Heinrich Schliemann

Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890) was a German merchant, world traveler, and archeologist. A man of enormous linguistic ability and personal determination, he combined a romantic enthusiasm and the calculating abilities of a practical realist in his search for the historical sites of Homeric Greece.

Heinrich Schliemann was born on Jan. 6, 1822, at Neubukow in Mecklenburg. The early death of his mother and the financially straitened circumstances of his poor pastor father made it necessary for the family to separate when Schliemann was 9 years old. He was brought up by an uncle, but further family misfortunes forced him to leave high school and to attend a commercial school, from which he graduated in 1836.

Apprenticed to a small grocer, Schliemann labored in unhappiness and desolation for 5 years until a working accident forced him to give up this life. Determined to seek a new situation, he embarked upon a voyage to Venezuela, where he hoped to find more congenial employment. Shipwrecked off the coast of Holland, he found a position with a commercial firm in Amsterdam and engaged in intensive language study during his spare time. He devised his own method and learned English and French in 6 months each, adding Dutch, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese in even shorter periods of study.

In 1844 Schliemann became corresponding clerk and bookkeeper with B. H. Schröder and Company. This firm's Russian connections induced him to add that language to his linguistic accomplishments, and in 1846 his employers sent him to St. Petersburg as their commercial agent. Although he continued to represent the Dutch firm for 11 years, Schliemann founded a mercantile house of his own in 1847 to which he added a Moscow branch in 1852. His enterprises flourished, aided by the demand for war materials during the Crimean War, and he accumulated a huge fortune.

Travels of Leisure

In 1863 Schliemann gave up his Russian enterprises to devote his time and wealth to the pursuit of his childhood dream, the discovery of historical Troy and Homer's Greece. He set out in 1864 on a world tour which took him to Carthage, India, China, Japan, and America, where he received citizenship, for which he had applied during an earlier visit. He settled in Paris, published his first book, La Chine et le Japon (1865; China and Japan), and engaged in studies in preparation for his archeological search. In 1868 he proceeded to Greece, where he visited various Homeric sites. From these experiences he published the book Ithaka, der Peloponnes und Troja (1869), in which he advanced two theories (later to be tested and borne out) that Hissarlik, not Bunarbashi, was the true site of Troy and that the Atreid graves at Mycenae were situated inside the walls of the citadel. This work earned him a doctorate from the University of Rostock.

Excavation of Troy

In 1870 Schliemann's excavations at Troy began in earnest. He discovered a great treasure of gold jewelry and other objects and published his findings in Antiquités troyennes (1874). Largely because of poor illustrations and organizational shortcomings, the book was not well received. In addition, he encountered difficulties from the Turkish government regarding permission to continue his excavations. He went to Mycenae, where he began to dig near the Lion Gate, eventually unearthing the famous Dome Tombs, the burial place of the Mycenaean kings. The finds of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and ivory objects were enormous, perhaps the greatest treasure trove ever discovered, and eventually led to Schliemann's book Mycenae (1877).

In 1878 Schliemann returned to Troy to resume the excavations. His finds were published in Ilios, City and Country of the Trojans (1880). In 1881 he presented his Homeric treasures to the German people to be housed in specially designated Schliemann Halls in the State Museum of Berlin.

Having meanwhile worked at another Homeric site, Orchomenos, Schliemann returned to Troy in 1882, accompanied by Wilhelm Dörpfeld, whose archeological and architectural knowledge introduced much-needed professional methodology into the excavations. The resulting evaluations were published as Troja (1884) and were a much-improved sequel to Schliemann's Ilios of 1880.

The last 6 years of Schliemann's life were spent with further excavations at the citadel of Tiryns (1884) and at Orchomenos (1886), with plans for work in Egypt and Crete and with actual excavation starts on Cythera and in Pylos. On Dec. 25, 1890, while Dörpfeld was leading another dig at Troy, Schliemann died in Naples. He had had a life of great accomplishments, rushing impatiently and with insurmountable energy from project to project. Although his findings frequently lacked a correct final interpretation, his drive and enthusiasm subjected the world of Homer and the profession of archeology to a fresh breeze which blew away the cobwebs of established assumptions and ushered in a new era of archeological scholarship.

Further Reading on Heinrich Schliemann

Schliemann's own account remains important as a basic source: Mycenae: A Narrative of Researches and Discoveries at Mycenae and Tiryns (1880; repr. 1967), which includes over 700 engravings and drawings. A sympathetic biography that contains many quotations from Schliemann's writings and letters is Emil Ludwig, Schliemann of Troy: The Story of a Gold-seeker (1931). Lynn and Gray Poole, One Passion, Two Loves (1966), describes Schliemann's life after 1869 and focuses on his close relationship with his second wife, Sophia. The most scholarly work on his excavations is Karl Schuchhardt, Schliemann's Excavations: An Archaeological and Historical Study (trans. 1891), which includes many sketches, pictures, and diagrams of the sites. Pierre S. R. Payne, The Gold of Troy (1959), with a chapter on Schliemann scholarship and a select bibliography, is useful for the general reader.

Additional Biography Sources

Brackman, Arnold C., The dream of Troy, New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1979, 1974.

Burg, Katerina von, Heinrich Schliemann: for gold or glory?, Windsor: Windsor Publications, 1987.

Deuel, Leo, Memoirs of Heinrich Schliemann: a documentary portrait drawn from his autobiographical writings, letters, and excavation reports, New York: Harper & Row, 1977.

Traill, David A., Schliemann of Troy: treasure and deceit, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.