Heinrich Schliemann

AZL flag holder TransparentHeinrich Schliemann (6th January 1822 – 26th December 1890) was a German businessman and pioneer in the field of archaeology. He was an advocate of the historical reality of places mentioned in the works of Homer and excavated Hissarlik 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. Schliemann was born in Neubukow, Mecklenburg-Schwerin in 1822 to Ernst Schliemann a Protestant minister and Luise Therese Sophie. 22-year-old Schliemann took a position with B. H. Schröder & Co., an import/export firm and in 1846, the firm sent him to St. Petersburg to represent a number of companies. He learned Russian and Greek employing a system that he used his entire life to learn languages. 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 his native German. In early 1851 Schliemann went to California and started a bank in Sacramento buying and reselling over a million dollars’ worth of gold dust in just six months. However, his success incurred the wrath of the local Rothschild putting pressure on him to leave California. On April 7th, 1852, Schliemann sold his business and returned to Russia marrying Ekaterina Lyschin on October 12th, 1852. They had a son, Sergey, and two daughters, Natalya and Nadezhda, born in 1855, 1858 and 1861 respectively. They would later divorce and Schliemann moved to Athens to dedicate himself to the pursuit of Troy.
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 from the University of Rostock for that submission. Schliemann also re-married Sophia Engastromenos (1852–1932) in October 1869 and despite the 30 year age difference they were very happy later having two children, Andromache and Agamemnon Schliemann. Knowledgeable in matters pertaining to Greek culture Sophia would become Heinrich’s prized assistant. 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. A cache of gold and other objects appeared on or around May 27, 1873; Schliemann named it “Priam’s Treasure”. Those jewels were stolen from the Pergamon Museum in Berlin by the Jewish Bolshevik (Red) Army in 1945 and are now in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. Schliemann published his findings in 1874, in Trojanische Altertümer (“Trojan Antiquities”). 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 so-called Mask of Agamemnon), Schliemann cabled the king of Greece. The results were published in Mykenai in 1878. 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.
Heinrich Schliemann collapsed into a coma on Christmas Day and died in a Naples hotel room on December 26th, 1890. He is interred in a mausoleum shaped like a temple erected in ancient Greek style in the First Cemetery of Athens. The frieze circling the outside of the mausoleum shows Schliemann conducting the excavations at Mycenae and other sites. Carl Blegen quite rightly stated “…before 1876 very few persons, if anyone, yet really knew how excavations should properly be conducted. There was no science of archaeological investigation, and there was probably no other digger who was better than Schliemann in actual field work.”

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