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Schliemann, Heinrich

    Full Name: Schliemann, Heinrich

    Other Names:

    • Johann Ludwig Heinrich Julius Schliemann

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1822

    Date Died: 1890

    Place Born: Neubukow, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany

    Place Died: Naples, Campania, Italy

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): Aegean, ancient, Ancient Greek (culture or style), archaeology, Early Western World, Mediterranean (Early Western World), Mycenaean, and Turkish (culture or style)


    Amateur archaeologist whose finds were important for art history and archaeology; excavator of Mycenae and Troy. Schliemann was the son of a Protestant minister accused of embezzlement when Schliemann was a boy. Between 1836-41 Schliemann worked as a grocery clerk. His attempt to seek his fortune in the United States ended in shipwreck in Amsterdam. There merchant bankers B. H. Schröder & Co took him on for his aptitude of languages and business drive. After studying Russian and Dutch, the firm sent him to St. Petersburg, Russia, where he speculated on the indigo trade, married a Russian woman in 1852, and started a family. His business travel was constant (Paris, London, New York and gold-rush California). His astute investments (railroads in Cuba and the U.S., trade assisting the Crimean War, real estate in Paris) brought him great wealth. In 1863 he liquidated his business interests and retired from Schröder & Co in order to spend his fortune pursuing his personal interests. He tried writing, publishing a book of his travels in 1867. He then entered the Sorbonne studying languages and literatures, including Greek. In 1868 he traveled to Greece again (he had first been their during his business with Crimea) retracing steps of Ulysses in the Homeric tale. It appears that Frank Calvert (1828-1908), consular agent for the United States at the Dardanelles, first suggested to Schliemann that Hissarlik was the ancient Troy; the theory had first been proposed by Charles MacLaren (1782-1866) in his Dissertation on the Topography of the Plain of Troy, 1822. 1869 was a watershed year for Schliemann. He obtained a (United States) divorce from his Russian wife, published his second book, Ithaka in which he first asserted the theme which would drive his publications and discoveries the rest of his life: that the Homeric poem described real places which could be discovered by close reading of the text. Schliemann got archaeological advice on excavating Hissarlik from Calvert and, still in 1869, received a Ph. D. from the University of Rostock, Mecklenburg, Germany, lied in order to gain American citizenship, and remarried a Greek woman, Sophia Kastromenos, thirty years younger than he. In 1871 Schliemann received permission to dig at Hissarlik on the northwestern corner of present-day Turkey, but not after he had done some surreptitious digging. His amateurish methods and zeal to make discoveries destroyed much archaeological evidence. Still, his discoveries were spectacular. The initial season recovered a relief and ancient wall; the second summer yielded what Schliemann named “Priam’s Treasure.” These he published in Trojanische Alterthümer in 1874, translated the following year as Troy and its Remains. Problems with the Turkish government forced Schliemann to abandon Turkey and excavate Mycenae in the north-eastern Peloponnese of southern Greece. There he discovered the grave shafts now known as the “Grave Circle A” because of their circular arrangement, containing many artifacts from mainland Greece. Among these were the Gold burial masks, including the co-called “Mask of Agamemnon” and other bronze age artifacts. Schliemann, ever the self-promoter, reported his finds in the London Times and later in an 1878 book, Mycenæ, prefaced by William Gladstone (1809-1898). Schliemann returned to excavate Hissarlik in 1878-79, which he again publicized in the book Ilios: The City and Country of the Trojans in 1881. His work and publications attracted the German archaeologist and art historian Wilhelm Dörpfeld, who had been part of the team to unearth the Great Altar at Pergamon. In 1884 Schliemann returned to Tiryns, where he had dug in 1876, now with Dörpfeld helping maintain better archaeological standards. Schliemann unearthed and important late Bronze Age palace, which he published in his 1885 Tiryns: The Prehistoric Palace of the Kings of Tiryns. Once more he returned to Hissarlik in 1889-90. He attempted to purchase the land of the Knossos site in Crete, but was unsuccessful. He died in Naples the same year. So much of Schliemann was deception and ruthless enthusiasm that his accomplishments are difficult to evaluate. His ignorance of (or lack of appreciation for) archaeological strata led him to famously miss the 2nd millennia stratum of the Troy he sought, discovering instead a Bronze age settlement which he nevertheless claimed as Trojan. His friendship with Dörpfeld corrected many subsequent errors, including the discovery of 2nd millennia Mycenaean pottery missed in his initial digs. His infamous claim that discovering the source of Troy was his boyhood dream cannot be proven. His drive to publish nearly all of his finds, though never scholarly, lit a public appreciation for Aegean prehistoric art that plodding scholarship could never have achieved.

    Selected Bibliography

    and Schliemann, Sophia Kastromenos. Heinrich Schliemann’s Selbstbiographie: bis zu seinem Tode vervollständigt. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1892; Trojanische Alterthümer: Bericht über die Ausgrabungen in Troja. Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus, 1874, English, Troy and its Remains: a Narrative of Researches and Discoveries Made on the Site of Ilium, and in the Trojan Plain. London: J. Murray, 1875; and Virchow, Rudolf, and Ascherson, P. Ilios: Stadt und Land der Trojaner: Forschungen und Entdeckungen in der Troas und besonders auf der Baustelle von Troja. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1881, English, Ilios, the City and Country of the Trojans: the Results of Researches and Discoveries on the Site of Troy and throughout the Troad in the Years 1871-72-73-78-79. New York: Harper & Bros., 1881; Ithaka, der Peloponnes und Troja: archäologische Forschungen. Leipzig: Giesecke & Devrient, 1869; and preface by Gladstone, William E. Mycenæ: a Narrative of Researches and Discoveries at Mycenæ and Tiryns. New York: Scribner, Armstrong, 1878; and Adler, F. and Dörpfeld, Wilhelm. Tiryns: the Prehistoric Palace of the Kings of Tiryns: the Results of the Latest Excavations. New York: Scribner, 1885.


    Archäologenbildnisse: Porträts und Kurzbiographien von Klassichen Archäologen deutscher Sprache. Reinhard Lullies, ed. Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1988: 45-46; Medwid, Linda M. The Makers of Classical Archaeology: A Reference Work. New York: Humanity Books, 2000, pp. 266-71; Myth, Scandal, and History: the Heinrich Schliemann Controversy and a First Edition of the Mycenaean Diary. Calder, William M., III, and Traill, David A., eds. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1986.


    "Schliemann, Heinrich." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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