Heinrich Schliemann

Heinrich Schliemann bigraphy, stories - German archaeologist

Heinrich Schliemann : biography

6 January 1822 – 26 December 1890

Heinrich Schliemann ( 6 January 1822 – 26 December 1890) was a German businessman and a pioneer of field archaeology. He was an advocate of the historical reality of places mentioned in the works of Homer. Schliemann was an archaeological excavator of Hissarlik, now presumed to be the site of Troy, along with the Mycenaean sites Mycenae and Tiryns. His work lent weight to the idea that Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid reflect actual historical events. Schliemann’s excavation of nine levels of archaeological remains with dynamite has been criticized as destructive of significant historical artifacts, including the level that is believed to be the historical Troy.

Along with Arthur Evans, Schliemann was a pioneer in the study of Aegean civilization in the Bronze Age. The two men knew of each other, Evans having visited Schliemann’s sites. Schliemann had planned to excavate at Knossos, but died before fulfilling that dream. Evans bought the site and stepped in to take charge of the project, which was then still in its infancy.

Childhood and youth

Schliemann was born in Neubukow, Mecklenburg-Schwerin in 1822. His father, Ernst Schliemann, was a Protestant minister. The family moved to Ankershagen in 1823 (today in their house is the museum of Heinrich Schliemann). Heinrich’s mother, Luise Therese Sophie, died in 1831, when Heinrich was nine years old. After his mother’s death, his father sent Heinrich to live with his uncle. When he was eleven years old, his father paid for him to enroll in the Gymnasium (grammar school) at Neustrelitz. Heinrich’s later interest in history was initially encouraged by his father, who had schooled him in the tales of the Iliad and the Odyssey and had given him a copy of Ludwig Jerrer’s Illustrated History of the World for Christmas in 1829. Schliemann later claimed that at the age of 8, he had declared he would one day excavate the city of Troy.

However, Heinrich had to transfer to the Realschule (vocational school) after his father was accused of embezzling church fundsRobert Payne, The Gold of Troy: The Story of Heinrich Schliemann and the Buried Cities of Ancient Greece, 1959, repr. New York: Dorset, 1990, . and had to leave that institution in 1836 when his father was no longer able to pay for it. His family’s poverty made a university education impossible, so it was Schliemann’s early academic experiences that influenced the course of his education as an adult. In his archaeological career, however, there was often a division between Schliemann and the educated professionals.

At age 14, after leaving Realschule, Heinrich became an apprentice at Herr Holtz’s grocery in Fürstenberg. One story has it that his passion for Homer was born when he heard a drunkard reciting it at the grocer’s.Payne, . He laboured for five years, until he was forced to leave because he burst a blood vessel lifting a heavy barrel."Schliemann, Heinrich" in Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, . In 1841, Schliemann moved to Hamburg and became a cabin boy on the Dorothea, a steamer bound for Venezuela. After twelve days at sea, the ship foundered in a gale. The survivors washed up on the shores of the Netherlands.Payne, . Schliemann became a messenger, office attendant, and later, a bookkeeper in Amsterdam.


Further excavation of the Troy site by others indicated that the level he named the Troy of the Iliad was inaccurate, although they retain the names given by Schliemann. His excavations were condemned by later archaeologists as having destroyed the main layers of the real Troy.

In an article for The Classical World, D. F. Easton writes that Schliemann "was not very good at separating fact from interpretation." He goes on to claim that "Even in 1872 Frank Calvert could see from the pottery that Troy II had to be hundreds of years too early to be the Troy of the Trojan War, a point finally proved by the discovery of Mycenaean pottery in Troy VI in 1890."

Kenneth W. Harl in the Teaching Company’s Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor lecture series sarcastically claims that Schliemann’s excavations were carried out with such rough methods that he did to Troy what the Greeks couldn’t do in their times, destroying and levelling down the entire city walls to the ground.