Schliemann, Heinrich

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(b Neu Buckow, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Germany, 6 January 1822; d. Naples, Italy, 26 December 1890)


Schliemann was the son of a poor Protestant minister, who encouraged his interest in classical antiquity. A picture of Troy in flames, in a copy of Jerrer’s Universal History that his father had given him as a Christmas present, captured his imagination and fortified his belief in the reality of the events described by Homer; the picture remained in his memory throughout his youth and during his later career in business. Unable to continue his education past the age of fourteen, Schliemann became an apprentice to a grocer in 1836; in 1841 he decided to immigrate to America, and signed on as cabin boy on a ship that was wrecked shortly thereafter. He then settled in Amsterdam, and was employed by a Dutch business firm for five years, during which he learned almost all the European languages. In 1846 he was sent to St. Petersburg as the firm’s agent there, but he soon started his own business, dealing chiefly in indigo, and became rich from it. In 1850 he was in California; his business continued to prosper, and he became an American citizen. He then returned to Russia, where he married, and, at the age of thirty-six, retired from business to devote his time and his great fortune to the study of prehistoric archaeology, and especially to finding the remains of Troy.

To this end, Schliemann studied ancient and modern Greek, traveled extensively in Europe, Egypt, Syria, and Greece, and studied archaeology in Paris. In 1864 he traveled around the world, then in 1868 visited archaeological sites in Greece and Asia Minor. In 1869 he published Ithaka, der Peloponnes und Troja, based upon his own excavations at Ithaca and Mycenae, in which he argued that the tombs of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra were to be sought in the citadel of Mycenae, rather than in the treasuries in the lower town. Troy, he went on to state, was not a myth, nor was it located, as some had claimed, at Burnarbashi; rather, it was to be found in the mound of Hissarlik, the site of historic Ilion, and there Schliemann decided to dig.

Some isolated discoveries concerning prehistoric Greek archaeology had been made before Schliemann began to dig at Troy. Chief among these was F. Fouqué’s 1862 excavation of painted pottery and frescoed walls at Santorin; since these artifacts were covered by twenty-six feet of pumice deposited by the volcanic eruption of about 2000 B.C., there could be little doubt that they indicated a prehistoric Aegean culture. Schliemann’s goal was specific—he wished to prove, through archaeology, the truth of Homer—but he in fact achieved much more; his work at Hissarlik led him to discover the archaeological record of centuries of pre-Homeric, prehistoric, and pre-Hellenic culture.

With his young Greek second wife, Sophia Engastromenos, whom he had married following his divorce, Schliemannn began to dig at Hissarlik in 1871. Within the mound he found evidence of seven heavily fortified settlements, which he designated Troy and distinguished by Roman numerals, the deepest being Troy I. Troy II held the greatest interest for him; he found fortress walls, evidence of violent overthrow, and indications that the city had traded in gold, silver, ivory, amber, and jade. Because Troy II had been totally destroyed by fire, Schliemann called it the “burnt layer”; it was succeeded by the small villages of Troy III, Troy IV, and Troy V, and then by the grand Mycenaean city Troy VI. Since a considerable interval must have elapsed between Troy II and Troy VI, it was clear to Schliemann that Troy II must have existed well before the first Olympiad of 776 B.C., traditionally the earliest date in Greek history. He identified Troy II as Homeric Troy, “the citadel of Priam,” and, the day before he finished the dig in 1873, found “Priam’ treasure,” a magnificent cache of gold objects that he hastily smuggled out of Turkey.

Schliemann’s attempt to keep the treasure together, against the claims of the Ottoman government to a share of it, precluded his immediate return to Hissarlik. He prepared his Trojanische Altertümer for publication in 1874 (his long business experience had made him assiduous in publishing his work immediately), then returned to Mycenae, where he dug for the tombs of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon at the site of his earlier prediction. Excavating within a circle of stones inside the Lion Gate of the citadel, he found the tombs he was looking for—the now-famous shaft graves. The contents of these graves (Schliemann discovered five, and a sixth was unearthed after he left the site) far surpassed “Priam’s treasure” in richness, and included gold and silver vases, inlaid swords of gold, silver, copper, and bronze, gold ornaments for the clothing of the dead, and gold masks. In addition to his work within the citadel, Schliemann excavated two tholoi, the treasury of Atreus (or Agamemnon), and the treasury of Clytemnestra.

Schliemann’ Mycenae, published in 1877, was written in eight weeks and represented a daily record of his excavations. Like the rest of his books, it was written in German and almost immediately translated into French and English. This book, together with the Mycenaean treasure itself (established in the National Museum in Athens), brought Schliemann considerable fame; the English translation carried a preface by W. E. Gladstone, himself a Homeric scholar as well as a statesman.

Following a short and not very productive visit to Ithaca, Schliemann, in 1879, returned to Hissarlik. He was assisted in this new series of digs by a classical archaeologist, Émile Burnouf, and by Rudolf Virchow, the founder of the Berlin Society for Anthropology, Ethonology, and Prehistory, and organizer of the Berlin Museum für Volkerkunde. The results of this expedition, including new evidence to identify Hissarlik with ancient Troy, are set out in Ilois (1881). In 1880 Schliemann went to Orchomenus, where he excavated the treasury of Minyas, a structure similar to the treasuries of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra at Mycenae. His book on the subject, Orchomenos, was also published in 1881. He returned to Hissarlik the following year, accompanied by Wilhelm Dörpfeld, who gave him expert assistance on an extensive dig that lasted until 1883. Dörpfeld, a practical architect who had worked with Ernst Curtius at Olympia, brought to the work at Troy the systematization and efficiency of the new German archaeology; he was able to expose the stratigraphy of Hissarlik with precision, and he revolutionized Schliemann’s technique.

In 1884 Schliemann went to Tiryns, where he uncovered the royal palace. In 1886 he traveled to Egypt with Virchow and visited the excavations being conducted by William Petrie (who characterized Schliemann as “dogmatic but always ready for facts”). During the next two years Schliemann also worked at Cythera and Pylos, then, in 1889, returned with Dörpfeld to Hissarlik. He was, throughout these last few years of his life, greatly afflicted by an ear ailment, and made a number of trips to Europe seeking a cure; it was on one such that he collapsed and died while in Naples.

Dörpfeld continued to work at Troy until 1894. Three years after Schliemann’s death, he identified Troy VI, rather than Troy II, as the Homeric city, and established that the treasure that Schliemann had found at Troy II predated Priam’s time. In his work at Mycenae, Orchomenus, and Tiryns, Schliemann also attributed to the Homeric Greeks artifacts of a much older civilization. The Greeks themselves had always regarded Mycenae and Tiryns as Homeric sites, but the scholarly world was deeply divided over the nature of Schliemann’s discoveries. Some scholars willingly accepted his claims, while others argued that the artifacts were Byzantine in origin, or perhaps the work of Celts, Goths, Avars, Huns, or unspecified “orientals”. Nonetheless, a number of Schliemann’s contemporaries were certain that the Mycenaean civilization that Schliemann had found was not Homeric, but pre-Homeric, as is now known to be the case–what Schliemann had in fact discovered, in both Greece and western Anatolia, was the great pre-Hellenic civilization of the eastern Mediterranean, and this marks his chief contribution to prehistoric archaeology.

Schliemann’ contribution to the development of archaeological technique and method has also been vigorously disputed. Stanley Casson, for example, called him (in The Discovery of Man, p. 221) the inventor of “a proper archaeological method which could be followed in any land,” and added that Schliemann’s techniques “constituted an innovation of the first order of importance in the study of the antiquity of man by archaeological methods”. A. Michaelis, on the other hand, characterized Schliemann as a “a complete stranger to every scientific method of treatment of his subject” and accused him of having “no idea that a method and a well-defined technique existed” (A Century of Archaeological Discoveries, p. 217).

It is, however, certain that Schliemann’s excavation of Hissarlik was the first such operation conducted upon a tell and was, as Sir John Myres wrote, “the first large-scale dissection of a dryland settlement unguided by the remains of great monuments such as simplified the task in Babylon and Nineveh” (The Cretan Labyrinth, p. 273). Schliemann’s discovery of seven occupation levels at Troy further gave a considerable impetus to the application of the principles of stratigraphy to archaeology, although it is necessary to note that he himself understood the stratigraphy of Hissarlik only slowly and with the assistance of Dörpfeld. (Indeed, he came to recognize the strata only slowly, thinking at one time that the whole mound covered Priam’s city; and for a while the recurrence of stone tools puzzled him, so that he wrote that he could not understand “how it is that I am unearthing stone implements throughout the length of my excavations”.)

Schliemann’s archaeological work was of interest to the non-scientific world as well. He kept the public informed of his discoveries through his books and through his dispatches to the London Times and Daily Telegraph, as well as a number of other newspapers, so that, as A. T. White wrote, “every person of culture and education lived through the drama of discovering Troy” (Lost Worlds, p. 27). His readers were excited by the romance of his undertaking and rejoiced in Schliemann’s incredible good luck in finding exactly what he had set out to find-the physical evidence of Homer’s Troy, and a buried hoard of golden treasure. Schliemann also provided inspiration to a whole generation of professional archaeologists and ancient historians; although Emil Ludwig described him as “monomaniacal” and as perhaps of “a mythomaniacal nature which at times over-stepped the limits of the normal,” Sir John Myres wrote that upon the news of Schliemann’s death it seemed to many that “the spring had gone out of the year” (The Cretan Labyringh, p. 272).


I. Original Works. Schliemann’s writings include Ithaka, der Peloponnes und Troja (1869); Trojanische Alteriimer (1874); Troja und seine Ruinen (1875); Mycenae (1877); Ilios (1880); Orchomenos (1881); Troja (1884); and his autobiography, edited by his wife Sophia, Selbstbiographie bis zu seinem Tode vervollständigt (Leipzig, 1892; 9th ed., Wiesbaden, 1961).

II. Secondary Literature. On Schliemann and his work, see Stanley Casson, The Discovery of Man (London, 1939); Emil Ludwig, Schliemann; The Story of a Gold-Seeker (London, 1931); Sir John Myres, The Cretan Labyrinth (London, 1933); Sir John Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship (Cambridge, 1908); and Carl Schuchardt, Schliemann’ Excavations and Archaeological and Historical Studies (London, 1891).

Glyn Daniel

Schliemann, Heinrich

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Schliemann, Heinrich 1822-1890


Born in Neubukow in Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Germany, on January 6, 1822, the son of a Lutheran minister, Heinrich Schliemann received his secondary education in Neustrelitz and became a grocers apprentice (18361841). He took an intensive course in bookkeeping, but finding no suitable employment in Germany, he decided to sail to Colombia to make his fortune there. When the ship ran aground off the coast of Holland, he became a clerk with Schroeders, a large trading company in Amsterdam, and eventually their agent in St. Petersburg, where he also set up his own business and married Yekaterina Lyshin in 1852. The marriage produced three children but was not a happy one. Schliemann made a great deal of money buying and selling commodities on the St. Petersburg exchange. In 1868 he went on a grand tour through Italy and Greece to the Troad in Turkey, hiring workmen to make tentative excavations on Ithaca and at Pinarbashi (Troad). The British expatriate Frank Calvert, who had made small excavations at Hisarlik, convinced Schliemann that that was the site of Troy. Schliemann resolved to return and dig there. In 1869 he received a doctorate from the University of Rostock for his book Ithaque, le Péloponnèse et Troie (Ithaca, the Peloponnesus, and Troy), divorced his Russian wife in Indianapolis, and married Sophia Engastromenos in Athens. This marriage, which was almost as stormy as the first, produced two children.

After an exploratory (and illegal) dig in 1870, he began a campaign of excavations at Hisarlik (18711873) with a large number (70100) of workmen. These revealed a series of nine superimposed settlements. Schliemann reckoned the second oldest of these (Troy II) to be Homeric Troy. This seemed to be confirmed in May 1873 when he found at that level a large hoard of metal objects including gold and silver vessels and jewelry, which he called Priams Treasure. Even more important were his excavations at Mycenae (1876). These brought to light an advanced civilization on mainland Greece that predated Periclean Athens by a thousand years. Before Schliemann, no one had dreamed of its existence. The finds in the shaft graves there were richer and far more sophisticated than those at Troy. Attempting to establish clear connections between Troy and Mycenae, Schliemann returned to excavate at Troy in 1878, 1879, 1882, and 1890. Finally, in 1890 conclusive proof emerged that Troy II was far earlier than the shaft grave burials at Mycenae, though Schliemann did not acknowledge this in his 1890 report. Subsequent excavation has shown that Homeric Troy should be dated to the last levels of Troy VI (according to Wilhelm Dörpfeld and recently the German-American excavation team led by Manfred Kormann) or to Troy VII (according to Carl Blegen, who excavated Troy 19321938). Among the many other sites Schliemann excavated, Tiryns and Orchomenos are the most important. He died in Naples on December 26, 1890.

The accuracy of some of Schliemanns archaeological reports has been questioned in recent years. It is now clear, for instance, that Priams Treasure is not a single find, as Schliemann claimed, but a composite of many pieces found over months of excavation. However, much of his work has been confirmed by his successors. He remains a crucial figure in Aegean archaeology.

SEE ALSO Archaeology



Schliemann, Heinrich. [1878] 1976. Mycenae. New York: Arno Press.

Schliemann, Heinrich. [1881] 1976. Ilios. New York: Arno Press.


Easton, Donald. 1998. Heinrich Schliemann: Hero or Fraud? Classical World 91: 335343.

Fitton, J. Lesley. 1995. The Discovery of the Greek Bronze Age. London: British Museum.

Traill, David A. 1995. Schliemann of Troy: Treasure and Deceit. London and New York: John Murray.

Traill, David A. 2000. Priams Treasure: Clearly a Composite. Anatolian Studies 50: 1735.

David A. Traill

Heinrich Schliemann

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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

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 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. □

Heinrich Schliemann

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Heinrich Schliemann


German Archaeologist and Businessman

Heinrich Schliemann, a self-educated German businessman turned archaeologist, unearthed the ruins of ancient Troy and other lost cities mentioned in the Iliad of Homer. This accomplishment stunned many who had not believed the cities existed at all, let alone that Schliemann would find them.

Schliemann was born in the Mecklenburg region of northern Germany in 1822. The son of an impoverished minister, he had little formal education before being compelled to leave school and earn a living. Yet from his father he inherited an interest in ancient history. He studied the Iliad and other classical literature, and eventually taught himself 18 languages.

Working his way up through the ranks of a trading company in Amsterdam, Schliemann became its representative in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1846. He imported sugar, coffee, and indigo for dye, and became a wealthy man before he was 30. He spent a few years in California, establishing a successful bank in Sacramento. Schliemann appreciated the frontier spirit of the American West, and would later become a United States citizen.

In the 1860s Schliemann decided he had made enough money. He would be well off for the rest of his life, and was free to devote his time to the study of the ancient world. He visited the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia, and enrolled at the university of the Sorbonne in Paris at the age of 44.

When he visited Greece, Schliemann was captivated. He was steeped in the great works of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey. He explored the Greek island of Ithaca using Homer as a guide. Yet just as with Shakespeare, the figure of Homer is riddled with mystery. There is no historical record of the poet, and although it now seems likely there was indeed a man named Homer, he may not have written everything ascribed to him. In any case, the Iliad, which describes the Trojan War, could hardly be taken as an accurate historical record. The war took place in the eleventh or twelfth century b.c. between Greece and Troy, a rival trading power on the Turkish coast. The Iliad was written in about 850 b.c., from stories passed along over three or four centuries. Schliemann believed in the existence of Troy and wanted to find it. But his reliance on Homer, coupled with his lack of formal credentials, discouraged the archaeologists of the day from taking him seriously.

In 1869, Schliemann married a young Greek woman named Sophie, who was to be his companion in his archaeological endeavors. The next year, he began excavating at Hissarlik, a rocky Turkish plain that famous ancient soldiers like Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great had believed to be the site of Troy. The surroundings fit all the descriptions given in the Iliad. Soon, he had uncovered a palace and a temple. While this caused a sensation in newspapers around the world, Schliemann's work continued to be ignored by scientists and museums. Finally, the discovery of a vast hoard of gold and jewels made them take notice.

Schliemann did indeed discover Troy. However, he made a number of mistakes as well. In his time, the most scientifically advanced archaeologists were just beginning to realize the necessity of careful excavation in order to extract the most knowledge from a site. And Schliemann, who was certainly among the most enthusiastic of archaeologists, was not among the most scientifically advanced.

In particular, Schliemann did not fully understand how the layers of ruins at a site correspond to the time in which they were built, with the oldest layers farthest down. As a result, he incorrectly identified many of the artifacts he found, and actually destroyed much of the layer corresponding to the Trojan War era as he continued to dig.

After his excavations at Hissarlik, Schliemann returned to Greece, and uncovered more treasures at the site of Mycenae, another city mentioned in the Iliad. He died in 1890, on a visit to Naples to see the excavations at Pompeii.


Schliemann, Heinrich

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Schliemann, Heinrich (1822–90) German archaeologist. In 1871, he began excavations in Hisarlik, Turkey, which he believed to be the site of the Homeric city of Troy. He uncovered nine superimposed towns; later excavations indicated that the seventh layer was probably the Homeric Troy.

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