Heinrich Schliemann

Birth: 1822


Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890) was a German archaeologist. He was born on the 6th of January 1822 at Neu Buckow in Mecklenburg-Schwerin, the son of a poor pastor. He has stated in his autobiography that through all his early years of struggle, when he was successively grocer's apprentice at Furstenberg, cabin-boy on the "Dorothea" bound for Venezuela, and, after her wreck, office attendant and then book-keeper in Amsterdam, he nourished a passion for the Homeric story and an ambition to become a great linguist. In the end, thanks to an unusually powerful memory and determined energy, he acquired a knowledge of seven or eight tongues besides his own, including ancient and modern Greek.

The house of B. H. Schroder of Amsterdam sent him in 1846 to St Petersburg, where he established a business of his own and embarked in the indigo trade. He made a fortune at the time of the Crimean War, partly as a military contractor. Happening to be in California when made a state of the Union, in 1850, he became and remained an American citizen. After travels in Greece, Tunisia, India, China and Japan, and writing a short sketch of the last two countries, he took his large fortune to Greece in 1868, and proceeded to visit Homeric sites. In an ensuing book-Ithaka, der Peloponnes, und Troja-he propounded two theories which he was destined eventually to test in practice, viz. that Hissarlik, not Bunarbashi, was the site of Troy, and that the Atreid graves, seen by Pausanias at Mycenae, lay within the citadel wall.

Two years later he took up Calvert's work on the former site, and, convinced that Troy must be on the lowest level, hewed his way down, regardless of the upper strata, wherein lay unseen the remains of which he was really in search. By 1873 he had laid bare considerable fortifications and other remains of a burnt city of very great antiquity, and discovered a treasure of gold jewelry. We now know this city to have belonged to the middle pre-Mycenaean period, long prior to the generation of Homer's Archaeans; but Schliemann far and wide proclaimed it "Troy," and was backed by Gladstone and a large part of the European public.

Trying to resume his work in February 1874, he found himself inhibited by the Ottoman government, whose allotted share of the gold treasure had not been satisfactory, and it was not till April 1876 that he obtained a firman. During the delay he issued his Troy and its Remains (1875), and betook himself to Mycenae. There in August 1876 he began work in the Dome-tombs and by the Lion Gate, and opened a large pit just within the citadel. The famous double ring of slabs and certain stone reliefs came to light.

Schliemann, thinking it was only a platform leveled as a place of Achaean assembly, paused, and did not resume till November. Then, resolved to explore to the rock, he cleared away some three feet more of earth and stones, and lighted on the five shaft graves which have placed him first among fortunate excavators. A sixth grave was found immediately after his departure. The immense treasure of gold, silver, bronze, fine stone and ivory objects, which was buried with the sixteen corpses in this circle, is worth intrinsically more than any treasure-trove known to have been found in any land, and it revealed once for all the character of a great civilization preceding the Hellenic.

The find was deposited at Athens, and gradually cleaned and arranged in the Polytechnic; and the discoverer, publishing his Mycenae in English in 1877, had his full share of honors and fame. He had now settled in Athens, where he married a Greek lady, and built two splendid houses, which became centers of Athenian society. In 1878 he dug unsuccessfully in Ithaca, and in the same year and the following resumed work at Hissarlik, and summed up his results in a discursive memoir, Ilios, upon which a sequel, Troja, issued in 1884, after Wilhelm Dorpfeld, associated in 1882, had introduced some archaeological method into the explorations, was a considerable improvement.

In 1880 and 1881 Schliemann cleared out the ruined dome-tomb of Orchomenus, finding little except remains of its beautiful ceiling; and in 1885, with Dorpfeld, he laid bare the upper stratum on the rock of Tiryns, presenting scholars with a complete ground plan of a Mycenaean palace. This was his last fortunate excavation. While Tsountas, for the Greek Archaeological Society, picked up his work at Mycenae in 1886, and gradually cleared the Acropolis, with notable results, Schliemann tried for traces of the Caesareum at Alexandria, of the Palace of Minos at Knossos, in Crete, and of the Aphrodite temple at Cythera (1888); but he was not successful, meeting in the two former enterprises with a local opposition which his wealth was unable to bear down.

In 1889 he entertained at Hissarlik a committee of archaeological experts, deputed to examine Botticher's absurd contention that the ruins represented not a city, but a cremation necropolis; and he was contemplating a new and more extensive campaign on the same site when, in December 1890, he was seized at Naples with an illness which ended fatally on the morning of Christmas Day. His great wealth was left mainly to the two families that he had in Russia and Greece; but a sum was reserved for Hissarlik, where Dorpfeld in 1891 and 1892, by clearing away the debris of the former excavations, exposed the great walls of the sixth stratum which Schliemann had called Lydian, and proved their synchronism with Mycenae, and identity with Mycenaean remains; that is to say, with Homer's Troy, if Troy ever was.

Schliemann was on several occasions in England, in 1883 to receive honors from the great universities, and in 1886 to confute, at a special gathering of the Hellenic Society, the assertion of Stillman and Penrose that the Tirynthian palace was posterior to the Christian era. Nowhere was he better appreciated, and most of his books were first issued in English.


1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica. pg. 341.

History of Humanity - History Archive Logo
History of Humanity - History Mysteries Logo
History of Humanity - Ancient Mesopotamia Logo
History of Humanity - Egypt History Logo
History of Humanity - Persian Empire Logo
History of Humanity - Greek History Logo
History of Humanity - Alexander the Great Logo
History of Humanity - Roman History Logo
History of Humanity - Punic Wars Logo
History of Humanity - Golden Age of Piracy Logo
History of Humanity - Revolutionary War Logo
History of Humanity - Mafia History Logo