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Heinrich Schliemann

(1822—1890) German archaeologist

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(1822–90) [Bi]

Businessman turned archaeologist who set out to unravel the reality behind Homer's epic poetry. Born the son of a Protestant clergyman in Neubucklow, Mecklenburg‐Schwerin, Germany, Schliemann attended the Realschule in Neustrelitz. After a five‐year apprenticeship in a small grocer's shop he set sail for Venezuela in November 1841, but was shipwrecked off the coast of the Netherlands. In Amsterdam he worked as a clerk in the office of the consul‐general of Prussia, where he learnt numerous languages. In 1846 he was sent to St Petersburg, where he became a remarkably successful dealer in commodities. He applied his business skills and ability with languages, eventually amassing a considerable personal fortune that allowed him to retire at the age of 46 in order to devote himself to the archaeology of the eastern Mediterranean. In 1868 a trip to Italy, Greece, and the Troas changed his life. He published an account of his observations which earned him a doctorate in 1869. He became convinced by the authenticity of the places described by Homer, and set out to find them. He excavated at Troy over a series of four campaigns between 1871 and 1890; in 1874–6 he excavated at Mycenae, where he discovered the shaft graves and revealed the wealth of the Aegean Bronze Age; in 1880 he dug at Orchomenos in Boetia, and in 1884–5 he worked at Tiryns. His discovery of ‘King Priam's treasure’ at Troy in May 1873 caused a sensation, helped perhaps by pictures of his second wife, Sophia, wearing some of the ornaments and jewellery. Subsequent studies have shown that some of Schliemann's claims are contaminated by untruths and that the ‘treasure’ was in fact a composite of finds from several spots. Nonetheless, his achievement is considerable, not least in attracting media attention and making archaeology a subject of public interest.


D. Traill, 1995, Schliemann of Troy. London: John Murray

Subjects: Archaeology

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