"Mask of Agamemnon"
Treasure of Troy
Heinrich Schliemann was not the most famous archaeologist
of his day, though he was famous. Neither was he the most skilled.
He rarely followed good archaeological
procedures at his excavations and was roundly criticized
by later archaeologists. He wasn't even the most scrupulous
of those in his profession, something confirmed by his illegal
smuggling of a priceless historic treasure out of the country
He was, however, perhaps the luckiest archaeologist
of all time. His life was a rags-to-riches story capped by the
discovery of not one, but two treasures and a lost city that
most reputable archaeologists of his day thought was only a
Heinrich was born in 1822 in Beubuckow, Germany,
the son of a Protestant pastor. His father scorned the usual
children's fairy tales and instead told little Heinrich the
classics of literature which he translated into simple language.
One of the boy's favorite stories was Homer's Iliad: the story
of Paris of the City of Troy who kidnaped the beautiful Helen
from her Greek husband, King Menelaus, and the resulting war
between the Greeks and the Trojans to get her back. A war that
ended, according to Homer, when the Greeks used a wooden horse
filled with soldiers to capture the city.
Little Heinrich decided that when he grew up he
would go and look for the city of Troy and its treasure. None
of his playmates shared his enthusiasm for this project except
Minna Meincke, daughter of a farmer that lived nearby. Schliemann
later wrote, "Minna entered into all my vast plans for the future.
Thus a warm attachment grew up between us. In our childish simplicity
we exchanged vows of eternal love."
Iliad is considered one of the landmark works
of western literature. Composed over 2,700 years ago
supposedly by the blind poet Homer, it depicts the war
of the Greeks against the Trojans. The war was precipitated
by the beautiful Helen who was married to the Greek
son of Piram king of Troy, was called upon to judge
a beauty contest between the Olympian goddesses, Hera,
Athena, and Aphrodite. Aphrodite, goddess of love, bribed
Paris by promising him the beautiful Helen for his wife,
even though she was already married. Paris accepted
the bribe, stole Helen, and took her back to Troy.
earned him the wrath of all the Greek kings was well
as that of Hera and Athena. Menelaus called on his brother,
Agamemnon, a king himself and overlord to many Greek
states, to assist him in conquering Troy and getting
his wife back. Agamemnon, in turn, brought other Greek
kings into the war which lasted ten years.
poem told three stories: The suffering of the Trojan
people, the heroics among the attacking Greeks, and
the jealously and in-fighting between the gods.
warriors were killed during the war on both sides, including
the famous Achilles (who was only vulnerable to injury
on his heel, hence the phrase "Achilles heel" which
means someone's weak spot) and the brave Trojan, Hector.
The image most associated with the Trojan War, the wooden
horse, does not actually appear in the Iliad, but Homer's
sequel to it called The Odyssey. The Odyssey
is the story of Odysseus and his ten-year wanderings
on his way home from the Trojan War. At the end of the
war the Greeks offended the gods, and the gods decided
they would make it difficult for the Greek kings to
return home. Odysseus took the longest to make the journey.
At one point in his travels he dines with a king. At
dinner, a blind poet tells the story of the end of the
war was not going well for the Greeks. Achilles, one
of their strongest warriors, had been killed. Odysseus
proposes to pretend to give up and sail away, leaving
a statue of a giant horse on the beach. The horse looks
like an offering to the goddess Athena, but it is secretly
filled with the bravest of the Greek soldiers. The Trojans,
jubilant at the end of the war and their victory, break
down the city wall to bring the horse inside. The Greek
ships return quietly at night. The soldiers in the horse
are let out and kill the guards, which let troops pour
through the gap in the wall. The city is looted and
burned. Helen is taken back to Greece.
At age nine they made plans. They would marry
when grown, excavate the nearby castle that supposedly had belonged
to the famous robber baron, Henning Von Holstein, find his hidden
treasure and then use the treasure to sail to Asia Minor and
excavate the treasure of Troy.
Alas, it was not to be. Pastor Schliemann's family
had a falling out with the rest of the community and Heinrick
was forbidden to see his young friend. "I have undergone many
troubles in different parts of the world, but none of them ever
caused me a thousandth part of the grief I felt at the age of
nine years for my separation from my little bride," wrote Schliemann
At fourteen Schliemann was apprenticed to a local
grocer. When he hurt his back and could no longer lift heavy
weights, he moved to Hamburg. Unable to hold a job there because
of his injury, he signed on as a cabin boy on a ship. The ship
went down during a bad storm off the coast of Holland. Finding
his way to Amsterdam he got a poorly-paying job.
Schliemann might have stayed in that position
for life if he hadn't discovered his knack of learning languages.
He taught himself English, Dutch and French. Later he learned
Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. The knowledge of these languages
enabled him to find a good position in an import/export firm.
He learned Russian and moved to the company's branch office
in St. Petersburg in 1846. While there he increased this employer's
business while making a small fortune for himself trading in
Now on his way to success ,Schliemann wrote to
a friend in Germany and had him pass on a marriage proposal
to his childhood sweetheart. He was broken-hearted upon learning
she had married someone else a month earlier.
Schliemann (right) traveled to California
to inherit a fortune made by his brother in the 1849 gold rush.
When he arrived there he discovered the money was gone, but
Schliemann managed to double his own funds through the gold
dust trade. Schliemann became a naturalized U.S. citizen, but
returned to Russian in 1852. He married there, but it didn't
Business was still good, though, and in 1863,
at age forty-one, Schliemann retired a millionaire. This permitted
him to travel, and he visited the island of Ithaca and Mycenae,
the homes of Odysseus and Agamemnon, two of the kings who had
fought in the Trojan war. Then he crossed the sea to Turkey
to look for the city of Troy itself.
Most historians and archaeologists of the time
believed that there never had been a real city of Troy. Of the
few that did, most pointed to a hill named Bunarbashi
located a few miles inland from the Aegean sea as the location.
Schliemann visited Bunarbashi, but it did not
seem right to him. The Iliad mentioned that Mount Ida was visible
from the walls of Troy. From Bunarbashi the mountain could not
be seen. The Iliad also mentioned that the Greek warrior Achilles
chased the Trojan Hector around the walls of the city three
times. Bunarbashi had a steep drop on one side that made that
impossible. The distance from the sea also seemed wrong. It
was eight miles where Schliemann approximated from the text
that it should not be more than four.
Using geographic clues from his copy of the Iliad,
Schliemann discovered another hill near the village of Hissarlik
that seemed to fit the bill. The distance from the sea was right,
Mount Ida was visible, and the ground around the outcropping
was flat so someone could run around the walls. Schliemann did
some checking and found that a couple of other people had come
to the same conclusion. In 1822 Charles Maclaren of Scotland
published a book claiming Hissarlik as Troy. Frank Calvert,
an Englishman living in Turkey, also believed the same thing.
Calvert had acquired about half of the hill.
The German was excited, but before he started
digging he went to Paris for two years to study archaeology,
write a book on Troy and got his Ph.D. from Rostock University
in Germany. Before setting out on his dig, Schliemann decided
to divorce his current wife and marry another. He wrote to a
friend in Greece asking him to locate him a Greek wife. Schliemann
wrote that she needed to be young, an orphan, and most importantly
a fan of Homer and the Iliad. The friend found seventeen-year-old
Sophia Engastromenos. When they met, Schiemann quizzed her on
her Homer and she passed. The two were married in Athens. Schiemann
had found his own Helen.
A firman, or agreement, was obtained from the
Turkish government that would allow Schliemann to dig at Hissarlik.
The agreement stated that any treasure found must be divided
with the government. Excavations started in 1871 with seventy
local workers. Schliemann sunk shafts and trenches into the
hillside. What he discovered was not the ruin of a city, but
the remains of eleven cities, each one built on the ruins of
the earlier settlements.
dig at Hissarlik.
The bottom-most city, which is referred to as
Tory I, Schliemann thought must have been destroyed by an earthquake
because of the cracks in the foundations. Since the Greeks had
destroyed the city with fire according to Homer, this could
not be the remains of the city mentioned in the Iliad. Troy
II, the next layer up, had been burned. Schliemann decided that
this must be the Troy of Homer's tale. The next season he hired
160 men to dig down to this layer of the hill. Scientific archaeology
had not really come of age yet and unfortunately this work destroyed
much of the later history of the city (right).
The main objective of Schliemann's work was to
find what he called "Priam's treasure." According to Homer,
Priam ruled the city of Troy during the war. Schliemann felt
sure that the King must have hidden his treasure somewhere in
the city to avoid its capture by the Greeks should they win
In May or June of 1873, Schliemann and Sophia
were out at the site watching the digging when Schliemann's
eye caught site of a glint of copper coming from the side of
one of the shafts. Climbing down, he realized he was looking
at a copper jug embedded in the wall. There was a hole in the
jug and he could see gold inside. Telling his wife to send the
workers on a break, Schliemann used his knife to dig in the
wall and free the jug. Sophia soon joined him and they both
shared in the discovery.
"While the men were resting and eating," he later
wrote, "I cut out the Treasure with a large knife. This required
great exertion and involved great risk, since the wall of the
fortification beneath which I had to dig threatened every moment
to fall on me. But the sight of so many objects, every one of
which is of inestimable value to archaeology, made me reckless.
I never thought of any danger."
golden earrings and necklaces fournd in Troy worn by
The treasure included golden earrings, necklaces,
pots of silver and gold and other items. The most impressive
of these were two gold diadems that might have been worn by
a queen or princess. The treasure was smuggled back to Schliemann's
home and then out of the country.
The Turkish government was not amused and sued
Schliemann. They won a $5,000 judgment. Schliemann at first
refused to pay, but then relented and gave the Turkish government
five times the actual value of the fine. The Turks decided to
allow Schliemann to again dig at Troy, but this time they would
watch him like a hawk.
Schliemann decided to start another dig at Mycenae
in Greece which had been the home of Agamemnon, leader of the
Greeks that had attacked Troy. The city had lay in ruins since
468 B.C.. Unlike Troy, the location was well-known. Schliemann
cleared the gate of the city and then started digging within
a strange circle of stones inside the entrance. He found 19
graves and a treasure of grave goods worth more than the cache
at Troy. One of them was a golden death mask (see top of
page). Thinking he had found the grave of the king Schliemann
said, "I have gazed on the face of Agamemnon!"
Despite all his luck at finding treasure, Schliemann
was consistently wrong on his facts. Later archaeologists would
date the treasure at Mycenae as being two hundred years before
the time of Agamemnon and the treasure of Troy over a thousand
years before Homer's Trojan War. In 1878 Schliemann returned
to Troy and discovered two additional small treasure troves.
In 1879 he took on an assistant, Wilhelm Dorpfeld. Dorpfeld
would continue the work on Troy after Schliemann died, deciding
that Troy VI was really the city of Homer's poem.
Dorpfeld would later change his mind when Carl
Blegan examined the site in 1932. Blegan unearthed convincing
evidence that Troy VII-a was the Homeric city. Dorpfeld, in
his eighties by that time, came to agree with him.
In 1880 Schliemann, who was growing old by then,
decided he needed to find a permanent home for the Treasure
of Troy. He donated it to a museum in Berlin, Germany. It disappeared
during WWII seized by Russian soldiers, and now resides in the
Pushkin Museum in Russia.
Yes, Schliemann was very lucky. Recently some
historians are asking if perhaps he was too lucky. Several
incidents Schliemann wrote about in his life have turned out
to be fabrications. This has made some archaeologists wonder
if some of the treasure he found were actually modern forgeries
planted to enhance his own reputation. Even the wonderful, but
incorrectly named, "Mask of Agamemnon" has come under scrutiny.
Did Schliemann fake it? Or at least alter it to appear more
dramatic? For the time being the nobody has proved these things
a fake and despite some falsehoods in his writings his claim
that he found the city of Troy still stands.
As for Troy itself, many archaeological mysteries
remain. Studies show that the people who built the first Troy
were not the same people who later lived there during the Trojan
War. Who were these early people and what became of them? Homer's
poem suggests that the war was over the kidnaping of a Greek
king's wife. It's hard to believe that the Greeks fought a ten-year
war over one woman. What was the real reason for the hostilities?
Legend has it that Troy fell when the Greeks built a wooden
horse, filled it with soldiers and the unsuspecting Trojan's
rolled it into the city. Is this true?
These questions remain as challenges to future
archaeologists that would dig for treasures at the ancient city
Copyright Lee Krystek
1999. All Rights Reserved.