Birthday: January 6, 1822
Died At Age: 68
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Also Known As: Johann Ludwig Heinrich Julius Schliemann
Born Country: Germany
Born in: Neubukow, Germany
Famous as: Archaeologist
Spouse/Ex-: Sophia Engastromenos (m. 1869), Ekaterina Lyschin (m. 1852–1869)
father: Ernst Schliemann
mother: Luise Therese Sophie Schliemann
siblings: Doris Schliemann, Elise Schliemann, Louise Schliemann, Ludwig Schliemann, Wilhelmine Schliemann
children: Agamemnon Schliemann, Andromache Schliemann
Died on: December 26, 1890
Who was Heinrich Schliemann?
Johann Ludwig Heinrich Julius Schliemann, better known simply as Heinrich Schliemann, was a German archaeologist and business owner who garnered fame for excavating Troy, Mycenae, and Tiryns. An ardent proponent of the historicity of places mentioned in the works of Homer, his findings supported the notion that Homer's ‘Iliad’ is based on historical events. However, his use of dynamite while excavating the nine levels of archaeological remains garnered him widespread condemnation. While many see him as the modern discoverer of prehistoric Greece, the scholars of late 20th and early 21st centuries hold the view that self-mythologizing played a significant role in accumulating his reputation. Despite this, along with Arthur Evans, Schliemann is considered a trailblazer in the study of Aegean civilization in the Bronze Age. At some point, the two men became acquainted, and Evans came for a visit to Schliemann’s sites. Some of the most prominent discoveries of Schliemann are the so-called Mask of Agamemnon, which he found in Mycenae, and the so-called Priam’s Treasure, which he found in Hisarlik, which is now believed to be the location where Troy once stood. Schliemann had plans of excavating Knossos but he passed away before he could begin his work there.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on January 6, 1822, in Neubukow, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, German Confederation, Heinrich Schliemann was the son of Ernst Schliemann and Luise Therese Sophie Schliemann. His father was a minister of the Lutheran Church. His family relocated to Ankershagen in 1823.
His family was impoverished. At the age of nine, he lost his mother and subsequently started living with his uncle. Two years later, he joined the Gymnasium at Neustrelitz. It was his father that initially encouraged his love for history by teaching him about the ‘Iliad’ and the ‘Odyssey.’ He also gifted his son a copy of Ludwig Jerrer's ‘Illustrated History of the World’ for Christmas in 1829.
Schliemann later stated that he had decided at the age of seven that he would one day excavate Troy. However, Schliemann was forced to attend Realschule after his father was charged with stealing from the church fund. The family’s financial condition rendered his dreams of pursuing higher education unfeasible.
When he was 14 years old, he began an apprenticeship at Herr Holtz's grocery in Fürstenberg. He related at one point that his interest in Homer started to develop after he heard a recitation by a drunkard at the grocery store.
He worked there for five years before taking a job as a cabin boy on a steamer named Dorothea in 1841. He spent 12 days on the steamer until it was caught in a gale. He and other survivors made it to the Netherlands, where he worked as a messenger, office attendant, and later, a bookkeeper.
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On March 1, 1844, Heinrich Schliemann joined the import-export firm B. H. Schröder & Co. Two years later, he was made a general agent and dispatched to St. Petersburg.
In the next few years, he served as a representative of several companies and became fluent in the Greek and Russian languages. He would later also learn English, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Polish, Italian, Latin, Arabic, and Turkish.
In 1850, he came to know about the passing of his brother Ludwig. A resident of California, Ludwig had become rich as a speculator in its goldfields.
In early 1851, Schliemann relocated to California, where he set up a bank in Sacramento. Within a few months, he turned it into a multi-million-dollar enterprise by purchasing and reselling gold.
After California was turned into the 31st US state in 1850, he was granted American citizenship. Some sources dispute this. They state that he received citizenship in 1869.
On April 7, 1852, Schliemann liquidated the bank and moved back to Russia. His next venture was in the indigo dye business. After cornering the market, he launched his company, which eventually became successful. After the Crimean War (1854-56) broke out, he became a military contractor and made a significant profit in this position as well.
By the time Heinrich Schliemann was 36 years old, he had enough money that retiring at such an early age had become a viable option. In 1869, he acquired property in Indianapolis and relocated there. His plan was to divorce his wife through Indiana’s liberal divorce laws. After it was finalised, Schliemann moved to Athens.
Heinrich Schliemann never received any formal training as an archaeologist, but he was extremely interested in the subject and began pursuing it as a hobby. Despite this, he garnered a reputation that could rival that of any professional in the field.
His passion for Homer’s tales and ancient Mediterranean civilizations led him to invest the second part of his life into finding the actual physical remains of the cities mentioned in Iliad and Odyssey.
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Interested in discovering the location of Troy, he initially excavated at Pınarbaşı, the site that was originally thought to be Troy. He was later persuaded to dig at Hisarlik by his eventual partner and collaborator, Frank Calvert.
In 1868, Schliemann put out ‘Ithaka, der Peloponnesus und Troja’, in which he argued in favour of the notion that Hisarlik was indeed the site of Troy.
In 1871, he started his archaeological work on Troy. This was a time when archaeology had not yet become a separate professional field. Believing that Homeric Troy must be at the bottom level, Heinrich Schliemann led his workers into a fast and reckless excavation. When they discovered fortifications, they thought that they had found the mythical city.
In May 1873, a cache of gold and other objects were discovered that Heinrich Schliemann dubbed “Priam’s Treasure”. Initially, he wrote that he and his wife, Sophia, had found those objects together, but later conceded that Sophia was in Athens when the discovery was made. In 1874, he wrote about his findings in ‘Trojanische Altertümer’ ("Trojan Antiquities").
The attention that the article garnered proved to be problematic as the Ottoman government refused to allow Schliemann to continue excavating the site.
With the help of Calvert, Schliemann got the treasure out of Turkey. Defending his decision to smuggle the treasure from Turkey, Schliemann stated that he did that in order to safeguard them from corrupt local officials. Also known as “the Jewels of Helen”, they are currently kept in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.
In 1874, he also started and financed the eradication of medieval constructions from the Acropolis of Athens. Among the edifices he demolished was the great Frankish Tower.
In 1876, he started excavating in Mycenae and found the Shaft Graves, along with their skeletons and royal gold treasure, such as the Mask of Agamemnon, which is now kept at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Schliemann conducted three more excavations at Troy and several excavations in Ithaca.
Family & Personal Life
In the early 1850s, Heinrich Schliemann was residing in Russia and tried to adapt to the life of a gentleman. He became acquainted with Ekaterina Petrovna Lyschin, who was related to one of his wealthy friends. The couple exchanged wedding vows on October 12, 1852. The marriage was troubled from the beginning, and they divorced in 1869.
Schliemann and Ekaterina had three children together, a son, Sergey (1855-1941), and two daughters, Natalya (1859-1869) and Nadezhda (1861-1935).
On September 24, 1869, at the age of 47, Schliemann tied the knot with Sophia Engastromenos, a Greek woman 30 years younger than him. They named their children Andromache (1871–1962), Troy, and Agamemnon Schliemann (1878–1954).
Death & Legacy
On December 26, 1890, Heinrich Schliemann passed away in Naples, Italy, at the age of 68. He was laid to rest inside a mausoleum, which was designed like an ancient Greek temple, located in the First Cemetery of Athens.
His house in Athens, the Iliou Melathron, was later turned into the Numismatic Museum of Athens.