By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB
Most Classics teachers and students have heard of the German archeologist Heinrich Schliemann and many see him as a great scholar who set an example for generations to come. Still, his reputation has been under attack for years, and many people now believe he was nothing but a fraud. In this article I’ll be discussing Schliemann and the controversy that surrounds him.
Schliemann: Life and Works
Heinrich Schliemann was a German businessman, polyglot, and archaeologist who had a strong belief in the historicity of places mentioned in the works of Homer. He lived in poverty as a child, but eventually he became a rich businessman, and this wealth allowed him to pursue his real passion: Archeology. His obsession with the city of Troy began early in life, when his father gave him a book that portrayed the walls of Troy in flames. Schliemann wondered how it would be possible for such great walls to disappear forever. Later in life Schliemann would realize his dream, discovering an ancient buried city in modern-day Turkey that many scholars still believe to be the site of Troy.
Schliemann’s Artifacts: Are they Legitimate?
Scholars generally believe that a number of artifacts Schliemann “discovered” at Troy are not from the time of Troy or are even forgeries. During a dig in Mycenae, Schliemann found a funeral mask which he believed was used to cover Agamemnon’s face after death. But some archeologists suspect the “Mask of Agamemnon” is from 1550–1500 BCE, many years before the Trojan War is believed to have taken place. Other critics go even further. Günter Kopcke of New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts says that the mask is very different from all other Mycenaean masks and suggests it is the work of an innovative and highly talented modern-day goldsmith.
Trouble with the Turkish Government
The Turkish government continues to claim that Schliemann kept artifacts which, by contract, should have been handed over to them. He had agreed to split his artifacts with the Ottomans in exchange for permission to excavate Troy. However, once he had discovered the gold and silver objects that he called “Priam’s Treasure”, he smuggled them to Greece. Schliemann later admitted that he sent the treasure to Athens in order to escape corrupt bureaucrats who he thought would extort him. He did later return a portion of his finds to them, but the Turkish government still claims they were tricked and that Schliemann gave them copies commissioned from a French artisan.
Many people continue to admire Schliemann, and for good reason, but it’s important that people know all the facts and realize there is an on-going controversy about his work. Was he a hero? Was he a fraud? We may never know for sure!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Latin (the last of which he learned with Carmenta) and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. Mr. Gurgel is currently studying Old English through Carmenta as well.
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