A Troy Primer

Stories about the young Schliemann paint a picture of a child prodigy on a quest from an early age. It seems more likely that his main goal in life was to strike it rich; having achieved that in the California gold rush, he then set his sights on immortality.

At about 44 years old, after years of study of ancient and modern Greek and the classic epic work of Homer, Schliemann proclaimed himself an archaeologist and began digging at Pinarbasi, which was believed at the time to be the site of Troy. Meanwhile, Frank Calvert had discovered the ruins of a palace or temple on the hill at Hisarlik, and the two agreed that this was a more likely area for the lost city.

Schliemann began bulldozing his way through the hill in 1870 and found little besides obsidian knife blades and clay tiles -- which in Turkey, you can pretty much find while bending over and tying your shoe. When he finally discovered something significant -- a relief of the sun god Apollo -- he immediately attributed it to the ruins of Zeus's throne (and smuggled it out of the country and into his garden). It started to get interesting in August 1872 with the discovery of some gold earrings and a skeleton, and 9 months later his crew uncovered two gates guarding a stone foundation of a large building. To Schliemann, this was obviously the Scaean Gate, and the building was the palace of Priam, the last king of Troy.

Sometime later, Schliemann literally struck gold, shrewdly giving the crew the day off while he and his wife dug alone. That day's findings were monumental: a treasure of goblets; spearheads; knives; and jewelry in copper, silver, and gold, including an incredible 8,750 gold rings and buttons. Eventually Schliemann smuggled the whole lot (except for a few items now in the Archaeology Museum in Çanakkale) out of the country, initially stashing a major part of the treasure with various friends around Greece, where neither Turkish nor Greek authorities could claim ownership. He also donated a portion of the treasure to a Berlin museum, but the artifacts were stolen by the Soviets during World War II and transported to Russia. Schliemann halted and resumed excavation two more times through 1890 but never came near to the findings of that first stash.

So the question remains: Was Schliemann a lying megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur? One biographer points to the evidence. While Schliemann reported that the site of the treasure was located in Priam's Palace, the site of the find was actually outside the city wall. The truly incriminating evidence is in the photographs he took of Priam's treasure; several of the items "found" in 1873 appear in photos taken in 1872 of earlier finds.

Maybe he was just nuts; there's evidence supporting that, too. Schliemann eventually retired in Athens, renamed all of his servants after characters in Greek mythology, and required them to deliver all messages to him in ancient Greek, a language he had taught himself. The inscription on the tomb he had built for himself seems to be his final word on the subject: "For the hero Schliemann."

The Looting of Troy -- The bulk of Troy's valuable artifacts -- more than 10,000 objects -- wound up in the Berlin Museum. In the chaos at the end of World War II, the most valuable of these went to Moscow or St. Petersburg. Fifty percent, however, were damaged or went missing.

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