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Heinrich Schliemann was a German treasure hunter, an advocate of the historical reality of places mentioned in the works of Homer, and an important excavator of Troy and of the Mycenaean sites Mycenae and Tiryns.
Schliemann was born in Neubukow in 1822. His father was a poor Protestant minister named Ernst Schliemann. Heinrich's mother, Luise Therese Sophie, died in 1831, when he was just 9. After her death, Heinrich was sent to live with his uncle. He was enrolled in the Gymnasium (grammar school) at Neustrelitz at age 11 with his attendance paid for by his father. He attended the grammar school for at least a year. He would later claim that his interest in history had been encouraged by his father, who, he said, 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 also later claimed that at the age of 8 he had declared he would one day excavate the city of Troy.
His interest in the classics continued during his time at the Gymnasium, so it is likely that he would have been further exposed to Homer. However, he was transferred to the vocational school, or Realschule, after his father was accused of embezzling church funds, and had to quit the vocational school in 1836 when his father was no longer able to pay for it. According to his diary, his interest in ancient Greece was conceived when he overheard a drunken university student reciting the Odyssey of Homer in classical Greek and Heinrich was taken by the language's beauty. However, the accuracy of that information remains questionable, as do many details in his diary, given that he was demonstrably not always scrupulous about providing the whole truth (he forged documents to divorce his wife and lied in his application for US citizenship). He is also accused of being a black market trader, though several documentaries from the late 80s and early 90s prefer to gloss over this accusation.
Schliemann's early academic experiences established the fundamental character of his later life. He wanted to return to the educated life, to reacquire all the things of which he was deprived in childhood. Yet in his archaeological career, there was always a division between him and the educated professionals. Heinrich developed a tendency to pose as something he was not. Moreover, his father's experiences gave him a sympathy to means that were not always legal or aboveboard.
After leaving Realschule at age 14, Heinrich became a grocer's apprentice at Herr Holtz's grocery in Fürstenberg. He worked in the grocery for five years, reading in his spare time. In 1841, Schliemann fled 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, and the survivors washed up on the shores of the Netherlands.
On March 1, 1844, he took a position with B. H. Schröder & Co., an import/export firm. There he evidenced such judgement and talent for the work that they sent him as a General Agent in 1846 to St. Petersburg, where the markets were favorable. He represented a number of companies. He prospered there, but how well is not known; in view of his later experiences with his first wife, he probably did not become rich. He did learn Russian and Greek, employing a system that he used his entire life to learn languages -- Schliemann wrote his diary in the language of whatever country he happened to be in.
Schliemann had a gift for languages, and by the end of his life he was conversant in English, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Italian, Greek, Latin, Russian, Arabic, and Turkish as well as his native German. Schliemann's ability with languages was an important part of his career as a businessman in the importing trade. How well he actually knew those languages is another question, but he seemed reasonably at home in many nations.
In 1850 Heinrich learned of the death of his brother, Ludwig, who had become wealthy as a speculator in the California gold fields. Taking the cue, Schliemann went to California in early 1851 and started a bank in Sacramento. The bank bought and resold over a million dollars in gold dust in just six months. The prospectors could mine or pan for the gold, but they had no way to sell it except to middlemen such as Schliemann, who made quick fortunes on it.
Later Heinrich claimed to have acquired United States citizenship when California was made a state. According to his memoirs, before arriving in California he had dined in Washington with President Millard Filmore and family. He also published an account of the San Francisco fire of 1851.
He was not in the United States long. On April 7, 1852, he sold his business rather suddenly (allegedly due to fever) 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. Previously he had learned that his childhood sweetheart, Minna, had married.
Heinrich and Ekaterina were married on October 12, 1852. The marriage was troubled from the start. Ekaterina wanted him to be richer than he was and withheld conjugal rights until he made a move in that direction, which he did. The canny Schliemann cornered the market in indigo and then went into the indigo business, turning a good profit. This move won him Ekaterina's intimacy and they had a son, Sergey. Two other children followed.
Having a family to support moved Schliemann to tend to business even though he still had his first fortune. He found a way to make yet another quick fortune as a military contractor in the Crimean War, 1854-1856. He cornered the market in saltpeter, brimstone, and lead, constituents of ammunition, which he resold to the Russian government.
By 1858, Schliemann was wealthy. Some say he retired at 36, which would have been in 1858; others say 1863, at age 41. In his memoirs he claimed that he wished to dedicate himself to the pursuit of Troy, but this claim, along with many others, is unlikely to be true.
It is not certain by what path Schliemann really did arrive at either archaeology or Troy. He traveled a great deal, seeking out ways to get to famous cultural and historical icons. One of his most famous exploits was disguising himself as a Bedouin tribesman to gain access to forbidden areas of Mecca, the holy Muslim city.
His first interest of a classical nature seems to have been the location of Troy. The city's very existence was then in dispute. Perhaps his attention was attracted by the first excavations at Santorini in 1862 by Ferdinand Fouqué. This possibility argues for an early retirement date, as he was already an international traveller by then. On the other hand, he may have been inspired by Frank Calvert, whom he met on his first visit to the Hissarlik site in 1868.
Somewhere in his many travels and adventures he lost Ekaterina. She was not interested in adventure and had remained in Russia. Schliemann claimed to have utilised the divorce laws of Indiana in 1850, after becoming a citizen, in order to divorce Ekaterina in absentia. This story established more of a distance between his first and second wives.
Based on the work of a British archaeologist, Frank Calvert, who had been excavating the site in Turkey for over 20 years, Schliemann decided that Hissarlik was the site of Troy. In 1868 Ч a busy year for Schliemann Ч he visited sites in the Greek world, published Ithaka, der Peloponnesus und Troja in which he advocated for Hissarlik as the site of Troy, and submitted a dissertation in ancient Greek proposing the same thesis to the University of Rostock. He later claimed to have received a degree from Rostock by that submission.
In 1868, regardless of his previous interests and adventures, or the paths by which he arrived at that year, Schliemann's course was set. He would take over Calvert's excavations on the eastern half of the Hissarlik site, which was on Calvert's property. The Turkish government owned the western half. Calvert became Schliemann's collaborator and partner.
Schliemann brought dedication, enthusiasm, conviction and a not inconsiderable fortune to the work. Excavations cannot be made without funds, and are vain without publication of the results. Schliemann was able to provide both. Consequently, he made his name in the field of Mycenaean archaeology during his lifetime and despite some later criticism, his work still earns the favor of some classical archaeologists.
Schliemann knew he would need an "insider" collaborator versed in Greek culture of the times. As he had just dumped Ekaterina (1868), he was in a position to advertise for a wife, which he did, in the Athens newspaper. His friend, the Archbishop of Athens, suggested a relative of his, the seventeen-year-old Sophia Engastromenos. As she fit the qualifications, he married her almost at once (1869). They later had two children, Andromache and Agamemnon Schliemann; he reluctantly allowed them to be baptized, but only solemnized the ceremony by placing a copy of the Iliad on the children's heads and reciting a hundred hexameters.
By 1871 Schliemann was ready to go to work at Troy. Thinking that Homeric Troy must be in the lowest level, he 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 flew into a fury when Calvert published an article stating that the Trojan War period was missing from the record, probably meaning that Schliemann had destroyed it. Kenneth W. Harl in the audiobook 'Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor' explains that Schliemann's excavations were carried out in such horrid methods that he did what the Greeks could not do to Troy, destroying and leveling down the entire city wall to the ground.
As if to exonerate his views, a cache of gold suddenly appeared in 1873, which Heinrich dubbed "Priam's Treasure." According to him, he saw the gold glinting in the dirt and dismissed the workmen so that he and Sophie could personally excavate it and remove it in Sophie's shawl. Sophie wore one item, "the Jewels of Helen", for the public. He published his findings in Trojanische Altertümer, 1874.
This publicity stunt backfired when the Turkish government revoked his permission to dig and sued him for a share of the gold. Collaborating with Calvert, he had smuggled the treasure out of Turkey, which did not endear him to the Turkish authorities. This was not the first time Calvert and Schliemann had smuggled antiquities. This sort of behavior contributed toward bad relations with other nations, which extended into the future. Priam's Treasure is still today the object of an international tug-of-war.
Meanwhile Heinrich published Troja und seine Ruinen (Troy and her ruins) in 1875 and excavated the Treasury of Minyas at Orchomenus. In 1876 he began excavating at Mycenae. Upon discovering the Shaft Graves, with their skeletons and more regal gold, such as the Mask of Agamemnon, Schliemann cabled the king of Greece. The results were published in Mykena in 1878.
Although he had received permission to excavate in 1876, Schliemann did not reopen the dig at Troy until 1878Ц1879, after another excavation in Ithaca designed to locate the actual sites of the Odysseus story. This was his second excavation at Troy. Emile Burnouf and Rudolph Virchow joined him in 1879. There was a third excavation, 1882Ц1883, an excavation of Tiryns in 1884 with Wilhelm Dörpfeld, and a fourth at Troy, 1888Ц1890, with Dörpfeld, who taught him to stratigraphize. By then, much of the site had been lost to unscientific digging.
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 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 >Mycenae and other sites. His magnificent residence in the city centre of Athens, houses today the Numismatic Museum of Athens.
DDR, 1972, Heinrich Schliemann
DDR, 1990, Heinrich Schliemann and Vessel
DDR, 1990, Heinrich Schliemann and pot
German Federal Republic, 1990, Heinrich Schliemann
Greece, 1976, Heinrich Schliemann
Greece, 1976, Gold braslet
Greece, 1976, Silver and gold broch
Greece, 1976, Gold diadem
Greece, 1976, Gold mask
Greece, 1990, Heinrich Schliemann and Lion Gate
DDR, 1980.12.20, Waren. Heinrich Schliemann
DDR, 1990.10.02, Berlin. Schliemann's Museums in Ankershagen
German Federal Republic, 1990.10.11, Bonn. Heinrich Schliemann
Greece, 1976.12.08, Athens. Heinrich Schliemann
Greece, 1990.10.11, Athens. Heinrich Schliemann
DDR, 1980, Heinrich Schliemann