HEINRICH SCHLIEMANN, THE DISCOVER OF TROY AND MYCENAE

HEINRICH SCHLIEMANN


Heinrich Schliemann

Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890) is considered by some scholars to be the father of archeology. A self-made millionaire who started off as a grocery clerk, he discovered the remains of the ancient city of Troy. His "natural disposition for the mysterious and marvelous" was inspired by his father's passion for ancient history.

Schliemann was the son of a poor Protestant minister in a village in north Germany. His mother died when he was nine. When Schliemann's father showed him a picture of the walls Troy and told his son "that is merely a fanciful picture." Schliemann reportedly replied, "If such walls once existed, they cannot possibly have been completely destroyed; vast ruins of them must still remain, but they are hidden away beneath the dust of ages...I remained firm in my opinion, and at least we both agreed that I should one day excavate Troy."

Schliemann's father's low station left Heinrich little hope of attending university. He dropped out of a gymnasium, where he might have studied the classics, and instead went to a vocational Realschule. At the age of 14, he began an apprenticeship as a grocer and spent five years working from five in the morning until 11 at night grinding potatoes for a whiskey still, packaging herring, sugar oil and candles, and other such tasks. He escaped this grueling life by becoming a cabin boy on a ship bound for Venezuela. After the ship wrecked in the North Sea, he secured a position as a messenger and later a bookkeeper for an Amsterdam trading firm.

Schliemann good with languages. He reported that he acquired "a thorough knowledge of the English language" in only six months by "committing to memory the whole of Goldsmith's “Vicar of Wakefield” and Sir Walter Scott's “Ivanhoe".” Devoting only six week to each language, he said he learned to write "and to speak fluently" French, Dutch, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. Later when he traveled in the Middle East he learned to speak passable Arabic.

Book: “Schlielmann of Troy: Treasure and Deceit” by David Traill

Schliemann Makes a Fortune and Marries a 17-Year-old Greek


Sophie Schliemann wearing the diadem from Priam's Treasure

Schliemann also learned to speak Russian. He began to advance his career by assisting Russian merchants at the Amsterdam indigo auctions as he was the only person in town who could speak Russian other than Russian vice-counsel. He later moved to St. Petersburg where he became rich in a relatively short time by trading items like indigo, dyewoods and war materials like saltpeter, brimstone and lead.

He made a fortune on the international commodities market by trading, among other things, saltpeter (used to make dynamite) during the Crimean War and gold nuggets harvested in the California gold rush. He also made vast sums of money through smuggling, black marketeering, opening banks in San Francisco during the California gold rush and selling scarce items at huge profits during the Crimean War.

Schliemann married a beautiful Russian woman who wanted him only for his money and refused even to live with him. He was able to rid of himself of her wife after he accidently became a U.S. citizen when he was traveling in California at the time it became a state in the the United States and went to Indiana, which at that time had lax divorce laws.

At the age of 47, Schliemann married a 17-year-old Greek schoolgirl named Sophia, who won Schliemann's heart with her mellifluous recitations of Homer in ancient Greek. Schliemann dragged her around the major cities of Europe and the Near East, teaching her languages and history as they went along. Although she suffered from headaches, nausea and fevers at first she later became his indefatigable companion, even accompanying him on his excavations in Turkey, where she directed teams of Turkish workmen.

Discovery of Troy by Schliemann


Troy Holy Place

Troy was rediscovered under layers of sediment, 20 miles west Çanakkale in northwest Turkey, by German amateur historian Heinrich Schliemann in 1871. To find the city Schliemann matched descriptions in the Iliad with real geographical places, and in the process helped develop that approach to archaeology.

Until Schliemann discovered the site many scholars argued that Troy was a mythical place along the lines of Atlantis. Schlielmann became convinced on a tour of Asia Minor in 1868 led by Frank Calvert, a British counsel to Turkey, that Hissarlik, a small Turkish village in northwestern Turkey, might the site of Troy. Five years later unearthed a treasure of gold cups, vases and jewelry which he proclaimed as the "Treasure of Troy."

Schliemann was firm in his belief that Troy was located at Hissarlik, which is located about four miles south of the mouth of the Dardanelles, even though most scholars in his time placed Troy seven miles further south in Bunarbashi.

Schliemann began digging at Hissarlik in September 1871 with a crew of 80 laborers and uncovered ancient foundations almost exactly where though they would be. At a depth of 23- to 33-feet he found what he believed was Troy and identified features such as the Temple of Athena, the main altar for sacrifices, the Great Tower, houses and streets—all as they were described in the Iliad .

Schliemann's heir Wilhelm Dörpfeld (1853-1940) proved that Homer's Troy was on the sixth level above the bedrock not the second and third levels which Schliemann had identified as Homer’s Troy. In his haste to get to his Troy, Schliemann had dug through and permanently altered the real Homeric Troy.

Before the Turks could stop him Schliemann he whisked the gold treasure out of the country to Germany. He said he smuggled the treasure out of Turkey to protect it. His purported worries were not unjustified. One workman who later found a gold object had it melted down by a local goldsmith. Anxious to get its hands on some the gold, the Turkish government blocked further excavations and demanded that the treasure be returned.

The discovery of Troy made Schliemann instantly famous. During World War II the treasure vanished from Berlin, where it had been housed in a museum, and later showed up in Moscow. Today, Turkish, German, British, American, Austrian and Mexican archaeologists have all worked at Troy, with Mercedes Benz footing part of the bill. [Source: John Fleischman in Smithsonian magazine].

Historical Troy

Troy was also known as or Ilios or Illium, source of the name Iliad. Archeologists say, in all, nine cities were built on the site of Troy. The oldest strata is from a 5500-year-old Bronze Age settlement. The most recent is from a Byzantine city abandoned in A.D. 1350. Historical Troy is thought to be Troy 6 (sixth from the bottom layer) or Troy 7A. Troy in Homer's time, around 850 B.C., was largely a ruin.


Troy-Hisarlik excavations 1: Gate 2: City Wall 3: Megarons 4: FN Gate 5: FO Gate 6: FM Gate and Ramp 7: FJ Gate 8: City Wall 9: Megarons 10: City Wall 11: VI. S Gate 12: VI. H Tower 13: VI. R Gate 14: VI. G Tower 15: Well-Cistern 16: VI. T Dardanos Gate 17: VI. I Tower 18: VI. U Gate 19: VI. A House 20: VI. M Palace-Storage House 21: Pillar House 22: VI. F House with columns 23: VI. C House 24: VI. E House 25: VII. Storage 26: Temple of Athena 27: Entrance to the Temple (Propylaeum) 28: Outer Court Wall 29: Inner Court Wall 30: Holy Place 31: Water Work 32: Parliament (Bouleuterion) 33: Odeon 34: Roman Bath


Historical Troy has been dated between 1,700 to 1,250 B.C., a period of history when Egyptian civilization was at its height and Moses led the Jews to the Promised Land and the Mediterranean world was breaking up into a mosaic of regional states. Artifacts unearthed from the different layers showed that Troy was a major Hittite trading center and later became popular with ancient Greek and Roman tourists.

Ancient Troy was known as a "pirate fortress" and it was strategically located at the mouth of the Dardanelles, a critical link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. Trojan rulers demanded a toll from ships passing from the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. It is believed that Trojan wars took place, on average, once every twenty years for possession of the strategic citadel and the tax revenues that went along with it.

According to legend, Poseidon sent a sea monster to destroy Homer's Troy. More likely the city was brought down by earthquakes. Some even think that the Trojan horse story may have it roots in an earthquake story. Perhaps an earthquakes brought down the walls, letting the Greeks in and they in turn erected a horse to thank Poseidon, the god of earthquakes, whose symbol is a horse.

Alexander the Great stopped in Troy and traded for Agamemnon's shield before he attacked Persia. Ottoman sultan Mehmet II arrived here in 1453 to "avenge the sacking of the city by the Greeks," as if he was somehow a distant relative of the Trojans. The reaction of most tourists who show up today is disappointment.

Due to the effects of tides and terrestrial changes, the ruins of Troy lie three miles inland from the sea across a marsh and alluvial plain. As of 2004, more than 350 scholars, scientists and archaeologists were working at Troy as part of the Troy project. The project leader, Manfred Korfman, said that the purpose of the project was not to get a better understanding about the Troy Homer's Iliad but to get to know more about the myth and make more findings with that knowledge.

Archaeological Evidence of Historical Troy


Priam's Treasure

At the time of the Trojan Wars Mycenae was a powerful state and Mycenae and Troy were located across the Aegean Sea from one another, about 250 miles apart. Ancient Troy was known as a "pirate fortress" (See Above) and it was strategically located on a bay at the entrance of the Dardanelles straight (the Hellespont), a key link to the Black Sea and central Asia. The prevailing winds were from the northeast and ships often had difficultly sailing into the wind, which meant that eastward-traveling ships most likely had to beach before entered the strait, and were candidates for Trojan taxes.

Historians believe that the Trojan War was more likely fought over trade and tax revenues than a beautiful woman. Herodotus wrote that the defeat of Troy prompted the Persian invasion of Greece 760 years later. Alexander the Great stopped in Troy and traded for Agamemnon's shield before he attacked Persia.

Hittite texts describe a small kingdom called Wilussa in northwest Turkey (the pronunciation of Wilussa is not all that different from Ilious). The Hittites courted good relations with Wilussa---thought to be Troy---because it was a regional power and it controlled important shipping lanes. One Hittite king wrote: “Even if the land of Wilussa has seceded from the land of the Hattusa (the Hittite kingdom). Close ties of friendship were maintained...with the kings of the land." The same text record the Hittites clashing with a state called Ahhiyawa---though to be Mycenae.
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Schliemann and "Priam's Treasure”

In May 1873, Schliemann spied a shiny gold object in the dirt. "In order to secure the treasure from workmen and secure it for archaeology," he wrote seven years later, "it was of necessity to lose no time; so, although it was not yet the hour for breakfast I immediately had païdos (rest-time) called...While the men were eating and resting, I cut out the treasure with a large knife. This required great exertion and involved great risk, since the wall of fortifications, beneath which I had to dig, threatened every moment to fall down upon me."

Schliemann’s team found 9,000 pieces of gold and jewelry. The gold items were uniquely manufactured by hand rather than produced in molds. Some called them “Helen’s jewels.” Schliemann’s wife Sophia was once photographed wearing a necklace, some earrings and a headdress from the treasure.

The gold objects that Schliemann called “Priam's treasure” were all earlier, some by nearly 1000 years, than Priam and the Iliad.

Priam's Treasure Taken by Soviets at End of World War II


Diadem from Priam's Treasure

One of the greatest treasures taken from Germany during World War II was "Priam's Treasure," a collection of artifacts unearthed in Troy by German archeologist Heninrich Schielemann in 1873 and named after the king of Troy in Homer's Iliad. It was later discovered that the items were not from Homer's Troy but from a dynasty that occupied Troy a few centuries earlier than the time of the Trojan War.

Some 500 items from the collection, including golden diadems, necklaces, small bronze weapons and copper and silver bowls were returned by the Soviets to East Germany in 1953. The other items were thought to have been lost for 50 years before it was revealed in 1993 that they were at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.

The 2,000 or so items from Priam's Treasure still in Russia include golden rings, earrings, bracelets, hairpins, decorative vessels, chokers, pendants, axes made with precious stones.

Priam's Treasure was stored during World War in anti-aircraft bunkers near the Berlin Zoo. The directors of the German museum personally gave the items to Soviet occupational forces so they wouldn't be destroyed.

Schliemann and His Mycenaean Discoveries

Mycenae was discovered by Schliemann in 1873 after his discovery of Troy in Asia Minor. Mycenae was described by Homer as being "rich in gold" and Schliemann discovered some 44 pounds of gold objects there in 1876. Most of the objects were found in a circle of six shaft graves with the remains of 19 elite Mycenaeans.

Schliemann tracked down sites in Greece associated with the Mycenaeans, who were the enemies of the Trojans in “The Iliad.” He discovered almost a dozen major Mycenaean cities and hundreds of settlements and tombs. The cities included Midea, Tiyrns "of the huge walls," "sacred" Pylos, "thirsty" Argos, and Orchemonos "rich in sheep." Schliemann claimed he found the death mask of Agamemnon, the Mycenaean king from the Iliad .

Following accounts by Pausanias, a famous 2nd century traveler who described "heroes' graves...in the midst of the meeting place," Schliemann searched for the tombs of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra within the walls of the citadel in ancient Mycenae. In December 1876, Schliemann’s team hit pay dirt, discovering the first of five shaft graves that would eventually yield the richest treasure from the past ever found at that point in time. The graves contained bodies "literally covered with gold and jewels." Each face, distinguishable when unearthed but quickly disintegrated by the air, was covered by a gold mask.

Schliemann and the "Mask of Agamemnon"


Funeral mask of Agamemnon

Schliemann believed one the masks was the "mask of Agamemnon." He also found gold diadems, gold and silver statuettes, gold sword handles, precious necklaces and bracelets, stone and gold alabaster vases, goblets of gold and silver, and hundreds of other impressive jewels.

After his discovery Schliemann telephoned King George of Greece, saying, "It is with extraordinary pleasure that I announce to your Majesty my discovery of the graves which, according to tradition, are those of Agamemnon, Cassandra, Eureymedon, and their comrades, all killed during a banquet by Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus...All the museums of world taken together do not have one-fifth as much." Unlike the treasures he found in Turkey, which were stealthily taken out of the country, Schliemann gave all the treasures unearthed at Mycenae to the Greek government and they are all displayed at the museum in Athens.

The tombs were later discovered to have predated Agamemnon's time by several hundred years. The "mask of Agamemnon", which is now in the Archaeological Museum in Athens, has been dated to 400 years before the Trojan War. No evidence has turned up that Agamemnon was a real person. As far as we know he was only a fictional character.

Schliemann’s Celebrity and Exaggerations

Schlielmann was a famous man. He and beautiful Sophia became major celebrities: entertaining the Emperor of Brazil in the shaft that reveled the Treasury of Atreus; writing dispatches of his discoveries for The Times of London and the New York Times; and causing an international incident when Turkish officials prohibited him from carrying out further excavations. His funereal in 1890 was attended by European dignitaries, including the king of Greece.

Schliemann exaggerated and embellished his accounts. His biographer David Traill called him a "pathological liar." In Schlielmann of Troy: Treasure and Deceit, Traill claims that Schielmann made up entries in his dairy and appropriated material from other writers. He wrote an "eyewitness" account of the San Francisco fire even though he was out of town at the night.

He also said that Sophia was at his side during an important excavation even though in actuality she was not there. Schlielmann wrote that once he quickly called a coffee break so that Sophia could quickly snag a gold object and whisk it away in her shawl (in truth Sophia was in Athens at time)

Schliemann Looting and Faulty Archeological Methods

Schliemann looted, lied, exaggerated used dubious archeological methods but in the end this probably helped the science of archeology more than hindered it by generating public interest in it. At Troy, Schlielmann excavated right to the bedrock, destroying much of the layers from the Homerian period. He took items found in other places and placed them in the site ascribed to Priam's palace. Despite the flaws of his methodology, Schliemann helped prove that Homer's tales were more than "humanized sun myths" and that Troy and Mycenea were real places.

Schliemann did his original archeological work without permission of the Ottoman Turkish government. When he later got permission he promised the Turks half of the loot he discovered. He smuggled valuable items out of the country and later bought the Turkish shares for a fraction of the their true value.

Schlielmann tried to sell the Trojan loot but Europe's major countries turned him down on the ground the titles and authenticity were questionable. In 1881, he gave them free to the German people

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC Ancient Greeks bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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