.Hermann (Ed.). Heinrich Schliemann. Grundlagen und Ergebnisse moderner Archäologie 100 Jahre nach Schliemanns Tod. Berlin 1992. 95

[9] Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Vol.55. München 1967-1971.176-182


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Indiana University
Heinrich Schliemann Troy Treasure Priam




Titel: Heinrich Schliemann at Troy and the so-called 'Treasure of Priam"