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Heinrich Schliemann was born in 1822 in Germany, the son of a reverend from Mecklenburg. As a boy, Heinrich’s daydreams were inspired by the mythical world narrated to him by his father: the world of heroes sung by Homer; of Hector, the horse tamer; of Ulysses, the cunning king; of Achilles, the greatest of all Achaean heroes, until eventually the boy’s dreams grew into the man’s ambition to find the mythical city of Homeric epic; Troy. Not a single figure in the history of archaeology surpasses Schliemann in grandeur of ambition or achievement.  

Having worked for some time as a grocery boy, Heinrich embarked on a sailor’s career, later working as an accounting clerk, when his commercial aptitude quickly enabled the company to thrive, and Heinrich to amass his personal fortune. His second marriage was to Sofia Engastromenos, a young Greek woman who was half Heinrich’s age, but who shared his passion for archaeology. Then, armed with deep pockets and the ability to speak and write in fifteen languages, Schliemann devoted his life to locating the mythical city of Troy.

After excavating in Ithaca, home of Ulysses, and after excursions to Greece and the Troas, Schliemann financed an expedition to Asia Minor. Then, guided by his intuition and the Iliad, in 1873 Schliemann achieved what the archaeological community believed impossible; the discovery of the mythical city of Troy. A photograph of Schliemann’s wife dripping in the jewels of the legendary treasury of Priam, today held in the Hermitage and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, broke the news to the rest of the world.  

In 1876 Schliemann discovered Mycenae, the city of Agamemnon, the homeland of the Atrides, as rich in gold as Homer described it. The splendid gold masks of the Achaean warriors he unearthed are still the pride of the National Museum of Athens today. After Mycenae came Tiryns, and by the close of the 19th century Schliemann had lifted Greek prehistory out of the shadow of myth and into dazzling archaeological reality.

Heinrich Schliemann died of a heart attack in Naples in 1880, one of the richest men of his time. He was buried in Athens, in his beloved Greece. Although an amateur archaeologist who did not employ scientific methods and whose interpretations were mostly refuted by academics, Schliemann’s life is a testament to the romantic ideal that willpower and passion can overcome any obstacle. He translated his boyhood dream into a reality, and in doing so presented the world with some of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time.

Dr. Raffaele D'Amato

 


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