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Heinrich Schliemann’s Search For Troy

The life of Heinrich Schliemann is as legendary as the city he claimed to have discovered. A quintessential 19th century adventurer and amateur archaeologist, his obsession for Troy took him around the world and to Turkey and Greece. Fascinated by Homers epic narration, Schliemann stopped at nothing to discover the historical sites named by the poet. The veracity of his findings is however often questioned. Heinrich Schliemann: fanatic obsessed by his boyhood dreams or successful antiquarian?

A Boyhood Dream

Born in 1822 to a poor Protestant minister father and an unpublished literary critic mother who died when he was nine, Schliemann had a rag to riches life. Like many children of his time, he had to leave school at 14 to take up a job, selling herring and candles.

Despite this rather unscholarly beginning, Schliemann later argued that his interest in all things Greek and Homeric started with his father reading him the Illiad and Odyssey. Divergent explanations for his passion exist. According to a different, but also told by Schliemann, anecdote, his interest was born after hearing an older student reciting Homer verses. Even though the eventual result is the same, this variation already shows a key trait of Schliemanns personality: his capacity to adapt truth to his own interest.

Still according to his own anecdote, Schliemann announced he would discover Troy at the tender age of 8. Boyhood dream or lie carefully built to feed his own legend? In any case, in the 1830s, the city of Troy was eluding the most experienced archaeologists.

Ends to a Mean

Schliemanns love of history meant he wanted to see the world. Before his twentieth birthday, he boarded a steamer leaving for Venezuela as a cabin boy. Even though he never reached South America because of a shipwreck, it was indeed the beginning of a world tour. He took up positions in the Netherlands before being sent to Russia. During that time, in addition to developing his business talent, he improved his linguistic skills, learning his beloved Homers language, Greek. A gifted linguist, he was fluent in ten languages by the end of his life.

A Late-Corinthian krater depicting the Menelaus and Ulysses’ mission to Troy to obtain the return of Helen, the failure of which led to the Trojan War. Image Credit - Dan Diffendale.

Even when not stationed on Homeric grounds, Schliemann was taking steps to get closer to his boyhood goal. In the 19th century, research and excavation scholarships were even less common than they are today so Schliemann needed to become rich before making any move towards Troy. Using his business knowledge as well as a good instinct for being at the right place at the right time, he was in California during the gold rush, just when it became American, making him a US citizen. After going back to Russia, he took advantage of the Crimean War to become an arms dealer. He also visited India and Corfu.

As is often the case with accounts of Schliemanns life, the official date of his retirement varies between a rather early 1858 or 1863. Again building his own legend, Schliemann explained in his memoirs that the only aim of his retirement was to pursue his wish of finding Troy. In the mid 1860s, he furthered his knowledge of the ancient world by enrolling at the Sorbonne in Paris in their Antiquity and Oriental Languages faculty.

Retracing Ulysses Steps

Fittingly, Schliemann started his archaeological life in Ithaca, a small island in the Ionian Sea of capital importance in Homeric myth. It is indeed the place where Ulysses is said to have lived before and after his Trojan adventures. Even though the current landscape does not match Homers description (the Odyssey says it is low-lying, far West and surrounded by the island of Doulichion and Same, whereas the island is mountainous and more Eastern than other Ionian Sea islands), Schliemann claimed to have found significant sites from the Odyssey there. This type of discrepancy between what Schliemann said and wanted and historical evidence is a recurrent characteristic of his work.


Schliemann was not the type to enjoy a calm and eventless retirement or to be satisfied with a short stint at Ithaca. Having met Frank Calvert, who started excavations on the site of Hisarlik (or Hissarlik, both spellings are used), identified by Charles Maclaren in 1822 as the former location of Troy, he was sure that the place indeed held the key to Homers writings. In the Antiquity, tourists, sometimes famous such as Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar, already believed the place to be the site of the Trojan/Aegean war.

Situated in Turkey, Hisarlik, historically known as Illion is close to both the Aegean Sea and the Dardanelles, a location which matches Homers imprecise description of Troy. Furthermore, the place shows clear signs of ancient human occupation, not least because antique ruins were covered by a tell, this artificial mountain built by centuries of human presence.

Schliemanns claim that he had found Troy might have hold more to his own imagination and hopes than actual historical and scientific facts. Calvert, who Schliemann fell out with, argued that there was no remain from the period that should have been contemporary to the Trojan War on the site.

Priams Treasure

Disregarding those suggestions, Schliemann kept digging, taking every finding as proof that he was indeed excavating Paris city. For instance, upon discovering a stack of gold and other precious artefacts in May 1873, he claimed it was Priams treasure, Troys king at the time of the war. The treasure includes a copper shield and arms, gold cups and terracotta goblets.

Schliemann's Troy Treasures comprise a varied selection of items dug up at the site of the ancient city. Image credit - Jon Himoff.

In Homer, Priams son Hector is killed by Achilles. Thanks to Zeus and Hermes intervention and the kings plea, Achilles eventually returns the heirs corpse to the Trojans.

The role of gods in Priams story doesnt give his existence, or his treasure, much historical credential. After the discovery of the Manapa-Tarhunta letter, historians suggested Priam and Piyama-radu might have been one same person, a Hittite king who might have overpowered Troy. In any case, Homer specifies that the city was ransacked and set fire to after the Trojan horse episode, making the presence of a large amount of gold on the actual site harder to believe. Furthermore, archaeologist Carl Blegen, another Homer fanatic who studied the statigraphy of Hisarlik in the 1930s, showed that Priams Treasure was long posterior to the Trojan War.

Priams Treasure marked the end of archaeological search in the Ottoman Empire for Schliemann. He had smuggled parts of the Treasure out of the country. The government revoked his digging authorisation, jailed the official in charge of overseeing the excavation and sued the archaeologist. He later bargained part of the treasure against the authorisation to dig again.

Aside from the part returned to Turkey, exhibited at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, the Treasure belonged from 1880 until the end of the Second World War to the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. It was then taken by the Red Army and has been on display at the Moscow Pushkin Museum since the end of the Cold War, as a compensation of historical destructions caused by the Nazis. Copies are on display in the Neues Museum in Berlin.


As is the case with all myths, the veracity of Homers tales, not to mention his authorship, is somewhat disputed. In addition to soldiers from both Trojan and Achaen sides, the Illiad includes a fair share of mortals with superpowers, such as Achilles, and of gods tinkering with human destinies. Even if a battle might have taken place, as was often the case between Mediterranean peoples, it is unlikely that Homers words are to be taken at face value.

Historians have also suggested that Schliemann wasted his time by looking in Turkey, and that Homers epic tale might have been the synthesis of many inter-Greek battles. After the Second World War, long after Schliemann was dead, the American historian Carpenter favoured the possibility that rather than being a city, Troy was some sort of district, hence the use of the name Illion to refer to the location.

Schliemann also searched for Mycenae, Tomb of Agamemnon. Image Credit - Schumata.

Theories about the real location of Troy are numerous. Some are more unlikely than others. Iman Jacob Wilkens, in Where Troy Once Stood, for instance argued that Troy was in fact located in England and was a Celt battleground, which would make Schliemanns digging entirely obsolete.

Whether or not it was the site of an antique battle, and whether or not the Trojan War even truly existed, Blegen showed that Hisarliks tell was made of 47 strata. The excavation of Troy VI, which should have been concomitant to the Trojan War, showed that the city walls had been destroyed by a natural disaster rather than an Aegean army. In Troy VII however, Blegen found corpses, arrows and evidence that buildings had been destroyed by fire.


In addition to Troy, Schliemann searched for Mycenae, another legendary Homeric city described as rich in gold. King Agamemnon, who lead the Achaens to Troy after Menelaus wife Helen was abducted by the Trojan Paris before being assassinated by his wife (or her lover, depending on the myth), was king if Mycenae.

When Schliemann reached the Greek city, excavations had already started under the leadership of soldier turned archaeologist Kyriakos Pittakis.

By 1874, when Schliemann undertook to complete the excavation of Mycenae, he was already convinced that the place was the city talked about by Homer. Rather than trying the ruins he found, he once again read every discovery as confirming his belief.

As announced by Homer, Schliemann discovered a lot of gold in the sites tombs. Since the location had never been systematically excavated, it is far from unusual and doesnt in itself prove anything further than the fact that the buried were rich, warriors (weapons were found alongside corpses) and probably powerful.

Schliemanns most significant discovery was a gold funeral mask, dubbed Mask of Agamemnon, which he found in 1876. Upon finding it, he allegedly felt he had gazed upon the face of Agamemnon, thus completing his boyhood search for traces of Homers epic tales.

Over the past decades however, historians have started to suggest that Schliemann, wishing to make reality resemble his desires, might have faked the mask. Known for contradicting himself in his writing, he also had a reputation for digging up artefacts in certain places before pretending he had found them elsewhere. The mask is so extraordinary in its craftsmanship, so different from the other found in Mycenaean grave shafts it is the only one in three dimensions, with facial traits cut out, detailed eyes that some have suggested that it can only be contemporary of Schliemann.

Schliemann’s most significant discovery was a gold funeral mask, dubbed Mask of Agamemnon, which he found in 1876. Image credit - axiepics.

End of Life and Legacy

Only bad health could keep Schliemann away from his ruins. In 1890, at the age of 68, he had to stop digging to travel to Halle, in Germany, where he underwent an operation of his ear. Despite affirmations of the contrary at the time, the surgery was unsuccessful. His ear got in the way of him coming back to Athens in time for Christmas, but not in the way of him visiting other legendary ruins in Pompei, which he had already seen as a younger, healthier and less experienced archaeologist. He died in Naples on Boxing Day 1890. He is buried in the First Cemetery in Athens, in a temple-shaped mausoleum with a frieze showing his archaeological exploits. A fitting tribute for a man fascinated by Ancient Greeks.

Whether or not he discovered the real site of Troy, and whether or not this site and city ever existed, Schliemanns work contributed to the excavation and discovery of some of the most important ruins of the Greek antiquity. He specifically played a key role in learning about Bronze Age Greeks. Yet, all isnt well. Like many excavations undertaken in the 19th century, Schliemanns research sometimes harmed what he discovered rather than preserving it.

To this day, historians and public alike are fascinated by the story of the Trojan War. Hisarlik is a key destination on many tourist tours of Turkey, as is Mycenae in Greece. The Mask of Agamemnon is a central attraction at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Priams Treasure is still the object of negotiations between Germany and Russia.

Ancient Beauties: Neanderthal Make-up and the Medicinal Benefits of Cleopatra Eyes

The worlds of cosmetics and archaeology have recently collided over two unexpected discoveries. Over the course of the past week, researchers have discovered that Neanderthals used make-up and that Cleopatra‘s face paint was good for her eyes. Which fact is most surprising?

The first thing that springs to mind when thinking about Neanderthal man is definitely not refinement. Its more beard, dirt, animal skins, grunts and women carried by their hair. Like so many clichs depicted in classroom textbooks and carried on by Hollywood, this idea is probably far from the truth. Thanks to scientific research undertaken in Murcia, in the South of Spain, we now know that Neanderthals used a primitive form of make-up.

The discovery was made by a team lead by professor Joao Zilhao from Bristol University. With other archaeologists, he found yellow and red pigment residues in large shells dating back some 50,000 years. In other words, Neanderthals had their own version of your basic powder and compact (minus the mirror). Despite earlier discoveries of black sticks of manganese pigments, Zilhao considers the residues to be the first tangible proof that Neanderthals used body paints. The team also believes that the shells found are evidence of Neanderthal jewellery.

So, was Mrs Neanderthal making herself prettier before a hunting date with Mr Neanderthal? Aside from the fact that Mrs N. probably wasnt going hunting, there are other, more likely explanations for the use of pigments.

Anthropology tells us that make-up and more generally the application of colour on ones skin isnt always about vanity or beauty. It also carries symbols of power and strength and can be part of religious rituals. It can be the representation of links within a group or accompany the life of a community.

Until more discoveries are made, the real use and function of the pigments will not be known. For Zilhaos team however, the real importance of the finding is that it shows that neanderthals were capable of symbolic thinking. This idea was backed up by professor Chris Stringer, a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum, who told the BBC that these findings help to disprove the view that Neanderthals were dim-witted. Time to rethink the modern meaning of Neanderthal behaviour then.

On the other side of the Mediterranean, some thousand years after the Neanderthal, Cleopatra, Ptolemaic Egyptian ruler, was also quite fond of make-up. A joint French study by the Louvre museum and the CNRS, a national research centre, showed that in addition to being a sight for sore eyes, Cleopatras make-up was quite literally good for the eyes.

Cleopatra is often depicted in popular culture as having a heavy hand when it came to applying eye make-up. The French study showed that her black make-up was an effective protection against eye infections thanks to the presence of lead salts. When used at low levels, those salts produce nitric oxide, which boosts the immune system to fight off bacteria which can cause eye infection.

Scientists and archaeologists already knew that make-up had medicinal properties. Philippe Walter, who lead the research, told the BBC that his aim was to determine exactly how.

To do so, they used the good old experimenting method of recreating the make-up Cleopatra would have used. They then used a tiny electrode, 1/10th the thickness of a human hair, to look at the effect of lead chloride salt synthesised by the Egyptians – laurionite – on a single cell.

Ancient Egyptian make-up was protective on two counts: medical, as shown by Walter and team, but also holistic. Dynasty after dynasty, Egyptian eye make-up was made up of udju (green malachite) and mesdemet (dark grey stibnite or galena, now known as kohl). Galena has long been thought to protect against the sun, an invaluable property when you live in Egypt. Even more importantly, the application of eye make-up can be compared to a religious ritual since it was meant to protect against the Evil Eye.

Bombs, Nazis and a Major Facelift: The History of Berlin’s Neues Museum

Neues Museum - Museumsinsel - Berlin

The Neues Museum (New Museum), the latest museum to benefit from the renovation programme on the Museumsinsel, first opened in Berlin in 1850. Built to display a collection of Egyptian artefacts as well as ethnographic, prehistoric and early historic collections, it was at the time the solution to a lack of storage space in the Altes Museum (Old Museum). Wartime damage and economic shortage kept the building shut for decades, until its long-awaited re-opening tomorrow.

Frederick William IV ordered the construction of the museum in 1841. Like the other four museums on the Island, it is a model of neoclassicism and museology in the 19th century. Friedrich August Stler, student of Altes Museum architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, drew the plans. Due to the crumbly nature of the grounds, the museum is supported by more than 2000 piles. The setting of those deep, drilled foundations was at the time nearly unprecedented, making the construction of the monument a milestone in the history of both architecture and technology.

At the turn of the 19th century, the museum notably hosted gigantic casts of significant Egyptian statues. Making casts used to be a popular method in archaeology whereby researchers on the ground would mould significant findings before shipping the reproduction back to Europe. It allowed for closer study once the expedition was over.

German Egyptologists were particularly knowledgeable and respected the world round. It is thanks to one of them, Ludwig Borchardt, that the famous bust of Nefertiti can be exhibited in the newly reopened Neues Museum.

The Neues and Nazi Egyptology

Neues Museum - Museumsinsel - Berlin

When Hitler and the Nazis rose to power, a number of Egyptologists chose to follow the official programme. According to Thomas Schneider, a Professor at the University of British Columbia specialised in the fate of Egyptology under the Nazi regime, some of them did not hesitate to attribute Fuhrer-like behaviour to pharaohs.

Hitler showed a strong interest in Egyptian antiquity, and even tried to warp history. His plans for a revamped Berlin included a new museum in which his bust and Nefertitis would be close. He also vetoed the return of the Egyptian queens bust to Cairo.

The Neues Museum was closed in 1939. During World War II, the building suffered serious and extensive damage. Parts of it were in such state of ruin that they had to be destroyed in the 1950s. The museum was mostly a shell, used by the other four museums as a storage area.

Parts of the collection were also destroyed during air raids and fires between 1943 and 1945. Many of the casts, transferred to Berlins University, disappeared during the war. Most objects however were safely stored away. The most gigantic artefacts, difficult to move because of their size, were partially protected by sand bags.

Museums on Museumsinsel have been gradually renovated since the end of the war. Reconstruction of the Neues Museum however was held back by the economic shortages of East Germany, and so did not undergo proper reconstruction before the 1980s.

Original Features

Saturday October 17th will be the first time all five museums are open to the public in seventy years.

In 1997, two years before Museum Island was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, architect David Chipperfield won an international competition to rebuild the museum. The restoration cost an estimated 200 million.

The famous bust of Nefertiti will surely be the most controversial, and famous, artefact on display. However, there new museum is home to a great collection of artefacts, including the intruiging ‘Berlin Golden Hat’ – a cone-line structure bearing astonomical symbols.

According to Associated Press, Chipperfield strove to include as much original material that survived wartime bombing and decades of exposure to the weather as possible. This includes a faux-Egyptian painted ceiling hangs over a room dedicated to the history of Egyptology and sarcophagi are exhibited below 19th-century murals depicting scenes from the Nile Valley.

The inauguration of the Neues Museum by Angela Merkel today will mark the first time all five museums are open to the public in seventy years.