“We could describe (Heinrich) Schliemann’s excavations on the hill of Hissarlik and consider their results without speaking of Troy or even alluding to it,” Georges Perrot wrote in 1891 in his Journal des Savants. “Even then, they would have added a whole new chapter to the history of civilization, the history of art” (qtd. in Duchene 87). Heinrich Schliemann’s life is the stuff fairy tales are made of. A poor, uneducated, and motherless boy rises through his hard work and parsimonious lifestyle to the heights of wealth (Burg 1,2).
He travels the world and learns its languages (“Heinrich Schliemann”), takes a beautiful Greek bride, and together they unearth the treasures of Troy and the citadel of Agamemnon, thereby fulfilling the dream he has chased since childhood (Calder 18,19; Burg 8). Indeed, by presenting his life in romantic autobiographies as a series of adventures, starring Heinrich Schliemann as the epic hero (Duchene 14), he ensured his status as a lasting folk hero and perennial bestseller (Calder 19).
The reality was that Heinrich Schliemann was an incredible con man, a generally unlikable braggart who succeeded only because of his queer mix of genius and fraudulence. He had a shylock’s conscience when it came to business dealings, and his shady methods pervaded both his life and his archaeology (Burg, 15-31). Schliemann had a habit of rewriting his past in order to paint a more dramatic picture of himself.
Among the events he reported that have been found to be grossly untrue are his tales of being entertained by the American president Millard Fillmore and his wife in 1851, and his narrow escape from the San Francisco fire of that same year (Traill 9-13). More disturbing is when he applies these tactics to his archaeology. In December of 1981 Professor David Traill, a Latinist, concluded that the “Treasure of Priam”, Schliemann’s ost impressive find at Troy, was actually a composite of several small finds uncovered from beyond the walls of the city.
Schliemann had collected the pieces from 1871 to 1873 in order to produce a single find large enough to earn him the respect of fellow archaeologists, and also permission from the British to excavate at Mycenae (Calder 33). Twenty years of research led the Traill to the belief that, “the question is no longer whether but rather to what extent we should distrust Schliemann’s archaeological reports” (Traill 6).
However, the modern scholars’ assessment of Schliemann as a fraud and a psychopath (Calder 36-37) unfairly detracts from the importance of what he discovered and innovated as an amateur archaeologist (“Heinrich Schliemann: An Objective View of a Flawed Man of Genius”). Schliemann himself once wrote, “If my memoirs now and then contain contradictions, I hope that these may be pardoned when it is considered that I have revealed a new world of archaeology. The objects which I brought to light by thousands are of a kind hitherto never or but rarely found.
It was an entirely new world for me; I had to learn everything by myself and only by and by could I attain the insight” (qtd. in Duchene 45). Even Traill comes to the defense of Schliemann’s contributions; “The greatness of his achievements and their enduring significance are beyond dispute” (Traill 97). Schliemann rediscovered an important site occupied from the Early Bronze Age until Roman times that whose levels of strata most likely contain the Homeric city of Troy (“Homeric Questions Part III -Archaeology- 9/06/98”).
He put the science of stratigraphy to practice and innovated archaeology by building off of the processes of his predecessors. His digs at Mycenae led to Sir Arthur Evans’s discovery of the city of Knossos and the lost civilization of the Minoans, precursors to the Myceneans (“The Minoan Costume”). Neither the Minoans nor the Myceneans had existed in anything other than ancient papyri before Heinrich Schliemann; he is considered the father of both Aegean archaeology and Greek studies (Duchene 81).
Heinrich was born on January 6th, 1822 to Ernst and Luise Schliemann in Neu Buckow, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Germany (“Heinrich Schliemann: Heros and Mythos”). Luise would die in childbirth in1831 at the age of forty, humiliated by her husband’s affair with the family’s servant girl. The liaison, combined with allegations of stolen church funds, would cost Ernst his job as the Lutheran minister of the hamlet of Ankershagen in 1832 (“Heinrich Schliemann: Heros and Mythos”). The church’s authorities allowed him to keep his undeserved government pension, which he would use for nights of heavy drinking and lavish gifts for his lover (Burg 2-7).
Though Schliemann wrote autobiographically that his first archaeological interests in the ancient city of Troy were piqued at the knee of his learned and doting father (Burg 4), this could hardly have been the case. Schliemann would later write of his father, “Just the thought of being such a man’s son fills me with fury” (qtd. in Duchene 27). His filial relationship affected him deeply; most of his quirks resulted from the trauma of his childhood; indeed, his drive to succeed can be attributed to his resolve to be a better man than his father (Burg 10).
Schliemann was sent at eleven to his uncle’s home in order to be educated at Karolinaeum Gymnasium. It was there that he came under the tutelage of the brilliant philologist Karl Andress, who first recognized Schliemann’s remarkable ability to quickly learn foreign languages (Burg 7). After three years his uncle could unfortunately no longer afford Heinrich’s education, and the boy was forced to go back to his father’s home at the age of fourteen (“Heinrich Schliemann: An Objective View of a Flawed Man of Genius”).
Almost immediately after his wife’s death, Ernst had married another servant girl, Sophie, and the two made an unfortunate couple (Duchene 17). They could live neither with nor without one another, and often quarreled terribly. Schliemann soon left the house again, and apprenticed himself to a grocer in nearby Rostock (Burg 12). One day after work he ran into Herman Niederhoffer, a schoolmate who had been expelled from the Gymnasium for misconduct. Herman recited Homeric stanzas to Heinrich in return for shots of vodka.
Though he could not understand a word, the melody of the language intrigued him, and Schliemann decided then that he must learn Greek (Burg 10). During this time Ernst was brought to court after his young wife locked herself in a neighbor’s barn to avoid a beating, and he was ordered to either treat her more civilly or face a hefty fine. Heinrich often wrote to his sisters of the deplorable conditions that the duo lived in, and he took commercial courses in double bookkeeping and English so that he would be able to leave the area altogether and find work in commerce (Burg 10, 11).
In September of 1841, he set out for the bustling port of Hamburg. Hamburg drained the youngster of both his funds and his physical well-being. He was prone to coughing fits and regularly spat up blood. No company in Hamburg wanted to hire the weak youth. Schliemann’s life took a dramatic turn when he met a friend of his late mother’s, who offered him a job in Venezuela. Schliemann jumped at the chance, and set out on the voyage that would alter the course of his unhappy life (Burg 15-16). After three weeks of rough sailing, the ship was ripped in two in a violent storm.
The crew and passengers washed ashore on the Dutch island of Texel, and Schliemann used this opportunity to receive charity money from both the Consul of Texel and his benefactor (Burg 17). He used those funds to live and work in Amsterdam until a position at a bulk commodities exporter had been established for him in Hamburg. Realizing that this would give him an edge in that country over his other business associates, he set about learning Russian, and soon he was sent to St. Petersburg to open an agency for his company there (Duchene 20).
Schliemann did remarkably well there because of his business strategies; he purchased everything cheaply in bulk and had no middle men , so he was completely in charge of all aspects of each trade. As Schliemann’s wealth began to grow, so did his ego. His accomplishments in business fed his arrogance, which gave him the courage to do things that others would not have attempted (“Heinrich Schliemann: An Objective View of a Flawed Man of Genius”). He began to become boastful and sharp in his business dealings with his parent company as he became internationally known in the business world.
A letter to the company’s manager illustrates his unconcern with the effects of his brashness; “First and foremost, I would like to congratulate you and your lady upon the engagement of your daughter to Mr. Hermann Schroeder. But where in Heaven’s name is the 50 tons of sugar I ordered under promise of immediate delivery by steamer? ” (qtd. in Burg 28). Soon the young member of the nouveau riche branched out on his own. In 1852 he married a Russian woman, and from the beginning their marriage went poorly.
Katerina Schliemann was frustrated with her husband’s miserly preoccupation with his business, and Heinrich’s wanderlust was frustrated by his wife’s refusal to travel beyond Russia. Within three years they had decided to keep separate bedrooms. His disillusionment with her was passionate and obvious; “How utterly reality, that grim specter, has destroyed my joyful hopes of yesteryear! You do not love me, and that is why you refuse to join in my happiness and remain indifferent to both my joys and my sorrows. You oppose me at every step, at every turn; worse, you accuse me of crimes that exist only in your imagination!
Even thinking of it sets my hair on end and makes me shudder” (qtd. in Duchene 26). They had several children together, however, and Schliemann doted on them as he ignored his wife (“Heinrich Schliemann: An Objective View of a Flawed Man of Genius”). Meanwhile, Heinrich’s fortune had more than doubled. In his leisure time he studied both modern and ancient Greek. He took lessons from a Greek theological student, Theokletos Vimpos, who would later introduce his niece, later Schliemann’s bride, to his friend (Duchene 30).
His passion for the ancient world soon replaced his passion for business. “I believe a man can live without business activities,” Schliemann wrote to his father in 1857, “and before settling down I would like to see the countries of southern Europe, particularly my beloved Homer’s homeland, where I will speak the new Greek language the way I speak German” (Duchene 30). That year found Schliemann in Sweden, Denmark, and Constantinople, sailing the Danube from St. Petersburg, crossing the Dardanelles into the Middle East, and then journeying up the Nile to Cairo.
As he was starting for the island of Ithaca, he received word that he must return immediately to Russia to face charges of fraud brought against him by a bankrupt debtor. Two years later, the lawsuit was won on appeal, and Schliemann found himself in the possession of more money than he had ever dreamed of. “At last I was in a position to fulfill the dream of a whole lifetime-to visit at my leisure the theater of events that had so powerfully interested me. I accordingly left and visited one by one the sites where the poetic memories of Antiquity are still so fresh” (qtd. Duchene 33).
Schliemann began his travels in Asia, and began the habit of keeping a wanderer’s journal. He wrote an account of his journey, China and Japan Today, for a St. Peterburg newspaper. The odyssey ended six months later in San Francisco, which he had visited ten years earlier following the death of his brother in California (Duchene 36). In 1866 Schliemann took up residence in Paris and began to study archaeology at Sorbonne. He also took courses in Asian languages, Egyptology, and Sanskrit.
In the beginning of 1868 he began attending the meetings of scientific societies, and in May took a pleasure trip to Italy in order to closely study the work of other archaeologists (Duchene 38). He traveled to the Troad after meeting fellow German Ernst Ziller, who told him of the excavations there and the differing theories related to where Troy actually sat. Schliemann first surveyed the site of Bunarbashi. With a translation of Homer’s works in his hand, he decided that Bunarbashi did not fit the description of the ancient city of Troy.
Bunarbashi was fourteen kilometers from the sea, and according to Homer the city could not have been separated from the port of Hellespont by more than an hour’s walk (Burg 68). Also, two springs were to have existed just outside the city, one frigid and one steaming. Schliemann found over forty springs there (Duchene 43, Burg 69). Most important to Schliemann’s theory was information brought to him by Frank Calvert, the son of the American vice-counsel in the Dardanelles.
Calvert had been digging trenches in another area on the Troad, Hissarlik, for several years, and had discovered that it was a tell, or artificial hill, that had been built up over centuries of occupation and rebuilding (Duchene 42, “Homeric Questions Part III – Archaeology – 9/06/98”). Schliemann returned to France jubilant, convinced he knew the location of the lost city. In Paris that September, Schliemann finished work on Ithaca, the Peloponnese, Troy, a sort of guide to the area and its history.
In it, he celebrated the archaeological genius of his friend Calvert, but saved the lion’s role for himself. It was the last time that Calvert would receive anything but a few poor words in Schliemann’s report. He would become the unsung hero of the digs at Hissarlik; Schliemann’s work would later earn him a doctorate from the University of Rostock in Germany (Burg 73). Schliemann had returned to America earlier that year, and committed a fabulously untrue series of frauds in order to obtain a divorce from his wife there (Burg 74). Schliemann arrived in New York City on March 27, 1869.
Within two days he had bribed a man to record that Schliemann had been in residence in the United States for well over five years, and had lived in New York for a little more than a year. Thusly, Schliemann was able to attain U. S. citizenship only two days after he set foot on its shore for only the fourth time in his life (“Heinrich Schliemann: An Objective View of a Flawed Man of Genius”). He quickly traveled to Indiana, knowing that the state had lax divorce laws. In June he bought a home in Indiana for $1 125 and invested $12 000 in a local factory as proof of his settlement in the country.
But Schliemann had been planning to marry his friend and tutor Theokletos Vimpos’s niece in Greece since April, and had already sent word to her father announcing his intentions (Duchene 48). “I believe that a woman whose character agreed wholly with mine, and imbued with my own love for the sciences, could respect me. And since she would remain my disciple her whole life long, I dare to hope that she would love me firstly because I shall endeavor to be a good teacher and shall devote all my free time to helping her in her quest for philological and archaeological knowledge,” Schliemann wrote to Vimpos (qtd. Duchene 48-49).
Heinrich and Sophia Kastromenos were soon married, honeymooned in Paris, and then returned to Athens to begin preparing for the upcoming dig at Hissarlik. When they arrived in Greece, however, they were disappointed to find that the Turkish government had not yet granted them permission to dig (Duchene 49). Schliemann left his bride in Greece and illegally began digging two trenches at Hissarlik. There he uncovered coins, pottery, and other artifacts, as well as the remains of a wall, and evidence that the city was razed and rebuilt several times (“Troy”).
The digs were stopped after a month as the owners of the hill objected to Schliemann’s practices (Duchene 51). The first legal digs began on the eleventh of October, 1871. Torrential rains ended the work in November. Eager to reach the oldest layer and pressed for time, Schliemann had his workers sink a shaft thirty feet into the ground, and in the process of doing so they destroyed all strata earlier than 2000 B. C. Schliemann was quick to realize his mistake of not recognizing the importance of the “accumulated rubble”, which was evidence of human occupation from the prehistoric to Roman era (Duchene 55).
For his digs in 1872, Schliemann hired a French engineer and over 150 workers, and employed the process of stratification, which had never before been used for a major site. It involved careful horizontal digs of each layer of occupation, which helped to establish the chronology of the site (Duchene 55). Schliemann dispensed quinine to his workers every day, and acted as the doctor of the site, prescribing German folk remedies for the ailments of his men (Burg 96). Unfortunately, malaria struck the camp in mid-August.
But just as the digging was to come to a halt, Sophie Schliemann uncovered a skeleton decorated with three silver armbands and several earrings of gold, silver and electrum. This find boosted the morale of the camp and the zeal of its archaeologist. Unfortunately, continued digs in the area produced nothing else (Burg 97). Schliemann spent the next few months in Athens, dejected. But he was determined to continue his search soon, for several of the items that had been uncovered seemed important enough to justify further digs (Duchene 57).
A section of wall that was found was identified by Schliemann as the fortification built by Lysimachus, lieutenant of Alexander the Great. Digging past that wall, the crew found fortifications that dated back to the 13th century B. C. (Duchene 56). Some anthropomorphic vases were found, whose necks were decorated with what Schliemann interpreted to be the face of an owl whose forehead supported a simple crown. These pieces were linked to the Ilian Miverna, whose symbol was the owl (“Western Anatolia and the Eastern Aegean”).
Also found was pottery decorated with unusual motifs that Schliemann felt could have been from the Trojan alphabet. But Schliemann’s desire to prove that the Homeric poems were historic truths led him astray; the pieces in question were recently carbon dated to 2600 B. C. (Duchene 57). The most spectacular find of his 1872 dig was the Sun Metope, which had belonged to the famous Doric structure of the Temple of Athena. The temple had dominated the Ilium during the Hellenistic period at the level dubbed Troy IX (Duchene 62,105).
The sculpted marble panel was found on land owned by Frank Calvert, who asked that he be recompensed for it. Schleimann gave Calvert about two hundred dollars for the piece, and was quoted a month later giving its worth at one hundred and fifty times that price (Duchene 63). Relations between the two men had never been close; the metope fiasco set the two men responsible for the discovery of Troy against each other (Burg 98). The third digging campaign began in 1873. At this time, the archaeological world was still not convinced that the site was Troy. In fact, Schliemann was a sort of joke to the archaeological community.
He was receiving no support, financial or otherwise, from his peers. Instead, hundreds of letters poured in accusing him of being a dimwit, madman, and fraud (Burg 103). Schliemann was unfazed. Ever the self-promoter, he published Trojan Antiquities in Europe and then continued with his field work (Burg 113). Schliemann decided to concentrate on the layer of strata known as Troy VI. He had found the remains of a fortress measuring 325 feet in diameter there, and within a few weeks of a digging he had uncovered a gate and a portion of the defensive walls of the second settlement (Duchene 63).
Schliemann believed that this was the Scaean Gate, the famous entranceway to Troy where, according to Homer, Paris had killed Achilles (“Troy: 4000 year old Ancient City”). Three major phases of development were found at this level. The first wall was built entirely of mud brick, the second was a thin stone wall, and the third and latest wall was made of tightly-fitted ashlar blocks. The walls seemed to have been a continuous public works project, probably ordered by the king (“Troy VI”).
Schliemann was particularly impressed with the pottery of that time. Ninety-eight different shapes of vessels were found, and only eight of these shapes had been in use in any earlier time. Most of the Trojan pottery was matte-glazed gray ware, similar to gray ware later found on mainland Greece from the Late Bronze Age. Schliemann carefully sketched each vessel in his working notebook, making detailed notes about the major cultural break between the Troy V level and the much more advanced Troy VI civilization (Duchene 55).
Schliemann would find that the late pottery of Troy VI echoed the tan ware he would find years later at Mycenae (“Troy VI”). In the large central fortress, Schliemann found an inner royal citadel, the site of the king’s palace, the foundations of what were the city’s chief temples, and the residences of the king’s officials (“Troy VI”). Littered within the eight-roomed citadel, Schliemann reportedly found over 250 gold pieces that he dubbed “the Treasures of Priam” (Duchene 63), and reported that they were from the collection of the legendary king.
It is now believed that these pieces were actually a sort of grab-bag of finds from all over the site, used by Schliemann to make a splash in the papers and gain respect from the archaeological world (Calder 33). The collection, however it was found, remains outstanding. The pieces modeled by Sophie Schliemann in her famous photograph are particularly amazing; the gold necklace she wore consisted of over 8 700 separate pieces (Duchene 67). They were displayed in London in 1877, and Schliemann and his wife then became honorary members of the elitist Society of the Antiquaries in Burlington House (Duchene 66).
Following their museum tour, the pieces found a permanent home in Berlin, from where they were stolen by the Russians following World War II. They resurfaced in the Pushkin Museum in the 90’s, and have since been dated to 2250 B. C. , which makes it impossible for them to have been in King Priam’s treasures (“Lost Treasures of Troy”). Schliemann was convinced that the secrets of Troy could be fully revealed after the citadel at Mycenae was excavated (Duchene 72). Mycenae was the seat for the king of mainland Greece, Agamemnon, who was the brother to the husband of the beautiful Helen.
After Helen ran away with Paris, son of King Priam of Troy, Agamemnon gathered his best fighters, including Achilles and Odysseus, and sent them overseas to destroy the Trojans (“Troy: 4 000 year old Ancient City”). Schliemann hired a young German architect and archaeologist, Wilhelm Dorpfield, to assist him at Mycenae. Dorpfield had in 1876 illustrated the royal necropolis of Mycenae for a colleague of Schliemann’s (Duchene 68). Schliemann had once criticized Dorpfield’s painstaking level-by-level approach to archaeology as he felt that the archaeologist should immediately plunge to the level he was most interested in.
Now he relied on Dorpfield’s rigorous methods for his upcoming Mycenae project instead of his own gold-digging ways (Duchene 69; “DIE FORSCHUNGSPLANUNG VON HEINRICH SCHLIEMANN IN HISARLIK-TROIA UND DIE ROLLE WILHELM DORPFELDS”). Schliemann’s excavations had begun at the legendary palace-fortress of Agamemnon in February of 1874 (Burg 124), and he was once again using Homer as his guide. He also used the work of the 2nd century Greek geographer Pausanias, which led him inside the Mycenaean acropolis to find the royal tombs of Agamemnon (Duchene 72). Once again, scholars were skeptical of Schliemann’s method.
The Times of London reported, “no one will find tombs within citadel walls, unless the man who destroyed Troy dug graves there under the cover of night” (qtd. in Duchene 72-73). Under pressure, the Greek government had called off Schliemann’s excavations (Burg 122). After two years of bickering and bargaining, Schliemann was able to secure a permit to excavate (Duchene 73). Since the excavation was carried out under the auspices of the Greek Archaeological Society, Schliemann was forced to suffer under the direction of a young Greek archaeologist named Panagiotis Stamakis.
Schliemann did everything he could to annoy his superior; he even went so far as to write his excavation reports in English to prevent Stamakis from deciphering them (Duchene 74). Schliemann sank several shafts near the compound’s Lion Gate, and found a grave circle within the citadel. Overjoyed, he quickly had the five shaft graves uncovered, and within the first lay a golden mask. Schliemann believed that he held in his hands the burial mask of King Agamemnon (Duchene 74).
Later that month, the remaining death masks would be uncovered, along with golden chalices, seals, vessels, and daggers. I have the greatest joy,” he cabled to the King of Greece, “to announce to your majesty that I have discovered the tombs of Agamemnon, Cassandra, Eurymedon, and their companions In the sepulchers I have found immense treasure in archaic objects and pure gold. By themselves alone these treasures are enough to fill a great museum, which will be the world’s most wonderful and which for centuries to come will draw thousands of foreigners from all countries to Greece” (qtd. n Duchene 75).
Early in 1878, Mycenae was published, and it detailed in a blend of fact and romantic fiction Schliemann’s excavations and finds. The book impacted Greek studies greatly, and opened up the new field of Mycenaean studies (Duchene 80). But Schliemann did not stop there. He and Dorpfield moved on to Tiryns, where he believed he would find the palace of Diomedes (Burg 178). After six years of digs, they published the hastily thrown together Tiryns, but both realized that they had only touched on the importance of the site.
Excavations in the early 1900’s by Sir Arthur Evans would reveal at Knossos Tiryns’ sister palace, the seat of King Minos. From these digs it would be proven that a civilization known as the Minoans, the predecessors of the Myceneans, had existed in splendor for several centuries (Duchene 96-97, “The Minoan Costume”). Schliemann would die in December 1890 while negotiating the right to dig at Knossos (Duchene 108). Schliemann’s work continues to be carried on at the Troy site, funded by several German automakers.
His assistant, Dorpfield, would later prove that Troy VI was too early to have been Homer’s Troy; the debate over which layer holds the fabled city, if any indeed do, continues to rage on today (Duchene 108-109). At the 100th anniversary of Schliemann’s death, a conference was held by Calder and Traill, which sparked the debate over Schliemann’s embellishments of the truth, and the integrity of his finds (Calder 17-18). Unfortunately, the controversies can not be satisfactorily resolved at this time. Thus, Heinrich Schliemann remains as legendary and enigmatic as any of the Homeric heroes that he idolized.