Home > Famous Archaeologists > Heinrich Schliemann

Heinrich Schliemann

By: Grahame Johnston - Updated: 17 Sep 2018 | comments*Discuss
Heinrich Schliemann Archaeological

Heinrich Schliemann is arguably the greatest rouge in archaeological history. He was a classical eccentric whose obsession with proving the Battle of Troy in Homer's Iliad led him to repeated lies and deceptions, fakes and grand theft and in his death, to his self-glorification as an archaeological demi-god somehow coequal with the gods of classical Greece.

His Background

As with many peculiar personalities Schliemann was a dazzling genius. Born to a Protestant Minister in Neu Buckow, Germany, in 1822, he was educated privately then went on to teach himself six European languages. In addition to his native German he fluently spoke Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, English and was desperate to acquire the ability to converse in classical Greek.

His father's disgrace in the church after accusations of embezzling church funds and further financial difficulty, forced a young Heinrich into many early employment roles. He travelled extensively visiting Russia, India, China, Japan and countries in North, Central and South America.

The Meaning of Life

Schliemann's entrance to archaeology was in the main driven by his fixation of Classical heroes. His close relationship with his cousin, Sophie, caused him tormented grief at her death forcing him to reassess his purpose in life. Settling on Homer's Odyssey as his guide, Schliemann resolved to find answers to his nagging questions on Ithaca, the Greek island that Odysseus had ruled.

Greed for Treasure

In 1868 he travelled to Greece to begin his archaeological pledge. From here on, Schliemann's life reeked of trickery, greed, deception and delusion. On Ithaca he quickly located a small horde of artefacts and claimed that it was the Palace of Odysseus. Later he displayed a relief of Apollo, the sun god, riding four horses along with much valuable treasure. Schliemann, who had given assurances to the Turkish government that they would receive half of all artefacts recovered, aided by a companion began to smuggle the treasures out of the country and to the garden of his own home.

A short while after this, he located another cache of golden treasures beside the Scaean Gates. With no intention of parting with them to any other, he dismissed the excavation staff and assisted by his wife, he unearthed golden cups, silver goblets, daggers, lances, shields and pottery. The secret treasure, thought by Schliemann to be King Priam's gold, was deliberately divided up among his European friends throughout Greece, after he smuggled them out from under the nose of the authorities.

The Angry Turks

His repeated lies and falsification of dates caused a fuming Ottoman government to demand their immediate return. Schliemann refused and used the booty as a levering tool, offering the treasures to the Greeks if they would permit him to excavate at Mycenae. Eventually, he got his way and he continued excavating alongside workers from the Greek Archaeological Society.

Schliemann was in constant conflict with foreign powers. By 1878, during his excavations at Hissarlik, his reputation was too well known for him to be left unregulated. There, he uncovered a great wealth of gold items including earrings, rings, bracelets and beads. Under constant vigil, Schliemann only received one third of the takings. The rest was held by the Turkish Museum at Constantinople.

Schliemann's greed for classical treasures was not confined to stealing only from the Turks. It appears that even his friends were not immune to his thefts. His diaries show a substantial find called Treasure L, which was marked as being located on Frank Calvert's site. However, his digging colleague never saw these treasures and an international dispute still continues.

Destructive Techniques

Schliemann's archaeological techniques were typical of the period. Without care or consideration for the underlying archaeological record he simply bulldozed his way through each layer of the cities he excavated. His destructive methods clearly destroyed much of the Troy that he had set out to so earnestly prove.

Heinrich Married

Schliemann's unconventionalism was not confined to his archaeological pursuits. To gain a wife he wrote to a friend in Greece asking him to locate for him a well-educated, Greek woman, who was beautiful, dark-haired poor, and shared a great interest in Homer. His obliging friend found such a one and Heinrich married her in 1869.

To further outwork his classical fantasies he built a home in Greece, furnished it in the classical period and insisted that all his staff speak only classical Greek. Like his heroes in Troy, he wanted to become famous and be forever remembered. He built an enormous mausoleum on a hill in Athens where he was determined to be laid to rest when the time came. The inscription that he had made at its entrance reads "For the Hero, Schliemann". To the front is a huge bust of himself along with an image of King Proitos and Cyclopes.

In Death as in Life

The stubborn Schliemann, ignoring medical advice, refused to remain in hospital after an ear operation and instead travelled through Europe. The pain persisted and he eventually collapsed and died in his hotel room in Naples on Boxing Day 1890. He was buried in his great mausoleum, in a cemetery in Athens, Greece. Heinrich Schliemann has immortalised himself into archaeological history through his colourful, yet unethical antics and his extravagant life is matched by his final resting place.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
[Add a Comment]
I've read this article (or should I say a hatchet job) about Heinrich Schliemann who is known for discovering the city of Troy and nowhere in it did I read anything about the discovery of Troy. The author branded Schliemann as a liar and deceiver who carelessly destroyed artifacts he didn't steal, but none of that was used to discount his discovery of Troy. So, WTF? Did he or did he not discover Troy?
DrRJP - 17-Sep-18 @ 1:59 PM
Hi i'm Jess Minda and i lover soccer! I am indian and my mother belivies that i should not be able to play soccer and show my skin but i love soccer so much and especially David Beckham. My mother thinks i should stay at home and learn how to cook and clean so i can become a good wife for my future husbad that my parents will decide.However i love my soccer coach and he is a white man and my best friend loves him too my parents wont let us be together.
Jezz Minda - 6-May-14 @ 4:24 AM
First: He was a ROGUE, not a "rouge" meaning "red". Second, whilst being everything you have said he still maintained his "Fixation" regarding Troy which led to the subsequent location and excavation thereof. His criminally destructive methods threw future study into the wind but he did "lead the way". Theretofore "scientists" relied totally upon speculation, much or most of which was bunk and hokum. Without his zeal and tenacity we certainly would not be where we are today.
papo826 - 23-Apr-12 @ 2:21 PM
Great website very useful info !
Sassy - 11-Apr-11 @ 12:44 AM
This article really gave me some good knowledge about Schliemann and his life. Everyone should read this if they have any questions!
Chloe - 18-Mar-11 @ 5:00 AM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • Usha
    Re: Be a Volunteer Archaeologist
    I completed my post graduation from ancient Indian history, culture and archaeology from India. Would you please give me any…
    23 August 2019
  • geoff
    Re: Etched Vase: How to Discover its Origins?
    Hello I have found a large debris field of rocks in my forest and some of the rocks look like they have had some…
    21 August 2019
  • Kritter
    Re: Stone Tool Experts
    I would like to see your response to Babs comment please
    19 August 2019
  • Rol
    Re: Types of Archaeology
    Hello there, I did general archaeology in my undergraduate degree at UDSM and i think that gave me an idea of what type of an archaeologist…
    19 August 2019
  • Fox
    Re: Be a Volunteer Archaeologist
    Greetings, I am an archaeologist and it is a very though career, I must say. While I am not able to continue my career as an…
    14 August 2019
  • Ganesh
    Re: Being Aware of Fake Archaeological Artefacts
    Very much informative post in India there r many sites where you get lots of artifact a genuine one at…
    10 August 2019
  • Minku
    Re: Types of Archaeology
    I am 25 years old And I can't decide what types of archaeologist I want to be
    31 July 2019
  • Noah
    Re: Be a Volunteer Archaeologist
    Hi I am 17 and a student living in Cornwall. I am hoping to study archaeology or ancient history at university and would love the…
    30 July 2019
  • prof
    Re: Types of Archaeology
    hey am Malvin am from Zimbabwe, am an archaeology graduate. Archaeology is very much interesting, there are so many types of archaeology cox…
    26 July 2019
  • Babs36
    Re: Stone Tool Experts
    Hi, I live fairly close to known Indian mounds in the Midwest. they have artifacts that date back to 800bc. They have also found the skeleton…
    24 July 2019