Heinrich Schliemann

Heinrich SchliemannOn this day in 1822, the great archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann was born. He was one of the most important ever in the science. In particular, he was the first person to dig at Hissarlik, which later archaeologists were able to prove was the actual site of the Trojan War, which by the 19th century was thought to be pure myth.

His interest in archaeology started late. Early on he made his fortune as in the import and finance business. The one thing that links his business and archaeology careers is that he had an amazing facility with languages. By his death, he could conversant in over a dozen languages — including Greek, Russian, and Arabic. He retired in 1858, but didn’t start pursuing archaeology for another ten years — when he was pushing fifty years of age. At around this time, he divorced his wife — apparently because she wasn’t willing to travel with him. Then he advertised for a wife in a Greek newspaper and married Sophia Engastromenos, who was his assistant and constant companion to the end.

In his work, Schliemann unfortunately destroyed much of the site because of his belief that old sites had to be deep. He was, after all, self taught. But I’m not sure that the professional archaeologists would have done much better. Still, many people did encourage him to go slowly — advice he rejected. It may have also been a question of temperment. It turned out that seven main cities had been built on top of the site dating from about a thousand years before Troy. The whole story is amazing, and I highly recommend watching In Search of the Trojan War. Here is the first episode of it, which deals with Schliemann and the work that he did:

Happy birthday Heinrich Schliemann!

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