Heinrich Schliemann

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Heinrich Schliemann
BornJanuary 6, 1822 (1822-01-06)
Neubukow, Mecklenburg-Schwerin
DiedDecember 26, 1890 (age 68) (1890-12-27)
Naples, Italy
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Heinrich Schliemann
BornJanuary 6, 1822 (1822-01-06)
Neubukow, Mecklenburg-Schwerin
DiedDecember 26, 1890 (age 68) (1890-12-27)
Naples, Italy

Heinrich Schliemann (German pronunciation: [ˈʃliːman]; (January 6, 1822 – December 26, 1890) was a German businessman and amateur archaeologist, and an advocate of the historical reality of places mentioned in the works of Homer. Schliemann was an archaeological excavator of Hissarlik, now presumed to be the site of Troy, along with the Mycenaean sites Mycenae and Tiryns. His work lent weight to the idea that Homer's Iliad and Virgil's Aeneid reflect actual historical events.


Childhood and youth

Schliemann was born in Neubukow, Mecklenburg-Schwerin in 1822. His father, Ernst Schliemann, was a Protestant minister. The family moved to Ankershagen in 1823 (today in their house is the museum of Heinrich Schliemann).[1] Heinrich's mother, Luise Therese Sophie, died in 1831, when Heinrich was nine years old. After his mother's death, his father sent Heinrich to live with his uncle. When he was eleven years old, his father paid for him to enroll in the Gymnasium (grammar school) at Neustrelitz. Heinrich's later interest in history was initially encouraged by his father, who had schooled him in the tales of the Iliad and the Odyssey and had given him a copy of Ludwig Jerrer's Illustrated History of the World for Christmas in 1829. Schliemann later claimed that at the age of 8, he had declared he would one day excavate the city of Troy.

However, Heinrich had to transfer to the Realschule (vocational school) after his father was accused of embezzling church funds[2] and had to leave that institution in 1836 when his father was no longer able to pay for it. His family's poverty made a university education impossible, so it was Schliemann's early academic experiences that influenced the course of his education as an adult. In his archaeological career, however, there was often a division between Schliemann and the educated professionals.

At age 14, after leaving Realschule, Heinrich became an apprentice at Herr Holtz's grocery in Fürstenberg. One story has it that his passion for Homer was born when he heard a drunkard reciting it at the grocer's.[3] He laboured for five years, until he was forced to leave because he burst a blood vessel lifting a heavy barrel.[4] In 1841, Schliemann moved to Hamburg and became a cabin boy on the Dorothea, a steamer bound for Venezuela. After twelve days at sea, the ship foundered in a gale. The survivors washed up on the shores of the Netherlands.[5] Schliemann became a messenger, office attendant, and later, a bookkeeper in Amsterdam.

Career and family

On March 1, 1844, 22-year old Schliemann took a position with B. H. Schröder & Co., an import/export firm. In 1846 the firm sent him as a General Agent to St. Petersburg. In time, Schliemann represented a number of companies. He learned Russian and Greek, employing a system that he used his entire life to learn languages—Schliemann claimed that it took him six weeks to learn a language[6] and wrote his diary in the language of whatever country he happened to be in.

By the end of his life, he could converse in English, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Polish, Italian, Greek, Latin, Russian, Arabic, and Turkish as well as German. Schliemann's ability with languages was an important part of his career as a businessman in the importing trade. In 1850, Heinrich learned of the death of his brother, Ludwig, who had become wealthy as a speculator in the California gold fields. Schliemann went to California in early 1851 and started a bank in Sacramento buying and reselling over a million dollars of gold dust in just six months. When the local Rothschild agent complained about short-weight consignments he left California, pretending it was because of illness.[7] While he was there, California became the 31st state in September 1850 and Schliemann acquired United States citizenship.

According to his memoirs, before arriving in California he dined in Washington with President Millard Fillmore and his family,[8] but Eric Cline says that he didn't attend but simply read about it in the papers. He also published what he said was an eyewitness account of the San Francisco fire of 1851 which he said was in June although it took place in May. At the time he was actually in Sacramento and used the report of the fire in the Sacramento Daily Journal to write his report.

On April 7, 1852, he sold his business and returned to Russia. There he attempted to live the life of a gentleman, which brought him into contact with Ekaterina Lyschin, the niece of one of his wealthy friends. Schliemann had previously learned his childhood sweetheart, Minna, had married.

Heinrich and Ekaterina married on October 12, 1852. The marriage was troubled from the start. Schliemann next cornered the market in indigo (an important dye) and then went into the indigo business itself, turning a good profit. Ekaterina and Heinrich had a son, Sergey, and two daughters born in 1855, 1858 and 1861 respectively.[9] Schliemann made yet another quick fortune as a military contractor in the Crimean War, 1854-1856. He cornered the market in saltpeter, sulfur, and lead, constituents of ammunition, which he resold to the Russian government.

By 1858, Schliemann was wealthy enough to retire. In his memoirs, he claimed that he wished to dedicate himself to the pursuit of Troy.

As a consequence of his many travels, Schliemann was often separated from his wife and small children. He spent a month studying at the Sorbonne in 1866, while moving his assets from St. Petersburg to Paris to invest in real estate. He asked his wife to join him, but she refused. [9] Schliemann threatened to divorce Ekaterina twice before actually doing so. He claimed to have utilised the divorce laws of Indiana in 1869 although he obtained the divorce by lying about his residency.[9]

Life as an archaeologist

Schliemann's first interest of a classical nature seems to have been the location of Troy.

Sophia Schliemann (née Engastromenos) wearing treasures recovered at Hisarlik.

At the time Schliemann began excavating in Turkey, the site commonly believed to be Troy was at Pınarbaşı, a hilltop at the south end of the Trojan Plain. [10] The site had been previously excavated by archaeologist and local expert, Frank Calvert. Schliemann performed soundings at Pınarbaşı, but was disappointed by his findings. [11] It was Calvert who told Schliemann to dig at the site known as Hissarlik, located on land owned by Calvert's family. In 1868, Schliemann visited sites in the Greek world, published Ithaka, der Peloponnesus und Troja in which he asserted that Hissarlik was the site of Troy, and submitted a dissertation in Ancient Greek proposing the same thesis to the University of Rostock. In 1869, he was awarded a PhD in absentia[12] from the university of Rostock for that submission.[9] David Traill wrote that the examiners gave him his PhD on the basis of his topographical analysis of Ithaca, which were in part simply translations of another author's work or drawn from poetic descriptions by the same author.[13]

Schliemann was at first skeptical about the identification of Hissarlik with Troy but was persuaded by Calvert[14] and took over Calvert's excavations on the eastern half of the Hissarlik site. The Turkish government owned the western half. Calvert became Schliemann's collaborator and partner.

The 'Mask of Agamemnon', discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876 at Mycenae now exhibited at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

Schliemann needed an assistant who was knowledgeable in matters pertaining to Greek culture. As he had divorced Ekaterina in 1869, he advertised for a wife in a newspaper in Athens. A friend, the Archbishop of Athens, suggested a relative of his, seventeen-year-old Sophia Engastromenos (1852–1932). Schliemann, age 47, married her in October 1869, despite the 30 year difference in age. They later had two children, Andromache and Agamemnon Schliemann; he reluctantly allowed them to be baptized, but solemnized the ceremony in his own way by placing a copy of the Iliad on the children's heads and reciting one hundred hexameters.

Schliemann began work on Troy in 1871. His excavations began before archaeology had developed as a professional field. Thinking that Homeric Troy must be in the lowest level, Schliemann and his workers dug hastily through the upper levels, reaching fortifications that he took to be his target. In 1872, he and Calvert fell out over this method. Schliemann was angry when Calvert published an article stating that the Trojan War period was missing from the site's archaeological record.

A cache of gold and other objects appeared in May 1873; Schliemann named it "Priam's Treasure". He later wrote that he had seen the gold glinting in the dirt and dismissed the workmen so that he and Sophia could excavate it themselves, removing it in her shawl. However, Schliemann's oft-repeated story of the treasure being carried by Sophia in her shawl was untrue. Schliemann later admitted fabricating it; at the time of the discovery Sophia was in fact with her family in Athens, following the death of her father.[15]

Sophia later wore "the Jewels of Helen" for the public. Schliemann published his findings in 1874, in Trojanische Altertümer ("Trojan Antiquities").

This publicity backfired when the Turkish government revoked Schliemann's permission to dig and sued him for a share of the gold. Collaborating with Calvert, Schliemann smuggled the treasure out of Turkey. He defended his "smuggling" in Turkey as an attempt to protect the items from corrupt local officials. Priam's Treasure today remains a subject of international dispute.

Schliemann published Troja und seine Ruinen (Troy and Its Ruins) in 1875 and excavated the Treasury of Minyas at Orchomenus. In 1876, he began digging at Mycenae. Upon discovering the Shaft Graves, with their skeletons and more regal gold (including the Mask of Agamemnon), Schliemann cabled the king of Greece. The results were published in Mykenai in 1878.

Although he had received permission in 1876 to continue excavation, Schliemann did not reopen the dig site at Troy until 1878–1879, after another excavation in Ithaca designed to locate an actual site mentioned in the Odyssey. This was his second excavation at Troy. Emile Burnouf and Rudolf Virchow joined him there in 1879. Schliemann made a third excavation at Troy in 1882–1883, an excavation of Tiryns with Wilhelm Dörpfeld in 1884, a fourth excavation at Troy, also with Dörpfeld (who emphasized the importance of strata), in 1888–1890.


Schliemann's grave in the First Cemetery of Athens.
The Schliemann mansion in Athens, ca. 1910

On August 1, 1890, Schliemann returned reluctantly to Athens, and in November traveled to Halle for an operation on his chronically infected ears. The doctors dubbed the operation a success, but his inner ear became painfully inflamed. Ignoring his doctors' advice, he left the hospital and traveled to Leipzig, Berlin, and Paris. From the latter, he planned to return to Athens in time for Christmas, but his ears became even worse. Too sick to make the boat ride from Naples to Greece, Schliemann remained in Naples, but managed to make a journey to the ruins of Pompeii. On Christmas Day he collapsed into a coma and died in a Naples hotel room on December 26, 1890. His corpse was then transported by friends to the First Cemetery in Athens. It was interred in a mausoleum shaped like a temple erected in ancient Greek style designed by Ernst Ziller in the form of a pedimental sculpture. The frieze circling the outside of the mausoleum shows Schliemann conducting the excavations at Mycenae and other sites. His magnificent residence in the city centre of Athens, houses today the Numismatic Museum of Athens.


Further excavation of the Troy site by others indicated that the level he named the Troy of the Iliad was not inaccurate, although they retain the names given by Schliemann. His excavations were condemned by later archaeologists as having destroyed the main layers of the real Troy.

In an article for The Classical World, D. F. Easton writes that Schliemann "was not very good at separating fact from interpretation." [16] He goes on to claim that "Even in 1872 Frank Calvert could see from the pottery that Troy II had to be hundreds of years too early to be the Troy of the Trojan War, a point finally proved by the discovery of Mycenaean pottery in Troy VI in 1890." [17]

Kenneth W. Harl in the Teaching Company's Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor lecture series sarcastically claims that Schliemann's excavations were carried out with such rough methods that he did to Troy what the Greeks couldn't do in their times, destroying and levelling down the entire city walls to the ground.[18]

"King Priam's Treasure" was found in the Troy II level, that of the Early Bronze Age, long before Priam's city of Troy VI or Troy VIIa in the prosperous and elaborate Mycenaean Age. Moreover, the finds were unique. The elaborate gold artifacts do not appear to belong to the Early Bronze Age.

In 1972, Professor William Calder of the University of Colorado, speaking at a commemoration of Schliemann's birthday, claimed that he had uncovered several possible problems in Schliemann's work. Other investigators followed, such as Professor David Traill of the University of California.


In popular culture

Schliemann is the subject of Irving Stone's novel The Greek Treasure (1975). Stone's book is the basis for the German television production Der geheimnisvolle Schatz von Troja (Hunt for Troy) from 2007. He is also the subject of the novel The Lost Throne by American author Chris Kuzneski.

The novel The Fall of Troy by Peter Ackroyd (2006) is based on Schliemann's excavation of Troy. Schliemann is portrayed as "Heinrich Obermann".

See also


  1. ^ Cornelia Maué,www.cornelia-maue.de. "website of schliemann-museum Ankershagen". Schliemann-museum.de. http://www.schliemann-museum.de/hsm/anliegen.html. Retrieved 2012-08-10.
  2. ^ Robert Payne, The Gold of Troy: The Story of Heinrich Schliemann and the Buried Cities of Ancient Greece, 1959, repr. New York: Dorset, 1990, p. 15.
  3. ^ Payne, p. 70.
  4. ^ "Schliemann, Heinrich" in Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, at de.wikisource. (German)
  5. ^ Payne, p. 25.
  6. ^ Payne, p. 30.
  7. ^ Allen, Susan Heuck (1999). Finding the walls of Troy: Frank Calvert and Heinrich Schliemann at Hisarlík. University of California Press. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-520-20868-1. http://books.google.com/?id=rV8vyYn-qMgC&pg=PA112&dq=Schliemann+gold+dust#v=onepage&q=Schliemann%20gold%20dust&f=false.
  8. ^ Leo Deuel, Memoirs of Heinrich Schliemann: A Documentary Portrait Drawn from his Autobiographical Writings, Letters, and Excavation Reports, New York: Harper, 1977, ISBN 0-06-011106-2, p. 67; he also mentions meeting President Andrew Johnson, p. 126.
  9. ^ a b c d Allen, Susan Heuck (1999). Finding the walls of Troy: Frank Calvert and Heinrich Schliemann at Hisarlík. University of California Press. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-520-20868-1. http://books.google.ca/books?id=rV8vyYn-qMgC&pg=PA112&dq=Schliemann+gold+dust&hl=en#v=onepage&q=Schliemann%20gold%20dust&f=false.
  10. ^ Easton, D.F. (May-June 1998). "Heinrich Schliemann: Hero or Fraud?". The Classical World 91: 339.
  11. ^ Easton, D.F. (May-June 1998). "Heinrich Schliemann: Hero or Fraud?". The Classical World 91: 339.
  12. ^ Bernard, Wolfgang. Homer-Forschung zu Schliemanns Zeit und heute at the Wayback Machine (archived June 9, 2007) (in German).
  13. ^ Allen, Susan Heuck (1999). Finding the walls of Troy: Frank Calvert and Heinrich Schliemann at Hisarlík. University of California Press. p. 312. ISBN 978-0-520-20868-1. http://books.google.com/?id=rV8vyYn-qMgC&pg=PA112&dq=Schliemann+gold+dust#v=onepage&q=Schliemann%20gold%20dust&f=false.
  14. ^ Bryce, Trevor (2005). The Trojans and their neighbours. Taylor & Francis. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-415-34959-8. http://books.google.com/?id=XZelJgdu9mkC&pg=PA37&dq=Schliemann+credit+Calvert#v=onepage&q=Schliemann%20credit%20Calvert&f=false.
  15. ^ Moorehead, Caroline, The Lost Treasures of Troy (1994) page 133, ISBN 0-297-81500-8
  16. ^ Easton, D.F. (May-June 1998). "Heinrich Schliemann: Hero or Fraud?". The Classical World 91: 341.
  17. ^ Easton, D.F. (May-June 1998). "Heinrich Schliemann: Hero or Fraud?". The Classical World 91: 341.
  18. ^ Kenneth W. Harl. "Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor". http://www.thegreatcourses.com/tgc/courses/course_detail.aspx?cid=363. Retrieved November 23, 2012.

Further reading

External links

Media related to Heinrich Schliemann at Wikimedia Commons